14 strategies for B2B customer retention

Business marketers have much to gain from customer retention marketing. Business clients tend to be fewer in number, and each is more valuable — meaning you cannot afford to lose even one. But how do you keep your clients active and buying from you

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Business marketers have much to gain from customer retention marketing. Business clients tend to be fewer in number, and each is more valuable — meaning you cannot afford to lose even one. But how do you keep your clients active and buying from you VS the competition? How do you prevent defection?

Let’s look at fourteen strategic approaches to customer retention marketing that, in proper combination, can enhance the customer retention of the business, and, in turn, drive additional profit and revenue.

1.  Exceeding and Meeting Customer Expectations

The first primary strategy in customer retention marketing is to deliver on the promise made to the client at the point of acquisition. Meeting client expectations is merely the meets-minimum requirement for doing ongoing business. Any disappointment with the service, product or experience will be an insurmountable barrier to customer retention. The best customer retention marketing in the world can’t overcome product problems.

So the first step in developing a customer retention strategy is to ensure that you have a competitive, viable product, and all the other elements of product marketing are in place. That its features meet the market’s requirement, that its quality is satisfactory and that it’s priced correctly and distributed well. In short, a maniacal concentrate on the core business is essential. Without this, any investment in customer retention programs is doomed, and a waste.

2. Customer Service

The same approach applies to the question of problem resolution. If a client’s service or product problem isn’t resolved satisfactorily and quickly,  customer retention strategies are fruitless.




















This isn’t an easy matter, however. As client expectations rise, companies discover that they must spend in higher levels of service than ever. But customer service has traditionally been inspected as a cost center and a drain on profits. So less aware companies feel pressured to squeeze expense out of the customer service function.

However, experiments have shown that strong service levels can have an important payoff in customer retention, and thus in long-term profits. For one thing, a client whose problem was resolved and identified has been shown to indicate a stronger purpose of repurchasing than even a client who never had a problem in the first place.

One tactic to consider is migrating the customer service function from a cost center to a profit center, by motivating and training service reps to take advantage of opportunities to sell more into the account.

3. Penetration Marketing

If you agree that client acquisition represents an investment or an expense and that the client relationship only becomes profitable upon customer retention, then penetration is where the company’s profits lie. Penetration marketing is about maximizing the value of the client asset by optimizing the sales to current clients, namely by up-selling and cross-selling.

In business markets, the idea is typically called account penetration and is often the province of the salesperson assigned to the account. Skilled salespeople are natural cross-sellers and up-sellers. But the marketing function can increase the productivity of the sales force with predictive modeling to identify opportunity and campaigns to generate leads.

4. Defection Prevention

The single best way to ensure customer retention is by preventing defection. An alert marketer can quickly put in place effective defection prevention strategies. Why? Because defecting clients almost always give off signals of their impending departure, if you’re prepared to pay attention. All it takes is that you recognize the key variables, and set up tripwires to capture the signals and put in place programs to remedy them.

5. Continuous Relationship Selling

Most marketers are slaves to one-off selling. To any given client, we sell and then sell again, whether it is a cross-sell or an upsell. We are always hounding our clients to buy, and in the process we not only may make a pest of ourselves, but we also incur considerable selling expense.

But what if you could convert a client to a continuous buying relationship? Persuade the customer to accept an ongoing stream of product deliveries, on terms agreed upon in advance, and delivered automatically. Essentially, this moves a client to a replenishment scenario, characterized in recent decades by just-in-time delivery of raw materials and components in manufacturing.

In that case, the expense and time of reselling are eliminated, and revenue streams are smoother and more predictable. Certain companies are set up for continuous selling methods from the get-go, among them financial services, telecom, media, and pharmaceuticals. But there is no reason why you can’t create such a model for your company, whether for certain client sets or particular product lines. Any time a service or product calls for repeat selling, or natural up-selling, you may be able to turn it into a continuous relationship selling structure.

Business marketers have enjoyed success creating continuous sales scenarios with such situations as:

  • Post-sales support services;
  • Replacement parts;
  • Just-in-time components;
  • Consumable products, like office supplies;
  • Professional services.


6. Loyalty Programs

Taking a page from the customer world, some business marketers have found success with frequency marketing programs that reward clients for certain behaviors, such as repeat purchase. These programs are not universally applicable in the company, but they’ve their place, particularly in situations characterized by the following:

  • A market that is highly competitive, where a competitive advantage is critically essential;
  • Management unwilling to compete on price, so an alternate source of value is needed;
  • High fixed costs but low variable costs, which supports reasonable redemption expense;
  • Inventory is perishable, so the value declines as the deadline comes;
  • Purchase cycle is short, and purchase behavior can be tracked.

