5 Confidence-Sapping B2B Social Media Blunders

“Only 6% of B2B Product Marketers, and 17% of B2B Services marketers believe they can quantitatively establish the business impact of their social media.” -The CMO Survey

That’s a damning statistic if there ever was one, but to be honest it doesn’t really faze my agency, Midas Touch. Clearly, as B2B Social Media specialists we cannot afford to ignore this perception, but we firmly believe that when done right there is considerable, and real value to be had. Doing it right starts with knowing what could go wrong – and that’s what this post is about.

We have had more than our fair share of first discussions with prospects starting on the note, “We did social media but it didn’t work for us.” More often than not, we could trace this soul-sapping loss of confidence back to one these five mega-blunders.

Making it all about you

Take a quick peek at your blog site –do most (if not all) of the blogs out there talk about your products, your offerings, or about your company? Is that the flavor of your social channels as well? If so then I hate to say this, but you’re that self-obsessed guy at the party who tells everyone within earshot how he used to be a great athlete. You know, that guy standing all alone near the bar, desperate for an audience. Your content and your social channels have to be about the customer – give them the information they need, answer the questions they have, and essentially help them along the buying journey. This helps you create a perception of your company as one with similar interests and with the expertise to help them when it comes to actually deploying a solution. It’s all about information – this is why 59% of B2B Marketers cite eBooks and Whitepapers as the top B2B lead producers (Source MediaPost).

A Rush into Selling

There’s a disease sweeping through LinkedIn these days – have you felt the ill-effects? Just as soon as you accept a connection request, an elaborate mail follows with a laundry list of product or services offerings and an exhortation to do business. Other social channels are also suffering from the same “Connect and start selling” super-bug. In relationship terms this is like going down on one knee and proposing without putting any time, thought or effort into the “let’s get to know each other” phase. Do you see nuptials in the near future in this case – I don’t! The social channels have to aid the courtship – help to engage the prospect, build a bond based on respect, gain their trust, and help to start a conversation. If everything else fits then the inevitable outcome follows quite naturally!

The social channels can also play a key role in lead nurturing – just as valid an example of putting thought into building a relationship. This is worth the effort – 67% of the B2B Marketers who engaged in such structured lead nurturing grew sales opportunities across the funnel by 10%, and a further 15% saw sales opportunities increase by 30% (Source: Iconsive)

Broadcasting without targeting

It’s been said that if you’re talking to everyone, really, you’re talking to no one. By definition, you cannot target everyone – resources are limited, so is time – you have to prioritize and choose a limited set of target segments. Focus, Low-Hanging Fruit – these are all ways to acknowledge the need for targeting your messaging, your social efforts, and your content. The tighter the targeting, the more personal will be the message, the more specific will be the value proposition, and the greater will be the emotional impact. A Corporate Executive Board & Google survey of over 3000 B2B buyers revealed just why this is so important.

  1. 86% of the buyers surveyed said that there was no longer any “real difference” between vendors.
  2. Those B2B brands that formed an emotional connect with their prospects created 2 times the impact as compared to B2B brands selling purely business and functional value.
  3. The buyers were 60% more likely to consider, buy or pay more for a brand with which they felt a “high brand connection.”

Campaign not strategy

Good things come to those who wait right? This is definitely true in B2B Social Media. And it’s even truer that this isn’t for those not ready for the long haul. If you’re launching a new product, or a webinar program, then a flurry of tweets in the days prior to that is unlikely to significantly drive up visibility or interest. The audience builds up over time, as does their interest in what you have to say. It also takes the audience a while to take the action you want them to. 80% of B2B buyers now take longer to do their research and just as many of them view between 2 – 7 different pieces of content before making their decision on engage with a vendor (Source DemandGen Report). Clearly, this stuff takes time to work it’s magic – no instant miracles here!

