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How Are B2C and B2B Loyalty Programs Different?

Sometimes it seems like those in business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing get all the fun stuff. The touchy-feely commercials and billboard campaigns, the viral Twitter hashtags, the attention of a mass audience, customer loyalty programs—but wait! B2C doesn’t get it all when it comes to loyalty programs. Business-to-business (B2B) companies should implement and manage B2B loyalty programs a little differently than B2C companies do, yes. But B2B companies have the ability to influence customers in ways B2C programs can’t.

Here are a few of the most important B2B loyalty program distinctions, and what those distinctions mean about managing and marketing your program:

  • B2B loyalty programs need more personalization.

    In The B2B Executive Playbook, author Sean Geehan points out one of the most important distinctions between B2B and B2C companies: the size of their customer bases. He states that successful B2C company Starbucks has about 15 million customers vs. successful B2B company, Celestica, who has only ten.

    Because B2B companies tend to have such smaller customer bases, B2B customer loyalty programs should cater to participant experience and personalization.

    • Convenient communication experiences

      Communicate with B2B loyalty program participants in ways that match with their communication preferences. Today’s customers are diverse, busy and demand communication options that fit with their lifestyles and schedules. Your B2B loyalty program software should be capable of sending alerts, updates, promotions news and more through multiple communication mediums to ensure you’re reaching customers.

      An open enrollment form can capture participants’ communication preferences when they sign up to your program. This information ensures you have accurate customer contact information and participants always know where to expect loyalty program information to come from.

    • Personalization

      While it may be much riskier for B2B companies to experiment with marketing, this drastically smaller customer base gives B2B companies an edge over B2C. They have the ability to invest more deeply in personalized marketing. Studies show that even small personalization techniques such as including an email recipient’s industry in the subject line can yield six times higher transaction rates than non-personalized emails.

      If you use an online loyalty program that rewards participants in digital points they can spend in an online rewards catalog, personalize their shopping experience! Online rewards catalog profiles can display customized avatars, retrieve reward redemption history, track reward points balance or highlight items from the participant’s reward wishlist.

  • B2B companies should offer VIP loyalty rewards for VIP customers.

    If you’re like most B2B companies, you likely have less than five truly loyal B2B customers who have massive sway over your business’ health. You should invest accordingly in retaining them.

    • Incentive trips

      Taking your VIP customers on an incentive tip can help you build better relationships with them through sharing one-of-a-kind experiences. When push comes to shove, are they going to be more loyal to your Joe Schmoe competition, or to the person who was standing beside them when they reeled a giant, glistening blue marlin out of sparkling, blue Caribbean waters?

      Incentive travel events with your top customers show them the utmost appreciation, create long-term positive associations with your brand and provide a relaxed environment where you can get to know them while sharing marketing strategies and insights.

    • Unique rewards

      Partner with a loyalty program provider that offers you the ability to give extraordinary rewards. When you have a long-term, dependable partner as a customer, that customer deserves something they can’t find in any old online rewards catalog. Imagine surprising them with a home renovation, college tuition payment or indoor pool installation. Unique loyalty rewards in this vein have immense, specific and personal impact on customers’ lives. How much better could the customer experience get than that?

  • B2B loyalty programs should include training incentives.

    In channel sales, your customers and salespeople are often one in the same. Perhaps contracts who purchase from you sell your products, or maybe dealers or distributors manage sales reps who push your product to end-customers. Either way, you depend on your customers knowing your products or services, much moreso than Starbucks depends on customers knowing exactly what’s in their Frappuccino.

    Online loyalty programs can deliver training content and distribute reward points through the same software. You customers can complete surveys, pass quizzes, participate in daily trivia questions and immediately receive rewards for doing so. Providing training incentives through your loyalty program is an easy way to consolidate marketing efforts while guiding and encouraging product knowledge.

  • B2B loyalty programs can be major differentiators.

    Just about every major B2C company with a loyalty or rewards program has competition who offers a similar program. Think about credit card reward programs, Kroger vs. Publix, etc. B2B companies with their complex sales channels have been slower to adopt loyalty programs, however. Only recently has online loyalty software evolved enough to handle the many demands of marketing, communicating, rewarding, authenticating and redeeming all in the same platform.

    This, combined with the fact that B2B companies are often limited in how much product differentiation they can offer due to set industry standards, means that B2B loyalty programs can have a much bigger impact than B2C. In markets where products are all very similarly manufactured and regulated, a B2B loyalty program could be the strong differentiator that sets you apart from competition.

  • It’s important for B2B loyalty programs to have claims validation features.

    B2C companies sell their own products directly to the consumer, but your dealers and contractors are the ones selling to your end-users, so you often need claims documentation to validate purchases. Traditionally, this is time-consuming and a burden on administration, and a major reason B2B companies avoided loyalty programs.

    A B2B loyalty program should be equipped with tools that speed up the claims verification and reward redemption process. With documentation uploading, for instance, sales reps can upload invoices, receipts, warranty registrations and other information directly to your program. This helps you authenticate claims faster, while participants get their loyalty rewards sooner.

While a B2B customer loyalty program isn’t usually as simple as swiping a grocery store rewards card, the differences aren’t negative. Managed effectively, B2B loyalty programs have the potential to make a much bigger impact on sales and marketing than B2C programs do.