Loyalty programmes are a pivotal strategy for nurturing long-term partnerships and delivering mutual value in B2B relationships.

Unlike B2C, B2B loyalty programmes rely on understanding the intricacies of each business's needs, their decision-making processes, and what a valuable rewards system looks like for the members. 

Understanding B2B Loyalty Programmes 

The relationship with customers in B2B is more complex than that of the consumer relationship with a brand, and it can be much stronger and more powerful. While both B2B and B2C may use loyalty programmes, their success depends on them being crafted quite differently. Business customers expect a lot more from their suppliers. They expect a deeper understanding of their requirements, their challenges and a value-add relationship that helps them to solve those issues. Get all this right and you have a customer for life. 

In a Harvard Business Review article on building loyalty in business relationships, it was noted that almost every customer requires a customised version of the product, quantity or price, and for this reason it is impossible to use the same market-wide selling tactics in B2B as one does in B2C. In the consumer relationship you are only trying to deal with the pain points of an individual whereas in the business relationship, you are trying to solve the challenges of the business and align those to the needs and desires of the individuals who are purchasing from you. To further complicate the relationship, you can have multiple stakeholders in the chain, from procurement to purchasing to end users. You need to be able to meet the needs and prove value to all these stakeholders. Your B2B customer may only stay with each business for 2.5 years so ensuring you have depth in your relationships is crucial to maintaining loyalty. 

Objectives of B2B Loyalty Programmes 

The essence of B2B loyalty programmes lies in creating lasting relationships and nurturing a sense of mutual trust and understanding. Programmes are now designed to go beyond mere transactional interactions, aiming instead to build a robust partnership strategy. The primary goal is to encourage repeat business, but more importantly, to develop a collaborative environment where regular business dealings lead to shared growth and innovation. 

At the core of these loyalty initiatives is the commitment to provide value that is specifically tailored to the unique requirements of each customer. This may include offering bespoke solutions, prioritised services, or access to exclusive resources, all with the aim of making the business relationship more valuable and efficient. The objective is to evolve beyond the standard supplier-customer dynamic, creating a partnership where both parties are actively engaged and benefit from each other's success. This approach not only heightens client satisfaction and loyalty but also fosters organic growth and word-of-mouth referrals. 

Additionally, these programmes often incorporate elements of feedback and engagement, which are vital for ongoing improvement and adaptability. By valuing and responding to client feedback, businesses can fine-tune their offerings to remain in step with the ever-changing market demands. Ultimately, B2B loyalty programmes in the UK are about creating a symbiotic relationship, where continual engagement, trust, and mutual understanding lay the groundwork for sustained business achievement and a robust, cooperative business network. 

Insights into B2B Member Behaviour 

Understanding B2B member behaviour is all about getting into the mindset of how businesses interact and make decisions. It's a world where relationships matter just as much as the bottom line. These businesses look for partners who understand their unique needs and can offer solutions that really hit the mark. They appreciate a personal touch, showing that you're not just another vendor, but a partner invested in their success. Decision-making in these circles often involves multiple people, so clear and honest communication is key. It's about more than just selling a product or service; it's about building trust, showing reliability, and proving that you're in it for the long haul.  

A loyalty programme on its own isn’t going to persuade a company to work with you, but it absolutely can be the deciding factor between you and a competitor. What is more, if you get the metrics and structure right in your loyalty programme, you will also be able to use the data to further enhance your understanding of your programme members allowing you to be proactive in your communications and to make the programme even more valuable to those members.  

Customisation and Personalisation in B2B Programmes 

One of the most important aspects of any loyalty programme is personalisation. Your members need to feel valued and as though the programme has been designed with them in mind. Consider the value of your programme to different members. If you have enough resource in your business, then consider asking someone to sit on the programme team and act as the customer in every discussion. It would be their job to put the customer's needs at the forefront of every decision. Putting the customer first needs to come into all aspects of your programme: 

  • Communication – ensure your members are getting the right information at the right time to suit their needs 

  • Campaigns – design loyalty campaigns to appeal to different members and keep updating profiles and analysing data to ensure you understand what your members need 

  • Content – make the tone of voice and content unique to your business but also make it easy for your customers to understand and navigate 

  • Rewards – one of the most important aspects of any loyalty programme is the rewards. Design your rewards around what your members will truly value. It is only at the point of redemption that members recognise the true value of the programme so keeping this attainable and relevant will help lock in loyalty. 