The Channel Conundrum

Virtually every single one of your target customers has a facebook profile. Does that make it the right choice for your B2B Social Media efforts though – not unless you want to connect with your buyers in a space they consider personal. A lot of the disenchantment with social media is based on an improper channel strategy. The fact is each channel has its strength, its own audience, and that audience has a specific intent while there. This is not the place to try a “one size fits all” approach – the channel mix you pick has to be specific to your needs, and the needs of the audience you are looking to connect with. The content you share on the chosen channels, the language, tone, frequency, and schedule all has to be designed with the audience in mind too. Some channels work better than others here. This is the reason why 94% of B2B marketers pick LinkedIn for content dissemination, but only 29% pick Instagram, despite it being the fastest-growing social network out there.

Vince Lombardi said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” Speaking for my agency, we have seen so many times how B2B Social Media done right can create a positive overall impact that amps up the sales and marketing effort – you should try it too!

 

 

 

More Bang For The Tradeshow Buck For B2B Startups

Tradeshows are expensive and as a startup our participation is completely unaffordable. The ROI for B2B events is uncertain. Does this sound familiar? As a B2B focused social media marketing agency we at Midas Touch get pulled into this argument often but somewhat contrary to expectations our response is not always an outright rejection. We believe that there may well be a case for B2B focused startups to seriously consider tradeshows as a part of their marketing mix.

Why should my startup go at-all?

The benefits of participating in Tradeshows are well known. For starters – where else can you access such a large, reasonably homogenous group of target customers together? The opportunity to engage with them and start the long process of relationship building, what old timers called networking, is apparent. Such a focused gathering also offers a great opportunity to craft a very specific message and broadcast it in a “gatekeeper” free environment. There are also undeniable benefits to visibly being a part of a community your target customers obviously care about. In most cases merely attending the event can also deliver acceptable returns provided some tactical steps are taken.

The importance of specific content

First understand that a lot of preparation is involved – generally the larger the event the longer the time you will have to spend in the groundwork. The first step starts well in advance of the actual event – define the message likely to appeal to the audience at the event and start creating high quality content to reflect that. This includes informative blogs on your website, thought-leadership oriented articles in online publications that target the same audience and more salesy “hard-copy” collateral.

The next step is to start a structured effort to get that content in front of the people it is intended for. The aim should be to associate your startup with the chosen subject in the minds of the target audience and the best way to do this is for them to “find” your content as they go online to answer their questions or to seek information. To do this we can turn to social media as well as some more “direct” action.

Getting the content “found” – social media

Twitter and LinkedIn are the weapons of choice in the B2B Social Media space. Most trade events these days invest in building a social trail – on Twitter this may take the form of a dedicated Twitter handle and a hashtag associated with the event and on LinkedIn long running events may have Groups of past and prospective participants. This presents startups an opportunity to become a part of a conversation larger than their own circles by associating themselves with these online properties.

One approach would be to start with teaser mentions on Twitter about the event that use the appropriate hashtags and in the period leading up to the event increase the mentions. Live tweeting impressions and opinions of proceedings during the event will grab some eyeballs and continuing the tweets in the immediate aftermath of the event will help your startup stay in the eyeline and linked to the event.

On LinkedIn the approach has to be different – updating your company page to reflect your participation is important to inform those who already follow your startup. Going into the LinkedIn group associated with the event and in other groups of people likely to be similarly interested is also worthwhile but has to be approached sensitively. These forums are not the place to shamelessly promote oneself or one’s participation – a more subtle approach is called for. For eg. a mention of something newsworthy from previous conferences or your own expectations from the upcoming one is a good way to invite opinions from other people who would also be in attendance.

Direct action- The role of email campaigns

Email campaigns should be planned as the tradeshow approach. Here step 1 is to identify the people attending the event that you would like to connect with. The list of the speakers at the conference could be the first port of call. The next stop could be the list of sponsors and exhibitors – chances are the top people in those companies will be in attendance. A carefully crafted email to these people referring to the tradeshow in the subject line stands a better chance of being read than other “cold” emails. The email should set out crisply what you hope to achieve from attending the event and seek an opportunity for a conversation while there. Following up, both with people who have confirmed meetings and those who have not, is critically important but a fine line has to be toed here so you don’t cross over into spammer territory. The timing of the emails is important – too early won’t work and too close to the show won’t do.

