We are way beyond the bright shiny object syndrome of social media for B2B companies. While surveys of adoption and success vary widely, many have begun using social media tools and approaches to market their businesses and communicate with their customers. Companies have developed pilot programs, created social media presences around events and even built social campaigns around product campaigns. That is not the best way for B2B marketers to use social media.
For many B2B organizations, the sales process, or more correctly called the buying process, is a long one. It can be 6-9 months, with some cycles as long as 12-18 months for very complex products with many decision makers on the customer-side. Supporting the various points along those cycles has always been the role of B2B marketing. Social media can help with that. It doesn’t change the process. While it may be easier to bring people to the top of the funnel with social media, or it may be possible to bring more qualified leads to the top of the funnel, the type of selling required for many B2B companies is still relationship-based with people and companies that buyers like and trust.
Some B2B marketers get confused by what they see being done their B2C marketing brethren. Much in the consumer advertising world, especially in categories like consumer packaged goods and consumer electronics is about the right now. This is very different than the real-time of social media. The right now of consumer advertising is about seeing an ad, or some other campaign marketing tactic, which could be a Facebook landing page or a promoted tweet, and being able to go to a store (bricks and mortar or online) and buying it. These calls-to-action are about making a purchase, not about expressing interest. This means that no matter how much consumer brands talk about things like engagement and authenticity, they are still practicing interruptive-based advertising to get you to make a purchase. Right now.
We are all consumers, and are bombarded by these sorts of messages every day. It is hard not to internalize some of that and try to replicate it. Be strong. It is not how B2B marketing works. And it is not how you should use social media to connect with your customers and prospects. As we have written about before, many B2B customers reach out to companies express their interest in a product or a service after doing quite a bit of research. This puts them further along in the buying cycle. Simple, generic product messaging is not what they need. Not on social media. Not via email. Not on your company website. They need information that can start to build the buying relationship.
Again, social media can help build those relationships and set the groundwork for building deeper relationships after the sale is completed. Social media customer service is a reactive approach to serving customer needs, and may be more effective in a mass consumer environment. Maintaining contact with B2B customers through public channels, and providing public information to them by whatever means, like blog posts and online videos, is one approach. Another one is to encourage LinkedIn recommendations. And you can even include your customers in testimonials that you publish online. There are social aspects of email too. This is how you use social media to build and maintain long-term relationships with B2B customers.
So as you are planning your next social media campaign, step back and consider if it is the best approach. Does it support a long sales cycle or does it promote the right now feelings of consumer marketing? Can it also transition into a long-term relationship with the customer or does the connection stop once the contract is signed? As always, I would be interested in your thoughts below.