After 2020’s dramatic shift to online commerce, many B2B buyers now expect more than ever in terms of service and purchase options and customer experience. A 2020 Salesforce survey found that 69 percent of B2B customers want companies to offer new ways to access their services and products, and 54 percent want companies to offer more services and products. Crucially, 85 percent of B2B buyers also said the experience a company provides matters as much as their services or products.
Companies need to meet these expectations quickly or risk losing business to competitors. One way to expand service offerings or improve CX is by forming strategic partnerships with trusted businesses to create an ecosystem that delivers what your customers want, so they don’t have to seek out what they need from your competitors. If you choose your partners carefully, you can give your customers what they want without making major investments in developing new lines of business or new in-house CX initiatives.
What Kinds of Partnerships Can Help You Serve B2B Customers Better?
In general, company-to-company partnerships are helpful for adding new services that complement your existing offerings and help your customers accomplish their goals. For example, an e-commerce platform serving small and midsize retailers might partner with a delivery tracking service that allows its customers to provide end-to-end order visibility, a fraud prevention service that helps its customers avoid chargebacks, and digital marketing services to help customers attract more customers of their own.
Before you start your partner search, find out what your customers want that you don’t provide yet. Voice-of-customer data, including reviews, surveys, interviews and other feedback, can help you pinpoint these areas. In general, due to the digital shift that the pandemic accelerated, B2B customers are looking for a more B2C-like experience that includes some or all of these features.
Support for self-service buying. Salesforce found that in 2020, self-service account portals were the service that generated the most enthusiasm among customers, with 59 percent already using self-service when available and 23 percent interested in using them.
If your business still relies on the catalog-and-sales-call method, one of the most impactful partnerships you could make might be with a B2B e-commerce platform that integrates with your current product catalog so that your customers can research products and services and place orders online quickly at any time, the way they shop in their personal lives. A good e-commerce partner will offer a constellation of its own partners to help you build out your self-service portal, such as design, content, SEO, and user experience services, so you don’t have to find, vet and hire all those providers on your own.
End-to-end services. It’s no longer enough to fulfill one step in your customers’ journey. Now, 67 percent of B2B buyers expect customers to anticipate their needs. Two of the most common needs are reordering products and subscribing to services—68 percent of customers are already using or want to use subscription services, and 66 percent already use or want to use automatic order replenishment services. Partnering with a relationship commerce provider can allow you to add those capabilities to your portal easily and manage them.
If you offer e-commerce services, take a look at where your customers need more support during their own sales cycles. For example, you might partner with digital marketing service providers to help them drive traffic to their websites and also partner with returns management services to ease their return logistics burden.
Complementary services. Customers’ needs vary by B2B vertical, and sometimes the unique needs of a particular niche can make it a challenge to find service providers who understand what these businesses need. For example, inventory management requirements and challenges are very different for an omnichannel retailer and a heavy equipment distributor.
If your business serves customers in a vertical that requires specialized knowledge from service providers like inventory and supply-chain management, bookkeeping and accounting, maintenance, logistics coordination, regulatory compliance or cybersecurity, you and the service providers you already use might benefit from setting up referral partnerships.
What Kinds of Value Can Your Company Offer to Partners?
When you have in mind the kinds of partnerships you’d like to create, and perhaps even specific companies in mind that you’d like to partner with, it’s time to self-evaluate and come up with a list of ways your company can benefit prospective partners.
For example, can your business help your partners scale up by accessing a new market segment or geography where you have a presence, but they don’t (yet)? Identify and customize your value proposition for each potential partner before you start the partnership discussion.
Building and Maintaining Your Partnerships
The most successful partnerships don’t just build value for partners and their customers in the near term. They also evolve to keep creating value over time. That kind of long-term benefit requires defined roles, ongoing clear communication and the willingness and ability of both partners to keep up with their customers’ needs and change to meet them.
It’s also important to make sure your partnerships generate a worthwhile return on the time and resources you invest in them. Depending on the type of partnerships you create, your metrics might include lead volume and quality, new conversions, customer retention, or customer lifetime value.
Finally, if your business is new to strategic partnerships, start small. Identify one potential partner who can deliver real value for your customers, make sure you can offer the partner real value in return, and start the conversation. As you build your partnership development skills, you may be able to create an ecosystem of partners to help you meet your customers’ needs better, keep them loyal and grow your business.