4 Ways to Integrate B2B Social Media into Marketing Plans

B2B marketers have long known that to succeed with social media they can’t view it as a stand alone campaign or tactic, but must integrate social media into their marketing plans. Here are four suggestions for doing just that.

1. A Social Website
A B2B website is the most likely destination for your prospects and customers with any campaign. A call-to-action from any source drives a visitor to your website for more information, to download a white paper or ebook, or even to contact a sales rep. The first thing you need to make sure is that your website supports the marketing campaign. Whether you have a landing page for the specific offer, or just a clear path from the home page (which is where people will wind up from anything that is not a click), make sure they can find what they are looking for. Making your website social includes providing other remarkable content, usually on a blog, allowing visitors to share and spread your content, and links to your social profiles, along with what visitors can expect when they follow or like your company.

2. Support Traditional Advertising
There are stil B2B companies using traditional advertising to drive leads into their funnel. If that is still working for your company, and your cost per lead is competitive to other tactics, it is not yet time to discontinue it cold turkey. It is time to review its effectiveness and cost, as you begin adding social media to your marketing mix. You do, however, want to support that advertising with social media. Create a blog post that provides more in-depth information to what was in the ad. If creating the ad featured an interesting photo shoot, post some behinds the scenes shots on your Facebook page. Shoot a video with the product manager talking about the development of the product and some of the customer feedback that was incorporated into the development.

3. Socialize Your Email
An email component is usually part of a larger marketing campaign. These can easily be social by adding social media profile buttons to follow and share, but there is so much more. Use your social meda profiles to encourage prospects and customers to sign-up for the email. Announce a week before and a day before that you have an email going out and ask your followers to opt-in to the message. Many email programs can automatically post a web version of the email to your profiles when you send it out. If your message is highly targeted and includes a specific promotion that you don’t want to send to everybody, you can qualify people online. Use the current email as the reminder to you to post a sign-up request, but send them a more general email, which still needs a call-to-action.

4. Discover Prospects
A marketing campaign begins with a target persona, a prospect list, a customer list or some other way to reach your audience for your product or service. No matter how you gathered this, there are more people out there that can benefit from your message. You can search Twitter for keywords that relate to your target industry, or even specific pain points. People ask questions about new solutions, and even complain about their current situations. Join LinkedIn Groups where people do that as well. No matter the platform, the first contact should be helpful and offer value. Unless it is clear that they are ready to make a buying decision RIGHT NOW, people are looking for recommendations, not sales pitches. Think of this step of expanding your list of prospects for a second phase of a campaign.

What are some other ways you have integrated social media into your B2B marketing plans?

62% of B2B Marketers’ Biggest Challenge: Lack of Resources

B2B marketers are always facing challenges in their marketing efforts, but in today’s competitive landscape and tough economic climate those challenges are more pronounced than ever before.

In a recent Marketing Sherpa 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report, B2B marketers were asked to identify their top challenges in their marketing efforts. The results (click to view larger version):

B2B Marketing Challenges Chart: Marketing Sherpa

The most identified challenge for B2B marketers is the “lack of resources in staffing, budgeting or time.” It was 23% higher than the second biggest challenge, “lack of ability to stop executing and think strategically.”

The report also shows that even the most effective B2B marketing tactics such as website design, SEO and email marketing saw up to a 50% decline in their overall effectiveness from the previous year.

So what does this mean for B2B marketers?  Will B2B marketers embrace solutions that save time or money? Do you have any tips or tricks that you use to make up for lack of resources, time, or budget?

5 Ways To Influence B2B Group Buying Decisions

B2B Decision MakerOne of the biggest differentiators in B2B marketing is that a B2B purchase decision is not usually a solo effort. It is a group decision. In most cases a team of people review the potential purchase, and in many situations there’s a senior level person who has to approve the purchase.

So how can you use social media to influence the group buying decision?  Are there ways to position your business ahead of your competition?

