What Really Makes B2B Buyers Loyal to Their Suppliers?


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There’s no longer any doubt that providing great customer experiences has become essential for competitive success. In 2014, research by Gartner found that 89% of companies expected to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience by 2016. And Walker Information recently wrote that by 2020, customer experience is expected to surpass product and pricing as the key business differentiator.

As marketers, we tend to view customer experience primarily through the lens of marketing communications, and as content marketers, we tend to think of customer experience mostly in terms of providing rich, engaging, personalized, and relevant content to our customers and prospects. It’s easy to forget that customer experience is a multi-faceted phenomenon that results from all the interactions that a customer or potential customer has with a company, only some of which involve marketing communications or marketing content.

Recent research by Forrester Consulting provides important insights about what B2B buyers value most in their relationships with suppliers. For this study, Forrester surveyed 1,307 B2B buyers from around the world at organizations with at least 1,000 employees. The overall objective of the study was to explore evolving B2B buyer expectations and demands and the omnichannel practices of B2B sellers. However, my focus in this post is on a finding in the study that reveals what factors are most responsible for making B2B buyers loyal to their suppliers.

Forrester asked survey participants to rank the five most important factors (from seven possible choices) that influenced their willingness to buy again from a supplier. The table below shows the percentage of respondents who included each factor among their top five choices.

As the above table shows, the two most important drivers of loyalty were transparent prices and product details and excellent customer service and post-purchase support. What will probably surprise many marketers is that buyers ranked personalized recommendations (based on prior purchasing habits) and offering omnichannel capabilities last in importance.

When we look at the loyalty drivers that B2B buyers consider to be most important, the rankings change somewhat. The following table shows the percentage of respondents who ranked each factor first or second in importance.

In the above table, personalized recommendations ranks fourth (versus sixth in the overall ranking) and omnichannel capabilities ranks sixth (versus seventh in the overall ranking).

The findings of the Forrester study indicate that for many B2B buyers, loyalty is based on very pragmatic considerations. This doesn’t mean that personalized interactions with customers and omnichannel capabilities are unimportant, but it does suggest that they should be viewed as complementary to other drivers of customer loyalty.

Top image courtesy of Flickr CC and One Way Stock.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

David Dodd
David Dodd is a B2B business and marketing strategist, author, and marketing content developer. He works with companies to develop and implement marketing strategies and programs that use compelling content to convert prospects into buyers.


  1. David, would be interesting to know the role of the people surveyed. For me it seems as if they have asked people in Purchasing and/or close to a formal purchasing role. It could also be that this survey is not 100% geared towards complex B2B solutions.

    My experience is that the post sales experience (support, issue resolution, avoidance of risks, continued value creation) is significantly more important than transparent prices, product details and low prices. When the solutions and relations are more complex, it’s often a broad set of people in the buying organization that influence a repeat purchase and/or loyalty score results.

  2. I might be the only one bothered by this now oft-quoted Gartner finding. I wouldn’t be if the statement were crisper, but it’s not: “89% of companies expected to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience by 2016.”

    A summary of what leads to my confusion:

    1. Which companies? Outsourced software developers? Suppliers of bulk commodity chemicals? Boutique manufacturers of specialty machine parts? ‘B2B’ is too large for this to be meaningful.

    2. ‘Compete’ – what is meant by that? It’s never explained in strategic or tactical terms.

    3. ‘on the basis of’ – not sure what this means.

    4. ‘customer experience’ – in proselytizing this finding, Gartner has apparently partitioned ‘customer experience’ from everything related to ‘product’. I’m not sure how this is possible, especially with B2B services.

    Second – and equally confusing – is Walker’s assertion that “customer experience is expected to surpass product and pricing as the key business differentiator” by 2020.

    I watched Walker’s video containing the finding, and what’s unclear is whether it is drawn from the opinions of vendors or customers. It sounded the opinion of vendors, and it seems tenuous that buyers in 2020 will subordinate the importance of price and product to the vagueness of ‘experience.’

    A more telling – and in my view, more useful – insight is what buyers will prefer in 2020. Though that too seems speculative.

  3. Hello Sven-Olof,

    Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, the Forrester report does not provide information regarding the roles of survey respondents. As I indicated in the article, Forrester surveyed about 1,300 B2B buyers from around the world. Forrester indicates that 30% of the respondents were C-level executives, and the balance were managers, directors, or vice presidents. Given the diversity of B2B purchases, it’s quite likely that the respondents were not always thinking of complex purchases when they answered the survey questions.

  4. I agree with Andrew that the research looks very suspect. If those that were surveyed are looking for multiple payment options I’d guess that they were tradesmen looking for deals on paint or bricks or the like.
    And why was there no mention of key account managers, partnering and trust – the personal attributes that are essential in B2B?


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