Imperatives For Sustaining Business-To-Business Relationships

A business may operate in the business to customer sector, or business to business sector. In previous articles, i have dwelt on the advantages and the return on investments and benefits of creating memorable experiences in the business to customer sector, the same principles holds true for the business to business sector.
A business to business relationship is one that exists between two businesses, whereby transactions occur between two corporate entities , it could be the relationship between a financial institution serving a fast moving consumer good company, a law firm serving or advising an institution or business ,a small or medium scale enterprise providing supply services to a multinational, a travel agency or logistics company providing services to a corporate client , as long as it is a business serving a business, the relationship is considered a business to business relationship.
The B-to-B market place is intensely competitive, within the week I had a discussion with a banker who had been longing to get hold of a particular company account, which a competitor had in its books, he ruefully discussed with me how he “hates” to compete with the bank for accounts, as they seem to have a chokehold of accounts they corner and it is near impossible to grab from them. He further told me in details the length they had gone to snatch the account or perhaps even get a piece of the action, as the institution effectively fences their customers in. The basic truth is that they offer the same products and services, maybe slightly different fees but basically the same services, however one has been able to stand out from the pack.
From my discussion with him, the institution has chosen where it will play by winning the hearts of its corporate clients, hence they have an edge in their industry, their profit margins grow and their corporate customers have good impressions about them.
These points to some new realities
It is risky for organisations to only compete on products and services as their unique selling proposition, as the speed at which these seeming advantages can be replicated or disrupted is very easy. The new rules of the way is that even companies from external and unrelated industries come in to blindside companies and eat deep into their market share.
For instance, Air Bnb in the hotel industry, Uber in the transport sector, Apple in the mobile payment and lately music streaming segments. It is possible for companies to gain market share through unique products and services, but the rate at which innovation occurs makes victory short-lived.
The product and experience a customer gets cannot be divorced as they go hand in hand, the experience even usually trumps product, as the experience they get lingers even longer than the product they buy.
With the advent of the internet and social media, it is easy to get as much information about a company, even before physically contacting the business, so it is wise to portray your business in the right light even before prospective clients find you out, the business community relate with each other, hence it is important to always put the best foot forward. Some may even belong to the same associations or trade groups and might ask who serves them what and in what category, if the services are good, they may give a referral especially when that referral does not give the competition an edge over them.
So how do organisations position themselves properly as the go to organisations when they are being sought out, how do they rise or stand out from the pack?
John C Maxwell once said “everything rises and falls on leadership”, hence the leaders of the company that wants to be the preferred option or go to business in the b2b market must set itself to be so, not only in words by mission and vision statements which is most times a sound bite or rhetoric, the talk must be backed up by the walk, short term agendas which will bring in immediate profits, at the expense of customers, will have to be sacrificed to earn long term loyalty that is sustainable and bring longer lasting returns.
Cohesive internal structure
In setting the right agenda, organisations have to be properly aligned and ensure they are not working at cross purposes to create the right experiences, which means that all the units have to be working in sync, regardless whether they are customer facing or not, which means the back end, which will provide the necessary support, must also be quick and agile, to meet up with the deliverables that the sales or marketing staff meet and their metrics aligned accordingly.
Solve and think ahead
In all relationships, as with business to customer relationships ditto for business to business relationships, things will definitely go wrong; there will be unmet expectations, unforeseen delays and challenges. While it is good to fix the problem when they occur, it is better to preempt them by being proactive, the business must also know their customers business so well, that it not only acts as a service provider but as an adviser, who knows what is happening in the customers industry and not only informs the customer, but is a step ahead and designs products and services to address such needs, even before the business knows it needs them.
Create an experience centred on the customer
Matching product experiences with what the customer wants is absolutely essential, a lot of companies try and push on customers what is personally convenient for them. The business can differentiate on its offering by making their services better, faster, speedier. The ease of doing business also has to be promoted.
Creating journey maps, which is a tool companies use to know and see what customers want and how customers go about meeting their needs can also help in serving the business customer well.
Critical questions also need to be asked to gain understanding about who the decision makers are in the prospective organisation? Who can approve or disapprove? Who cannot approve but can put a wheel in the spanner? Who are the influencers? How is the current product or service used? Are the owners fully aware of all the functionalities of the product and are they using it? Can more value be added by giving out free training to the business to cement the value being provided?
Don’t hide under a bushel
I got a mail from someone in a financial institution and below the signature of the mail, was a list of four awards the organisations had won, this can also help in winning over a customer’s confidence, knowing one is in safe hands .It is okay to blow your trumpet as no one will do that for you, so if there is a process that is differentiated that helps the customer better than your competitors, why keep it to yourself, or wait for customers to talk about it.
The above steps if followed can help businesses operating in the business to business sphere create new and fresh blue ocean strategies for their business and leave competitors in a trail of dust.

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