A man and a woman, both wearing light gray suits over white shirts, are standing next to each other and conversing. The man is speaking while gesturing and the woman is holding an electronic tablet. Behind them, in a large room lit by rows of overhead lights, is a set of connected office desks and several wheeled chairs. Two people appear to be huddled around one of the desks.
Incentives like branded merchandise or experiential rewards will often get passed down to your partner business's employees, spreading your brand beyond just your point of contact. — Getty Images/VioletaStoimenova

There’s a well-known adage in B2C marketing that existing customers are more valuable than new ones. B2C customer loyalty programs aim to improve customer retention and capitalize on this opportunity. The same is true in B2B businesses, but the challenge of developing customer loyalty is slightly different.

B2B purchasing cycles tend to be longer and more complex. There are many factors that a business must weigh in signing — and re-signing — a B2B purchase agreement. This complexity can make it difficult to retain customers. A recent survey by Bain & Company found that 68% of respondents in B2B industries say customers are less loyal than they used to be. B2B loyalty programs can help incentivize customer retention. Here are some ways to lower customer churn and improve customer loyalty for your B2B company.

Learn what your customers value

The first step to building a viable B2B loyalty program is to figure out what your customers value. This insight can help you build a program with the right incentives, rewards, and benefits for both your business and your clients.

Start by doing some research. What do your customers value, expect, and want, compared to what they need? Customer surveys, social media monitoring, and customer success management tools can help you understand each client’s minimum expectations and what would really make them form an emotional connection to your brand.

Consider gamifying your surveys to get the best responses. A customer can receive a hidden reward for finishing a brief survey, for instance. Or a client can receive additional entries into a raffle by answering a few additional questions.

[Read more: How to Survey Your Customers and Why You Should]

Determine what offer makes sense

Like with B2C businesses, there are a variety of ways to incentivize B2B customer loyalty. Perks, points, and loyalty tiers are three effective tools, though they may look a little different for your B2B customers. You could reward partners with points for every dollar they spend on your services, or offer points for purchasing additional products from sponsoring manufacturers. Points can then be traded in for early access to new products or services, or for a discount on their next reorder.

Developing customer loyalty means understanding how your business can solve a problem for your client.

There are other incentives that foster loyalty specifically in the B2B category. Experiential rewards — free box seats to a sports game, movie passes, or invites to members-only events — are common features of B2B loyalty programs. Branded merchandise, such as gift packages, tote bags, and T-shirts, can also be a great perk. “[Client] companies can receive these rewards as a ‘free bonus’ along with their order, then distribute the products among their staff to raise morale. It’s a win-win for all,” wrote Antavo.

Referral programs and cooperative rewards also work well in fostering B2B loyalty. Referral programs incentivize your existing clients to spread the word about your brand to other businesses. Cooperative rewards offer education and training to qualified partners and suppliers. This type of incentive ensures all your business partners feel valued, not just your end consumer.

[Read more: B2B Sales Techniques for Building a Loyal Customer Base]

Show your loyalty to their company, too

In B2B business, loyalty is a two-way street. Developing customer loyalty means understanding how your business can solve a problem for your client. Prioritize those in your loyalty program with gestures that show you care about their business.

“​​For those customers who are at risk of churn, you may need to adapt your offering to meet their needs more effectively,” wrote Qualtrics. “Analyzing why they contact customer support (and how frequently), determining why they use (or don’t use) your products/services and tailoring your offering to them can go a long way to improving your relationships and reducing the risk of churn.”

Even when the relationship is strong, you can find opportunities to surprise and delight your customers. Send birthday cards or anniversary gifts for each year someone has been a client, and acknowledge company milestones. Small moments of recognition can go a long way to fostering loyalty and cementing a commitment to your business for years to come.

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