One of the most obvious opportunities for rewards programs is in companies that mimic customer purchasing behavior, like office supplies. Staples, for instance, runs a thriving rewards program targeted to its small-medium business customers.

Outside of traditional frequency marketing programs, however, there’re abundant ways that company marketers can reward desired customer behavior. A long-standing practice has been special service levels. Best clients are assigned the top account reps and given dedicated customer service personnel to support them. Or the company may build a special Intranet behind the top client’s corporate firewall, allowing 24 by 7 purchasing at the pre-negotiated contract terms, and provide reporting back to purchasing officials about buying behavior across the corporation.

7. Winback

Despite the brilliance of your customer retention marketing, at some point, a tragedy may occur. You lose a customer. But this isn’t a time for despair. Client defection presents an opportunity. Here is why.

The initial step in reversing a defection is to consider very carefully whether you want the client back. It could be that this client is just not right for you. That the cost to serve is too high. That the margins have been beaten down to the point of unprofitability. It may be better to let the client move to a competitor who can make the relationship profitable.

















But if the client is of value to you, then you need to establish a win back process. The first step to win back is to figure out what went wrong and tried to solve the problem. In most company marketing situations, this part of the process is the province of account management or customer service. They must evaluate the situation and apply very promptly, the kind of solution that will bring the client back to the fold. It is critical that these reps be empowered and knowledgeable to take fast action.

In many cases, fast triage won’t solve the longer term problem. It’ll take more time and effort to persuade the client to return. So businesses put in place dedicated win back sales teams. It’s not easy work — and it cannot be done by the regular sales force, who focus on volume and fast opportunity. The wingback sales team needs special training and, above all, special compensation, to work on bringing customers back.

8. Evolve your offerings

This is so much more relevant in B2B than any other marketing sector. Take your clients to the next level, ask them what they are gaining from your relationship, where they want to go and how they want to achieve it.

Continue demonstrating value to existing clients. It is not enough to assume your client will retain the same attitude towards a service or product as when they first purchased. If marketers become too obsessed with acquisition-led KPIs, such as lead generation and online conversions, these opportunities will be lost.

9. Measure holistically

All B2B companies carry out their client research. While qualitative data helps to understand the ‘why’ and quantitative affords a high-level overview, it is not enough on its own. The study from an objective third party can often be the welcome input a brand needs.

Ultimately, you can vastly improve your understanding of your customer by overlaying your data with the external data gleaned from third parties.

10. Build customer advocacy

Your most loyal clients are a highly powerful tool when it comes to acquisition. Take benefit of this by encouraging them to share on social, contribute to the content or speak at events. By building a community with your clients, you are keeping your existing buyers engaged, but also giving potential clients a good reason to sit up and take notice of your offerings.

11. Align your departments

We are not just talking about the marketing relationship and age-old sales here. Every department involved in the customer retention process has to have a voice, from data teams to post-purchase salespeople and marketing to customer support.

B2B businesses need departments dedicated to their existing clients. There had been the sales and marketing teams charged with educating clients on how they can expand on the product or service they have invested in. And, of course, you would have your post-purchase customer success departments and technical support teams to boot.

12. Listen and act




















It is absurd how often B2B businesses overlook the simple idea of listening to their clients. Even this is still only half the job. Talk to your clients, listen to feedback, but, most importantly, act on it. When a client knows an organization truly cares about them, they will not be leaving in a hurry.

13. Think like the customer

You may think your SaaS (software as a service) is perfect and awesome. Well, that is great, but you created it. There could be massive holes where new clients are getting lost,  frustrated or discouraged with the product. All huge red flags you need to avoid. Counteract potential issues by constantly refining your documentation and support, as well as the expectations you are setting for your customers. The more you can mimic and understand their experience as opposed to assume what will happen, the better off you will be.

14. Follow up on inactive users

Having a client sign up for your SaaS (software as a service) is just the first step. The next is getting them to use it. And, that can be more difficult than it sounds. Do not let the inactive clients fall through the cracks. At the same time, do not assume everyone who signs up for your service is going to jump in and use it right away. Take the proactive method. Offer an original follow up a few days after the first client contact, then follow up again with a free consultation.


Loyalty represents the source of all profits. By concentrating on providing ongoing value to clients, identifying opportunities to improve that value, preventing at-risk clients from defecting, and reactivating profitable clients when they do defect. These are the marketing activities that will ensure maximum shareholder value. Which strategies work for you?