B2B Sales Pros Need to Create Demand with Content Marketing

b2b-demand-generationI recorded another video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but that really oversimplifies the process.

Today’s conversation is about demand generation. Tom smartly points out that no matter how much content you create or share, if you are not creating demand for your product or service, nobody will want to buy it.

Highlights of the Conversation:

  • Without demand, there are no buyers.
  • Use authoritative third-party content to create demand for your products or services.
  • Create hybrid content that “wraps” your own content in someone else’s authority.
  • Speak the language of your prospects and customers.

How are your sales teams using content to drive demand for your B2B products or services?

Photo credit: Flickr

Marketing Team Drives B2B Social Selling Success

My friend Tom Skotidas and I recorded a video conversation defining social selling. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation.

Social selling, or #socialselling, is a term that is used by lots of people to mean lots of different things. It is more than my definition of sales people using the tools and approach of social media. Watch the video to hear Tom’s definition.

Some highlights of the conversation:

  • Social selling is really a social marketing program for sales enablement.
  • It is a hybrid approach between marketing and sales.
  • Conversations about social selling should always start with marketing. Not only because they bring the strategy, the skills and the process to move the market, but they also bring the budget.
  • A well-executed program lets sales people connect more effectively, get more meetings and build more pipeline.

How do you define social selling?

Photo credit: Flickr

How B2B Professionals Can Use Content for Personal Branding

b2b-personal-brandingI recently recorded a video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is the first of several conversations that we recorded on the topic of social selling, but the topic really is broader than that.

The video below is about personal branding. If you are a B2B sales person, the conversation is perfect for you and gives you some things to start thinking about as you begin to incorporate social selling into your approach. But if you are a marketer, the concepts of personal branding that we talk about are appropriate for you too.

The big ideas we talked about are:

  • Building trust through awareness and familiarity
  • Modeling your personal branding consistency and positioning after known corporate brands
  • Understanding what success looks like in a personal brand

How do you approach your personal brand and are you consistent about it?

Photo credit: Flickr

7 Ways Your Sales Team Can Get Results with B2B Social Media

b2b-social-sellingAre your salespeople actively engaged in social media as part of their lead generation efforts? If not, they (and your business) are missing out on great opportunities for researching potential B2B clients, building new networks and uncovering prospects by investigating their social media profiles.

Here are ways to encourage your sales team to embrace social media:

1. Direct your salespeople to refine their profiles

Start by making sure they have social media profiles on the appropriate channels. The marketing team can help determine where your customers and prospects those platforms. Their profile pages need to attract potential customers. While including the basics on an individual salesperson, the profile should mostly focus on your business and the solutions you offer to prospects. Also include videos, PDFs and links to your business website in these profiles.

2. Schedule time for focused social media activity

It takes discipline to use social media properly (and avoid wasting time watching cat videos!). Work with your sales team to plot out a schedule of focused activity on various social media networks, whether it’s a half-hour a day or 2-3 times a week.

3. Generate content your sales team can use

Back in the day, salespeople handed out brochures or fliers to interest prospects. Today, it’s all about customized content marketing. So it’s up to you to ensure your salespeople can refer prospects to first-rate, problem-solving content on your business website. Not only will this draw more traffic to your site, it also supports the sales team’s efforts to position your business as an industry and thought leader.

4. Promote sales blogging

It’s no longer enough to feature a blog post from your CEO or CMO. Members of your sales team should also be blogging and steadily building a rich network of followers. Encourage team members to think about new ways to focus on prospects’ needs and business challenges by answering common questions that prospects ask in their buyer journey. They should also think and blog more broadly about general industry issues, rather than shilling for your business. Again, focus on solutions your sales team can provide and that will draw more interest from prospects.

5. Keep an active LinkedIn presence

For sales of B2B products and services, LinkedIn is probably the most significant platform for your sales team’s activities. Your individual salespeople’s LinkedIn profiles are the first place a prospect will check out, so as noted above, be sure these are up-to-date and contain the right messaging.

Also, each salesperson should be gathering new LinkedIn connections as frequently as possible. Have them build their network by reaching out to past customers, colleagues in the industry, friends and family members. It’s important to have a robust network of connections as part of your LinkedIn profile.

By joining and participating in LinkedIn discussion groups, salespeople will come in contact with a wide range of potential customers — though it’s important to remember these discussion groups are about specific issues, not a venue for blatant self-promotion. Encourage your sales team to answer questions that demonstrate their problem-solving knowledge. An interested prospect will often follow up on his own.

6. Use Twitter to make connections and follow trends

The businesses and prospects you want to connect with may be tweeting. Shouldn’t you and your sales team be listening? Twitter offers a wealth of opportunities for staying abreast of industry trends, which can in turn help your team anticipate future sales opportunities. Once your salesperson has become comfortable on the platform, he or she can reply individually to a prospect’s tweet, thus initiating a one-on-one exchange which turns a cold lead into a warm one.

7. Have a vibrant Facebook presence

Your business should already have a Facebook page. From there, encourage members of your sales team to create a Facebook group that relates to your business offerings and invite people to join. Once the group starts talking, there’s always an opportunity to send targeted messages to individuals within the group and get the sales process moving forward.

Being active in social media isn’t a substitute for picking up the phone or firing off an email to prospects, but it represents a dramatically different way of cultivating leads and enriching your sales pipeline.

Photo: Flickr

Ways to Improve a B2B Cold Sales Call and Make it Social

b2b-sales-call-appointmentYesterday my cell phone rang and it was a Raleigh NC number that I didn’t recognize. I often get calls from numbers that I don’t recognize, but since I live in the Raleigh area, I answered this call.

“Hello, this is Linda from [company name]. I like to tee up a 10-15 minute call with [name], our CEO.”

“Can you say all that again? I didn’t understand any of that.”

“I calling from [company name] and I want to tee up a call with our CEO. It will only take about 10-15 minutes of your time.”

Since my number is out in the world from business cards, email signatures and contact databases, I was not surprised to get this random call on my cell phone. I also get calls from PR people pitching me on irrelevant stories for this blog. It was not clear to me which this call was, so I asked her.

“Is this a PR call or a sales call? What is the point of this call?”

She then proceeded to the next line of the script and briefly described what the call would entail. It had something to do with targeted leads and prospects. She did a terrible job explaining the product and phone call demo she was trying to schedule.

I still didn’t know the name of the company. I still didn’t know if this was a sales pitch or a PR pitch. Since neither of them were relevant to me, I told her thank you, but I was not interested. I hung up before she could respond. This is how I have always dealt with cold calling sales people that do not quickly demonstrate their relevance to me.

What was Wrong with this Call?

1. Linda was so unenthusiastic that I did not even understand her when she told me what company she was representing.

2. Her do-over was no better than the first time, and I still did not catch the company name or the CEO’s name. Because I didn’t recognize either name after two attempts, this was clearly a cold call.

3. She provided no context for the call. Not for how they got my name or what company they thought I represented. Did I sign up for something on a website? Did I meet them at a trade show? Did I drop my business card in a fishbowl at a restaurant? Did they buy my name from a list where I expressed an interest?

4. She was trying to schedule a call with no statement of benefit for me.

5. When I asked is this was a sales call or a PR call, she couldn’t answer me. All she could do was resort to phase two of the script, which apparently is where she provides some context for the call if I don’t automatically agree to talk to the CEO.

6. It is not common to arrange sales calls for the CEO. That’s more common with PR pitches.

Ways to Improve this Call

1. Linda needs to stop acting like she is reading from a script and get excited about her calls.

2. The script needs to change to incorporate a description of the company in the opening. Since this is a cold call, and I probably haven’t heard of the company, I can remain engaged in the conversation is I know what they do.

3. Add a mention of my company or position so we can determine if I am the right person to talk to.

4. Add a benefit to me. If this is a lead prospecting tool, let me know that companies similar to mine have increased their pipeline by 50% using their product, tool, service.

5. If they want me to talk to the CEO, which automatically makes me think the company is small, sell me on the experience and influence of the CEO so that I want to talk to him.

6. Unless they bought a list, or just mined some data from a list, let me know why they are calling me. Again, this is a way to engage me in the conversation. If the call is because I downloaded a content resource or registered for something at a trade show, share that context with me and I am more likely to accept the appointment.

Ways to Make this Call Social

1. Search for me on Google, Twitter and LinkedIn before calling me. My name on my business cards is the same as all my social profiles, so I am pretty easy to find. Learn a little bit about me so you can add context to the conversation that is relevant to me.

2. If you have one job, setting appointments, you need to come prepared to engage me in conversation. There are lots of things that I can talk about that you can learn from my social profiles. This makes me more receptive to your message.

3. Confirm that I fit your target personas by looking at my latest position. This did not seem like a product for marketers, but if she could make a connection with me as a way into my company, that is a step in the right direction. Very often you are selling to wrong people at the right company.

4. It is called social selling for a reason. Yes, it is about using social media, but it is also about being social. If you are engaging and friendly on this interruptive call, I will respond the same way. An attitude of “I can’t be bothered” presents that as the attitude of the company. And my response is that I can’t be bothered.

Have you responded to a cold call to set an appointment? What made you engage with the company, and what there any use of social media to help that engagement?

Photo: Flickr

5 Ways B2B Companies Can Generate Leads on Twitter

b2b-twitter-birdMany B2B businesses have a Twitter account these days, but simply being on Twitter is not enough.

If you or your employees are going to spend time using social media networks, there have to be objectives and it has to work for your business.

It’s fine if you want to use Twitter as a news publication feed – but there’s so much more you can do with it as a B2B communication tool.

Why not use Twitter as part of your new business strategy? If it’s not going to help your business grow and develop, then you’re really wasting time. Get your new business development team involved with planning your Twitter profile. You can also find out their tactics and make sure social media is integrated and woven in to really work together.

Twitter works best when there’s some level of personalization and chat. As well as a news feed, Twitter acts as an introduction service essentially, as it is so easy to connect with people.

There’s an old adage that says products don’t sell, people sell. So use Twitter for the communication tool that it is and get chatting.

1. Give your organization a face

Let people know who they’re talking to instead of a faceless organization. Having a corporate account is important, but it’s very hard to hold a conversation with someone if you don’t know who you’re talking to. Add the personal Twitter handles of those who are talking into your bio, so people know who you are, and can also follow your personal accounts.

2. Share content to drive people to your website

A varied content schedule should incorporate a mix of updates, interesting articles as well as company news. However, make sure you create and post content which gives people the opportunity to visit your website or specific landing pages.

This can be via blog and news posts, new sections or products which have launched or anything else of interest to your customers.

3. Mention people you have met

People like being mentioned on Twitter – it starts conversations and you get to know people and they get to know you. If you’ve been to a networking event, conference or meeting, give the event and anyone you’ve met a shout out and cement the contacts you’ve made.

This reminds people who you are, gives them your contact details and can often lead to further communication and a meeting.

4. Use Twitter to create warm leads

Your new business development manager could sit down and plow through a lot of cold calls with relevant businesses but this is really a shot in the dark. However, if you start connecting with other businesses and other business people through Twitter, this is a friendly way to introduce your company and start to form a relationship.

Start to follow any people or businesses you think have new business potential. You could mention a blog post they’ve written or comment on some of their business news – anything that opens a conversation. They key is to start that conversation, not start a sale.

5. Assess your progress regularly

It sounds simple, but this is something many companies forget to do. You need to decide on some objectives and metrics to measure these objectives. These might be to increase relevant followers by so many every quarter, to set up a certain number of business meetings and achieve a certain number of click-throughs to your website.

Have you been successful at generating new business for your B2B company on Twitter? Let us know in the comments below.

REPORTS: LinkedIn is the Most Effective B2B Social Network

b2b-LinkedIn-LogoLinkedIn has always been the social network that gets the business attention, especially from B2B marketers. If you are trying to justify resources (time and money) for focusing on LinkedIn, several reports combine to make the case that results are real. But like everything in social media, use these resources to guide your thinking while you discover if your customers are there.

1. LinkedIn Drives More Traffic

In this recent post, Webbiquity looks at the top social networks and analyzes how they drive traffic to B2B blogs and websites. On average, social media drove 5% of traffic to all B2B sites, however, it drove 17% of traffic to blogs and only 1.1% of traffic to commercial B2B websites. When they looked at the traffic by site, 90% of the social traffic was driven by the big three networks, with half of it coming from LinkedIn.
Share-of-B2B-Social-Traffic1

2. LinkedIn Drives More Leads

In a study of over 5,000 businesses, HubSpot found that traffic from LinkedIn generated the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate at 2.74%, almost 3 times higher than both Twitter and Facebook. This was a mix of both B2B and B2C companies, but the large sample size clearly shows that a focus on driving leads from LinkedIn works.
b2b-linkedin-social-conversion

3. Your B2B Marketing Peers Use It

Across multiple studies, eMarketer has found that an average of 80% of mostly B2B and small and medium sized businesses use LinkedIn for marketing. A number this high, across multiple studies, really adds to the validity of the number. While this study doesn’t define what how marketers use the platform, or how effective they view it, the next point addresses that.
b2b-linkedin-marketing-usage

4. B2B Marketers Call It the Most Effective Social Network

In a recent content marketing survey of the 50,000 member strong B2B Technology Marketing community on LinkedIn, 85% of those surveyed indicated that LinkedIn was the most effective social network for distributing content.
b2b-linkedin-marketing-effectiveness

5. LinkedIn is Creating More Marketing Opportunities

A recent eMarketer report describes the changes coming to LinkedIn as they grow their ad revenue business with a variety of sponsored opportunities beyond text and banner ads. These include sponsored company updates, or what are called native ads in the feed, and ads that mimic the functionality of Slideshare, a platform they bought last year. As LinkedIn re-makes itself as a content platform, do not overlook the opportunities to post content directly on the platform as part of their thought leader blogging program, although it appears that they are not taking any new entries into the program.

B2B LinkedIn Takeaways

As you begin exploring the effectiveness of LinkedIn for your B2B company, here are some specific tactics that will build your following and drive traffic, leads and awareness. What are your favorite LinkedIn tactics?

  • Grow your LinkedIn Company followers by encouraging followers on other networks to follow the company on LinkedIn.
  • Share both gated and un-gated content on LinkedIn company page.
  • Encourage employees to share company content of their LinkedIn pages.
  • Discover LinkedIn Groups with your target prospects and encourage appropriate employees to participate in the conversation, not just share links.

Topsy Turvy: The Shifting Relationship Between B2B Marketing and B2B Sales

We used to talk to a real person as a first step. To get familiar with the company. To learn more. To create bonds. Not now. Now we talk to a real person as a last resort when we’ve exhausted the supply of Zero Moments of Truth and have a query so specific only a human being can answer it.

This is most egregiously true in a category where the transactional stakes are often the highest: business to business marketing. In 2011 the Corporate Executive Board surveyed 1,900 B2B customers to uncover insights about purchasing behavior and found that customers will contact a sales rep only after independently completing 60% of the purchasing decision process. Sixty percent of the decision is made before the prospect identifies himself. Sixty percent of the decision is made before a call, or an email, or an entry into your lead tracking database. Customers are ninjas now. They are stealthily evaluating you right under your nose.

This has manifest consequences on the role of salespeople, whose job used to be to develop and nurture relationships. No longer. The role of the salesperson is now to answer specific questions capably and quickly, and to close deals that became possible due to the self-serve research performed by the customer. What does that 60% figure mean for marketers? A lot, according to the Corporate Executive Board’s Ana Lapter:

“The 60% mark is in that part of the mid-funnel that is critical in terms of driving the buyers’ consideration of a supplier for a potential purchase,” Lapter says. “Therefore, marketing needs to de-emphasize tasks like thought leadership and white papers, and focus more on advanced activities, such as diagnosing purchasing needs and identifying internal barriers to purchase.”

Marketing needs less top of mind awareness and more Youtility – marketing so useful, people would pay for it. Sounds about right to me.

Life Technologies Offers Self-Serve B2B Product Information Through Interactive Video

Global biosciences company Life Technologies operates in a business category not typically known for its cutting edge use of YouTube, nor its embrace of new marketing principles. But, in 2011, Life Technologies launched the most quintessentially useful video program with the best utilization of video annotations I’ve ever seen. (Annotations are words or phrases embedded in videos that serve as a call-to-action, and sometimes provide a direct link to other videos.)

Their “Interactive Selection Guide to Immunoprecipitation” is actually 42 short videos chained together with an elaborate annotation scheme, giving Life’s customers – working scientists – an easy, self-serve way to determine which products are the best fit for the job.

According to Oslo-based Andrew Green, Life’s Divisional Lead for Video and Interactive Marketing, the original plan was to create a customary, Web-based product finder. Realizing, however, that online arrays of pull-down menus and such are ultimately devoid of personality (and only passively educational), they decided to build it entirely in video, where they could better anticipate some of the questions customers might have, and actively incorporate them.

Mapping the content and determining how the videos would connect and branch was the most difficult part of the project, says Green – who sent me a photo of the wall-sized chart they used to plot it all out.

The videos have accumulated more than 75,000 YouTube views, extraordinary, given their extremely narrow customer target.

Smart B2B companies understand that providing self-serve information and giving customers and prospective customers the opportunity to find answers for themselves, without being burdened by personal, synchronous communication, isn’t shirking their duty as marketers; it’s become their duty as marketers.

Excerpted from Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype by Jay Baer, published in late June by Portfolio/Penguin. See YoutilityBook.com for other resources.

Photo credit: Flickr

10 B2B Social Media Predictions for 2013

It is that time of year again where we look forward and try to predict the future of social media for B2B companies. This is not a shot-in-the-dark exercise, but one based on observing how B2B companies have adopted social media over the past year. When we look back at 2013, we will not see a banner year with explosive growth in B2B social media. In many areas there will be continued gradual growth started in 2012 or earlier. If you have your own predictions or you disagree with ours, please let us know in the comments below.

1. There will be incremental growth in using social media for lead generation

Social media provides new and lower cost opportunities for B2B companies to generate leads, and the adoption of this continues to be slower than social media advocates would have you believe. Many B2B marketers still struggle to get the mechanics, tools and resources in place to build a robust social media lead generation program. More B2B companies will see success in generating leads with social media, but it will still not be the norm.

2. B2B CEOs will remain skeptical about social media

The disconnect between B2B marketers and their CEO about the value and application of social media will remain. Just like with the adoption of social media lead generation, there will be slight improvement, but it will not be a banner year. Many CMOs have seen the light, but there is not enough evidence from inside and outside the organization to convince the CEO. They will need another year of the pain of higher cost and inefficient lead programs before shifting to more cost effective social media marketing.

3. The chasm between B2B companies creating content and those who don’t will widen

Remarkable content will continue to distinguish B2B companies from their peers and competitors. Marketers who have mastered the art of blogging, ebooks, visual content and video storytelling will forge stronger relationships with prospects, customers and advocates, while those who don’t will get left behind. Customer expectations will drive this disparity even more in 2013.

4. The skills of B2B marketers will expand as content gets more visual

It starts with storytelling and interpreting data, but the new world marketers who will write their own tickets in 2013 are those who have a graphic design or photography background. The smaller explosive platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have driven up the importance of visual content, but Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have all continued to incorporate rich media into their platforms. Marketing communication is no longer just about great writing. Look for fewer words from top B2B marketers and eye-catching visuals that promote compelling offers.

5. Data becomes more than a buzzword

Look for more B2B marketers to really understand the data components of their social media efforts in 2013. This is not about better measurement, but about compiling data to gain better insight into customers and prospects. This kind of data mining and interpretation gives marketers a more holistic view of social media profiles and activities, which lead to smarter and more informed actions.

6. The role of marketing automation becomes clearer

Sometimes B2B marketers need to say the name of their tools out loud to understand what they do. “Marketing Automation.” Say it again. “Marketing Automation.” You didn’t just say, “Sent spammy emails.” Expect to see better use of marketing tools in 2013 as B2B marketers do more than set up email drip campaigns, but unleash the full power of these tools to automate repetitive activities or other things that computers do better than people.

7. Mobile Strategies Catch Up to Reality (Again)

Repeat of 2012 Prediction: As each mobile device is released, it sells more than its predecessor. This will continue in [2013] and we will get closer and closer to the day the mobile web dominates B2B site traffic. B2B companies are on course to develop their mobile strategies so they can move forward with their customers. If every B2B marketer took their smart phone out of their pocket and suffered through their own website, this really would drive the creation of mobile-friendly sites.

8. B2B Marketers will determine relevant social media metrics

This is one prediction that I hope exceeds my expectations of how far it goes. Overall social media adoption hinges on better and more appropriate metrics. Lots of B2B marketers are still measuring vanity metrics or optimization metrics and reporting them as results. While the tactics of increasing reach will help you drive more leads, it is the leads themselves that are an indicator of your success, not the increased reach. Without the proper reporting in place that is connected to company business goals, there will be a social media backlash due to soft reporting.

9. B2B Marketers will get addicted to social media ads

B2B marketers will explore additional ways to build their audience and drive traffic to their lead-generation landing pages. Not only do social media ads fit this bill as a new tactic, but these ads will be less competitive and more cost-effective than pay-per-click (PPC) ads throughout 2013. That will change as more marketers start using them, but they will be regular part of the tool set before that happens.

10. Email usage will grow as B2B marketers struggle to generate leads with social media

As customers and prospects continue to click on email offers, B2B marketers will keep sending them, but with diminishing returns. This is still interruptive marketing, while social media acknowledges that the customer or prospect is in charge of the relationship. A tipping point is coming, but it won’t be in 2013.

There is still a tremendous amount of work for B2B marketers to do in 2013, but we know you can do it with planning, remarkable content, marketing and sales alignment and executive buy-in.

Photo Credit: One Way Stock

4 Ways to Use Storytelling for B2B Social Media

B2B companies who embrace social media to connect with prospects and customers need to understand storytelling as a means for communication. No one wants to hear about your products. They want to hear about solutions to their problems. One way to get there is by sharing compelling stories. As many B2B marketers still struggle with this change in marketing focus to a customer-centric model, we offer the following suggestions for storytelling ideas. Keep in mind that each of these story types can be told in words, images, audio and video, depending on their use.

1. Company History

Every company has a history that is worth talking about. Whether your B2B company was started 80 years or 5 years ago, it was done so with an idea in mind. Present your origin story through the lens of customer solutions to better connect with your target audience. Company transitions from the analog world to the digital world can be told in this manner as well. In this story type, as well as all others, be authentic and avoid business buzzwords. Look for compelling events in your company history as sources for individual stories. Consider how any of this content can be added to your B2B company Facebook timeline.

2. Customer Successes

Prospects and customers really like to hear from successful customers. While it is always clear that only the positive experiences are shared, people are always looking for their own situations in these type of stories. If you want to make it more authentic, pick a customer that struggled through the implementation process. Depending on your product or services, showing the hard work involved may be a benefit.

3. Employee Activities

Customers and prospects want to know more about the face behind the Twitter account or email address. This is especially true with B2B relationship based sales. We know that people do business with those that they know, like and trust and this is a great way to build up the trust with your team. While your sales team, and maybe some executives, have a lot of interaction with your prospects and customers, these may not be people they will be working with day to day. Let your people tell their stories and share what they are passionate about. This is the first step to building these after-sale relationships.

4. Community Support

Many B2B companies are involved in their communities because they care. Show this compassion by sharing a story about your community efforts. This is the kind of story that shows something about the leaders of your company, as well as your employees. People want to feel good about their business partners, and it is easier to do business with a company that makes a difference in their community. Don’t underestimate the emotional part of business purchase decisions. These stories contribute to that emotional response.

How are you telling the story of your B2B company?

Photo credit: Flickr