Developing and sustaining loyalty between b-to-b companies boils down to one simple premise: Don't treat companies solely as customers but as a diverse mix of influencers and decision-makers. Within any organization, many people with varying levels of control and influence are involved in purchasing decisions, and a successful connection with a company means developing meaningful personal connections with its influencers to find the intersection of your brand promise and their unique needs.
Building loyalty takes a multifaceted approach to understanding both the level of influence of each individual and their needs within the organization. These influencers typically fall within five defined roles, and each has a distinct set of needs:
Gate keepers: These individuals qualify suppliers and negotiate favorable terms. Their needs are driven by efficient adherence to company procedures.
Financial buyers: Controlling the movement of capital, they are driven by the bottom line and the long-term financial effects on their organization.
Technical buyers: Driven by the product or service delivering on its promise, their satisfaction is contingent upon their specifications being met.
End users: Although they're often not involved in purchase decisions, they still wield influence over future decisions and need functionality and convenience from the products and services they use.
Channel partners: Though not directly associated with the company, their contact with decision-making influencers gives them the ability to influence the influencers. Driven by profit, products and services need to be worth their investment and time.
Sustaining loyalty isn't about meeting the needs of each influencer but leveraging the needs into personal connections. The two universal connections that all people (and companies) can relate to—trust and respect—are equally applicable when put through the lens of loyalty.
Trust is built over time by consistently delivering on the promises made to each influencer. But while it takes time to build, trust can be lost quickly. The chief cause of lost trust is over-promising then under-delivering. Listening to customers and building a spirit of collaboration is the best way to avoid under-delivering. Once gained, trust becomes a company's most valued asset and leads to loyalty through transparency and integrity.
Respect comes from demonstrating the value of relationships and personal connections, and by not just meeting but exceeding the needs of each influencer. When a brand promise intersects with the needs of influencers, the net result is a foundation of respect.
Loyalty from a company is built from the ground up by first establishing loyalty from its people. By meshing these personal connections and delivering on brand promises, trust leads to respect, which leads to sustained loyalty.
Ken Powaga is senior VP of GfK Customer Loyalty. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.