By Jennie Wong The Charlotte Observer.
Businesses that sell to other businesses are a special breed. It's not enough to have a great product or a great service. You also have to navigate the complexities of selling to other entrepreneurs, multiple stakeholders within your customer companies, as well as specific procurement policies at the enterprise level.
So how can you grow your B2B in the new year? What tactics and approaches will be effective with this specific audience?
KEEP MORE OF YOUR EXISTING CUSTOMERS Client turnover is a fact of life and some of it is unavoidable. One of the perils of selling to other companies is that they sometimes go out of business. But for the rest, you can get proactive and reduce your churn. That way, every new customer you add will help you grow instead of merely keeping you even.
Gavin Dennis, owner of the Charlotte, N.C., franchise of Payroll Matters, was able to create some space in his schedule for retention-focused activities by first growing his team. "I brought on a new employee this year and I see a big part of her value as allowing me to get out of the office and face-to-face with my clients. It's so important because when it comes to small business owners, there's nothing that is 'just business,' it's all personal. So keeping my clients really comes down to relationships. My clients like knowing the person on the other end of the phone and knowing I've got their back."
BUILD BRAND AWARENESS IN YOUR INDUSTRY It's a myth that only consumer companies need a strong brand. Branding is just as important for B2B companies, if not more so. Charlotte marketing strategist Juan Garzon recommends thinking through "The 4 Ps of branding" – purpose, promise, personality and positioning. Why does your B2B exist? What do you commit to doing for your customers? How do existing customers describe you? How are you different from your competitors? If you don't have crisp answers to these questions (or your employees don't know the answers you have), this exercise will help you take your B2B brand to the next level.
START SELLING ONLINE If you don't offer an ecommerce option to your customers, consider the potential benefits for retention, acquisition, efficiency and order volume. Paul Demery is managing editor for B2B e-commerce for Internet Retailer magazine and the newsletter B2BecNews, for e-commerce professionals. He sees B2B ecommerce as a major trend for 2015 and beyond. "B2Bs have to offer an online buying option that is client-friendly. There's a whole generation of corporate procurement people who have grown up with online shopping, so if you don't invest in an online channel for your customers, someone else will."
Internet Retailer recently published its inaugural "B2B Guide to Ecommerce, 2015 edition," in which Demery estimates exactly how high the stakes are. "While retail e-commerce in the United States alone topped $263 billion in 2013, industry analysts at Gartner Inc. and Forrester Research Inc. say the U.S. volume of B2B e-commerce is approaching about $1 trillion." ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book "Ask the Mompreneur" and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com