Every situation is different, but thinking about what information the buyer requires and offering the material so it can easily be presented to a team should give your business an advantage.

Here are five things to consider as you create social media content targeted at B2B group buyers:

1. Competitive Information
Your potential buyers are almost always going to perform a competitive analysis early in the purchasing decision process. Instead of making your buyers dig to find out pertinent information, provide them with the details they need to see how you stack up against the competition. By simply providing the information and by highlighting the areas where your organization excels you’ll position yourself ahead of your competitors.

2. Unique Benefits
Let others know why you stand out. Highlight what makes your offerings unique and what will make a difference if they purchase your product or service.

3. Value
Define why your business can save time, money or resources for the potential buyer. Pure monetary savings are sometimes easy to identify, but other valuable savings may not always be as noticeable. If your software is easier to use, if your product requires less training or if it has a higher resale value, make sure you share this information with the buyer.

4. Integration
Show how your product or service will easily fit into the existing framework of the buying organization. Demonstrate how effortless it will be to get started and how it integrates with other products. Buyers want the security of knowing they won’t be stranded with something so proprietary that it will make itself obsolete in the near future.

5. Content to Share
Recognize that the person leading the B2B buying process will need to present your product or service to others in their organization. Provide them with materials they need to accurately represent your offerings. One-sheet takeaways, PowerPoint slides, videos and more may all be beneficial for those making the case on your behalf.

With longer B2B sales cycles and more considered group decisions, it’s important to provide the information your lead purchaser needs to accurately represent your product or service to their internal team. Doing so can likely put you at an advantage, and it could be what helps put your business at the top of the list.

Do you have any other tactics you use to influence B2B group buying decisions?

8 Reasons Why B2B Social Media is Easier than B2C

B2B B2C Easy HardAlthough social media is seldom “easy,” there are some distinct advantages that B2B companies have over B2C brands in the social media space.  Here’s a list of 8 reasons why B2B social media is easier than B2C:

1. It’s driven by relationships
B2C marketing is largely based on a product and its price. It tends to be a more impulsive or emotional buying decision than B2B. B2B purchasing decisions tend to be more involved and relationship driven, and that suits social media.

In a B2B sales cycle, businesses tend to interface directly with potential customers multiple times in order to inform and educate the prospect. Social media can play a big role in this process. Through social media you can interact with the prospect and nurture the relationship, which can ultimately influence the final purchase decision.

2. Your practices can lead to sales
Your social media practices can demonstrate your business value which can lead to purchases. Users can see that you are reliable, responsive, intelligent, etc. via your social media practices.

3. You have more control
B2B companies tend to have less people talking about their brand than B2C companies. In most cases that means less content, and B2B typically generates less negative sentiment than B2C. That means B2B companies have less content to control and less negative content to deal with. Therefore B2B companies can maintain more control over their social content which makes it easier to get their message through to the right audience.

4. B2B purchase decisions are more rational
B2B sales cycles can span months or even years. Buyers research products, educate themselves, review competition, seek opinions via referrals or recommendations and in many cases, interact with brands before making a purchase decision. B2B buyers also need the approval of one or more colleagues to make the purchase. Compared to B2C, the B2B buying decision is a much more considered process and it’s based largely on business value.

5. It’s easier to build long-term relationships
The goal for most B2B marketers is to convert prospects into customers. Because the sales cycle is longer, B2B companies need to focus on relationships as part of that process. Communication with prospects, engaging them, educating them and leading them towards purchase creates the foundation for a long term relationship. And in many situations, the social media relationship continues past the sale through support, updates and continuing education.

6. The B2B market is smaller than the B2C market
Compared to B2C, B2B is a smaller, more focused target market. Using social media to identify prospects, connect with them and start building a relationship is faster and easier in the B2B market.