Following this script in prep should both improve your chances of meeting people that matter at the event and also in getting the word out to the rest of the people attending about your startup’s relevance in the space. After that it’s off to the races – make sure you have loads of business cards to hand out!

The Content Marketing Q – Your Content Is Outstanding But Is It Standing Out?

“Marketers always ask me how to make more or better content, and it’s almost always the wrong question. The right question is: “How do I get my content in front of the right people?”” Joe Chernov – VP of Content at HubSpot

You were among those that embraced Content Marketing early. You truly believe that high quality, well-written content that informs and educates is a great way to present your own expertise. You have also spent a considerable amount of time and energy in building a process internally that listens socially to identify issues that matter in your area and then captures your own unique point of view about those issues in an article. Despite all this, the nagging fear is something is not working out. Month on month the trend is clear – “views” and social shares are down and so is engagement. Does that sound like your story? If – so you are not alone.

In essence, the problem is one of plenty – the content marketing case is so strong that everyone is climbing onto this particular bandwagon. The result is 30 million items of content being shared online every single day. It’s asking a lot of your content to grab the eyeballs while buried in that dense a thicket. Is it time then, to hang up your content marketing boots – not by a long shot! Here are 5 types of content that will still stand out from the crowd.

Uber-Targeted Content

“The only way to win at content marketing is for the reader to say, ‘This was written specifically for me.’” : Jamie Turner, 60 Second Marketer

Something written for everyone makes sense to no-one. An ever-present temptation is to try to address the larger target segments with your content – in the current situation the reverse may well work better. Create more pieces of content – each piece specifically targeted at specific sub-segments or even smaller target groups. The fact is their needs are different in their own way – identify those differences , address them specifically and watch the small but highly targeted audience lap it up.

Visual Content

Research commissioned by 3M showed that nearly 90% of the information consumed by the brain is visual and as a result, visual information gets processed by the brain up to 60000 faster than text information. This gives a clue why in recent times the most shared content is all visual. In the context of the content of value to organizations, this suggests that the Content Marketing focus should be on creating Infographics, Process, or Flow Charts and text articles liberally supported by pictures and diagrams.

Audio / Video Content

The kind of videos actor Mike Henry had in mind when he said “We’re living in a world where one good video can lead to a massive social following” are perhaps not what most organizations would find useful. That being said one can no longer ignore the importance of audio / video content when YouTube is pushing to be the world’s 2nd largest search engine after Google. Bandwidths today are not a problem and creating webinars, podcasts, and animated or live action videos is no longer as challenging as used to be the case. The medium is still relatively underserved – a good opportunity for content you create to be viewed positively (pun intended).

Customer Generated Content

Surveys show that 51% of Americans trust user-generated content, 16% information on the company website and 14% news articles about the company – the numbers won’t be very different for other markets. While not the easiest to produce if you have a customer willing to lend their name and inputs to a piece of content this can swiftly become a magnet for similar organizations or for those with similar questions that need answering. You marketing team will also tell you that promoting content written by someone else has the ring of truth to it and is hence often easier to promote!

Storytelling

Randall Lane, editor of Forbes said – “Tell a relevant, targeted, transparent story, and the whole world will share it.” Attention spans are short and there is a lot of competition for the mental bandwidth of your target audience – a story told well that echoes the situation your own target audience is facing is thus more likely to strike a chord. Given a choice between a pedantic article and a story, the story will get picked each time. It’s obviously an easier read and the customers believe themselves smart enough to extract the right message from it.

This is a fast evolving space – everyone has bright ideas and the motivation to make their content better. My suggestion is, don’t be content if your outstanding content – the real value will be when it stands out!

(Note: This article first appeared in more or less the same shape in Social Samosa under my byline a while ago – I’m reposting it as it popped up in a recent discussion with a client.)

