In my 25-year career in business, I have serviced a wide range of industries, professionals, and businesses. I have operated in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and ‘business-to-business’ (B2B) spaces, and have learned much about how to engage with different types of clients and their various needs.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking that being in a B2B industry is less complicated than a B2C, because your client intrinsically understands general business principles. However, I find B2B can often be more complicated than B2C, because each organization you serve has a highly variable set of needs, values, and processes.
Below are six questions you should ask when assessing a new B2B client that will help you understand how you can best serve them?
The core values and mission statement of an organization creates their guiding principles; their ‘north star.’ It is as important to understand this information when you are making a B2B sale as it is when you enter a business relationship with any of your clientele. Understanding your clients’ core values and mission statement will allow you to relate your services to what is important to them; and it will help your client more easily see the value you bring to their organization.
Are they self-funded? Do business decisions have to run through a private equity firm? Understanding how your client is funded will help you better understand their internal processes, and will also help you understand how to most effectively communicate with them. Understanding their source of funding can also reveal an abundance of information about the internal dynamics of the organization.
This may seem out of left field, but understanding the regulatory burdens of the company or industry you are working with will help you gain an understanding of the outside pressures and complications of running their business. It is also important to know how your client stays updated on any regulatory changes. Many companies subscribe to association or lobbying groups to address and/or advocate for positions and policies on the company or industry’s behalf.
This may seem like a sensitive area, but it will help you better serve your clientele in the long run. For companies with medium-to-large sized workforces, find out what the employees’ views of company leadership are. Has leadership been promoted from within, or hired from outside? For smaller companies, find out whether the business owner hired has friends and family. How invested are the employees in the success of the organization, and what drives that investment?
While this seems like a relatively simple question, this can tell you more about a client than you think. A large employer, for example, will likely have more infrastructure to support a B2B relationship than a company with only a few employees whose culture is more ‘all hands on deck.’
When considering this factor, you can also elaborate and understand better who you should be communicating with, who should receive important documents, and how their internal processes work.
It is of chief importance to learn the customer's business or industry so you can clearly articulate your business' value proposition and how your product or services can help them grow. Learning more about their business and the life cycle of when your product or services will best serve their needs and how they can articulate it to their team.
Overall, there are many questions you must ask when entering into a B2B business arrangement. Taking steps to enhance your own understanding of the complexities of B2B clientele relationships and asking the right questions at the right time can and will lead to a successful and mutually beneficial business relationship.
Vincent Ney is the Founder and President of Expansion Capital Group, a business dedicated to serving American small businesses by providing access to capital and other resources, so they can grow and achieve their definition of success. Since its inception, ECG has connected over 12,000 small businesses nationwide to approximately $350 million in capital.