7. B2B buyers trust recommendations and feedback
Because B2B purchases are typically more considered decisions, B2B buyers tend to value the recommendations and feedback they receive from colleagues and other industry professionals. Social media provides a great opportunity to solicit product feedback, which can help influence the purchasing decision of the buyer.

8. B2B content has a long tail
B2B products tend to change less frequently than their B2C counterparts, so the social content you produce for your marketing efforts will create value for a longer period of time. That can make B2B social marketing more effective (and likely less expensive) than B2C.

Do you agree that B2B social media is easier than B2C? Are there any other ways that you feel B2B social media has an advantage over B2C?

5 Ways to Find Your B2B Company’s Online Fans

If your B2B company has been diligent in its product research, sales relationship and customer service development, it has developed a core group of fans. These fans love your products and services, and would gladly recommend them to their co-workers, clients and business contacts.

In the music business, street teams have long been an invaluable group of superfans that papers cities with upcoming concert flyers, spreads the word about new albums and recruits friends as new fans. Your B2B fans can act in a similar way in the online space, retweeting brand news, suggesting your B2B company for friends’ business needs on LinkedIn or tagging your company in a Facebook page status update.

Social media allows for B2B companies to locate, empower and task those fans on a direct level, without the go-between wall of media, email marketing or advertising. But before you can reward these fans and ask them to advocate on your B2B company’s behalf, you must first figure out who they are and where they interact with others online. Here are five ways to locate your B2B brand’s biggest supporters:

1. Use services designed to tune into online conversations

Find conversations about your brand using free services such as Kurrently, which tracks keywords on both Twitter and Facebook. If your B2B social media team has already set  up an RSS feed using Twitter’s search engine or specific search term columns in applications such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, keep an eye on users who post frequently about your brand. Build an internal list of users who frequently share information around your company, individual products or management, or interact often with your social media posts. Additionally, be sure to actively check in with these followers to build relationships beyond sales and promotions.

2. Review your blog comments
Advocates and fans of your B2B company are likely to be engaged on your company blog and are the ones leaving comments. This is true with any blog that receives even just a few comments. There are people who regularly post comments because they are engaged with your company. Since most commenting functions require an email address, it is easy to contact them and start the advocate conversation. If you are not encouraging blog comments by asking a question at the end of every blog post, here’s another reminder that you should be doing that.

3. Simply ask

You never  know if you don’t ask. If you’re already engaging on social media, send out feelers to your current followers. Schedule regular tweets that let followers know you’re looking to share insider information with people who want to be the first to know your B2B company’s news and get exclusive social media-only information, discounts and announcements.

4. Gather social media information from other marketing segments

If people are engaged enough with your brand to sign up for your email list, chances are they’ll also want to follow along on social media. Incorporate optional fields such as “Twitter handle” and “LinkedIn profile URL” into the sign-up process, and ask current registrants if they would like to be part of the action.

5. Take offline fans online

Be sure to leverage “real life” fans. Use face time at meetings, conferences and networking events to identify your B2B company’s fans, and carry those connections into the online world as well. Ask your B2B public relations, customer service and sales teams for positive media, customer and client encounters that could be continued and shared online.

Just like building an effective media list is key to pitching the right media contacts, identifying your B2B company’s online fans is important and takes time. Only after you have built a list of your company’s online fans, sorted them by their specific interests and engaged with them beyond the normal sales pitch can you begin crafting strategies and tactics to leverage those real – albeit online – relationships with you company’s fans.

How do you locate your B2B company’s biggest fans?

Even More B2B Social Media Tools You Haven’t Heard Of

B2B Social Media ToolsWe’ve had a lot of interest in our previous posts on B2B Social Media Tools (see 7 B2B Social Media Tools You Haven’t Heard Of and 7 More B2B Social Media Tools You Haven’t Heard Of) so we’re providing another set of 7 tools you may find useful for your B2B business. Give these a try and let us know what you think.