 

A Practical Guide For CEOs On Using Social Media – B2B Edition

“Some CEOs say they’re too busy for social media. I say it’s part of the job.” Jack Salzwedel – CEO of American Family Mutual Insurance Company

Salzwadel’s advice seems to be falling on deaf ears if a Domo and CEO.com study is to be believed. The report, published earlier this year, found that fully 61% of CEOs of the Fortune 500 had no presence on any social channel and the usage of social media by even the other 39% is underwhelming. No one is saying this is a good thing, though, and digging deeper into the “why” of such low CEO participation reveals that many of the reasons are internal to them rather than business-driven. Apart from a belief that social media is a young person’s game and a fear of repercussions from sharing something inappropriate, among the chief causes cited by CEOs was a lack of understanding of what to do on social platforms. At Midas Touch, we work with a bunch of B2B clients. As we go about getting their company on the social media wagon, the question of how the CEOs in these companies should use social channels often comes up. Let me use this post to share the recommendations we usually end up giving.

First some caveats. In keeping with the “practical” nature of this guide – this is a “nuts and bolts” set of suggestions intended for CEOs of mid-sized companies looking to leverage social media to help their business get ahead. We are not really addressing loftier goals like branding or creating thought leadership. Using social media for personal branding is also a story that will have to wait for another day.

LinkedIn

A TrackMaven analysis of content shared by B2B brands across the leading social media networks over a 12-month period starting mid-2015, revealed that across several measures LinkedIn was the most popular and effective platform. That’s reason enough to have it front-and-center in our plans too. Here’s what the time-strapped CEO should do on LinkedIn.

  1. Networking really is LinkedIn’s primary raison d’être. As soon as the, hero of our blog, CEO connects (meet, emeet etc.) with a customer, prospect or influencer, we recommend connecting on LinkedIn as well. As a matter of practice, the connect should occur very soon after the meeting so the interaction is still fresh in their minds. This also means that the LinkedIn profile of the CEO should be complete, with a professional head-shot and the relevant amount of information about the organization they represent.
  2. This CEO should post occasional, but regular LinkedIn status updates from their profiles. Except to share significant news, preferably the updates should be to about the industry at large rather than about their own company. This is to get into the eye line of a wider audience, positioned as someone with an interest in and a contribution to make to the space.
  3. Our, now emerging from social exile, CEO should follow the company’s LinkedIn company page and like and share the content being posted there, especially if it leads back to the company website. This will help the visibility of the posts.
  4. Keeping in mind that the CEO, who is the subject of our post, is time-strapped, having a regular blog may remain an ambition only. That being the case, blogs from the company blog absolutely can be posted from the personal profile of the CEO (with attribution). The topic of the blog, their tone and message and even the frequency of posting has to fit in with the overall positioning and network of the CEO. This helps to showcase the thought leadership of the company.

Twitter

Last year Social Media Today reported that B2B Marketers who used Twitter generated twice as many leads as compared to those who didn’t. Most B2B Marketers rate Twitter as the 2nd most effective social platform behind LinkedIn. Here’s how the CEO can work Twitter like a (near) pro.

  1. Well, of course, create a Twitter handle and tweet regularly. Yeah – we already agreed that the CEO doesn’t have a lot of time so this does not have to be a flood of tweets daily. Let’s start with a measured, steady, sustainable pace. Remember, the tweets cannot all be promotional. We suggest a mix of personal thoughts that relate to the business, company news and content and also relevant content from the industry at large. People will follow the CEO if they see the twitter channel as a worthy source of informative content.
  2. Something that should please the sales team – this is also a good way to connect with senior prospects, customers, and decision makers directly. I’m fond of saying that if you start a tweet with @BillGates, it will reach the man – he won’t react to it in all probability but really which channel gives you that kind of direct access? With such great power comes great responsibility, though – these connections are not to be milked too blatantly, be slow, be sure and don’t be salesy.
  3. This is also a great place for our, now socially-savvy, CEO to listen. The aim is to participate in ongoing conversations by searching for #s (sorry – I should explain that is this an easy way for those in the know to identify tweets across the Twitterverse that refer to a particular topic) that are relevant. This gives great insights into what others have to say about the area you work in, or even what customers, prospects, and competitors consider important at the time.
  4. Now that our CEO has become quite the social media pro let’s up the ante. Next on the agenda – live tweeting. Think of the many events and occasions CEOs attend. This is the time to make the handle more active – live tweeting the occasional relevant impression from the event floor is a great way to contribute to a larger conversation and gain some visibility for your own and your company’s point of view.

