Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

Why Culture is the Key to Trust in B2B Customer Relationships

Guest Author

By Adam Fridman, Contributor @ Inc, Founder Mabbly

One challenge facing business-to-business (B2B) brands is that many people simply do not know who they are and/or what they sell. This lack of brand awareness can sometimes make it difficult to attract the customers and employees. When we see a well-known consumer (B2C) brand — like Apple — we recognize the logo and trust the brand. It’s easy to make purchasing and employment decisions about a brand (like Apple) if we trust the company and its products.

B2B firms, on the other hand, do not have anywhere near that level of brand awareness. They may be known in their industry and trusted by their partners, but they constantly earn trust if they want to attract new customers and entice employees to members of their tribe.

The key to earning that trust in the world of B2B commerce? It all comes down to culture.

Culture Matters More In B2B than B2C

Provocative thought, huh? Culture encapsulates the purpose, values, and habits that define your organization. Culture matters in every industry, but in B2B it’s the “secret sauce” that allows organizations to form and expand deep and lasting relationships with employees, customers, and partners. For customers, it’s the difference between a company that simply fills orders, and one can be trusted to deliver irreplaceable business value — all the time. To your employees, it’s the difference between trading time for money, and being engaged and motivated to deliver the value customers seek.

Culture is what attracts and engages customers and employees (known in some circles as your “tribe”), uniting them around a common purpose. It guides the organization’s actions through values that support the purpose, and daily habits within the organization that bring that purpose and those values to life. When it works, there is transparency and trust that impacts those inside and outside the organization. People who are excited about what they are doing are happier and better able to think creatively about solving problems. They’re also empowered to go beyond policies and procedures.

Exceeding expectations and delivering value is critical in B2B industries where relationships and reputations are key differentiators. A customer engagement study by Gallup found that B2B companies that focus on strengthening customer relationships — moving beyond a price-based marketing strategy to one of a trusted advisor — can command a 23% premium in the marketplace. Yet the same study also found that only 20% of B2B relationships actually succeed. Culture allows organizations to command that premium because of the trust factor.  Customer trust that they will receive exceptional, and that’s what expands your tribe, your customer base, and your customer advocates.

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Why Culture is the Key to Trust and Engagement

On the surface, it may seem that you company’s culture would not impact anyone other than your employees. However, in B2B sales your customers experience your culture in every single interaction with your organization. If customer engagement is related to trust, then trust is on the line every time a customer interacts with one of your employees and/or one of your products. When employees don’t care and aren’t engaged, customers can tell, and trust disintegrates.

In fact, customers and employees have very similar expectations of organizations. The gap between customer and employee expectations is narrowing, with both groups seeking authenticity and integrity from the organizations with which they choose to engage. If a company’s culture doesn’t reflect these preferences, it’s hard to hide that fact when digital reviews on sites like Glassdoor, Yelp, Angie’s List (and even Facebook) can announce issues to the world.

The Importance of Culture for the Workforce of Tomorrow

Younger workers have expressed strong preferences to work for a company with a culture that allows them to do purposeful work in a positive atmosphere with career development opportunities. These preferences aren’t what distinguish Millennials from the generations before them. What is different is what they’re willing to give to get it. Millennials have been called “culture consumers” in some management circles. But if they’re consumer-like in their desire for better workplace cultures, they are also willing to pay for the privilege. A recent survey by Fidelity found that 58% of Millennials placed culture above compensation; workers in the survey were willing to take a pay cut of $7,600 on average in exchange for a more positive culture.

Just as employers can recruit talent from around the globe, employees too are more mobile, with more choices about where to work than ever before. Sites like Glassdoor and social media allow prospective employees to see behind the veil. They’re better informed about your organization’s culture — even before the first interview.

It isn’t just employees who are becoming more consumer-like. Customers are demanding much more from B2B companies as they are with B2C companies.  This emphasis on culture influences how customers decide which companies they’ll buy from and shaping what they expect from business relationships. In their personal lives, B2B customers have grown used to increased transparency and choice. They expect nearly unfettered access to information and the ability to order any product they want at the click of a finger.

Organizations that want to attract and retain an engaged tribe must understand what employees and customers seek in the cultures where they choose to engage. In most cases, it’s not that mysterious — they’re seeking companies that they can trust and where they feel valued.

These expectations are changing the way B2B organizations relate to their tribes, making culture — once a nice-to-have or afterthought — a key differentiator in an increasingly global marketplace. No longer can B2B companies to compete on price or features alone. They also have to compete on culture and trust.

After all, customers and employees alike — the two components of your tribe— aren’t just buying from you or working for you. They’re putting their trust in you. 

Learn more about expressing your purpose externally in our upcoming book, The Science of Story.


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