There was a very good article in BusinessWeek this issue: how Sysco, the restaurant supply company, is helping their clients (restaurants) to become better businesses. The effect: better more profitable restaurants will be able to order more product from Sysco.
What I really like about the article is that it brings up something that even a small business in the B2B market can do - help its customers to be better businesses.
The word partner is often overused - if you are my partner, then help me pay these bills of ours.
You are selling your clients a product or service, but you can increase the value of what you are offering by helping them to solve an additional problem. Don't empathize with their pain, relieve it!
A good business owner knows if his customers are doing well, and the customer views him as the reason they are doing well, that is going to mean a strong relationship.
Rather than cutting the cost of their products, Sysco realizes that if they can get their customer's restaurants to make more money, the restaurant owners will be less worried about a few cents of price difference in the product and more willing to go back to Sysco for more products. And as long as the cost of the programs they are offering are more than offset by the additional sales they generate it is a win for both (which is really what a partnership is all about).
As often is the case, my point is just trolling in the wake of something Seth Godin said last week in his blog, "When all of your competitors are busy increasing value by cutting prices, you can actually increase market share by increasing value and raising benefits."
Finally, remember that the additional value you provide has to be meaningful - a free 20 cent pen is not going to make the value increase on a $1000 sale. We stopped getting toasters for opening a bank account years ago.