In my 20-year experience working in businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B) these are some of the best ways to build relationships with your customer and prospect base -- in the same room, doing something together. They are also the very reason why B2B companies have a distinct advantage online.
There is in fact a certain air of exclusivity in B2B industries, where people get to meet and work with other people in a very specialized environment. You're in the know; and now more than ever, there are many reasons for marketing to lead -- B2B content strategy is sexy, for example.
Data was also a Lieutenant Commander on Star Trek
We have plenty of evidence to show that B2B marketing budgets continue to be much smaller compared to those of their consumer-good companies colleagues so they're being invested increasingly online, search is ever important, and the trade press is shrinking and disappearing.
A recent report from AMR International on B2B online marketing in the US* found that:
- Annual growth in US B2B online marketing spend is forecast at 8% in 2010 and is set to reach 14% by 2012
- B2B advertising spend on social media and lead generation sites is forecast to grow at an annualized rate of 21% and 17% respectively to 2013
- Online accounted for 7% of the B2B marketing mix in 2008. This is set to reach 12% by 2013
- Two thirds of B2B marketers believe that online must be complemented by traditional marketing activities
- Only 50% of B2B marketers formally analyze metrics to judge ROI – but those that do find online marketing more effective
It looks like social media is inspiring the B2B C-suite to also strive for their own humanity.
Integration is the name of the game
Do social networks see organizations as customers? A better question is, do B2B decision makers hang out online? And if they do, do they welcome business-related interactions? In my experience, they use LinkedIn to check out credentials and learn more about a consultant or a contact before a face to face meeting.
If you have consultants in your organization, clean up their LinkedIn profile so it looks professional and it aligns with that of the organization. Sales professionals know they need to look sharp -- shoe shine and online presence alike.
Clara Shih did some research in preparation for her book The Facebook Era, and says:
many of the sales reps I interviewed use Facebook and LinkedIn together to better navigate buyer organizations, build one-on-one relationships with decision-makers, keep deals alive when a longer sales cycle is required, and prospect beyond direct connections to friend-of-friend networks.Information that people share about themselves on a Facebook or LinkedIn profile, such as someone’s alma mater, hometown, and status update, can behelpful in qualifying leads and used to build interpersonal rapport, for example bonding over having mutual friends or having attended the same college.
As personal as social networks get, they are still not the most personal and relevant with B2B buyers who tend to prefer email to do business. Open rates and click-throughs for well designed newsletters continue to drive relationship-building and lead generation activities.
See more statistics here. Although do take them with a grain of salt, if something works for you, don't mess with it. And remember to always test. Integration wins for most things marketing and communications.
Putting my own Thesis to the test
I reached out to experts in my network for their take on why and how B2B companies they work with have benefited from integrating social in their marketing plans. Here's what they had to say.
First, to do so requires gaining a more intimate knowledge of their customers – via Buyer Personas. From fears and motivations to media consumption habits and where they go on the web, learning this level of detail is arming today’s B2B marketer with a much clearer picture of the people they are trying to reach.
Second, integrating social in their marketing plans is humanizing the company, providing it a more genuine voice to the market. A voice that customers (read people) are more apt to connect with and have a desire to be associated with. Let’s face it, people buy from people they like, have things in common with, and demonstrate an understanding of their situation. Integrating social brings on a shift in the tone of communication, a more empathizing, emotion based voice emerges and it stands out in the marketplace.
From my experience this is why the companies I am working with are benefiting from integrating social in their marketing plans. As for how, that has taken many forms, increased demand generation, better relevancy in search engines, improved market credibility (thought leadership), new partnerships, and more." [Jeremy Victor, Make Good Media]
"Based on ITSMA’s research with B2B services marketers, we’re seeing companies have success from using social media to support and enhance the more traditional marketing tactics like events. Social media becomes the glue that links events together, driving registration and discussion prior to events, and then enabling conference attendees to continue the dialogue between events.
For example, in 2009, IBM’s Software Group used social media to help drive participation in its live user conference, Impact, which is targeted at buyers of IBM’s WebSphere software for service-oriented architectures (SOAs). IBM promoted the live event through channels like event-specific Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, and Twitter feeds, leading to a 10% increase in registrations for the live event. But it also went beyond those simple uses. IBM created a virtual companion event to the conference. For a company with a global customer base like IBM, a companion event online meant that many more could attend virtually than could afford to make the pilgrimage to the live event.
But the virtual conference did not simply piggyback on the live conference. It had its own share of exclusive sessions. For example, IBM made subject matter experts available to chat with online participants during pre-specified times and promoted these encounter sessions both on- and offline.
All told, the combination of the live and virtual events generated more leads for IBM at a lower overall cost per generated lead than previous conferences." [Chris Koch, B2B Marketing Blog, Director of Research and Thought Leadership, ITSMA]
"Why are B2Bs benefiting by integrating social media in their marketing plans? Market relevance and, for many B2Bs, first-mover advantages in these media--especially among niche sectors that are still slow to move on these brave new fronts.
How are they benefiting through social-media integration? There are MANY 'returns' against their time and investments including: new tool for SEO (and better SERPs), building sales force collateral through their thought leadership content (and promoted on their social platforms) that drive NEW conversations with clients and prospects, providing a new touchpoint in the lead nurturing arena, showcasing their subject matter expertise to increase their cache and exposure, and facilitating idea exchanges (vs. 1-way broadcasts) with their audiences which, in turn, builds relationships... and building relationships was, is, and will always be the most essential strategy and return for B2Bs.
And while the question was on social, I always want to also bring up mobile as the B2B opportunities are nothing short of remarkable and the sheer scale unprecedented. You see, business professionals always have mobile devices with them and outright rely on them for breaking developments, managing content and interacting via social platforms--so if B2Bs can identify how to leverage mobile strategies to make the work activities of their business markets faster, easier and better, they'll have a HIGH chance of yielding high returns. " [Christina Kerley, CK B2B Marketing]
This is what I'm seeing to make the case for social media in B2B. What are you seeing/experiencing?*Survey data of more than 1,000 marketers