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11 strategies to maximize customer retention in B2B ecommerce

For any ecommerce company, having a steady stream of new customers is fantastic for business. But in B2B spaces, where onboarding new customers can take many months, it’s just as important to hold on to your existing ones.

Last updated

13 Dec 2022

Buckle up—we’re about to dive deep into the art and science of customer retention for B2B ecommerce companies like yours.

What is customer retention?

Technically, customer retention is a measure of how long a customer stays in a business relationship with you. 

But improving customer retention is also about maximizing the length, strengths, and profitability of the relationship. For example, you might look at:

  • Increasing frequency of purchases

  • Increasing average order value (AOV)

  • Reducing returns

  • Maximizing referrals

  • Helping customers (or their teams) use your products as much as possible

In other words, it’s about serving your customers well so they spend more with you instead of other businesses.

Get to know your customers better

Hotjar helps you understand what users are doing on your website (and why), so you can create more effective journeys that keep them coming back.

Why is customer retention so important for B2B ecommerce?

Every business needs a steady flow of new customers. But in complex B2B spaces, attracting and selling to new customers often means:

  • Conducting expensive marketing campaigns

  • Holding multiple sales meetings

  • Aligning with their cybersecurity and procurement requirements

  • Waiting weeks (or months) to receive payments

…and much more!

Naturally, all this can take months or years—while incurring expenses that eat into your profits.

The bottom line is that selling to existing customers is easier, faster, and more cost-effective. Additional benefits include:

Greater profits 

A Harvard Business School study suggests strong evidence that a 5% increase in customer retention can increase profits by 25-95%.

Increased spending

Loyal customers buy more often and spend more than newer customers.

Advocacy and referrals

A retained (and happy) customer is more likely to refer others to you and say positive things about your brand online.

Top customer retention strategies for B2B ecommerce

Retaining customers means optimizing each touchpoint of the customer journey. From the moment a visitor first encounters you, you should be finding ways to meet their needs and deliver customer delight.

Let’s look at some strategies you can try to keep customers smiling (and spending!).

Tell an inspiring brand story

In B2B ecommerce, business relationships are often thought of as less personal. But 72% of B2B buyers are more likely to buy from firms that do well on socio-political issues they consider important. 

If your company has a purpose, sharing it could give customers a strong reason to stay with you. In fact, repeat purchase rate is 4.3X higher when businesses are sustainable and make an effort to account for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.

Good Start Packaging explains its sustainability mission on its company story page

Make the right products easy to find (and buy) without help

When looking for suppliers, B2B customers want to work with companies that offer a fast, convenient service. By making it effortless for customers to find your products, a long-term relationship is more attractive.

3 ways to facilitate seamless shopping

1. Optimize your product pages for search engines. Use SEO and product descriptions that help you climb the rankings, so prospects find you.

2. Make sure your on-site search is helpful, too. According to Forrester research, 43% of ecommerce shoppers go straight to the internal search bar when they first visit a site. Features like autocomplete, search filters, and synonym recognition make searches easier, which improves conversions.

An example of a search bar with autocomplete on Mactools.com

3. Cater to customers who prefer self-service. Approximately 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction in a B2B purchase setting, so make it easy for them to buy directly from your platform.

Create a fantastic onboarding experience

B2B business relationships often last many years and involve high-value purchases. So it’s good practice to give customers a warm welcome and help them get to know your products.

One of the best ways you can do this is by creating helpful onboarding materials. Depending on your business, this could include:

  • Personalized welcome messages from your team 

  • Video guides showing how to use your subscription dashboard

  • Blogs and ebooks that teach them how to get the best results

  • Live training around your product or service

💡Pro tip: using Hotjar? Set up a Hotjar Survey to ask new customers about their needs and motivations during onboarding. Get further insights with our Observe tools, Heatmaps and Recordings, to see what new customers do on your FAQ page.

Ensure delivery is stress-free

The delivery experience is critical in ecommerce. Well-organized deliveries are vital for B2B customers who make bulk or high-value purchases. Here’s how to ensure a smooth process:

Before delivery 

Give accurate estimations of delivery times. It’s tempting to list the fastest possible delivery times on your site, but customers will be disappointed if you can’t follow through.

On delivery day 

Your customer may need to prepare loading equipment and team members. Make the process easier for them with notifications about delivery schedules and delays.

After delivery

Follow up to make sure you met the customer’s expectations. If any problems occurred, your customer will appreciate having the chance to discuss them.

Provide personalized product recommendations

According to a survey by Pros, over 90% of B2B buyers desire personalized pricing and recommendations—and more than half are willing to pay a higher price to receive these personalized offers.

