The 10 Commandments of Successful B2B Customer Retention

It’s the age of the customer. Whether you’re talking about marketing that’s “customer-centric” or “customer first,” or discussing “the
customer experience,” “customer success,” or “customer retention,” there’s no shortage of buzzwords about the customer.

This isn’t all just talk, either. In a recent survey of B2B CMOs, customer retention beat out revenue growth as the #1 strategic focus for 2017.

Most Important Strategic Focus

This is smart – and you probably know why.

Most of us have heard the stat about how it’s cheaper to keep a customer than it is to find a new one. But have you heard about the study that found a 5% improvement in customer retention rates can result in a 25-to-95% increase in profits?

That’s kind of a showstopper. I mean, who can’t improve something by even a measly 5%?

And yet we’re still not investing in retention as well as we could be.

17%25 of marketing budget spent on post purchase stages

So, to help you maximize your customer retention – and do much better than just a 5% improvement – we suggest you follow some of these best practices.

Are they laws, really? No. But they’re definitely proven tactics.

1. Thou shalt have a good onboarding program.

Call it client education. Call it a welcome series. Call it whatever you want.

Don’t just nab the sale and then dump your new customers. Use that marketing automation software that made them into customers in the first place to now show them around and help them get the most out of their purchase.

At the very least, create a series of welcome emails (aka “customer onboarding” or “customer education”) that shows them how to use what they’ve bought.

If you can, offer them video tutorials, an on-demand webinar or two, or show them case studies of how other companies have used your services. Then point them to how to find help for themselves, including how to find the right person or resources at your company.

2. Thou shalt create content for your existing customers.

We talk about customer acquisition and demand generation so much in content marketing. But that’s just one thing it’s good at. The customer retention side of things is equally critical – and effective.

So maybe we need to stretch the definition of “customer journey.” It shouldn’t end when someone becomes a customer. In a sense, someone’s customer journey has only just begun once they place an order.

Create your content accordingly.

3. Thou shalt not just let customers fade away.

Keep track of who’s using your product – and who’s not. So, if someone hasn’t ordered in a while, or someone hasn’t logged in a while, send out a little nudge to engage them and try to get them back. Sometimes, it might even be good to call them.

Do this when their usage is slowing, not after it’s stopped. That’s more effective than waiting until you haven’t heard from them in six months. By then they may no longer really be a customer.

4. Every so often, do something nice – and unexpected.

Surprise gifts often mean more to us than gifts we think we’ve earned. So where you can, try to surprise your customers with extra nice stuff.

This may require sitting down with finance and customer service to figure out where and how you can do small but meaningful things for your customers. You can’t give away the farm, of course, but usually there are a couple of nice things you can afford to do.

It’s smart to scale these types of favors based on how much business someone does with you. That also just makes sense. Going all the way back to horse-and-carriage days, if someone was a high-value customer, they got freebies and extra help here and there. … Better customers get better gifts.

5. Thou shalt not play hard to get.

Please don’t put people on hold for ten minutes, forcing them to listen to an audio loop that tells them they’re a valued customer. They’re obviously not valued very much.

Here’s another way to say this: Don’t go cheap on customer service.

If you’ve been cutting corners, start your customer retention program by extending the hours of your help desk. Add a few more reps so people don’t have to wait forever. And be good to your reps, so they aren’t worn out and beginning to hate you too.

Customer service can be one of the toughest jobs around (get on the phone with an irate customer and see how well you do). So give your reps the resources they need to stay compassionate and to keep solving problems. Things like a nice “cool off” room can help. So can simply acknowledging the work they do.

6. Thou shalt pay attention to complaints.

You know the stat – for every complaint you get, there are 26 other customers who had the same experience and just didn’t say anything.

Customer Complaint Ration Graphic

Don’t ignore or dismiss complaints. They are precious information. There’s actually research that’s shown if you respond well to a complaint, you can turn an angry customer into an advocate. So those complaints aren’t just valuable information – they’re potentially valuable business.

7. Thou shalt actually use thy analytics.

Good analytics software can show you when your customers tend to become inactive ― aka when they become “at risk.”

Once you know when people tend to fall off, then it’s time to apply what you’ve learned. At the very least, send a reminder email with some free training, or a piece of content that tends to drum up interest, right before they’re likely to cancel. If they don’t respond, send a coupon or offer a free trial of a complimentary product.

8. Thou shalt personalize their experience.

This is another way to prove – not to just say – that a customer is important to you. If they’re that important, you would customize your services and your content for them. Give them the white-glove treatment.

This also applies to your human interactions, too. As your account reps know, their work makes or breaks customer relationships.

So support them. You know – sit down and talk. I’m sure they’ll have plenty of suggestions for how you can help them.

9. Thou shalt measure and track thy churn rate as a key metric of your business.

As has been said before, “What gets measured, improves.

Yet only 21% of B2B marketers track churn rate. Which could mean a competitive advantage for you.

Customer Marketing Metrics In Use

10. Thou shalt have a customer winback program.

According to the book Customer Winback: How to Recapture Lost Customers – And Keep Them Loyal, you have a 20-40% chance getting a former customer back – if you try at all. Compare that to your chances of selling to a prospect, which are only 5-20%.

It seems like such a wasted opportunity to not even try to talk to ex-customers. And given that stat from the Winback book, it seems like your odds are pretty good.

So run the numbers. What would it cost to set up a modest win-back program? And what if you only did half as well as the book suggests, getting 10% of your old customers back?

Would that pay for your winback campaign?


The smart money in marketing is increasingly on prioritizing customer retention.

Whether that takes the form of creating content for existing customers, improving products, personalizing service, or finally staffing your help lines adequately will depend on how your company is operating now.

Like the old saw says, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link.” If one aspect of your customer experience is particularly faulty, fix that before you invest millions in other bells and whistles.

Or better yet, ask your customers. The ones you’ve got … and the ones who have left. If we have exit interviews for staffers, isn’t it time to have them for customers, too?

Back to you

What do you think about customer retention as a growth strategy? Is it gold? Bunk? Somewhere in between? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Act-On eBook: Customer Lifecycle Optimization

Read more: B2B Customer Retention Strategies During Growth