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The 'F-Word' in B2B Relationships When the customer tells you everything is "fine" it is time be alarmed.

By Aaron Orendorff Edited by Dan Bova

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Ah, the "f-word."

A universal term charged with dissatisfaction, disdain and disgust.

We cringe when our significant other says it and yet when our clients tell us everything's "fine" the true meaning goes completely over our heads.

After more than a decade researching and consulting B2B relationships, Tom Cates, CEO of salesEQUITY, puts it like this:

"Fine is the most dangerous four-letter word in B2B, indicating indifference, complacency and even possible client defection. Account teams often fail to recognize fine and are blindsided when a client decides to move on."

In other words, fine doesn't mean fine. What's more fine won't just poison your B2B relationships … it might just kill them.

Understanding the f-word in B2B.

Despite its facade of pleasantry, behind "fine" stands a world of unrealized expectations and disappointments. And this goes for fine's synonyms as well.

As Harvard Business Review found, 20 percent of so-called "satisfied" customers actually intend to leave the "company in question." Even worse, after exhaustive research, the Best of Gallup Management Journal made the infamous declaration -- "Regardless of how high a company's satisfaction levels may appear to be, satisfying customers without creating an emotional connection with them has no real value. None at all."


Because satisfied customers are transactional, price-for-product customers. Ken Blanchard summarized this perfectly in his classic "Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service":

"Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. Just having satisfied customers isn't good enough anymore."

Related: 4 Sales Strategies to Increase Your Average B2B Deal Sizes

The truth is "fine" really means, "No, I don't hate you. But this relationship has run its course and I don't want to invest any more time in trying to save it. Next opportunity I get, I'm gone."

Overcoming the f-word in B2B.

LinkedIn's massive new study, "Rethink the B2B Buyer's Journey," reinforces these points. As the report explains, "The overwhelming majority of buyers say their relationships with vendors are either very good (28 percent) or good (56 percent)."

Unfortunately, "good" is just as deceiving a word as fine or satisfied. That means, overcoming the f-word doesn't lie in examining the bland majority, but with B2B buyers who freely reported their vendor relationship were actually "getting stronger."

In that category, here's how the top five responses stack up.

The first thing to notice is that "Value for the Money" is dead last. Ironically, that's precisely what many B2B relationships are built on.

The second thing to pay attention to is how dominate "trust" and "personal relationships" are in strengthening B2B partnerships. This is precisely the insight I referenced in a previous article, "The Missing Ingredient in B2B's Trillion-Dollar Industry." "Don't make the mistake of thinking that B2B cuts out customers. Instead, bring the human face to the B2B space."

This is especially true when it comes to top-of-the-funnel lead generation. Social media -- most notably automated social media -- is notoriously impersonal. That's why Pekka Koskinen, CEO of Leadfeeder -- which specializes in connecting faceless web visitors via Google Analytics to actual human profiles on LinkedIn -- drives this point home:

"It's so important to engage in conversations with prospects who visit your site. While there's certainly a place for automated nurturing, nothing compares to the power of two humans actually having a discussion."

Related: 5 Sales Lessons B2B Companies Can Learn from Apple

While this might sound simple, healthy B2B relationships -- at both the lead and current-customer levels -- come down to exactly that: being a human … in a human relationship.

Don't make B2B relationships more complicated than they need to be. You don't need a new loyalty program, an aggressive social media campaign, or even the lowest prices for the highest value.

The real secret to overcoming "fine" is being a decent freakin' person: honest, attentive, a good listener, consistent, light-hearted, true to your word and giving.

Related: A Seller Must Earn the Right to Close With Buyers Today

Everything's not "fine" …

In Tom Cates words, "Fine is the most dangerous four-letter word in B2B."

It's time for the B2B community to stop ignoring the "f-word" It's time to ask how to turn price-for-product transactions into genuine human interactions.

So let's stop "f-ing" it up and transform "fine" customer experiences into lasting relationships.

Aaron Orendorff

Freelance Copywriter and Content Strategist

By night, Aaron Orendorff’s busy “saving the world from bad content” as a freelance copywriter over at iconiContent. By day, he teaches communication and philosophy at the local college.

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