I think our CEO is now ready for the social world – right? In closing a word of advice. Not from me, but from Marketing and Customer Service thought-leader Jay Baer. He said, “Focus on how to be social, not how to do social.” That’s sound advice for all CEO’s looking to dive into social media.

 

 

B2B Social Media – What Impact Can You Expect From Each Channel?

It’s the start of the Financial Year and there is the whiff of freshly minted marketing strategies and budgets in the air. If articles like our previous posts on B2B Social Media have convinced you that money spent here will not be totally wasted then read on. In this post we will take a look at the most popular social media channels to try and identify how the same channel offers a different view through these rose tinted B2B spectacles.

facebook

Clearly an unexpected place to start a discussion on B2B Social Media but there are some situations where facebook is better than most other channels. For starters if you have Visual Content to share like photographs with a short explanatory note, well longer than 140 characters, there are few better options out there.  Despite the shifting goal posts of facebook’s reach algorithms this is still among the best ways to offer up an enticing visual tidbit to prospects to tempt them into sampling the wider menu on your website.

Another place where facebook scores is in the potential it offers to create first level customer or user communities. Although facebook groups have died an unlamented death the Brand Page is still a great platform for users to get together and a good place for them to engage with you. There is enough evidence that an engaged user community, “fans” to use the more familiar terminology, is a tremendous asset.

Twitter

The “real time” nature of this channel makes it the best place to make announcements – company news, events, new content and so on. It is mandatory to post multiple times in a day – thus providing the opportunity to “curate” nuggets of information of likely interest to your target customers. This is a great way to show that you belong in that community.

Twitter is also a great place to track down, monitor and engage directly with the big fish – Influencers, opinion makers and those elusive top decision makers your sales guys are trying unsuccessfully to connect with. Like no other social media platform Twitter gives this direct access. Every tweet starting with @BillGates will reach the man – no guarantee he will answer it though! With great power comes great responsibility  – the objective should be a slow and steady progression from getting onto the radar of these Influencers to building a real relationship through a series of calibrated moves.

LinkedIn

The undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world of B2B Social Media. A scarily high 50% of LinkedIn members are likely to make a purchase from a company they engage with there. There are so many ways LinkedIn can be leveraged in the B2B context. A well written profile of your key outward facing employees with regular, relevant status updates is an easy way to create a perception of these employees and by extension your company’s expertise.   The Company Page is an under-utilised resource of high potential. Updates are extremely effective in driving traffic to your web properties and it is expected that the Showcase pages will only multiply that effect.

LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn groups are almost a channel in themselves – these highly targeted groups of motivated professionals are a dream-come-true for most B2B marketers. This is the platform to participate in ongoing conversations, start discussions and share content of likely interest to the group. Apart from getting into the eye-line of a community that you should care about it also offers the opportunity to build the desired perception of your company through these interactions.

As you can see the channels may be the same but the storyline playing out on them in the B2B context is just that little bit different. So B2B Social Media marketers – don’t change the channel this program also has a rewarding ending!

 

 

 

“To B2B Or Not B2B?” – Just How B2B Social Media Is Different

It is true that B2B Marketers these days are finding their thoughts turning more towards social media than ever before. Surely one of the issues causing concern would be the relative lack of documented information on how social media should be different for B2B marketers as opposed to the more traditional usage in the B2C environment. Especially in the Indian context there is a reasonable lack of specialists in this area and this probably contributes to the general lack of information. In this post let us try to redress that balance if we can by defining some key ways in which Social Media would be different in the B2B context.

