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For business-to-business companies, communicating with customers is always challenging. Their attention is focused not only on all their other vendors and suppliers, but also on running their own businesses and serving their own customers. While new and emerging social media tools provide a potential B2B communications playground, it’s worth remembering some tried-and-true way of keeping these customers engaged – and remembering that in a tough economy, a little extra attention from a vendor can go a long way. These five ideas are nothing new, but I’ve found them to be effective in making customers feel connected:
1. Invite key customers to become members of a “customer advisory council”
This tactic is a great way for you to get some authentic feedback from some of your top customers while involving them in your business and making them feel like they have a stake. Choose a manageable (7-10) number of customers—either top sellers, a representative cross-section of your entire base, or just key accounts you want involved. Let them know they’ve been selected to be a member of this council and invite them to join. Gather the group together via conference call every other month and use it as a forum to share ideas for new products, garner feedback, and take pulse of your market. Give the council an opportunity to make some decisions, as a group, about a new direction, product, or service that your company is thinking of offering. If you do have some budget or if the customers are located close to your facility, bring them in for an all-day meeting. Introduce them to executives, give them a tour of your site, have them meet and share feedback with product managers and other key personnel. Highlight the council when you roll out one of their ideas: “Based on the feedback from our customer advisory council, we are pleased to announce…”
2. Repackage useful information for them
In a down economy, a lot of businesses just can’t or won’t pony up the money to attend trade shows, training classes, or industry events—no matter how valuable the content might be. So deliver valuable content to them. Scour trade publications and the Web for great articles about topics relevant to your industry or customers. Break down the content from what would normally be a two-day product training class into a one-page summary guide. Share general business management tips. Take all of this information and compile it for your customers. Distribute via the channel (Web, mail, e-mail) and frequency (each week, month, quarter) that makes the most sense for your customers. Include your company’s logo and branding – “Industry Roundup from Company X.” It’s a great way to put relevant information in front of your customers that they probably wouldn’t come across or have time to look for anyway. (Always attribute the original sources, BTW.)
3. Feature your customers in your company’s marketing efforts
Instead of buying stock photography or using bland product images, highlight your customers. Hold a photo shoot at their location and show them using your products. Use these images in printed collateral materials, on the Web, in trade show displays. Profile your customers’ businesses on your Web site and include their quotes on how they’re using your products. Ask some of your customers to be profiled in case studies of your company. Look at the marketing materials you were already going to spend money on anyway – and then find a way to incorporate your customers into them. A great example is HighJump Software’s online resource center. It’s filled with customer case studies, videos, and webcasts that showcase how HighJump’s customers use its products.
4. Create a contest for customers to participate in
The options here are endless. Hold a photo contest where customers submit pictures showing a creative use of your product. Have a design contest where customers weigh in on the look, feel, color, style, or functionality of one of your products. Develop a charity or community service program where all of your customers compete in their local area to donate the most money, service, volunteer, time, etc. to a given organization. The prize can be free product, passes to an industry event or tradeshow, free literature or collateral materials – offer something of value to your customers that you already have or have access to, but make the contest itself more fun and worthwhile than simply the prize they’re competing for. As a bonus – you may end up with photos, videos, or product ideas that your company can use later!
5. Match up businesses for mentoring
Chances are, your customers could probably learn a lot from each other. You probably have a mix of long-established and developing companies in your customer base. Why not offer to match up your customers so that they can mentor each other? Broker introductions between customers and then give them some guidelines to get them started. Check-in throughout the year and ask how the relationship is going. Highlight successful mentor-mentee relationships to other customers to show how knowledge sharing can benefit everyone. And if you facilitate ways of making your customers more successful, it should lead to more success for your company, too.
There are countless additional B2B marketing and communications techniques that can help you connect to your customers in a personal way. In light of all the “new” communications tools and tactics available now, it’s important to remember that mixing in some of the “old” stuff can still be effective!
Image source: Flickr user ThomasHawk