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Building Long-Term B2B Relationships: A Step-By-Step Guide

Brian Cristiano Sep 12, 2021

Success in B2B partnerships comes down to one thing: Having a solid relationship with your business clients.

If you want to find, grow, and maintain relationships with your B2B clients, then your ability to connect with them on both a personal and professional level is equally as important (if not more) than getting your deliverables to them.

However, in order to get it right, learning relationship building takes a significant amount of time and hands-on practice.

While building B2B relationships is challenging, it is extremely rewarding and can lead to a plethora of other opportunities, including dozens of referrals, a substantial network, and deep connections with other business professionals. 

Unlike in B2C sales where learning the technicalities of the sales funnel and being able to run numbers is a top priority, B2B sales reps need to focus on relationship building, first and foremost.

With that said, if you don’t want to invest the majority of your time in building relationships with clients, then B2B sales might not be for you.

However, if your goal is to not only make more sales, but to also develop both professional and personal relationships with clients, then your chances of having a successful career is very high.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your B2B sales career, this guide unpacks everything you need to know about building relationships with your clients.

Follow this step-by-step guide from beginning to end of the sales process, and your business client base will grow and stick with you for the long run!

 

Key Differences Between B2B & B2C Relationships

 

If you're used to selling in a B2C environment, it won't be long before you realize that business-to-business relationships are significantly different than business-to-consumer or customer relationships.

In fact, you could even say that B2B and B2C relationships aren't even in the same category of business marketing.

These are the primary reasons why B2B relationships are in a whole other league from B2C relationships: 

  1. B2B Relationships are long-haul
  2. B2B buyers fit a more specific niche
  3. B2B relationships require consistent communication 

First off, business customers usually intend to maintain a long-term connection with you from the onset of the relationship.

This is unlike B2C sales relationships, in which most customers intend to make their purchase and then get on with their life.  Much of the time, you never hear from them again.

B2B salespeople usually spend one to several years working with a business client.

Second, B2B salespeople tend to work with clients who fit a more specific niche.

For example, B2B sales reps might work solely with B2B buyers in the financial services industry in New York City.  On the other hand, B2C sales reps market technology products to the entirety of North America.

As a result, they have fewer B2B buyers, but they understand them and their niche very well.  

Lastly, B2B clients usually require consistent communication with not just the supplier company account management team, but also the entire sales team and even executives.  

In the most successful relationships, even the CEOs of both companies connect and have their own relationship.

To cut things to the chase: You spend a lot of time working one-on-one with your business clients, unlike in business-to-consumer where there is often little to no communication between the sales team and customer after the initial transaction.

In B2B, the client purchases your time and attention just as much as they do your deliverable. 

Moreover, in B2B sales you spend more time with fewer customers, working harder to understand them as professionals and individuals while solving their long-term problems.

 

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Why Are B2B Relationships Important For You?

 

Like we mentioned above, B2B sales reps usually have to put in a significantly greater initial time investment into their sales process than B2C sales reps do. 

Not only do they have to invest their time in prospecting new customers and getting the deliverables out, but customer relationship management is like an entire job in itself.

With that said, why would anyone want to get involved in B2B marketing and sales?

In short: Putting in the substantial initial time investment can lead to sustainable, long-term results down the road.

In B2B sales, once you gain even a couple of successful client relationships, numerous doors open for even more long-term relationships.

Here is how it works:

  1. You put in the initial time investment into getting to know your business clients’ challenges on both professional and personal levels
  2. You stay on top of your relationships, making sure that you are available to cater to each of the client’s needs
  3. Your clients work with you for years down the line AND refer you to other businesses, thanks to how well you cater to their needs

First off, there is no such thing as something for nothing!  

You want the client?  Then you have to understand the challenges that they and their industry face.

Remember, business clients usually fit a very specific niche; if you don’t have an in-depth understanding of that niche’s challenges, then it is difficult to win the clients over.

Next comes the most important part of the entire sales process: managing the relationship.

In addition to being able to maintain consistent contact, the most successful B2B relationships include:

  • Transparency
  • Strategic long-term plans
  • Willingness to take risks

When managing the relationship, successful B2B sales reps usually work with the client’s support teams and leaders to make the most out of the relationship.  

In many ways, it is a relationship between two companies, rather than just between a single client representative and you, their account manager.

Lastly and as a result of your efforts, if you put in the work to understand your clients’ needs, they will respect your needs as well.  

Moreover, they will respect the fact that you have a need to grow your client base, and will reciprocate your efforts by referring you to other potential clients

In fact, a majority of B2B clients come as a result of referrals!

This is why B2B relationships are important for you: When you have solid relationships, you can expect to have greater long-term results.

Good relationships = insurance for future business. 

Strong B2B relationships are both a win for you and for the business client!