1. Timely
Timely is a Flowtown product that helps you schedule tweets for maximum impact. It will analyze all your tweets and figure out what times of day you get the best engagement. And Timely continues to learn as your followers grow.
Cost: Free

2. ReSearch.ly
Find the conversations and influencers that matter to your business. ReSearch.ly creates instant communities for whatever you’re interested in or writing about on the social web. Quickly search and filter based on community, sentiment, geography, time, and relevance. Find what communities already exist around your ideas. And with instant analytics while you write or search, ReSearch.ly gives you critical data to better understand the social stream in real-time.
Cost: Try for Free, Plans from $9-$999

3. Namechk
If you haven’t secured your username across all social channels you’ll find Namechk to be a useful tool. Namechk allows you to see if your desired username or vanity URL is still available at dozens of popular social networking and social bookmarking websites.
Cost: Free

4. Brizzly
Brizzly is a reader that works with Twitter and Facebook. It simplifies your browsing and updating experience by putting a lot of features in one interface. It can also assist with communications. In Brizzly users can create “picnics” – private conversations between multiple users (think group chat) that can integrate multimedia such as photos and video. And Brizzly’s mute function allows you to temporarily turn off people without unfollowing, which can be really useful for those friends of yours who are at that conference you don’t care about.
Cost: Free

5. MentionMap
MentionMap is an really interesting (and addictive) way to see Twitter connections. In an animated visual interface you can see what people and hashtags users have mentioned in recent tweets. It’s a great way to find new people to follow and hashtags that may interest you. Check out the @smb2b MentionMap.
Cost: Free

6. Kurrently
Kurrently is a real-time search engine for Facebook and Twitter. Just enter in a search term and get a constantly-updating stream of mentions.
Cost: Free

7. All Facebook Stats
All Facebook Stats provides Facebook analytics for your business. With All Facebook Stats you can track and compare the performance of Facebook Pages and Places. Analyze your Facebook page fans, interactions and content, benchmark your page against your competition and track and compare Places check-ins. Dig into the results, customize your dashboard and save time reviewing all your Facebook metrics.
Cost: Free for 3 pages, paid plans from $69 and up for additional pages.

Are there any other social media tools that you use regularly?  Let us know in the comments and we may include it in an upcoming post.

Using Content Marketing to Understand Your B2B Audience

B2B Audience- Question MarkWhat do you really know about your B2B audience? Are they mostly early stage prospects or are they close to purchase? What topics generate leads and drive conversions? If you aren’t using content marketing to better understand your B2B audience, you’re missing an opportunity to discover what interests visitors and leads them to purchase.

As you develop your content strategy, you should create content that falls into various areas of the sales cycle. Here are some types of content that you can utilize at each stage:

1. Awareness
For visitors that are just being introduced to your products and services, providing educational content will be of value. Create content (tweets, blog posts, webinars, white papers, etc.) that educates and informs, and make sure it is free and without registration required.

2. Consideration
During the consideration phase, customers are interested in how you stack up against your competition. Consider providing product comparisons, case studies and other content that shows why your product or service is the better option. Then share that content over your social channels. Collect a small amount of information, like name and email address, in exchange for the content.

3. Evaluation
Once your audience understands your brand and the competition, they’ll want to better understand the solutions that you provide. Provide content to help them evaluate your product or service and how it’ll benefit their business. As prospects are much further along in the process, they should be willing to share even more information about themselves.

4. Purchase
Use your social channels to broadcast promotions, new products, upgrades, special offers, etc. that provide incentive and lead to purchase.

As you create your content, determine which stage it falls into. Make sure you generate content that covers all stages, and do so on a regular basis. Then set up your tracking so you can gauge audience response to each type of content. You can use whatever reporting metrics you have available to help you gauge interest, such as:
1. Page Views
3. Tweets
5. Facebook Likes
6. Shares (LinkedIn, Facebook, Email, etc.)

After collecting and analyzing this data over time, it will offer clues to where your target audience is in the sales cycle, and you’ll be able to see if you’re moving them towards purchase. You’ll also learn what kind of content is most likely to push your potential buyers from one stage to the next, and eventually result in revenue for your organization.

What other ways are you using content marketing for you B2B business? Share your ideas and content marketing tactics in the comments!

Top 10 B2B Comedy Videos

This list of funny B2B videos includes two of my own projects, one each from Cisco and IBM, which seems both reasonable and in compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley. To keep the comparisons somewhat fair, I’m going to exclude videos for smaller ticket products (e.g. FedEx, Nextel, Staples) since their addressable markets are much closer in size to B2C, affording much larger production budgets. The opinions below are my own, as my company officially does not comment on rumor or comedies.

1. The Cart Whisperer takes an idea we recognize from a Redford film and applies an absurd context that’s only remotely relevant to its sponsor VeriSign.  If during the approval process someone in marketing gripes, “What in the heck does this have to do with our product?,” you’re off to a great start.   This enjoyable experience continues on the microsite NoMoreAbandonedCarts.com, where we’re invited to participate by uploading our own photos of abandoned carts.

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2. While august Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs don’t need to lean on comedy to build a global reputation, that’s not the case for some smaller businesses in the banking ecosystem, like the regional repo-man.

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3. I’m pretty sure Art of the Sale was the first B2B comedy on YouTube.  My partner Scott Teems and I created it in the summer of 2006, featuring  sales vp Bob Hoey as himself.  Hoey began his acting career in 2004 starring in a comedy short “Z On Demand”  which was released direct-to-DVD (we copied discs for each regional sales meeting) and on the company intranet.   Since I couldn’t get a comedy video approved initially, I kept the financial risk small by offering Scott $400 to direct/edit/film the spot.  I think his fees have gone up a bit since his feature film won SXSW.

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4. I don’t like potty humor, but David Meerman Scott showed me a completely new angle in this brilliant CWS ad.  I’m sure the production benefited from a TV broadcast budget, but I’m still including it in this list because its for a narrow industrial market.  For more background, see this previous Social Media B2B post.

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5. Microsoft chose the classic comedy approach of juxtaposition to sell to advertisers.  In this metaphor, the man and the woman characters in the relationship represent advertisers and consumers, and to be sure we’re not confused, the symbolism is spelled out — on their t-shirts.

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6. Kinaxis used the same dating/relationship storyline to poke fun at a supply chain management rival, but thankfully  Sally Ann Perkins is not wearing a monogrammed t-shirt.  This kind of humor is perfect for its target  – inside jokes are flattering to your audience, and can build rapport by making fun of a shared pain.   Clare McDermott told me when prospective customers meet Kinaxis’ representatives at trade shows, they say that watching the video has made them feel like they already know the company.   There’s your ROI.

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7. Also early to YouTube in October 2006, Dell jumps in on the JibJab genre.  It’s very well executed with sharp graphics/animation and music, and a script full if inside geek jokes.  I’m guessing they didn’t get script approval from Larry.

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8. My hard-and-fast rule of never including a rap video on a top 10 list was softened to more of a guideline thanks to intern Greg Justice. When  original music, clever lyrics and Chuck E. Cheese’s references blend into an artful production, the genre is timeless.  I love Woot’s rhyme, jokes and the honesty.

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9. Keeping product specifics out of a video is always a good idea, particularly when the video goes live a few weeks before the launch.  And those aren’t my words — that’s what my manager told me after reviewing an early draft of my script.  So, instead of mentioning details of Cisco’s Videoscape announcement at CES, we empathized with the lonely TV set.

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10. “People just didn’t seem to like me”  is one of the touching admissions in this beautiful example of personification.  This clever story resonates with us, because we’ve all experienced this feeling.  It creates curiosity and delivers surprise.  Hats off to Mr. W.

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Let me know in the comments if there are other B2B videos that have made you laugh your way to a call to action.