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Building a successful B2B business requires many things, from quality products and services to effective sales, marketing and distribution. But building a successful B2B business with staying power also typically requires something more: strong customer relationships.
Customer relationships are important for a variety of reasons. They can help ward off advances from competitors, for instance, and serve as the basis for something that can only be earned -- trust.
Unfortunately, many companies don't maximize their opportunities to strengthen relationships with their customers. The good news: there are a number of ways to do so and many of them require little more than recognition that they exist.
Here are five tactics B2B companies can use to strengthen their relationships with important customers.
1. Do a case study
Case studies are powerful tools for B2B companies because, when compelling, they demonstrate how actual customers are using your wares to improve their business. But beyond this, asking key customers to be the subject of a case study has other intangible benefits too, such as signaling to the customers that they're important to you and that you're proud of how they're using your products or services.
2. Invite customers to a trade show
In many cases, your best customers are your best salespeople, so if cost isn't an issue and you're attending a trade show, you might consider inviting a customer or two to join you at a trade show. In certain industries, it's not uncommon to see businesses set up a customer section in their space, and customers are often eager to participate because it provides them with an opportunity to promote themselves too.
3. Create a customer advisory board
Your customers are the greatest source of valuable feedback on your products and services. Unfortunately, many B2B companies struggle to acquire as much of that feedback as they'd like.
One technique for doing this is to invite some of your customers to join a customer advisory board that meets a few times a year (in person or virtually). In doing so, you'll not only develop a mechanism for acquiring valuable feedback, but you'll also develop a means to stoke the egos of the participants.
4. Provide executive-level access
If your company has a dedicated account manager for key customers, you're one step ahead of the pack. But what happens when one of your most important customers has a really big problem or concern -- one that is best addressed at the top of the food chain?
In an effort to ensure you're prepared to deal with these types of scenarios, it's worth taking a page from the playbook of PayPal's president, David Marcus, who earlier this year gave an unhappy, frustrated customer his email address and mobile number.
5. Make it personal
One mistake many companies make is that they limit their customer communications to business. Obviously, you don't want an account manager sending customers the latest lolcat images, but to really develop a strong customer relationship, it's usually important to go beyond the business basics.
Sending a customer a card for the holidays signed by the people who service that customer, for instance, is a great way to show you're thinking of your customers. Also pay attention to important dates and events. If your customer is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a business next month, don't be afraid to send a congratulatory note. And if your publicly-traded customer killed it last quarter, your account managers should be eager to email a kudos to their contacts.