Hands On

4 Key Differences Between B2C and B2B Retention Marketing

Assuming retention marketing for clients and businesses is the same will guarantee a failed outcome. Segment, research and adapt to each of these client types, and see your retention rates climb

Ben Jacobson
January 16 2018

Given the value of keeping your current customers happy versus the cost of replacing them, it makes sense that you’d want to do everything you can to encourage loyal and long-term customers over one-time buys. But you have more to consider. Retention marketing is often discussed as a whole with the same strategies suggested for every type of business. You rarely see it broken down further to different tactics and tools for different businesses, like B2B vs. B2C. And that’s where we start to go wrong.

Sure, there are general goals that will work for any kind of business, like personalizing customer experiences and always demonstrating to people that their feedback is heard. But when you dive deeper into the details, like exactly how your business can personalize an experience or use customer feedback, the relevance of expert recommendations will vary considerably. It takes intimate knowledge of your own company’s model, touchpoints, personas and general ecosystem to know what retention marketing tactics will most likely serve you best.

When it comes to the key distinctions between loyalty among business buyers versus end consumers, it all boils down to behavior. A company and a family will buy and use products in such different ways that you must establish your game plan accordingly. Business customers are often hyper-focused on ROI – earning it, proving it and talking about it. But among the questions someone might ask when buying a sweater—“What will be the ROI on this?”—likely isn’t one of them. To take a famous Gary Vaynerchuck quote somewhat out of context, you might as well be asking, “What’s the ROI of your mother?

B2B and B2C differ in the overall customer lifecycle, the relationships that matter, how they use your product, and who’s buying in. Read on for the key distinctions all businesses should consider when devising a retention marketing strategy that caters to your customers’ buying patterns and mindsets.

Who the Relationships Are With?

Relationships matter in every business, but the relationships that matter most changes from company to company. For example, B2C companies may not interact directly with their customers as much as B2B companies do, because with end consumers, other relationships hold more significance instead. Business-to-business transactions are often all about the relationships between primary contacts on the buyer’s side and the seller’s side. Organizations often work closely with their vendors, so a personal relationship within your client’s business can be the biggest differentiator between you and a competitor. This may even be a relationship that you’ve spent months or even years cultivating. B2B also sees a longer sales cycle that requires continuously engaging with your prospect – or in the case of retention, existing customer.

To keep that relationship going, leverage tools that make it easier to consistently connect with your customers. Automated messaging like monthly analytics reports, drip email sequences and triggered autoresponders make it easy to start conversations, reach out for check-in calls, educate customers, and more. Use these tactics to get people curious and engaged, and then swoop in with a personal touch. For example, Sumo sends weekly check-ins with personalized stats to help customers understand their progress using the software.

Image source: https://www.getvero.com/resources/retention-email-inspiration

In B2C, the customer might not interact as much directly with the company. They do, however, interact with other customers. You’ll want to amplify how your company or product plays into those relationships in your loyalty messaging. As social psychologist Kevin Simler notes, “What a product ‘says’ about you is only important insofar as other people will notice your use of it — i.e., if there’s social or cultural signaling involved.”

Consumers alignment with brands to say something about their identities, and it’s their need to continue that statement that plays a key role in retention marketing. For example, if a fashion company is known for their youthfulness and fun style, their signature aesthetic will play a part in retention, as long as customers want to project this image. The same marketing tactics like drip emails work, but pushing towards a different goal: using your product to make a statement inside of a community. For example, you can push sharing and interacting with user-generated content, so your brand’s tribe can connect publicly, where people notice and comment on it.

#2 How Customers and Roles Change

You’ll also want to consider your customer’s roles and how they’re changing over time. In B2B businesses, your point of contact for each customer can change frequently as people move in and out of different roles, get promoted, leave the company, and so on. Some industries prone to high turnover are even more susceptible to this. Given how important that direct relationship is for B2B, it’s crucial to stay updated on your customers, embrace starting new relationships from scratch, and consider how to market to across company personnel to increase your “stickiness” there (more on this in a moment).

You’ll want to frequently touch base with clients to find out about any shifts or changes as soon as possible. Also, make it easy to onboard and educate new contacts within an account to reduce friction and the requisite investment on your end. For example, HubSpot offers several free training programs to its customers, both on their specific sales and marketing software as well as the general strategy and industry around them.

Image source: https://academy.hubspot.com/certification

If someone at a company unfamiliar with HubSpot’s CRM, for example, becomes its main user, or if a marketing manager leaves and someone else needs to take over email marketing for a short while, this gives them a way to provide customer training at a large scale. In B2C, however, your customers will likely change less frequently. They will either be the end product users themselves or the decision-makers for their households, which can change depending on who is doing the shopping. Women often hold purchasing power for their entire households and are estimated to control the majority of discretionary spending worldwide.