  1. B2B decision making is complex. Several people influence the decision and each has a mandate to seek answers to different questions. Different people could be looking separately at cost, appropriateness of the solution, ease of deployment and use and so on. The demand from Socialmedia then would be to provide each of them the answers they specifically are seeking – a question of tracking the social media consumption patterns of all the relevant types of influencers and ensuring that content reflecting your capabilities in a suitable light is available to them when they choose to go looking for it. While considering the areas requiring this specific B2B tweaking the buzz words you are looking for are #SocialSelling and #ContentMarketing.
  2. It can be said that B2B buyers seek information that reassures them their problem will be addressed – in other words they are seeking solutions. The focus of the #MarketingMessage, thus, should be on utility, form, function and the more tangible benefits rather than on the potentially more emotional nature of the appeal to the typical B2C consumer.
  3. If follows from the point above that the content one would create in the B2B context would have to be more descriptive or in-depth with a focus on educating. Success stories or user case studies showing how others in similar situations have benefited are most valuable. So are audio and video content like webinars, podcasts, user reviews or “how to” guides. B2B buyers are uber informed and while a lot of the information they collect will end up as column-fodder in a vendor comparison excel, providing them the right kind of info is as good a way as any of rising to the top of that comparison.
  4. B2B SocialMedia strategies need to be tied much more closely into the business operations – sales, demand generation, customer services / support etc. An overarching integrated strategy is much more likely to be effective here than a social media strategy performing in splendid isolation. The imperative is to ensure that all the different siloes are aligned – if the campaign of the month is “Quality Assurance services” then the content being created and promoted should be about QA, the influencers being engaged on social media should be in that area –you get the idea.

As someone who has been in B2B sales for 20 years let me share a pretty open secret. As far as the VP Sales is concerned the expected output from most B2B Social Media efforts is leads that the sales team can close. In the end the only metric in B2B Social Media Marketing that really matters to them is “Revenue”- can your #B2BSocialMedia strategy achieve that goal?

The Big Impact of B2B Social Media on The B2B Buying Cycle

Over 20+ years I spent in the B2B sales trenches, I maintained a healthy suspicion of “Marketing”. Now that I am the co-founder of a B2B specialist social media agency, I freely confess to a sea change in that attitude. This history does help us, though, as we engage similarly predisposed prospects. B2B Companies, because of a longer and more complex sales cycle, sometimes find It harder to visualize exactly how these new-fangled concepts like Content Marketing and Social Media fit into the equation. This post is an attempt to shed some light on the potential impact of B2B Social Media on the B2B buyer’s journey – and therefore on B2B Sales.

Let me share the story of a B2B sale I saw at close quarters, that provides some grist for this particular mill. A few months ago, we received a call from a mid-sized software technology company with some very specific ideas about their content and social media marketing needs. The interaction was unusual on a few counts, one their degree of familiarity with these activities, channels and anticipated impact, second the rush they seemed to be in and lastly in how little time we had to expend in building up our own credentials. They insisted on a proposal the very next day, which was discussed and negotiated within a couple of days and we saw a signed contract within a week of the first phone call. Great – so a B2B sales cycle that lasted just a week, right? Wrong, as it turned out.

As we started engaging, we asked them just how they came to hear of us – a niche player in a town many hundreds of miles away. The answer was revealing. Apparently a little over six months earlier, their COO had received an email we had sent out as a part of a campaign when we launched a specific offering for technology companies. They did not reach out to us at the time but the agency and our B2B focus seemed to stay in their collective consciousness. Over the following months, they noticed each time we created content touching upon specific aspects of B2B Marketing, be it a Slideshare presentation on an integrated B2B LeadGen approach, or articles we contributed to startup or marketing focused publications about effective Content Marketing and high impact B2B Social Media tactics. Unseen to us, they were educating themselves and forming their own conclusions about what was likely to suit their specific business needs. Their COO eventually proceeded to connect with me, and another senior colleague at the agency, over LinkedIn. It’s fair to assume he reviewed our profiles and visited our website before getting on the phone to us. Clearly, this was a B2B Sale that took a good 6 months from start to finish – just that a large part of this was invisible to us.

We have all heard just how much of the buyer’s journey is completed online before the seller company gets engaged – estimates ranging from 55% to even 80% are floating around. The numbers in the B2B space are just as clear – here are a couple of particularly revealing ones.