However, modern B2B ecommerce trends are removing human interaction from the relationship. With many buyers now preferring self-service, your team may miss opportunities for personalized recommendations.

Make up for this by integrating AI-driven recommendation engines in your platform. By offering helpful suggestions, your platform shows customers that you understand their business needs—which makes for a long-lasting relationship.

Examples of product recommendations at Microfiberwholesale.com

Run a reward program

One of the best ways to encourage customers to keep spending with you is to reward them when they buy. For instance, you could offer customers discounts on future products, team outings, or personalized gifts.

However, you may want to approach things a little differently from business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce stores.

  • B2B sales cycles can take a long time, so time-limited rewards may not make sense

  • Buying decisions are often made by groups, so you may need to reward more than one person

  • Some corporations have anti-bribery policies that mean employees can’t accept personal rewards

  • B2B buyers may be less motivated by personal gifts and more interested in cost savings, training courses, or rewards that relate to business goals

A loyalty program in action: HP.com

HP.com has a simple but effective reward system for customers who buy its computers, printers, or printing cartridges.

For every $1 that a customer spends with HP, they receive a point to redeem for discounts on future purchases. Customers can save up to 3% on their total expenditure, and HP incentivizes them to start by offering customers 100 points when they join.

HP’s loyalty program encourages customers to sign up and start earning points

Offer a subscription model (with awesome benefits)

If your customers make individual orders regularly, offer them a subscription-based plan that ties them to regular recurring payments.

The beauty of the subscription model is the customer enters into a long-term relationship with you and is rewarded for it. However, it’s important that your subscription offer gives them unique benefits that they wouldn’t normally have access to.

A subscription model in action: Amazon Prime Business

Amazon Prime Business is a membership program for businesses who regularly buy on the popular ecommerce site. Much like the B2C version of Prime, customers pay a monthly fee to access unique benefits—like free shipping, exclusive discounts, and advanced reporting.

Amazon Prime Business offers unique benefits for customers depending on their size

Master account-based marketing

Account-based marketing targets specific user personas with personalized sales and marketing tactics. But how does this translate to B2B ecommerce?

In practical terms, it’s about getting to know your customer on a deeper level and going further to deliver the experiences and assistance they need. This includes:

  • Telling your customer about your latest products around the time that your customer will be looking to replace or upgrade equipment

  • Creating new educational videos related to your customer’s specific use case

  • Sending helpful reminders around maintenance activities your customers need to do with your products

  • Relaying government and industry changes that will affect your customers in a personalized newsletter

  • Proactively offering customers deals on products they are purchasing repeatedly

Kick ass at customer service

B2B companies care about how they’re treated as customers: 86% of B2B buyers are willing to pay more for great customer experience. So how can you serve them better?

  • Give customers multiple ways to get help: email, live chat, and telephone support are non-negotiable now. Meanwhile, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Slack are also gaining popularity.

  • Make customer self-service easy: as often seen in SaaS customer experience, customers appreciate FAQs, knowledge bases or help centers, and community forums

  • Respond quickly: according to McKinsey, 80% of B2B buyers expect always-on or real-time customer service

  • Apologize and resolve mistakes when they happen: responding respectfully and effectively in a bad situation can help you hang on to B2B customers—and even increase their loyalty

Self-service customer care resources on Primera.com

Streamline the payment process

B2B purchases are often complex, involving lengthy approval processes within the customer’s company. And while you can’t control their processes, you can control how easy it is to complete purchases with you. 

  • Offer flexible payment methods and structures: B2B transactions are often worth many thousands or millions of dollars. By offering third-party financing or payments via installments and accepting multiple payment methods like automated clearing house (ACH), credit cards, and even cryptocurrency, you make it easier for customers to spend with you.

  • Optimize your checkout page: companies like Amazon invest millions in conversion rate optimization or CRO for ecommerce because checkout experiences have a major impact on sales. Do your best to reduce friction during checkout, like the companies in these checkout page examples.

💡Pro tip: Heatmaps and Recordings show you exactly what users are doing on your checkout page, so you can make improvements that boost sales.

These two Hotjar tools helped ecommerce business Materials Market make small yet impactful changes to its checkout page, tripling conversion rates in just one month.

Small changes on the checkout page had a major impact

Harness customer feedback

Getting (and acting on) feedback is vital when it comes to customer retention. Not only does it help you improve your service based on real insights, but it also makes your customers feel valued and appreciated. Achieve this by:

  • Checking in with customer support: use the queries, complaints, and comments your support team gets to drive improvements

  • Carrying out live interviews: talk to customers to gather actionable qualitative data about their needs, experiences and pain points

  • Letting customers know what you did: once you’ve actioned a customer’s feedback, continue the personalized approach by contacting them directly to tell them

💡Pro tip: using Hotjar Surveys, send out a Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) survey at key parts of your customers’ journey—like just after they make a purchase. Next, use Trends to see whether this score goes up or down over time, or differs among audience segments.

