F. Scott Fitzgerald once defined intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” In other words, brilliant successes—and great B2B loyalty programs— will happen if you are able to juggle competing ideas and priorities.
In B2B, we need to balance two demands: those of a business as well as those of individual consumers, and these are sometimes in conflict. Fortunately, however, these opposing priorities can be reconciled—the tools to win the loyalty of an individual consumer and the tools to gain the commitment of an entire organization can be the same. The difference is their function, and it is our task to step up and develop the “intelligence” needed to perform both of those functions.
It is a daunting mission, but the good news is that there is no shortage of resources out there. Business-to-consumer loyalty marketers such as Starbucks and Amazon.com have on hand some of the most sophisticated marketing tools available for reaching customers, building brand relationships and developing customer intimacy in a multi-channel, data-rich world.
Compared with these consumer loyalty marketers, B2B marketers that rely on the old standards for relationship building, such as networking and sales calls, might think they have it rough. This is understandable because impractical campaign management systems and a lack of data can result in undue reliance on the back of the sales team.
However, the truth is that there is no barrier keeping B2B loyalty programs from accessing the consumer marketers’ relationship-building resources and then adjusting their functions for increased loyalty. These tools are proven, so why not use them? At the end of the day, sales—even for B2B companies—come from customers, and when any company understands how to realize the potential of the customer asset, sales will follow.
A B2B loyalty program is, after all, built on the same foundation of using data to enrich the customer experience in order to build long-term relationships. While B2B marketers don’t have the same creative license and their business communications are more formal, they have a much greater opportunity for customer intimacy. For one thing, B2B marketers have a much smaller base of customers, and generally know a lot more about them. They take them to ball games, know the names of their children, meet them at industry events, and get a table at their fundraisers—but that doesn’t mean they are using the data critical for deepening the relationship.
So, while B2C and B2B programs are alike in that both are designed to build sustainable financial performance through customer engagement, the mechanism for a B2B program is decidedly different.
While loyalty programs are prevalent in the retail, airline and credit-card sectors, a business marketer doesn’t necessarily need reward points to engage business customers. However, relying purely on phone calls or business lunches won’t do the job either. Building a good B2B loyalty program starts with a customer mandate–a blueprint of how to use customer information in a way that transforms the client relationship and that is uniquely designed to support a business’s specific goals. There are six steps to building this mandate, and the result is a clear diagram for business success based on the distinct needs and wants of today’s high-value customers and prospects. The first three steps are standard operating practice for any marketer. The last three require heavy lifting, but the extra effort will deliver the sustainable financial performance that most marketers expect from their best customers.
How can you make this happen?
- Identify your key companies/customers and prospects.
- Track client interactions to develop a view of activity over time.
- Create a scoring mechanism to rank the most desired customers for your program, product, and services.
- Define the strategic role of your customer touch points in creating relevance, and then build a feedback mechanism.
- Identify the relevant triggers or incentives to achieve your mutual goal.
- Implement a measurement plan to ensure you are hitting that goal.
Excerpted from The Loyalty Leap for B2B: Turning Customer Information Into Customer Intimacy. Published by Portfolio/Penguin. Copyright (c) Bryan Pearson. (This article was originally published in 2012 and is frequently updated.)