Sometimes you find a post that you so passionately disagree with that you have no choice but to write a blog post expressing your side of the debate. Last week Mark Hall was kind enough to write a blog post about our new blog, but then went on to argue that social media “…as a tool for B2B marketers, it’s a fad in search of purpose.” I could not disagree more with Mr. Hall.
Note: I would also like to note that I posted a comment the day the post was published asking Mark for a podcast interview to discuss this subject, but have not yet heard from him.
Here are five reasons why social media is relevant to B2B now more than ever.
1. Search Is Becoming More Relevant – The user generated content created on social media platforms means that the Internet is becoming flooded with data everyday. With this continued influx of data comes the need for businesses to sort and find the most relevant information to them. Think about how often your employees use search engines for researching every day. Think about the most recent searches you have done. You probably remember seeing results for a YouTube video, message board thread, or a blog. This is not a trend that will go away. Search will get much more social. If your business continues to print sales collateral and brochures and your only data online is a five page company Web site then you will we be lost in the mountain of search data and become irrelevant.
2. Social Media Helps Sales Staff Merchandise Information To Prospects – A battle that I have long witnessed in the B2B world is ensuring that communication with sales staff and the marketing team are open. Taking that a step further, many marketers have a difficult time providing their sales staff with materials that the sales team can leverage to close a sale. A big part of this problem has always been relevancy. The tactic in the past has been to get a case study or feature article published in an important trade publication and then provide the sales team with reprints to discuss and leave behind with potential customers. This is a good thing to do, but it leaves a lot holes unfilled: How does the sales staff stay current on industry trends? How do they get customized information that is relevant to their customers?
Social media can begin to fill in these gaps. An organization should set up a Google Reader account for each sale team member and include industry news, as well as a shared feed where the marketing team can instantly share new articles with the sales team.
To fill in the other hole I want to provide you with an example. Let’s say that you are a food service distributor that supplies hotels and restaurants with food products. How can social media help you? How about the next time you go into a sales meeting you have a graph that you made for free on Trendrr that shows that positive blog posts and Twitter messages have increased for a new hotel customer of yours once you started supplying the food. That is valuable, actionable information that can help close a sale.
3. Social Data Enables Better Customer Dialogue – The long standing belief by those in the B2B world is that relationships are paramount to the success of the organization. Social media is all about developing relationships and sharing information. So shouldn’t B2B organizations and social media be aligned with each other? Part of having and building good relationships is understanding what is going on in your customers’ industry, with its suppliers and even locally within its community. I talked about the industry news part in my second point in this post, but what about the local community aspect?
Let’s say you are flying into Seattle for a customer meeting and it has been awhile since you have been in town. You need to know what is going on there and you need to know it fast. I have two free social media related suggestions for you. The first is to do a quick blog search for local blogs that discuss Seattle related events and news. I find that local blogs get to the meat of the issues in a more direct way than traditional media. Additionally you can sign up for a service like Near.ly which will e-mail you hyperlocal news links based on your Twitter location. This will let you zero in on information from where your customer lives and works. I would also recommend checking out activity on location-based social networks such as Whrrl and Brightkite.
4. The “My Customers Aren’t On Social Networks” Excuse Is Quickly Fading – This is probably the biggest argument against social media in B2B organizations. They simply say, my customers aren’t online, and for some companies this is true. I contend that more B2B customers are online than most companies are willing to believe. I know that I have seen this happen first-hand with B2B clients that start in social media only to realize many more of their customers are there then they originally thought. I would also contend that if your customers aren’t there now, they will be soon. And this is the perfect time to take hold of the online market for your industry. The cost of entry is relatively low and I would suggest establishing your web presence. Also begin to monitor social media with a tool like Radian6 to help prepare you for your customer’s shifting online behaviors.
5. Without Adoption Of Social Media You will Lose The Talent War – Most of the business owners I have worked with declare that great talent is the key to their success. I am here to tell you that unless you start to evolve your views on social media the next generation of worker will not want to work for you. I realize that the economy is bad right now and it is currently easier to find good talent, however great talent is also a competitive market. The future generation, whether you like it or not, does not want to work some place where they have to print e-mails for you to review or can’t access Facebook or YouTube. These social tools are a part of how they research and facilitate relationships. The companies that adapt and grow with the changing online landscape will win the talent war.
I am sure that my five points have sparked some thought and disagreement with you. If so please take a second and provide your thoughts in the comments and I will make sure I respond to each of you.