Building Retention With BTB Catalogs

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Building loyalty and customer retention can be done efficiently through catalogs, but the approach may differ if you deal with a business-to-business audience rather than a consumer audience.


Here is a review of the key similarities and differences between enhancing loyalty through a BTB catalog and through a consumer catalog:


Key Loyalty Builders for Both Recognition and reward -- Both BTB and consumer customers will buy more and will stay with you longer when you build recognition and reward elements into their buying experiences. This can be accomplished by creating both discount and service benefits for catalog customers based on their past levels of spending and special areas of interest.


Ongoing, linked communications -- It is hard to build a relationship through one or two communications a year; at least quarterly, and preferably six times a year, is the minimum to establish critical continuity of communications. For both consumer and BTB audiences, this can easily be achieved through a timed series of catalogs, push e-mail and mini-promotions, with additional support from inserts into a fulfillment package.


These communications all need to acknowledge the relationship, thank the customer, remind the customer of key program benefits, target relevant information to the consumer (both editorial and product-related), presell upcoming communications and carry a consistent look, feel and tone.


Channel integration -- For both audiences, it is impossible to build loyalty without integrating key messages and supporting retention-building initiatives across channels - a loyalty program cannot exist solely within one channel. For catalogers, this means reinforcing loyalty in store locations, within fulfillment packages, online, with push e-mail, in call centers, etc.


Interactive elements -- Loyalty building requires a two-way dialogue for both business and general customers. You need to continually encourage and publish customer feedback (focus groups, customer surveys, chat rooms), provide answers to commonly asked questions, provide checklists/fill-ins within catalogs, etc.


Targeted elements. Targeting both content and offers is critical. Both audiences will be most receptive when they receive relevant information about merchandise of special interest to them, acknowledgment of their status as top customers, editorial content that meets a specific need and offers that are consistent with their needs and past behavior.


Key Differences in Creating BTB Loyalty:


Personal contact -- BTB audiences spend a lot more per order than general consumers, so genuine one-to-one communication is far more affordable. Techniques such as outbound telemarketing to top customers to remind them of special sales or to check on satisfaction for a shipment can pay off in short-term gains and long-term retention.


Also consider exclusive toll-free numbers for ordering (with service specifically geared to BTB customers), assigning top BTB customers a specific and consistent sales representative who maintains a complete record of client preferences, personal on-site (client or retail outlet) consultations, customized training or service programs, free subscriptions to industry-related magazines or newsletters produced by your company exclusively for top BTB customers, live online or offline seminars of special interest, etc.


Services -- Service benefits often have far greater appeal to BTB customers than to general consumers. In constructing loyalty benefits, think about the types of services that will make their jobs easier and will make them more successful. Be sure to find out what causes them the most stress or takes too much time when they interact with your product line and help them resolve these problems.


Use of the Internet as a channel -- Consumers use the Internet for convenience in ordering, but BTB customers consider it a necessity and rely on it heavily for information about their needs. BTB customers will go online much more readily to find a product they want or the price they need, and they expect that your site will provide comprehensive product, ordering and use instructions.


As a BTB cataloger, you are especially susceptible to mom-and-pop shops that carry brand names to establish credibility and offer low prices. Do not make the mistake of having one site for both consumer and BTB audiences. At least have a microsite with its own portal that focuses on the needs of this audience, with editorial content that reflects your area of expertise. Build special benefits into your loyalty program that are delivered through the Internet channel to foster dependence on the type of services and information you provide online and that support loyalty building while protecting you from aggressive online competition. Typical benefits might include a free online newsletter subscription, real-time answers to e-mail inquiries or discounted or free shipping for top BTB customers.


Nature of the relationship -- In loyalty marketing, the tone of communications is far more personal and less in-your-face than with promotional marketing. A conversational copy style, much like a friend talking to a friend, is often used, and copy that reads like an advertisement (spouting tag lines, for example) is forbidden. This, however, should be adjusted for BTB retention initiatives. While the tone of editorial content needs to avoid promotional shouting, a friend-to-friend relationship is too casual and won't establish credibility. Strive for a voice or persona that expresses expertise in a warm manner, such as establishing an adviser on telecommunication needs for small businesses or a software consultant who specializes in the needs of public institutions.


Data quality -- Much more attention must be paid to BTB customers in terms of data collection. If you have inaccurate data on a single consumer customer, the loss of business might amount to $200 a year, while a single BTB customer can bring in $200,000 a year for many catalogers. Because of this, you can afford to do exhaustive manual quality control when necessary. Something as simple as a company name being data-entered into the wrong field can cost you dearly.


Changing key contacts -- Remember, establish a relationship with a business, not the actual buyer, because in BTB the actual buyer can frequently change. Do this by immediately creating corporate accounts for top companies. In a very visible space within the catalog, include a past account history so you don't appear to be one more unsolicited catalog. Immediately create the impression with the buyer that you are an established and valued vendor for the company.
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