So instead of focusing on retention tactics that help reps easily reconnect with clients and educate new contacts, you can prioritize better understanding your current customers’ habits and appealing to whomever does the buying – as well as the actual product use. Another interesting example of this is how kids’ movies frequently put in jokes and material for the parents to enjoy, like the character cameos in The Lego Movie. Since parents need to buy the tickets and chaperone their children to the theater, making movies they can enjoy too increases the chances that they’ll go back for the sequels.

#3 Diversifying and Deepening Adoption

Increasing adoption of your product is a key point of customer retention. The more people need it, the more likely they’ll continue purchasing it from you. Increasing product use, however, is completely different between B2C and B2B companies. For a B2C product, you can improve retention by focusing on how the individual customer can use your product more, both in terms of frequency and use case diversity. Take essential oils.

Image source: https://www.youngliving.com/en_US/products/c/essential-oil-products/singles

Someone might first buy one small bottle to use in a diffuser for aromatherapy, as offered in the “Essential Oil Singles” page from Young Living. But if he learns that he can also use that same oil to clean his house and treat certain health symptoms, he can get more value from his purchase. The more useful a product is, the faster it can be consumed, and the more a customer will want to continue buying it. In this sense, B2C businesses can boost retention through content that empowers customers and helps them make better use of your product. Show them all the ways they can get the most of it, which is exactly what Young Living does with the landing pages promoted below.

In the B2B sphere, this approach can work well too. However, you’d do well to also increase use beyond an individual and get more members of the team on board. With team members coming and going within the organization, with needs constantly changing and budgets tightening, becoming indispensable to multiple employees and business units is key to remaining with the company. For example, a business might start using your project management tool within their design team only. In this case, you’d do well to encourage the designers to share your product with other departments. Content that helps them onboard other colleagues, supervisors and team members will prove that additional value.

Image source: https://www.wrike.com/blog/convince-boss-need-better-collaboration-tools/

This is why Wrike publishes content that helps users make the case to their bosses, as you can see above.

#4 Sales Cycle Wavelengths

Finally, perhaps the most well-known differences between B2B and B2C is the length of the sales cycle. And when it comes to retention, this is especially important, as the completion of one sales cycle can be considered the start of the next. With B2B, there are more people involved, often lots of red tape, and more rigorous criteria to consider. Many businesses have official requirements that all vendors have to meet, and getting those checked and approved by each stakeholder can be a drawn-out process. The average number of people involved in a B2B procurement decision, according to Brent Adamson of CEB, is 6.8. That’s why proposal tools like PandaDoc include analytics that reveal which people from the buyer’s side have viewed each proposal, how many times, when and for how long.

Image source: https://help.pandadoc.com/faqs/document-analytics/

The “buyer’s panel” phenomenon, combined with B2B’s focus on relationships, means you’re basically always nurturing. We’ve mentioned this over and over, but frequent messages with content links, check-ins and touchpoints across channels cannot be undervalued. With B2C, on the other hand, purchasing can revolve more around specific needs and habits, and it can be a lighter, more impulsive decision.

Depending on the product category, there may be other cycles at play. For example, gardening tools and supplies can follow a seasonal pattern, with core products like sprinklers or lawn mowers needed at the start of the season. Shampoo, however, is tied to a more frequent and regular habit: showering. Purchases of a product like this tend to follow a cyclical schedule. If a bottle of shampoo lasts a household six weeks, the company’s retention strategies can follow a similar cycle. Amazon’s Dash Button, pictured below, is one of the most powerful examples of retention marketing to ever exist, simply because it’s frictionless, always available and easy to set up in close proximity to the activity associated with product use.

Image source: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01MTOKKNK/

Timing your messaging around these cycles and drawing attention to them can help customers prepare for repeat purchases. Ad campaigns can target them on certain schedules, email cadences can be set and so forth.

Play to Your Strengths

When it comes to customer retention strategies, we’re talking about marketing to people you’ve already won over. You’ve already proven that you understand them and can meet their need. Now it’s about continuing to play to your strengths. By framing your marketing activities by the specifics of your customer journey, taking into account your industry and the types of customers you serve, you can better fill the gaps necessary to build long-term customer relationships.


Ben Jacobson

Ben Jacobson is a marketing strategy consultant who specializes in content, social media and influencer marketing for B2B firms. He contributes regularly to publications including MarketingLand, Search Engine Journal and the Orbit Media blog.

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