  • 77% of B2B buyers claimed that they would not even engage with sales people before they had taken the time to do their own research. (Source: Corporate Executive Board)
  • Over 70% of B2B Buyers admit that they use social media to help them in making their decision. (Source: Dell)

So, the B2B sale mentioned earlier started conventionally with an outbound email campaign and ended conventionally, with contract negotiations and closure, but all that happened in between was driven by content and social media. This is representative of, what is now, a fairly typical buyer journey.

  • In the “Discovery” phase of the buyer journey, prospects are turning to social media to discover content that helps them identify for themselves what their specific business issues are, the possible impact on their business goals, and just what it will take to make that change.
  • The “Consideration” phase is when they seem to start forming opinions about potential solutions worth considering. Social Media offers opportunities to connect with and learn from, other individuals from companies, that might have been similarly placed. Content seems to play a key role here in helping prospects make comparisons and draw up the contours of what could work for their specific needs.
  • Vendors who have solutions to offer can get an early look-in into the “Decision” stage, only if it is their content the prospects are referring to over the early stages. This is a big change from the early B2B Sales days, when sales pros like my own younger self, were in control of the information flow to our prospects.
  • Then coming to the final stages where the “Closure” happens – the role of social channels (like LinkedIn) in establishing a warm connection that can grow into a meaningful relationship cannot be overstated.

Zig Ziglar said, “Stop selling. Start helping.” This has always applied in the world of B2B Sales, only that in today’s Content & Social-driven world, the prospects are likely to turn to an online source to help themselves. It is this behavior that drives the big impact of B2B Social Media in B2B Sales – is your sales engine ready?

 

Butchers Block: Climbing The B2B Sales Value Chain In A Digital Age

Full disclosure – I have never visited a butcher but this story I heard about one tempts me to confer the title of “Sales Guru” on the protagonist! The story goes something like this:

Commodity

An old lady in a village went to the market to buy supplies for her home each week. She would buy meat from whichever butcher had the better product on the day at the best price. She was buying a Commodity which offered the sellers little opportunity for differentiation or for long-term customer retention.

 

Think about your online footprint in this light, do you have anything there that showcases the unique value of your offering? Is it available to your target customer segments, when they go looking for that information, where they are likely to go looking for it? If not – why should a customer view you differently? The butcher may have a solution.

Product

Over time the old lady started buying meat more often than not, from the same butcher. He seemed to usually have better quality goods & a reasonable price. This butcher had made the transition to selling a Product with some kind of assurance of quality & a greater potential for garnering customer loyalty.

 

If you are at this stage, chances are your digital presence is conveying a certain sense of your brand – what it represents, and therefore what the customer’s experience is likely to be on engaging with the brand. Is that enough, though? Let’s get back to the butcher to find out.

Service

After a few weeks of serving the old lady, the butcher told her that he had noticed her buying items from a few different shops each week. He suggested that she give him a list of all the things she wanted in the week in advance.  He offered to buy all the items & keep them at his shop for her to pick up when she came to buy the meat. This would save her time & effort & she could still get everything she needed.  The lady eagerly accepted the Service the butcher was offering. The move from a Product to a Service allows much greater scope for differentiation & for tailoring unique benefits for customers that could potentially reduce the need for the customer to consider competitors.

 

In the online context, this stage calls for much greater engagement between the organization and the target audience. This is now becoming a two-way communication – you listen, and then you talk. Online, this would also be the time to start thinking about much finer targeting – not all segments will have similar needs and even if the difference is one of nuances, the service offering needs to reflect that subtlety. Oh, so does the butcher have more to offer? As it turns out, yes.

Relationship

It so transpired that the lady fell ill & could not make it to the market for a couple of weeks. While recuperating at home she was surprised by a visit from the butcher. He had with him a basket of goods typical of those the lady usually ordered, along with some choice cuts of meat. In response to the lady’s incredulity, he said that he had inquired from one of the lady’s friends at the market, the reason for her recent absence & learned of her illness. He thought of paying a visit to check how she was doing & of getting some supplies along since she would not have been able to stock up on provisions for two weeks. Clearly the butcher, apart from being a nice guy, was a true sales genius. With that one step, he moved up the ladder. He formed a genuine Relationship with his customer – something that most sales people dream of. After achieving this stage, as long as, one can consistently deliver value you have a customer for life.

