Earlier this week I wrote a post claiming that Business-to-Business Marketers’ self-inflicted aversion to people is the reason they’ve been slow to adopt mobile and social technologies; thus, failing to adequately leverage either channel. I argued that their marketing focus is also business-to-business and not people-to-people.
Today, I’d like to follow that up with a few suggestions on infrastructure changes B2B organizations can embrace in order to get better acquainted with the people that make or influence buying decisions.
Below are seven strategic and infrastructure considerations that will aid B2B firms make more personal connections with their audience.
1. Don’t Hog the Mike. Open social engagement to all employees not just your sales and marketing teams. Buyers will appreciate hearing from those in the shipping department, accounting or product development. If your brand cannot create personal connections, allow your people to do so.
2. Private is OK Too. Not all social conversations have to be public; consider a private social network framework within a private extranet that allows your staff to engage customers directly. Or better yet, allow your customers to engage each other in an open, un-moderated format.
3.Seek Out Advocates. Influencer marketing strategies are well suited to the B2B space; however, there are few online channels for advocates to share their recommendations. Seek out customer or employee advocates, encourage/reward them for their efforts and most importantly, identify or create the channels for them to share their recommendations publicly.
4. Ground Yourself. Taking a lesson from the B2C world, create a hub that connects social conversations, articles and industry news to a central source such as your Web site or blog. Connecting all the few or many external channels you choose (including email and offline marketing) will help focus conversations and allow you to manage them with less effort.
5. Don’t Moderate – Engage. It’s too easy for B2B marketers to jump in with “Here’s how this product will sell through” or “Here’s how this product will increase your revenues”…it’s OK to let the conversations flow to non-product or non-business related topics. Businesses sell businesses. People talk to people and often, the first step in selling to people is not to sell to them at all.
6. Laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously when communicating with “people”. B2B executives (and by extension B2B marketers) are notoriously stiff when it comes to business communications and branding. They’re trained to live, breathe and sleep features & benefits, cost analysis and logistics. Taking a lighter approach connects with the people that make those business decisions far more than specification documents and training videos. Take Ottawa-based supply chain software company Kinaxis, that produced a series of videos that made light of their own industry.
7. Measure & Benchmark. Begin measuring the number and sentiment of social conversations you have with specific individuals and categorize them as purchase influencers or decision makers. Over time, benchmark the share of wallet, retention and conversion you’re receiving based on the frequency and nature of those social conversations with individuals to determine the revenue impact from the businesses they work for.
Change does not occur easily in B2B firms yet the market is ready for someone to take the lead. The strategy suggested in these seven points requires a fundamental culture change in the organization that seems counterintuitive to these traditional thinkers, yet often is the counterintuitive executions that set a business apart. The B2C world has tremendous examples of counterintuitive customer experience strategies like Starbucks encouraing you to sit for long periods of time, Costco reducing the number of SKUs sold in aisles with no signage, etc.
The one area that is not counterintuitive for B2B firms when adopting social strategies: they are already more focused on the net results (bottom line impact) of engagements than their B2C counterparts that wrestle with generic brand awarness and branding metrics.
It’s a brave new world. B2B marketers and execs have been the laggards but we’re starting to see the cracks. Forrester Research forecasts that B2B social media marketing spending will grow from just $11 million last year to $54 million in 2014. Still a fraction of the total digital spend planned but moving in the right direction.
Can B2B Marketers effectively alter their DNA to be more focused on the people they sell to vs. the businesses?
Sam Fiorella – Sensei
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego