A Huge Missed Opportunity in B2B Visual Storytelling

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The woman in the picture is Neslihan Uzun. She is a Survey Engineer for Hyundai Engineering & Construction in Turkey. She has been an engineer for the company for nearly a year and a half, and is helping to build the Third Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, also known as the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge. I would recommend that she get the additional title of Chief Storyteller.

This is a high profile project for Hyundai and for Turkey. This bridge symbolizes Modern Turkey. A happy, smiling, female engineer high above the water is a great face for this project.

Hyundai Engineering has a number of social channels including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, even a blog, but none of them have been updated consistently or recently. This picture was not posted on any of those channels.

It was posted on Uzun’s personal LinkedIn profile. And her caption says that she was first woman engineer to walk from Europe to Asia on a catwalk. The main span of this bridge is 4,619 feet long, and when it is completed it will be the eighth longest suspension bridge in the world. It is 1,056 feet high. If strong winds or heights bother you, don’t build bridges. Note that the east side of bridge is in Europe and the west side is in Asia, even though the whole thing is in Turkey.

This photo on her personal LinkedIn page was liked by 16,269 people. That’s half as many as follow the anemic Hyundai Engineering LinkedIn page. And it got 1,793 comments. The story seen in this photo really resonated with people, and tells a much richer and more human story than the single bridge rendering that exists in the company’s online image library.

I couldn’t find any other instance of this photo online. It was not even on her Facebook page, but she did post a video where you can hear how windy it is up there.

What could Hyundai Engineering & Construction do to tell the story of this multi-year bridge project? They could start by seeing what the employees are already doing and re-share those images and videos on their social channels. They could feature a new employee each month and update the progress of the bridge through the eyes of that employee. A bridge is built in the sky, across a road and underwater, and the employees involved with each aspect has a different story to tell about this engineering marvel.

And while this is a B2B company who is looking to connect with other large organizations to hire them for the next project, telling the story of building the Third Bosphorus Bridge through the people building it will also connect it to the people who will drive over the bridge everyday.

4 Takeaways from this Missed Opportunity for B2B Companies:

1. Employees create some of the best user-generated content out there. Don’t ignore it.

2. People relate to people. Make sure you are using them to tell your company story.

3. Visual content is more compelling than other forms of content.

4. Even if your social channels are stale and out of date, if something fabulous or relevant comes along, use that as a trigger to jumpstart those channels.

Breaking The Rules of B2B Social Media

b2b-social-media-rulesWhen someone tells you to follow the rules, are you more likely to take their advice or do you believe that rules were made to be broken? There are so many rules governing B2B social media and almost all of them can or should be broken at one time or another.

But the thing about social media marketing and rules is that nobody can agree on what the rules are. Even if you pull back from the strict approach of rules and call them guidelines, nobody can agree on that either.

In the real world, rules are created in response to some complaint or action by someone or many someones. I recently checked into a beach hotel and there was a list of rules on the nightstand. Along with a reminder that guests not clean fish in their room (really?), was one that said they were not responsible for inclement weather. Wait, does that mean that someone complained to the hotel about the weather? I booked my beach vacation and you were supposed to guarantee my family five out of seven sunny days.

In social media every blogger, speaker, consultant and street corner huckster has their own set of rules. And they all contradict each other. Pick a common question and try to find a single answer. Try this one. How many times should I tweet? Once a day? Ten times a day? Multiple times for each tweet? And is that my content or someone else’s? You can pretty much find any answer you want. Want to justify your plan to your boss? You can probably find a blog post out there that supports what you want to do. It may not be from the most reputable source, but someone has likely recommended it.

The makes it easy to follow the rules. But it makes it even easier to break the rules.

What’s a B2B marketer to do?

Since so many B2B companies have very different audiences and marketing requirements, here are some suggestions for creating your own rules for social media. And by following these steps you will have a much better understanding of why you are doing what you are doing. You won’t need some blog post telling you what to do. Well, except this one.

1. Establish goals and objectives for your social media efforts.
This will help you measure success.

2. Decide if you are using social media for lead generation or customer retention.
This will drive your content and calls to action.

3. Determine if you need a local or global presence.
This will set the times of day you share content.

4. Talk to your customers to learn what social media sites provide value to them.
This will identify what sites to focus on.

5. Review what your competitors are doing on social media
This is give you a sense of social media awareness in the industry.

6. Realistically examine your resources.
This will keep you from over-extended you or your team.

7. Test and measure everything you do.
This will ensure you keep doing the things that work for your audience and drop the ones that don’t.

8. Give it time.
This shows you understand that social media does not change your marketing overnight.

Photo credit: Flickr

The B2B Funnel is Leaky on the Marketing Side Too

b2b-marketing-funnelAll B2B marketers are aware of the funnel. The basic idea of attracting a larger number of buyers with marketing or advertising so that you yield a smaller number of customers has been around for more than a hundred years.

Whether you are a funnel-purist, who still firmly believes in this construct, or you think marketing has gotten way more complicated and customers enter the process at various stages through various means, there is still some value in using the funnel as a means to represent the overall approach of the marketing itself.

I call this the content funnel and it sits alongside the B2B buyer’s funnel. You create different kinds of content at each stage of the funnel to move buyers through the process of becoming a customer. Most content marketers focus on the top of the funnel, but important to think about content at all buyer stages.

Top of the funnel is the high level, helpful content that attracts the most people to your company. While not all B2B companies practice this form of content marketing, many do share content that they hope will work at the top of the funnel. For the sake of this conversation, let’s say that your content is entertaining, solves business problems and provides value to your prospects. They gladly fill out your lead form in exchange for your artisanal, lovingly crafted content.

They are now in your marketing database. What happens next?

They download the content, review it and form an opinion about your company. The next move is up to you.

Email them. Spam them. Nurture them. Ignore them.

You may think you know the right answer, but the answer may be it depends. You may actually want to ignore them to see if they do something else. Downloading an educational ebook does not demonstrate product interest. Ask any overzealous inside sales rep who followed up with a phone call. Maybe a high lead score precipitated this call, but the prospect may still not be product or sales ready.

What about an email thanking them for the download? Even though you are really thanking them for surrendering their email address so you can contact them again. But what is the most important thing in that email? A link to the content they just downloaded. That’s right. Here’s the thing that you just looked at in your browser. Or on your mobile device. It’s not always easy to save these things when you are reading them, especially on your smartphone. This also ensures that this email is specific to the content they just downloaded, rather than a generic email with links to other unrelated ebooks. If I downloaded something about social media management I really don’t need to know that you have more information about mobile marketing.

So what about that content funnel idea?

You need to follow-up with something that moves them closer to your product or service. Are they interested in what you have to offer? If your top of funnel content is good, you may have no idea if a prospect has any interest in ever becoming a customer. But if they show some interest in a case study or how a customer has found success in their business by working with your company, they have moved to the middle of the funnel. They have a problem that they are looking to solve.

These middle of the funnel customer stories could be videos. They could be Slideshare decks. They could even be a series of animated GIFs. You can definitely include these in follow-up or nurture emails, along with other relevant top of funnel content. Remember that you are building a relationship with this prospect. If one ebook solved a problem, maybe another one will solve a related problem.

And why is this marketing funnel just as leaky as the sales funnel? Because you can also share this middle of the funnel content on the company social channels. And if they are smart, well-produced content pieces that tell good stories, they will attract buyers who may already be looking for a solution to their problems. And they never saw the top of the funnel.

Next is where content marketers start to get twitchy. The bottom of the funnel. We’re not responsible for that, they say. That’s sales’ job. Or product marketing. I don’t create content about the product. That’s like selling on social media. Oh wait, we do that now.

This makes a lot of sense if you think of this like a funnel and you have the content experts manage the whole process. Start at the top with the theory and strategy of how to do things. Follow that up with how specific customers have succeeded by doing those things. And finally, show how you do those same things with your products. Think of this as storytelling and the funnel moves your marketing from a general and theoretical place to one that is very specific. Rather than disjointed content across the different stages of the buyers’ journey, it is all connected.

And whether the buyers find and follow all this content themselves through search or social media or it is supported by nurture emails or sales reps, they will get a clearer picture of how your company can solve their problems. No matter what stage they are at when they discover your content.

Photo credit: Flickr

25 B2B Social Media Statistics About Platform Usage

b2b-statistics-25The latest social media industry report from Social Media Examiner is loaded with statistics about social media usage broken down all different ways. Since 39% of the respondents of the survey were B2B companies, many of the statistics are further broken down by B2B versus B2C. Since many of us use these kinds of statistics as benchmarks, I pulled out all the B2B specific stats and grouped them by platform to make it easy to find what you are looking for.

Do these stats reflect your usage of these platforms? Share your thoughts on Twitter with #b2bstats or in the comments below. You can also tweet any of the stats with the link after each one.

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b2b-facebook

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b2b-Google-plus

b2b-Pinterest

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Photo credit: Flickr

Understanding the Millennial B2B Buyer Will Change How You Sell

b2b-buyer-sales-millennialsThe B2B workforce is changing with the arrival and promotion of millennials, but how does that affect how your company approaches sales. In the following interview, Dustin Grosse, Chief Operating Officer of ClearSlide, a sales engagement platform that empowers sales teams to engage customers, shares his thoughts about the changing dynamics of buying, selling and managing the generation that is out to save the world.

1. As more millennials continue to join B2B companies, what is their role in the buying process? How are the roles of researcher, recommender and buyer changing as a result of this new generation’s involvement?

Millennials are an increasingly important — by 2020, it is estimated that they will make up more than 50% of the workforce. They are fast becoming decision makers in their respective companies and have a fundamentally different approach to the way they research, recommend and buy. Millennials were born with cell phones and computers in hand – with 87 percent of millennials saying that their smartphone never leaves their side. Competition for millennials’ business is only a click away.

Traditional sales processes have been linear in nature, from qualification to educating the buyer to creating interest to close. That approach is dramatically changing in part because of millennial buyers — they do research and learn about products on their own, through consuming content and consulting social networks and blogs. In fact, buyers are now as much as 57% of the way through the buying process before actually engaging with a seller.

2. How does a B2B sales team adapt to selling to an organization populated, or even dominated, by millennials?

It is critical for modern sales organizations to learn to sell where buyers are, and most importantly by engaging buyers where they do their research. Social communities like LinkedIn and Twitter allow buyers to understand your value proposition while doing their own online research, and they readily consume valuable information like videos, blog posts, how-tos, testimonials, and more to form their impressions.

In fact, millennials are more likely to trust information found in these social communities because they believe they provide more accurate, authentic information — 62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. In order to remain competitive in this changing landscape, sales teams must make a strong effort to represent their brand positively across these platforms.

Since most of the information gathering happens before any direct interaction with a company, sellers have to learn how to adapt to where buyers are in the selling process. Linear sales pitches end up frustrating millennial buyers and risk lengthening the sales process. Sellers today need to ask questions, listen, and demonstrate value that aligns to what the buyer already knows and what they need to know to move the sale forward.

According to a study by the Alexander Group, salespeople spend as little as 15% of their time actually engaging with customers. With so little time in front of the customer, it is imperative that every interaction is optimized for success. One of the best investments that organizations can make is in tools that help sellers read buyers’ digital body language, respond and sell when buyers are ready to be engaged, and tailor the conversation around their needs. Sales engagement platforms like ClearSlide can give sellers an edge by notifying and tracking what and when content is resonating, as well as helping them more successfully engage throughout the buying process.

Implementing sales mobility is also key. Because millennials are digital natives, they expect to be able to work from anywhere, anytime – and they expect sellers to engage with them similarly. Eighty-seven percent of millennials use between 2 and 3 devices at least once on a daily basis. Making information and engagement throughout the sales cycle available on mobile devices is already important and will continue to grow as more millennials enter the workforce and mobile tools continue to develop in sophistication.

3. Since many in the millennial generation are digital savvy, does the educational approach of content marketing provide ways to connect and build initial relationships?

Content marketing is an important part of driving awareness and consideration for those buyers who are doing more research before engaging with a seller. It is important for companies to engage them before a person-to-person interaction through educational materials demonstrating thought leadership and expertise. This is an opportunity to educate buyers on what they should be thinking about when they are going to buy and position the value your product or service will deliver.

4. This same shift is also happening on the sales side. How does a B2B company hire and train millennials as salespeople, when their motivations are different from traditional salespeople?

Millennial sellers still have an underlying desire to win and be successful. However, they have different motivations and preferences. If you hand your millennial sales team a training manual, they’ll likely hand it right back. A better strategy is to encourage your millennial reps to learn from their peers – and specifically from leading reps. Use technology to make this possible – a homepage of all sales activity (like a social network), daily update emails, or the ability to listen to how top reps pitch via calls or videos, are all great learning opportunities. Social learning and collaboration is far more impactful than the traditional “coffee is for closers” sales environment.

In addition, millennials thrive on competition and want to feel part of a team. They want to know that they are having an impact on their company (and the world) and that their contributions are recognized. Gamification can help introduce competitive spirit and foster teamwork, and can be as simple as a competition between reps or teams. You can also spark millennial salespeoples’ desire to over-achieve by making recognition visible. Leaderboards and simple recognition like balloons tied to chairs for top performers can serve as public reminders and motivators to succeed.

Encouraging peer learning and healthy competition requires transparency throughout the entire sales process. By tracking engagement in a platform that enables every sales person to see what others are doing, you create learning opportunities and engender competition at the same time. Savvy salespeople will be able to see what top performers are doing and incorporate that into their own selling practice. This higher level of visibility will also benefit sales leaders, because they will have more specific information on what works and what doesn’t.

5. Is there something millennials should do to more easily adapt to traditional workplaces, or should they embrace their differences and push workplaces in a new direction?

I think this requires a balance of both. New blood in an organization forces everyone to learn new and modern ways of doing things, which is good. Buyers are changing, so you need sellers to change along with them. Millennials can push their workplace in new directions by advocating for openness and transparency, peer-to-peer learning, modern tools, mobility, and by engaging customers through social media. At the same time, millennials should recognize that they have plenty to learn from other, more experienced colleagues as well.

6. Is this overall shift good for B2B companies?

I think it is. Millennials joining the workforce are helping B2B sales organizations evaluate new ways of approaching their sales process. The reality is everyone in business is being asked to do more with less – less time and less money – so the key is to be hyper-efficient and maximize every interaction between buyers and sellers.

The reality is that it’s increasingly difficult to get buyers’ attention, let alone a face-to-face meeting, and your company is just one of the many that are competing for business. It’s not personal, but a reflection that time is precious resource. Technology is helping salespeople adapt by providing access to data and insights that weren’t previously available to them. With the right tools, salespeople can prioritize their outreach based on their buyer’s digital body language, ultimately making them more efficient. An added benefit is that they may actually get more time with the buyer by making interactions easier and more efficient, helping them win more.

Photo credit: Flickr

10 Ideas to Refresh Your B2B LinkedIn Presence Before Summer Vacation

b2b-linkedin-summer-plansMany B2B marketers are frequently looking for ways to enhance their social media presence and build more and stronger connections with prospects and customers. As you plan to wrap up big projects before summer vacation, this is the perfect time to focus on one specific social media platform: LinkedIn.

In the 2015 Social Media Marketing industry report from Social Media Examiner, 88% of B2B companies use LinkedIn and 41% of them cite it as their most important platform.

With this in mind, rather than wait until a busier time later in the year, here are 10 ideas that you can use to refresh your LinkedIn presence for your B2B company over the coming months as people are in and out of the office.

1. Review Company Page Description

The company page description is the kind of standard copy that not many people review and update, but you may find that it has gotten a little dated. That product launch is no longer new. You have added new capabilities or new locations to your business. You might even have a new brand position that totally changes how you present your B2B company to the world. Making updates to this page is simple, and won’t take you very long if you already have the new copy available. (Tweet this idea)

2. Change Company Page Image

This image was probably uploaded when you created this page and it has a very corporate look. Consider changing this image seasonally, or change it to highlight a current promotion. Visual content is making waves on other platforms and you can take advantage of that here. Make sure you resize your image to 646 pixels x 220 pixels so it will appear as you expect it. Since followers don’t usually visit your company page, but view your updates in their feeds, consider a brief update about the new photo. (Tweet this idea)

3. Review Results of Posts

If you have not already been reviewing the results of your posts, this is a great time to do so. While it is easy to review likes and comments on LinkedIn, clicks on links that drive visitors to your blog or website are more important to track. This will help you understand what content drives engagement. You should be using a URL link shortener that lets you track clicks, as well as a web analytics tool that lets you track where traffic came from. Google Analytics tracks Social traffic by platform, and you can even look at it by individual post. (Tweet this idea)

4. Add Relevant Showcase Pages

If your company does not have any Showcase Pages, this is the perfect time to plan them. While these were created to replace individual product pages, it makes sense to create these as topical pages about areas of interest to your prospects and customers. This is an easy way to segment your audience and post content that is relevant for each segment. Consider adding two or three Showcase Pages, and make sure that you promote them on your main page and other appropriate channels. (Tweet this idea)

5. Create Editorial Calendar for Updates

If you already have an editorial calendar established for your other content, make sure you include your LinkedIn updates as part of it. After reviewing your successful posts, you should have a better idea of what works on LinkedIn. Focus on that content and develop a regular cadence of posting. Consistency is key to engagement from your B2B prospects and customers. (Tweet this idea)

6. Throw an Employee Lunch and Learn

Something that is often overlooked in updating a B2B company’s LinkedIn presence are your employees. Most, if not all, of your employees have personal LinkedIn profiles. Each one of those profiles links to your company page. Teach your employees the importance of supporting the company with their LinkedIn profiles. Providing lunch will entice them to attend a meeting. It can also be done virtually for distributed teams. You can explain your overall plans on LinkedIn and some of the ways they can help. Consider sharing the ideas in the rest of this post. (Tweet this idea)

7. Create a Standard Company Description for Employees

Even though an employee owns and manages their own LinkedIn profile, you can make suggestions for their job description. Many job descriptions begin with a description of the company. You should provide a standard, two to three sentence description of your B2B company that has the appropriate keywords and brand positioning. You cannot force your employees to use this, but you can explain why it is important. Each employee can market the company within their own network. This standard description helps employees appear in the right search results. (Tweet this idea)

8. Encourage Employees to Share Company Posts

Just like providing the company description above, you want to encourage employees to share company updates with their LinkedIn networks. Since this also needs to be optional, your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for employees. The easiest way is to select what you want employees to post and give them suggested language to use. You can communicate this to them through your intranet, internal social network or even an internal newsletter. You can also encourage them to follow your B2B company on LinkedIn and Twitter and to share what they think their network would find interesting. (Tweet this idea)

9. Identify Groups for Employee Participation

There are many LinkedIn Groups that provide value in your industry or the target industry of your prospects and customers. If you identify some of these Groups for your employees and give them a tutorial on interacting in those Groups, your B2B company will have a larger presence in these Groups besides just someone from marketing posting there. Real employees with real industry knowledge and connections will get noticed. (Tweet this idea)

10. Select Subject Matter Experts to Blog on LinkedIn

And taking that industry knowledge and expertise one step further, you can identify the most likely subject matters experts and encourage them to publish blog posts through their LinkedIn profiles. This becomes even easier if they are already blogging for your B2B company and you can just ask them to syndicate their posts to LinkedIn. Make sure they include a link back to the original post. This is another way to leverage not just your employees, but their knowledge, to improve your company presence and ability to connect with prospects and customers on LinkedIn. (Tweet this idea)

Bonus Idea: Create a Slideshare Deck for Employee Profiles

One of the easiest ways to add visual content to a LinkedIn profile is to import a Slideshare deck. Create a short deck describing your company, or even presenting some industry opinion or research, that is no more than 3-5 slides. After your post this to Slideshare, your employees can add it to their profiles by simply choosing edit profile and moving their cursor to the right margin on any job description. Click the box in the middle with the square and the plus sign to upload or link to a file. You can also add the content to a different position. (Tweet this idea)
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By taking these simple actions now, your B2B company will be in a better position on LinkedIn once vacations end and your employees, prospects and customers are back in full swing for the fall.

Photo Credit: Me

Do B2B Customers Want to Tweet a Purchase?

b2b-twitter-logoRecently Domino’s Pizza announced that customers will be able to tweet Emoji to order a pizza. Emoji are those little symbols that teens and millennials text, tweet and load up in their Instagram comments.

Lots of people missed the real point about this announcement. It is not about Emoji. It is about serving existing customers. Not only do you need to be an existing customer for the Emoji tweet to work, but you need to have a standard order saved with your account. This means that this is more than a system designed to meet their customers online. It was designed to serve only their best customers. The ones that order regularly enough to have a standard order.

If you look at the best customers of your B2B company, do you have some that have standard orders? Do these orders have a regular frequency? How do they confirm them? These days it is probably an email. Can you remove some friction and make these orders even easier to place?

When I worked for a small manufacturer in the 1990s we required that all orders came in via fax. We needed a paper copy of each order and we were discouraging telephone orders. The fax copy served this purpose and it had a signature. This did not change when email came into the picture. For a while we still required the hardcopy fax. We did eventually move to email ordering and it made life much easier for everyone. Not only did we have a paper copy, but we had a digital copy too. But more importantly, it was a lot easier for our customers.

Do you know what percentage of your customers have smart phones? Do you know how many would be willing to place orders if you removed the friction? According to an IDG global mobile survey, 92% of senior executives own a smart phone and 77% report using it to research a product or service for their business. Most use a laptop or desktop to make their purchase, with 45% citing security concerns of the mobile web and 43% noting the lack of a mobile-friendly website.

And if you take this one step further and think about a Twitter order. Do you know how many of your regular customers are on Twitter? Let’s ignore the marketing problem of that question and examine the steps of the process:

  1. Your customer enters a standard order that can be shipped or invoiced based on a tweet.
  2. Your customer authorizes certain Twitter accounts to place these orders.
  3. You and your customer agree on the text of the tweets. These don’t have to be Emoji. They can be text. Since Twitter is a public network, your customer will want to mask their order a little bit. And note that this process only works if it is already known that your customer buys from you.
  4. You establish a confirmation response, whether through Twitter or another means. You can establish a separate Twitter account to automatically respond when the order is processed.

This becomes like an automated subscription service, but with a manual trigger that happens to be public. Maybe you are selling 500,000 bolts to a manufacturer every month. Due to a slight production slowdown, they need their next shipment in 33 days instead of 30 days. This can help them easily manage that delay of just a few days.

A benefit of a program like this is some social proof. Having companies order from you in public becomes another form of a socially-promoted customer testimonial.

This is not just for products. Service companies can consider a system like this where existing customers regularly renew monthly service agreements based on their needs.

Share why an approach like this would work or would not work for your B2B company either in the comments below or on Twitter.

Your B2B Prospects Want to Binge Your Content

b2b-content-binging-house-of-cardsB2B marketers are often focused on their industry competitors when they think about social media and content marketing, but that is frequently the wrong way to think about it. It also is not the best way to consider their prospects. They should not worry about a competitor poaching their prospects, or even their customers. They should focus on attention. Their prospects are not just watching Twitter, reading blogs and following influencers and companies on LinkedIn, but they’re watching Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and all those shows that they have been DVRing. Timeshifting is only the beginning of what’s happening to their attention. It’s now all about binging.

Netflix and Amazon drop shows a season at a time. This is not by accident. This is based on viewers’ habits in watching old shows. Since your customers and prospects are staying up all night watching full seasons of “Must See TV,” these platforms decided that there was no reason to continue the idea of appointment television on a streaming platform. If someone wants to watch all 13 episodes of season 3 of House of Cards, there’s nobody to stop them. This is part of what it means for the prospects and customers to hold the power in the relationship.

Are your prospects responding to cold calls? Are they responding to your generic blast emails? Or are they doing their own research about your company and your solutions before they ever want to talk to you? It is a very clear No, No, Yes. And according to research from SiriusDecisions, “67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” Again, they hold the power in this relationship by seeking out the information that is most helpful to their journey.

So what about your content? Daily blog posts? Check. Monthly ebook? Check. Quarterly webinar? Check. But can they consume this content on their own terms? Sure they can read all the blog posts they want at anytime day or night, but what about those things behind forms? You’re creating educational content that they can download, but each time they have to fill out the form. Sometimes that form is auto-populated with their information, which is cookie driven or browser driven, but your prospects still have to submit each time to get each piece of content. And depending on how your marketing automation system is set up, those downloads might happen in the browser or in email. This seems quite contrary to how your prospects are consuming things in other parts of their lives.

Let’s look at each of these challenges that B2B marketers face when approaching content marketing.

1. Competition for Attention

The best way to compete for someone’s attention is to provide relevant, helpful information in an easy to consume form. Can you teach your prospects how to do something? Can you help them solve business problems? Can you make it quick and easy for your customers to solve issues related to your product? They are used to customer experiences like Amazon’s website and hotels where they are greeted by name. Would you wade through all the outdated pages on your website to find an answer? If there’s too much friction, prospects won’t bother. And this has nothing to do with how good or bad the product is. This is all about having little time and less attention, and when things are too hard to find they move on.

2. Buyers Setting the Terms of the Relationship

This is not a new idea, but many B2B marketers are still coming to terms with this. How well do you really understand your personas? Do you really know what their problems are? And how they like to consume information? And where they look for it? The way to make sure that you are part of their consideration set, or even just ensure that your content gets in front of them when they are looking, you must know how and why they are looking. Can you anticipate their questions? Insights into your own customers can give you some guidance in knowing more about your prospects. Using the word relationship to describe this is not accidental. You must be attentive to their needs if you want them to stick around.

3. Binge Consumption

Let’s assume that you are creating great content that your prospects want and you are using social media, search, influencers and advocates to drive awareness to your content. Every blog post has a call to action that leads to a deeper dive piece of content. And your prospects love it. But what if they are getting on an airplane and they want to read six of your ebooks and watch two recorded webinars? You have created successful content, but you are not all the way there. You must make it easy for people to download more content. If you are using landing page forms for an ebook, you can have related ebooks on your thank you page. If you send the ebook link via email, include related content there. In either case, you must make sure your system can track these additional downloads without filling out a form again.

If this is not possible, consider pre-packaged bundles of content. When a prospect comes to a landing page for a single ebook, give them the option to download the bundle instead. This gives them multiple pieces of content without multiple form submissions. Don’t let the technology drive your decisions. Consider the customer experience and the websites you interact with. If you are already sharing content, you have the data to determine if your prospects having binging habits. If so, consider developing connected content that meets those consumption preference and create the infrastructure to match.

The more you understand about your prospects and your customers, whether through well-developed personas or not, the better you will be able to create and share content that speaks to their interests and their habits. Again, that sounds like a relationship to me.

Interview: How IBM Leads B2Bs in Instagram Engagement

b2b-instagram-ibm-deskAs a follow-up to our list of top B2B Instagram accounts, I reached out to Katie Keating, Social Content & Engagement Strategist at IBM, to learn more about how this globally integrated technology and consulting company approaches a visual platform like Instagram.

IBM ranked at the top of the list of B2B Instagram accounts because we prioritized engagement over number of followers. This put the IBM account way ahead of larger B2B companies who are well-known for their social media prowess, like GE, Cisco and Adobe. What is your approach to Instagram, and does it focus on engagement versus growing your following? And what are the metrics that determine your success?

For IBM, engagement is the metric we put the most weight on when we assess performance of our social content on Instagram. Ultimately, our goal is to create and curate content that is intriguing to our audiences, that maybe teaches them something simple but useful, and builds trust among our followers. It’s not about the quantity of our followers but the quality. We don’t want to speak into a void but to an engaged, interested audience, so listening and gathering feedback is a critical first step before we publish anything on our channels.

Are you using the IBM Instagram account to communicate with existing customers, partners and employees or are you looking to connect with prospects to drive new business?

We have a number of key audiences that we think are interested in what IBM’s doing, and who may not be aware of some of the incredible innovation happening at IBM. IBM is a global company so we try to showcase the company’s innovation around the world. Employee engagement is a key part of our strategy–we always say that IBM is primarily experienced by the world at large through our employees, so it’s important to us that they’re engaged and feel empowered to share their experiences.

In the time period we looked at, some of your top posts were employee-submitted photos showing #viewfrommydesk. Is user-generated content, or specifically employee-based content, a key part of your Instagram strategy, or was this just a good idea that happened to work?

The #ViewFromMyDesk photo series was done in partnership with the IBM global recruitment team. The goal was to showcase that IBM employees come from all over and work in various types of environments. We invited employees to share photos of the view from their desk–be it a traditional office setting, their home office, office on the road, and more. As a result, we received photos from locations all over the world like Slovenia, Russia, Brazil, Austria, Norway, Venezuela, Taiwan, India, and more. Instagram is a highly global platform and IBM is an international brand, so we thought Instagram would be a great place to host a visually-driven series like this.

