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!

7 Reasons Why B2B Companies Fail at Social Media and Content Marketing

7 Reasons Why B2B Companies Fail at Social Media and Content Marketing

Through Midas Touch, the B2B specialist social media agency which I run, we have worked with several B2B organizations – especially in the technology space. We have strategized and executed several social media initiatives and have seen tremendous success.

We all know the stats as well –

  • 57% of purchase decisions are made before a customer ever talks to a supplier (Source)
  • 80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement. (Source)
  • 94 percent of B2B buyers conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product (Source)

And yet, many B2B companies fail in their social media efforts or are not able to derive the desired results. What could be the reasons? Are they not serious about their efforts? Are they putting in efforts at the wrong place? Are they clueless about what to measure and what not to care about? Or there are some other reasons?

Here is my take on why the social media initiatives of B2B companies could fail –

No Strategy

“Strategy is thinking about a choice and choosing to stick with your thinking” —Jeroen De Flander

Strategy – probably the most overused word in the business space today. To me, the above quote summarizes the meaning of strategy. It helps you tie together your goals into plans and helps you achieve those goals. Organizations, when they start their B2B social media efforts, need to think hard and formulate a coherent strategy – what do they want to achieve, how do they plan to do it, what are the available resources, should it be done through in-house team or outside agency, how to engage the subject matter experts, how to monitor, and how to measure the ROI – all such aspects form the components of a solid strategy. Hiring an experienced marketing professional cannot be termed as the strategy 🙂

Lack of Consistency

“If you want to be taken seriously, be consistent.”

Pretty hard-hitting, isn’t it? It, however, is absolutely true in case of B2B social media. If you start with an assumption that you want to “try” social media for three months and then decide whether you would like to continue or not – I would say don’t even start thinking. B2B social media requires influencing multiple decision makers (right from CFO to technology director), the sales cycles are long (something running into months) and the decisions are not taken based on one article (social media is part of the overall sales funnel and not the only channel) – considering all these aspects, it is extremely important that you start your initiatives with a long-term plan. Have a mechanism to monitor the response and results at regular intervals and do ongoing tweaks.

Too Much Focus on Technology

“Our business is about technology, yes. But it’s also about operations and customer relationships.” – Michael Dell

Sure, you are into technology business. Your team has technology ninjas who are extremely passionate about technology and can give an hour long talk on the latest tool. But do you know that not “all” of your target audience may be “always” interested in your technology understanding? Businesses need to understand that technology is just one of the many tools to solve business problems – businesses care about solutions to their business problems. I have seen that many time, technology companies go overboard with their passion for technology and talk only about that instead of focusing on how that technology is going to help in solving a business problem. The B2B content which the company publishes needs to focus on answering the questions of the target audience – it is less about you and your knowledge and more about customer questions and answers to those questions.

Incorrect Choice of Platforms

“Do what is right, not what is easy.”

The world’s most active social platform with the largest user base may not be right for you. B2B social media is more about education more than emotion. It is about building thought leadership than creating just another blog. It is about providing answers to the buyer’s questions than talking about the greatness of your product and service – all such things make B2B social media different than B2C. While you are still interacting with humans, the purpose is different and, hence, the choice of platforms also differs. It is not possible to send a “friend request” to your prospects but you can certainly “follow” or “connect with them” – getting the difference? The choice of social platforms can make or break your social strategy. You will end up doing a lot of “social activity” without any results. Talk to B2B social media experts or read up to understand and know which could be the right platforms for your business.

RoI Misconceptions

“When you say RoI, do you mean Return on Investment or Risk of Inaction.” – Paul Gillin

B2B companies often make the mistake of thinking that the R in RoI is always Revenue – actually the R in RoI is Returns. You will be able to achieve the RoI from your social media initiatives only if you know what to measure, how to measure, and when to measure. Enhanced awareness amongst your target audience, visits to your website, thought leadership, social conversations – all these are valid returns from your social efforts. When you measure the RoI, ensure that you look for qualitative as well as quantitative metrics. Qualitative metrics could include interactions with an influencer, valid product feedback, appreciation by your prospect on your content and so on. Quantitative metrics could include visits to your website, visibility on social platforms, the number of interactions, the number of downloads of your eBook or whitepaper, and so on. It is important to keep monitoring these metrics and tweaking the strategy based on the results.

Lack of Synergy with Sales

Stop trying to sell with marketing, instead use marketing to help customers buy.

B2B organizations need to ensure that there is a very tight integration between sales and marketing – these two teams HAVE TO work in alignment and not in isolation. The sales and marketing strategies need to work together for acquiring customers – essentially because the sales cycles are long, evaluation periods extend in months, building trust takes time, and building thought leadership takes even longer. Marketing needs to understand the sales campaigns and needs to align itself according to those – for example, if your sales team is focusing on a particular industry vertical in a particular quarter, your social media presence has to reinforce your knowledge and expertise in that sector through blog articles, webinars, eBooks, and social promotion. Similarly, the sales teams need to leverage marketing and the social channels to build connections and engage with prospects on social channels.

Completely Ignoring Executive Branding aka Personal Branding

“Your personal brand is a promise to your clients… a promise of quality, consistency, competency, and reliability.” – Jason Hartman

Be it B2B or B2C, finally, people connect with people and people trust other people. Thinking that you don’t need a “face” in the online world is one of the most common mistakes which most of the B2B companies make. Companies need to ensure that all the external facing profile – be it the CEO, your sales director, your marketing head, managers who interact with the client or sales execs who interact with the prospects – need to have a strong online presence. It is absolutely critical that the top management has a strong online brand – they need to demonstrate their values, the expertise of the company, and build trust in the minds of the prospects, customers, suppliers, or future and present employees. Unfortunately, this is often the most ignored aspect – especially by the top management of technology companies. Believe it or not, it has a strong impact on the overall company brand as well.

Hope this helps you in knowing what to avoid so that your B2B social media initiatives are successful. Do share your feedback and comments!