How B2B marketers can turn customer relationships into new pipeline

Use these proven tips to turn your customer relationships into a pipeline generation channel
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Every B2B marketer is trying to solve the same problem: how to bring in more pipeline with lower costs.

Naturally, marketers deal with many challenges that keep them from hitting their pipeline goals. On a macro level, pipeline generation can be harder when the economy is down because companies are tightening budgets and evaluating vendors more strictly. On a micro level, companies often have budget restraints or lack the headcount to support more efficient strategies.

To top it off, it doesn’t take long for marketing best practices that work well to get popularized quickly. People quickly copy these approaches, which can cause the effectiveness to go down for everyone. Because of this, B2B marketers have to keep testing new, creative ideas to find the next new approach that will boost the pipeline— but a constant search for the next new thing isn’t a sustainable path to growth.

As the VP of marketing for a growing startup that helps users connect to customers after they move to a new company, I’ve identified one sustainable source of pipeline that every B2B marketer should tap into: customer relationships.

Customer relationships are valuable not only for referrals, renewals, and upsells but also for new business when they move to a new company. Keep reading to learn how relationships can contribute to pipeline generation, three reasons why you should tap into this source, and how to strengthen customer relationships.

The one relationship playbook marketers should start using right now

The value of relationships is simple: Maintaining relationships with your buyers and users as they move between jobs is one of the easiest ways to generate warm pipeline. Previous customers already understand the value of your solution, so they are more likely to buy from you again. For every customer company you acquire, there are dozens—and maybe even hundreds or thousands—of end users who can influence deals in your favor.

Why relationships are a great source for new pipeline

There is not a single marketing channel or playbook that will get you from zero to hero. Every marketing department should build multiple sustainable channels over time. Adding relationship-based playbooks to your strategy is a great way to support sustainable pipeline generation. Here’s why:

  1. Relationships grow as you grow. Every time you bring on a company as a new customer, the decision-makers, administrators, and end users develop a familiarity with your product and your brand. As they grow in their careers and move around from job to job, you have opportunities to make inroads into new accounts.
  2. Relationships with customers are unique to the organization. This means that even if another company uses the same relationship-based playbook as you, that playbook is less likely to lose effectiveness due to overexposure.
  3. Relationships are cost-saving. Marketing can be costly, but word-of-mouth is usually free. Tapping into relationships can give marketers the ability to build a community of champions who provide their organization with lower-cost, higher-ROI strategies.

How to evaluate the quality of your company's relationships

The success of your business depends on the quality of your relationships with customers. Even the most creative, innovative marketing won’t yield sustainable results unless your product consistently solves a problem for customers. Relationship-based pipeline generation playbooks work best when your customers are happy with your product.

What constitutes a “high-quality” customer relationship in B2B? Simply put, high-quality relationships come from helping customers achieve—and excel at—their goals. The textbook definition of a high-quality relationship is a high Net Promoter Score (NPS) score which indicates your customers are likely to keep buying your product and contribute to growth through referrals.

When your company can achieve this over and over again, you can establish a community of champions who play a significant role in your growth over time.

Strategies to build and strengthen customer relationships

The first step to strengthening customer relationships is moving from thinking about relationships at the account level to thinking about them at the contact level. Good marketing gets to know the person who fills an individual role. Who are they? What drives them? What problems are they solving? Being genuinely inquisitive about the person can create a lifelong relationship that allows you to support them as they move roles.

This may seem unscalable because no one has time to connect with all customer champions at such a deeply personal level. However, you can create programs that strengthen your relationships using different levels of engagement. Here are some that have worked for us:

  1. Customer advisory boards: Recruit 10 to 20 customers to connect with on a deeply personal and professional level. Members are likely to be extremely invested in the success of your business and vice versa.
  2. Hold roundtables, forums, and sponsored events: Ask your customers to share their knowledge on a larger scale and get them in front of others who will appreciate it. Creating moments together fosters a deeper relationship.
  3. Customer stories and case studies: Working on a project together, like a case study, can allow you to build a relationship organically. Listen to their responses, write a draft together, get their feedback, make edits together, grab videos and quotes that they also would like to use for their own projects, and so on.

And the ultimate strategy a company can employ to nurture champions is providing strong customer success and endless support. Anyone who feels like they have someone in their corner who’s ready to help with training and playbooks or to get through crises is going to see you as an ally and not just a tool in their tech stack.

Final thoughts

It takes a lot of experimentation and resources to acquire a customer, much less finding a sustainable source of pipeline.

This is why I believe that relationship playbooks are a marketer’s new best friend. Once a company lands a new deal, they open up a completely new channel for growth when the buyers, champions, and individual users move on to other companies.

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