 

In some ways, this is the stage where your online presence can deliver the maximum impact. The online channels should be focused on delivering them the experience they expect, the information they value, and the engagement they want. It’s time to pull out all the stops on the content you create, and the messages you deliver over the social channels. These will be the long-term customers, and most likely the most profitable ones – they deserve all that attention.

 

The story of the butcher & the lady serves up a road map for those of us in sales – the aim should always be to move up the value chain from a Commodity to a Product to a Service & finally a Relationship. The higher one goes the greater the opportunity for differentiation & for cementing customer relationships that last. That, and the fact that the digital footprint has to be in lockstep with the move up the sales value chain!

 

Note: I had published a version of this blog on my personal blog 4 years ago, given how the sales landscape has changed so much in that time with the advent of digital and social I thought it was time for a refresh.

B2B Sales In The Time Of B2B Social Media

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I used to sell computer networking equipment to large enterprises. The pressure cooker sales environment was replete with war stories of every hue. Perhaps the one that used to inspire us more than most was the “Legend of the CEO Meeting”. The story goes that each time a specific senior officer used to visit our office he would ask for a meeting to be fixed with the CEO of a specific large corporation. The guy on that account, like most sales people, would put it off thinking there was no real opportunity there. Eventually he caved and set the meeting up – what followed was a sales masterclass by the senior officer. Legend has it that over the course of a single, repeatedly-extended meeting he got the CEO to identify his key business pain points, worked out a monetary amount that was acknowledged to be the business impact of not addressing those problems, proposed a networking based solution to those problems and walked out with a purchase order for a value of Rs.xxx (insert absurdly large amount here).

These days I look around for the pinch of salt the story obviously needs to be garnished with but there is great instructional value there too. Here are the steps the super salesman followed:

  • Identifying and getting in front of the key decision maker
  • Helping him (or her) define the business problems and
  • Making a clear assessment of the impact in terms of cash (or time or effort) being wasted
  • Proposing his organization as possessing an appropriate solution that specifically addresses the business problem and
  • Then closing the deal by handling all objections

This is a great process to follow in complex sales. In these days of the ubiquitous reach of social media would this process change at all? Is the impact positive or negative?

Prospecting

For starters finding or getting into the eye line of the decision maker can be less of a hit-or-miss effort through #socialselling. Examples abound of companies mapping the social media habits of key influencers or decision makers and then engaging with them in a subtle but sustained manner. The approach is to follow them on Twitter, show genuine interest in what they care about, read and comment on their blog and build a relationship with them by interacting with them on their terms.

Engagement

Customers today are uber informed – research shows that anything from 55-60% of the buying process is done by the time they start engaging with individual vendors. Customers turn to the web to help them define their problem areas and find potential solutions and vendors with the capability to offer those solutions. The B2B sales guy used to heavily leverage this stage of the sales process to establish credentials as a “trusted expert” – no longer as easy when the customer knows as much as you. The emphasis has shifted to #contentmarketing – creating content likely to prove useful to customers seeking information and making sure it is found by them when they need it. The most useful content is likely to position the vendor providing it as the “trusted expert”.

The role of content

Lastly Since the content in the online world will speak for an organization chances are even at the very first interaction with the customer they will have a reasonably well-formed opinion of the vendor they are talking to. The opportunity to tweak the positioning to fit the possible opportunity is perhaps less than was available in the story above. The onus on the B2B vendor is to ensure that the content they create talks very specifically to the target customers and addresses their specific concerns even before an opportunity arises for these to be stated.

The changed B2B sales cycle

There is a legitimate expectation that the duration of the sales cycle can be shortened as customers run the initial part of the pipeline themselves – this is partially true or at-least the visible portion of the cycle can be reduced. Key will become the ability of the B2B sales organization and more critically the B2B sales professionals to adapt their time tested ways to the demands of the digital marketing and #B2BSocialMedia world. Sales guys are nothing if not instinctively attuned to identifying shifting tides and correcting course to sail though – my own expectation is the best sales guys will still come out smiling at the end.