 

Step 1: Prospecting Potential Customers

 

Remember, B2B customers typically fit a very specific niche.

Therefore, prospecting potential B2B clients is all about prospecting to the correct people!

It's better to target a handful of the right people than it is to call up dozens per day.

Don't waste your precious time doing things the B2C way. 

Instead, double-down on finding the ideal prospects and be consistent with them on both inbound and outbound sales tactics!

 

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Refine Your Ideal Prospect Profile

 

Before you even think about reaching out to new prospects, you need to do your homework!

Specifically, you need to refine your ideal prospect by creating an ideal prospect profile.

The profile is basically a drawn out image of who your perfect prospect is.  Think about their pain points and whether or not you are the business with the solutions for them.

Once you put your prospect profile together, take things one step further to test whether or not you and your prospect are fit for a long-term relationship.

Think about the:

  • The personality of the client
  • The personality of the client's business
  • The structure of the client's business

If you don't see the client personality traits aligning with the personality of you and your business, then consider bypassing the client.

Remember, it's better to have a few great-fitting clients than many poor ones!

On the other hand, if you do see the personality traits of the client aligning with those of you and your company, then press forward!

If need be, make minor adjustments to your own brand's personality and messaging to fit that of your ideal prospects'. 

Having matching personalities is just as important as the supplier company having the tools to solve the client's problem.  Therefore, consider the two company personalities to get a clear vision of whether or not you will be a good fit for a relationship.

 

Outbound Selling: Offer Your Prospects A Taste

 

We get it.

You're trying every possible outbound sales tactic in the book, including cold calling, sending personalized emails, messaging on social media, and using every existing customer engagement tool out there.

Yet, only a small fraction of your potential customers are responding to you.  

Now what?

Here's the thing: There is no such thing as something for nothing.

You cannot expect a prospect to give up 30 minutes of their time for a sales presentation AND take the time to listen to your initial cold call, or even read your cold email.

Essentially, you are asking them for all of their time without offering much value in return.

Therefore, whenever you make a sales call or email, you must immediately offer something of value to the prospect.  More specifically, you need to offer them a taste of your product or service that returns some value to them.

For example, if you are selling an SEO software product, run SEO analytics of your prospect's website and then offer to show them the results at the initial sales presentation.

That way, the potential client feels that they are getting something valuable early on.

When the prospect feels valued, they are more likely to reciprocate your kindness by listening to your sales presentation.

Moreover, continue to consistently use effective outbound sales tactics like cold calling and emailing, but never forget to offer the prospect a taste of your product or service right away.  There is no such thing as something for nothing!

 

Take to Social Media

 

Are you connecting with your potential and existing business clients on LinkedIn?

If not, stop what you are doing and go connect with them!

Studies show that businesses that connect with their clients over multiple channels see longer-lasting connections.

There are two key ways that you can draw in potential clients on social media (other than cold messaging), including:

  1. Scaling your own profile
  2. Identifying dissatisfied clients

Having a solid social media profile is becoming an increasingly important element of sales for several reasons, including:

  1. It allows you to market your personal brand
  2. You can easily share historical client success stories
  3. You can show that you care about your clients by liking their content

First off, never forget the importance of being personable in B2B relationships!

Social media is a great way for clients to get to know you on a personal level.

Incorporating a little bit of personality into your posts or photos on LinkedIn can break the ice for you to connect with the client on a personal level.

Second, use your LinkedIn to share previous client success stories.

In a single click, you can take your existing client’s success post and turn it into free marketing material for yourself.

Third, show that you care about your clients by liking, commenting, and sharing their content.

It will show both your existing and potential clients that you care about their success.

In addition to leveraging relationships with your own profile, you should seek out potential clients on LinkedIn by checking out negative online reviews.

For example, search through your competitor company’s LinkedIn profile for negative reviews.  Then, reach out to the reviewer and offer them a free trial of your product or service!

If those clients get a free service out of you AND can see the more likable side of you through your profile, your odds of gaining them as a client double.

Because B2B relationships are long-term, prospects want to like you beyond a professional level.  Social media is a free way to get them to see that likable personal side of you!

 

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Step 2: Building Strong Relationships

 

The prospecting process itself should have already laid the foundations for you to have a strong relationship with your clients.

From here on out, customer experience is equally important as getting the client’s business problems solved!

 

Accept The Risks

 

At the onset of a new relationship, both the B2B company client and the supplier company are understandably slightly uneasy.

The client is probably feeling at least some level of nervousness over having made an investment in you to solve their major problem.

On the other hand, you and your company are taking the risk of putting in tons of effort at the onset of the relationship to potentially not have things work out.

With that said, both parties need to come together to accept the fact that there are risks involved and come up with a viable plan to overcome them.

Acknowledging the risks involved may seem taboo at first.  It might seem odd to have both sides recognize that they are slightly uneasy about things.

