Businesses that sell to other businesses are a special breed.
It's not enough to have a great product or a great service. You also have to navigate the complexities of selling to other entrepreneurs, multiple stakeholders within your customer companies, and specific procurement policies at the enterprise level.
So how can you grow your business-to-business operation in the new year? What tactics and approaches will be effective? Here are some suggestions:
Keep more customers. Client turnover is a fact of life, and some of it is unavoidable. One peril of selling to other companies is they sometimes go out of business.
But for the rest, you can get proactive and reduce churn. That way, every new customer you add will help you grow, instead of merely keeping even.
Gavin Dennis, owner of the Charlotte, N.C., franchise of Payroll Matters, was able to create some space in his schedule for retention-focused activities by first growing his team.
"I brought on a new employee this year, and I see a big part of her value as allowing me to get out of the office and face to face with my clients," Dennis said.
"It's so important because when it comes to small-business owners, there's nothing that is 'just business,' it's all personal. So keeping my clients really comes down to relationships. My clients like knowing the person on the other end of the phone and knowing I've got their back."
Build brand awareness. It's a myth that only consumer companies need strong brands. Branding is just as important for business-to-business companies, if not more so.
Marketing strategist Juan Garzon recommends thinking through the four P's of branding: purpose, promise, personality, and positioning.
Why does your company exist? What do you commit to doing for your customers? How do your customers describe you? How are you different from your competitors?
If you don't have crisp answers to these questions - or your employees don't know the answers you have - this exercise will help take your company to the next level.
Start selling online. If you don't offer an e-commerce option to your customers, consider the potential benefits for retention, acquisition, efficiency, and order volume.
Paul Demery, managing editor for B2B e-commerce for Internet Retailer magazine and the newsletter B2BecNews for e-commerce professionals, sees B2B e-commerce as a major trend for 2015 and beyond.
"B2Bs have to offer an online-buying option that is client-friendly. There's a whole generation of corporate procurement people who have grown up with online shopping, so if you don't invest in an online channel for your customers, someone else will."
Internet Retailer recently published its inaugural B2B Guide to E-Commerce, in which Demery estimates exactly how high the stakes are.
"While retail e-commerce in the United States alone topped $263 billion in 2013," he said, "industry analysts at Gartner Inc. and Forrester Research Inc. say the U.S. volume of B2B e-commerce is approaching about $1 trillion."