  • Experience – the experience needs to be frictionless, engaging and simple. Keep your members experience with the programme fresh so they remain engaged but don’t overcomplicate it. Make it simple for members to get in touch. Consider how best to support with queries whether that is chatbots, email, ticket systems or telephone. 

Building and Sustaining Relationships 

We often remind companies that loyalty starts from within and keeping your workforce loyal and committed to the vision of your business will pay back tenfold when introducing a loyalty programme.  

Your customer-facing staff are critical in launching any new initiative and even more so with loyalty. They are the team who, potentially, are most affected by any loyalty programme. If your programme is designed to drive more self-service amongst customers, think about how this might affect Account Manager's commission or bonus structures. You need them to launch the programme to the customer and to support customers in registering, engaging and seeing the value in the programme. Think about how you can incentivise your team to grow the membership base. 

Once your programme is up and running you need to make sure that you can use the data and analytics to strengthen the relationship and anticipate change. In B2B there are often multiple stakeholders in any relationship so keeping the programme relevant to them is crucial. Also, remember that you may only have one person interacting with the programme so don’t forget to continue with other forms of communication to highlight the benefits your business delivers. 

Technology and Innovation in B2B Loyalty 

Everything is digital and we all expect to be able to access information and data at the touch of a button. Many buzzwords and new tech are emerging all the time. Before you jump on the latest bandwagon, consider how your members want to interact with you and what you are asking them to do in your programme. If members earn through interactions on the programme e.g. providing reviews or testimonials or making purchases, then you might want to consider developing an app. If all they need to do is review their points balances and make redemptions, then a website might be fine.  

There are a variety of ways you can utilise the power of technology in your programme, from the delivery mechanic to support your customers with chatbots or GPTs to interactive experience functionality. Make sure that when you evaluate your technology options you assess everything for its usability, the value it will deliver to your business or to your members and its longevity. Do you want to use an off-the-shelf platform that you can grow with, or do you want to custom build your own solution? Both have their advantages and disadvantages so assessing what you want both today and, in the future, will be vital to getting it right.  

If you are working with external providers you want to consider who owns the data within the technology, what the development roadmap looks like for the solution and what SLAs they will have in place to support you. If you are working with an in-house development team, consider asking an external provider for consultancy on some of the pitfalls when designing loyalty solutions. The most important factor in technology is that it must improve the experience in some way.  

Leveraging Data and Analytics 

One of the benefits of a loyalty programme is the vast quantities of quality data it can produce. Data out is only as good as the data in so remember the rules of data and be aware of its: 

  • Accuracy 

  • How recently it was captured 

  • Any potential bias when the data was captured 

  • When the data can be used and for what purpose 

A key strategy within loyalty is to look at how you can use the data to analyse and identify trends. Trends could be anything from rate of redemption to customer lifetime value, to frequency of purchase or product purchasing patterns. 

Any data model you create should be re-checked periodically to prove it is still delivering value. In LoyaltyStream you can create multiple loyalty campaigns to target specific behaviours. Whilst it can be tempting to create campaigns that target all customers it would be beneficial to use the data analysis to design a campaign that will motivate specific audience segments. 

With your audience segments consider creating automated rules that will move members in and out of groups depending on their behaviour. Analysing that behaviour and movement will help to create better strategies for motivating growth in the future. 

Measuring Success and ROI 

We have written an article specifically looking at the Customer Loyalty Index and how you can use that to measure loyalty. No one rule will work for everyone. You need to have identified what you want your loyalty programme to provide. Think of the KPIs not just as measurements of success for your business but also measurements of value for your members. Do you want your members to feel part of a community, to be able to improve their skills or achieve accreditations? Do you want them to be able to save money on their product purchases or to provide their customers with a better service? Whatever the value is to the customer, design some measurements that will help you analyse whether those are being achieved. A key point to note is that you should ensure the measurements are achievable and would also be seen to be successful by your members. If not, you might need to go back and look at the value proposition. 