However, recognizing those risks and talking them through is a key step in building transparency.  Think about it like this... it's as if you are showing your playing cards to your prospect.

When the client can see your deck, they understand your intentions.

And, when they understand your intentions, their trust in you only grows stronger.

Trust comes from transparency.  And transparency is a central pillar in strong, long-term relationships.  Establishing transparency early on solidifies the foundation of your relationship.

 

Create Long-Term Goals & A Plan

 

Solving major challenges for business clients takes time.

And, both the business client and supplier business should recognize this.

To help manage expectations, both parties should put together a long-term business plan for solving the client's issues.

That business plan should include:

  1. The client's long-term goals
  2. A detailed execution plan
  3. An analysis of how long executing the plan will take

First off, the client and supplier must set tangible goals for solving the client's problems.

What exactly do they want to see happen?  The more specific the goals, the better.

But, because this is a relationship and the two sides help one another, the supplier company should also recognize the outcomes that they want for themselves in the deal.

These details should be put in writing!  When goals are written down, they are far more likely to manifest.

Second, both parties should outline the details of exactly how they are going to achieve their goals.

Who is going to do what?  How are the two sides going to communicate on a regular basis?  How will the two sides manage the business customers' needs if they change?

Again, put the execution plan into writing to solidify the deal.

Lastly, timing is everything!

When assessing both the goals and execution plan, consider the time frame for getting things done!

Be realistic with how long solving the problems will take.

It's better to overestimate time than to underestimate!

The two companies should come together to solidify their goals, plan, and timeframe for the task at hand.  Laying a formal outline on the table not only lays the foundation for action, but it adds another layer of transparency to the relationship.

 

Connect on Multiple Levels

 

With all of the risks on the table and a formal plan in place, it’s time to get everyone on both sides of the table involved!

Remember, B2B relationships are more than just an account manager and a single business client talking.  Rather, they are relationships between two entire companies.

Therefore, get everyone on your supplier company team connected with someone on the business client’s side.  

Move all the way up the decision-making line of command to get the two business owners involved.

The more people with matching personalities involved, the better!

 

Step 3: Maintaining Strong B2B Relationships Long-Term

 

At this point in the process, you and your business should have already proven that you can add value to your business client’s company.

You should have been able to prove that your business is capable of solving their problems, and has a personality that compliments theirs.

Now, it’s all about maintaining the relationship!  It’s less about doing and more about nurturing.

The foundations are solid, now they just need to be projected into the future so that both sides can reap the benefits of having a long-term relationship!

 

Focus on Your Business Client’s Story

 

Successful B2B marketers and salespeople understand that their business client’s business is more than just their product or service.

Like all other companies, they understand that the vision of their client’s company is the true selling point, and their product or service is simply a means of delivering that vision.

Therefore, B2B salespeople hone in on their business client’s story, vision, and purpose.  Whatever product or service they are supplying, they find ways to emphasize their client’s “why”.

For example, if the supplier company is supplying content for the business client’s website, they incorporate the company’s vision into the content.

At the very least, the supplier company representatives engage in conversation with the business clients about their “why” and what makes them unique.

Engaging in their story makes the clients feel appreciated and better understood.  And, feeling understood is one of the most basic human psychological needs, relevant in personal and business relationships.

Train everyone in your business on what your business client’s vision is.

Then, remind them to incorporate that vision into their deliverable and engage in conversation about it.

The more you make the client feel understood, the more likely they will want you to stick around and understand their future problems as well!

 

Always Think Win-Win

 

It’s called a business relationship for a reason.

And, in a relationship, both parties give and take!

As the business relationship ensues, it’s important that both parties ask themselves whether or not they are fulfilling their joint business plan.  More specifically, whether or not they are fulfilling the needs of the other party.

With that said, set solid dates with your client to revisit your joint business plan.  On those dates, have open and honest conversations about how things are going.

Think of it like a relationship check-up!

Having open communication on a regular basis is important, but not every business professional is willing to spill out their frustrations on a whim through an email.

Therefore, always keep the communication flowing, but set aside a specific time to discuss any grievances or new challenges.

One of the worst things that can happen is to have a client’s issues boil over because they were not properly addressed.  

It’s a common way that many relationships break up, and it is completely avoidable!

Understand that there will be challenges in the relationship along the way.  To avoid them growing into something tragic, be strategic about discussing those grievances to ensure that both parties are getting all of their needs fulfilled!

 

Final Thoughts on Building Business Relationships

 

B2B relationships can solidify your business success far into the future.

If you’ve got the relationships in the bag, you can almost count on long-term success!

Whether you are a sales rep yourself or the leader of a sales team, training for building relationships is an investment in the longevity of your business.

Business relationships = success insurance.

Are you properly insuring yourself?