Navigating Business-to-Business-to-Consumer Relationships
by Julie Trujillo

  • Consumer Relationships

    Recently my colleague, Sara Sutton, wrote about steps for optimizing the lifetime value of your customers.

    For products and services that are sold directly to the end consumer, these steps provide a great base for maximizing lifetime customer value. But what if you are one of the many companies whose product or service goes through an intermediary? And, what if that intermediary has a strong influence on your brand’s relationship with the end customers? Operating in a business-to-business-to-consumer environment creates extra complexity to consider. While there are many facets to the complexity, I would like to focus on two particular roles that are often played by channel partners in these types of business relationships: (1) the gatekeeper and (2) the face of your brand to the customer.
The Gatekeeper

In many cases, the intermediary plays the role of a gatekeeper. That is, they control your access to the end consumer. Building strong relationships with these partners through a deep understanding of their needs will ultimately help support your brand’s position in the market. In other words, thoroughly meeting their needs will make their jobs easier and will likely lead them to recommend your brand to their customers (your end consumers). Take the time to talk to these gatekeepers to understand their wants, needs, and pain points related to your organization, or to gain a more general grasp of how conducting business with you could be improved.

Use exploratory research with key partners to uncover how you have succeeded or fallen short, to generate ideas for enhancing the relationship you have with them, or to discover ways that you may be able to make them more successful with the end consumers. Once this initial stage of exploratory research is done, take it one step further by validating the hypotheses you have developed by conducting research among a large sample of your gatekeepers. This additional step will allow you to confirm habits and attitudes or test new ideas to see if they warrant additional time and effort. The gatekeeper can provide a wealth of information and be a great sounding board for new innovation and business growth.

The Face of Your Brand

Another role your intermediaries may play is being the face of your company to the customer, which begs the question, Are you being represented by them in a favorable fashion? While, to some degree, their actions are beyond your control, you will need to manage the aspects that are within your control, such as the communication. To do this, consider your communication strategy. Do you have a strategy for communicating your brand to the intermediary? If so, is it aligned with how you communicate with the end customer, or is there a discrepancy? Are your messages clear and easy to remember, and are they being delivered to the right audiences? If you are not sure about the answers, it is time to assess the communication strategies and tactics.

Communication testing, whether evaluating themes or full advertising creative, ensures your messages are clear, consistent, and easy for your intermediary to pass on, and therefore, are accurately representing you. This is critical to being able to maintain your brand strategy and equities in the marketplace. When there is someone between you and the end consumer, it is in your best interest to ensure all parties are in alignment regarding brand communications.

In Summary

B-to-B-to-C intermediaries can have a significant impact on end users’ perceptions of your product or service. Because of the important role they play, keeping a watchful and understanding eye on this relationship is an important activity. Whether you are a restaurant who has partnered with a third-party delivery service, an insurer whose services are delivered through a broker, or a hotel chain who distributes inventory through travel websites, using research consultants with the right tools will help you navigate the challenges of delivering your product or service effectively and successfully and will allow you to protect your brand image in the process.

About the Author

Julie Trujillo ( is a Vice President at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.


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