An example of a Hotjar NPS survey

Of course, not every piece of customer feedback you receive can be acted on. Here’s how to get better feedback for improving customer retention:

Ask customers their opinions frequently 

Use email and on-site surveys to ask customers what they think about your service (psst! You can do the latter with Hotjar Surveys).

Get page-specific feedback 

Use behavior analytics tools like Hotjar for feedback on individual pages. Recordings, Heatmaps, and Feedback help you find out what people are doing and where they’re getting stuck.

Carry out exit interviews

It’s crucial to find out why customers left you for another provider. Conduct an exit interview to establish where you’re going wrong and fix it—fast.

BONUS: Hotjar's new user research tool, Engage, helps you conduct interviews to learn even more from your customers. Use it to take notes during calls and get automatic transcriptions so you can easily compile key insights.

#Hotjar Engage makes it easier than ever to hear from your customers
Hotjar Engage makes it easier than ever to hear from your customers

Map out your customer journeys to level up your customer retention rate

Customer retention is about finding better ways to serve your customer throughout their journey. But understanding their needs, motivations and frustrations across many touchpoints can get complicated—especially with complex B2B journeys.

This is where it can be helpful to create a customer journey map that helps you visualize each step, while collating useful data around it.

An example of a customer journey map from NN Group

To make your customer journey map an effective tool, you need real data: for example, gauging your customers’ motivations at each stage with insights you gained in user interviews or tracking customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores as customers make repeat purchases with you.

Once you’ve created your customer journey map, identify the most important parts of the journey to improve. 

Your customer touchpoints will typically involve marketing, sales, support, and the product itself, so cross-functional collaboration is important. Work together and track relevant metrics to see if your efforts are working.

Track customer satisfaction metrics

Use Hotjar to measure and track NPS scores, customer satisfaction rates, page-level feedback, and much more.

7 key customer retention metrics to track

If you’re new to this, start by calculating your churn rate and customer retention rate. Then, dive into some of the other metrics later to further your analysis.

1. Customer churn rate

What it shows you: the percentage of customers that left (or ‘churned’) in a specific period

How to calculate it: divide the number of customers who left during a specific timeframe by the total number of customers at the start, then multiply by 100

2. Customer retention rate (CRR)

What it shows you: the percentage of customers who stayed with your business during a specific period

How to calculate it: subtract the number of new customers gained during that period from the total number at the end, divide the result by the number of customers at the start, and multiply by 100

3. Repeat purchase rate

What it shows you: the percentage of existing customers who made more than one purchase during a specific period

How to calculate it: divide the number of customers who purchased more than once during that period by the total number of customers, then multiply by 100

4. Product return rate

What it shows you: the percentage of goods sold that are returned to you by the customer

How to calculate it: divide the number of products returned to you by the number of products sold, then multiply by 100

5. Customer lifetime value (LTV)

What it shows you: the total value of a customer during their relationship with your business

How to calculate it: multiply the AOV by the average number of purchases and the average estimated customer lifespan (how long customers typically keep purchasing from you)

6. Net Promoter Score® (NPS®)

What it shows you: how likely your customers are to tell others about your company, on a scale of 1-10

How to calculate it: use Hotjar’s Surveys tool to send out NPS surveys—it will automatically calculate your score, so you can easily track it over time with help from the Trends feature

Track changes to your NPS scores over time with Hotjar Trends

7. Average time between purchases

What it shows you: how long customers take to buy from you again, on average

How to calculate it: divide the sum of individual purchase rates* by the number of repeat customers

*Individual purchase rates calculation:

  • Keep a record of each customer’s purchase dates in your customer relationship management (CRM) platform or purchase log

  • For each individual customer, calculate the total number of days between their purchases, then divide this by their total number of purchases

  • Add these individual purchase rates together to get the sum of individual purchase rates

Grow your ecommerce business

As we’ve seen, ecommerce retention is an ongoing mission that affects every interaction you have with your audience. And while it’s no doubt challenging to analyze and improve so many different customer touchpoints, the rewards are crystal clear.

The key to improving retention is seeing the journey through your audience’s eyes. Only by understanding the customers’ point of view—through interviews, surveys, analytics, and more—can you learn how to serve them better.

Understand the customer journey

Hotjar’s tools let you understand what customers are doing on your ecommerce site—and why. Use these insights to create an experience that encourages customers to return.