For your own KPIs, you might want to consider any of the following: 

  • Size or growth rate of membership 

  • Value of spend from members versus non-members 

  • Frequency of purchase 

  • Value of brand advocacy – referrals, social, reviews, testimonials 

  • Value or breadth of spend across a product portfolio 

  • Increase in customer retention / reduction in customer churn 

  • Reduction in customer acquisition cost 

  • Reduction in cost of sale 

There are many ways of measuring success and the one you choose will depend on what behaviours you are trying to change, the accuracy, reliability and availability of your data and your ability to measure and analyse it correctly.  

It is a good idea to have some general measurement tools that can run alongside any more in-depth analysis such as Net Promoter Score, Customer Experience Score and Customer Lifetime Value Measurement. 

Ethical Considerations and Best Practices 

With B2B loyalty your business must ensure it remains transparent and fair to all members. You need to comply with any regulations or industry standards that exist in your sector and provide security and confidence for your members. Terms and conditions and policies should be open, transparent, easily readable and always available. 

Best practice and ethical marketing go beyond just adhering to GDPR, you should link everything back to the value proposition. Be confident in the permission levels you have from your members, be transparent in your communications, loyalty earning and expiry metrics and be conscious of who in the business you are communicating with. In B2B this can be very different across companies. In the case of a dental sector loyalty programme, you could be communicating with the Practice Manager, the Dental Nurse, the Principal Dentist or the patients. Make sure you always identify who you are communicating with and tailor your content to suit. 

Final Insights 

From my experience designing loyalty programmes for a wide variety of B2B businesses across multiple sectors, I see the landscape of B2B loyalty programmes as a complex yet highly rewarding field. The key to success lies in creating personalised, value-centric strategies that go beyond just rewarding transactions to building lasting business relationships. Unlike the B2C sector, where the focus is often on mass appeal, B2B loyalty demands a deeper, more nuanced understanding of each client's specific needs, goals, and operational context. This insight is crucial for designing tailored programmes that not only motivate but also strengthen the overall business partnership. 

Our sole focus at Stream Loyalty is B2B, and we regularly consult with businesses on how to adapt their approach from simple transaction-based interactions to establishing a mutually beneficial environment. The effectiveness of a B2B loyalty programme isn't just measured by the incentives or recognition it offers; rather, it's the depth and quality of the relationships it nurtures that truly matter. 

At the heart of a robust B2B loyalty programme is its ability to resonate with and adapt to the dynamic needs of businesses. By doing so, you can ensure that the relationships you build with customers lay the foundation for future business success. In essence, the strength and sustainability of a B2B loyalty programme are determined by how well it aligns with and supports the evolving landscape of the members’ needs. 

About the Author

Melanie Parker

Melanie Parker

Stream’s co-founder, Melanie, became the first British woman to become accredited with the CLMP from The Loyalty Academy. Passionate about all things loyalty, Melanie cuts through the technical jargon and gets to the real business issue. Melanie loves to develop engaging digital solutions that appear simple whilst creating long lasting partnerships that add value to all.

Related

Christmas Quizzing - Wednesday Wisdom

Christmas Quizzing - Wednesday Wisdom

Jacqui hosted our Wednesday Wisdom on Wednesday 15th December where she ran a Christmas Quiz for all...

Read More
Rewards or Recognition

Rewards or Recognition

Taylor's latest article explores why reward and recognition is so important.

Read More
How expert client services results in genuinely happy clients and successful B2B loyalty programmes.  

How expert client services results in genuinely happy clients and successful B2B loyalty programmes.  

At Stream we believe expert client services results in genuinely happy clients and successful B2B lo...

Read More
That's a wrap....UK Construction Week Show

That's a wrap....UK Construction Week Show

An insight into my day at the UK Construction Week Show

Read More
Journey through the world of customer motivation and loyalty from the perspective of Stream Loyalty MD, Mark Maclure

Journey through the world of customer motivation and loyalty from the perspective of Stream Loyalty MD, Mark Maclure

In this interview, Mark Maclure, MD of Stream Loyalty, takes us through his journey in loyalty, focu...

Read More
How to Harness Customer Loyalty in Fintech

How to Harness Customer Loyalty in Fintech

Global investment in Fintech companies has risen from 60 billion dollars in 2017 to a pre-COVID peak...

Read More
Empty
Click + to add content