IBM has a broad, global business serving multiple audience segments. How do you balance that with one Instagram account?

b2b-instagram-ibm-designWe see Instagram a place to share “moments” at IBM–what it’s like to work in our offices, behind the scenes in our labs, or the process behind innovations-in-progress. We want to take our audience on the journey with us. Our photos come from all over: user-generated content, photos that employees like me shoot themselves, photos of teams collaborating, and more. We’ve even had employees “take over” our account for a week at a time and show us what it’s like to work at IBM through their own photos and captions. It’s really important that anything we publish stays true to the platform–inspiring, visually engaging imagery that tells a story, while being true to IBM. We’re not trying to fit certain messages into a box or follow a strict calendar, but instead we’re in a constant mode of discovery, curation and creation.

How do the Instagram photos integrate with social media posts on other channels? How important is visual content to the overall social media strategy of IBM?

We find that Instagram photos also drive engagement across our other channels, so we cross-post. Visuals in general are absolutely critical to driving engagement on our social accounts. I think audiences now expect that visuals should and will be part of the experience.

You seem to be experimenting with more branded video on Instagram lately? How does this compare to Vine or YouTube?

Branded “micro-video” is something we’re definitely planning to do more of. It’s a great way to tell a story or create art out of the everyday, which is the sweet spot for platforms like Instagram and Vine.

And finally, what advice would you give to other B2B marketers who are looking to improve their engagement on Instagram?

First, spend time on Instagram. Really understand the community aspect of the platform and the caliber of the photography. Think about why your followers are spending time on Instagram. It’s an escape. It’s inspirational. It’s beautiful. Make sure that’s the type of content you’re curating and creating for your branded channel too. Use it as a place to show the real moments, to go behind the scenes, to give access and meaning to your brand. Don’t try to promote, sell, drive clicks (URLs aren’t hotlinked anyway). You will drive engagement and preference for your brand by being real and staying true to the platform.

The 10 Best B2B Instagram Profiles

Last week was a big week for Instagram as they announced that they have 300 million monthly active users. This makes the visual platform owned by Facebook, larger than Twitter. It is also growing at a faster rate than Twitter.

B2B companies need to learn how to tell their stories in a visual manner. There are many blog posts that merely list the largest B2B companies on Instagram, or a seemingly random selection of B2B companies on Instagram. But this post is different. These are the ten B2B companies with the highest engagement rate on Instagram. This means their followers (who could be a combination of customers, prospects, employees and partners) have liked and commented on their photos and videos.

Methodology: A B2B company needed at least 1000 followers to be considered for the list. I examined the last ten Instagram posts for likes and comments. The average number of the sum of likes and comments was divided by the number of followers to determine the engagement rate (expressed as a percentage). If you want to put these numbers in perspective, according to SimplyMeasured, the top retail brands have an average engagement rate of 4%. The top B2B companies below have a similar engagement rate.

Note that General Electric, the biggest B2B company on Instagram with 183,000 followers did not make the list because their engagement rate is only 0.78%. Companies need to not just focus on growing their follower counts, but they also need to make sure their content is resonating with their audience.

1. IBM

b2b-instagram-ibm
Posts: 196
Followers: 9265
Engagement Rate: 4.04%

2. Mailchimp

b2b-instagram-mailchimp
Posts: 242
Followers: 9560
Engagement Rate: 3.98%

3. Infusionsoft

b2b-instagram-infusionsoft
Posts: 576
Followers: 1499
Engagement Rate: 3.88%

4. Fedex

b2b-instagram-fedex
Posts: 125
Followers: 11053
Engagement Rate: 3.49%

5. CBRE

b2b-instagram-cbre
Posts: 490
Followers: 3290
Engagement Rate: 3.36%

6. Maersk Line

b2b-instagram-maersk
Posts: 314
Followers: 29406
Engagement Rate: 2.78%

7. Oracle

b2b-instagram-oracle
Posts: 190
Followers: 5424
Engagement Rate: 2.77%

8. Intel

b2b-instagram-intel
Posts: 496
Followers: 29874
Engagement Rate: 2.76%

9. Zendesk

b2b-instagram-zendesk
Posts: 388
Followers: 1231
Engagement Rate: 2.69%

10. Hootsuite

b2b-instagram-hootsuite
Posts: 476
Followers: 6696
Engagement Rate: 2.65%