Social Media Supports Changing B2B Buying Landscape

B2B marketers understand that they are operating in a different environment for a variety of reasons. These include a tighter economy, more rigor around business decision-making and the growing importance of social media in all B2B industries.

Two recent charts with survey data from Marketing Sherpa show a changing landscape of B2B transactions. The first shows the change in average deal size from 2010 to 2011. More than half of the deals closed by B2B companies are under $10,000, with the largest number of them (32%) between $1,001 and $10,000. This indicates that many of the larger deals, sometimes thought of as the hallmark of B2B sales, are not happening in the same numbers as before. It is easy to speculate that this is partially the result of the economy, and companies are just not spending the way they have in the past.

The second chart shows that the length of the buying cycle is shorter. This is defined from first lead inquiry to purchase. While the most common cycle is 1-3 months in both 2010 and 2011, the number increased in 2011. The number of responses of less than a month also increased. There were fewer in the ranges of 4-6 months and 7-12 months in 2011, and only cycles of more than a year held steady. This follows the first chart pretty naturally. If sales are down then the time to complete those sales is shorter.

B2B Social Media Marketing Takeaways:
1. If you sell an expensive, complex product, it is more important than ever to embrace social media. With fewer sales in 2011, does 2012 look any different? This means that every customer and prospect is more important to your sales conversion. You need to work harder to discover new leads and work harder to retain customers. Social media can assist with both discovery and retention.

2. Consider expanding service offerings or other smaller sales to support larger customers. If buyers are not upgrading products or systems, they will require more support in the near term. Look for ways that social media influenced content (ebooks, custom videos) can support those relationships in the absence of enhanced paid support models.

3. One of things that we have learned about the buying cycle in the social media era is that prospects contact a sales rep after 60% of the cycle is complete. This means that a company no longer contacts you for general information, but they seek it out themselves from the web, including social media platforms. This makes a social media presence an important part of reaching prospects. Your B2B company needs to demonstrate expertise by sharing valuable information to be included in the consideration phase of the buying cycle. This is no longer a linear process and there are many stops along the way.

How have your B2B buying cycles changed and are you able to use social media to address these changes?

59% of B2B Decision Makers Researching with Smartphones

B2B buyers are using smartphones in greater numbers as part of the buying process. According a recent study conducted by TriComB2B and the University of Dayton School of Business Administration and shared by eMarketer, 59% of B2B purchase decision makers have used their smartphone to research products and services when they are considering purchases. This makes it critical for marketers to publish information in a mobile-friendly format, whether that is a on a mobile-optimized website or in a dedicated mobile application.

There is a huge missed opportunity by the sellers in not addressing this form of information gathering. According to June 2011 data from Google and the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), only one-third of their surveyed advertisers had mobile optimized websites, and only 19% had dedicated mobile apps.

Based on this research, no matter your B2B industry, you need to begin thinking about mobile marketing to connect with your buyers. With all the information available online, including that shared through social media, buyers are more knowledgeable than ever before. This means they don’t contact your B2B company until they are further along in the buying process, or further down the funnel. If they cannot find information about your solutions in the format that is most convenient to them, they will look at your competitors.

3 Steps to Getting Started with Mobile Marketing

1. View your B2B company website or blog on a variety of mobile devices.

2. Check your website analytics to determine the current amount of mobile traffic.

3. Determine which website and blog content are most relevant to mobile users. Do this using web analytics, customer interviews and a content inventory.

What are you doing to address the growing number of B2B mobile visitors to your website?

B2B Social Media is for the Long Haul

We are way beyond the bright shiny object syndrome of social media for B2B companies. While surveys of adoption and success vary widely, many have begun using social media tools and approaches to market their businesses and communicate with their customers. Companies have developed pilot programs, created social media presences around events and even built social campaigns around product campaigns. That is not the best way for B2B marketers to use social media.

For many B2B organizations, the sales process, or more correctly called the buying process, is a long one. It can be 6-9 months, with some cycles as long as 12-18 months for very complex products with many decision makers on the customer-side. Supporting the various points along those cycles has always been the role of B2B marketing. Social media can help with that. It doesn’t change the process. While it may be easier to bring people to the top of the funnel with social media, or it may be possible to bring more qualified leads to the top of the funnel, the type of selling required for many B2B companies is still relationship-based with people and companies that buyers like and trust.

Some B2B marketers get confused by what they see being done their B2C marketing brethren. Much in the consumer advertising world, especially in categories like consumer packaged goods and consumer electronics is about the right now. This is very different than the real-time of social media. The right now of consumer advertising is about seeing an ad, or some other campaign marketing tactic, which could be a Facebook landing page or a promoted tweet, and being able to go to a store (bricks and mortar or online) and buying it. These calls-to-action are about making a purchase, not about expressing interest. This means that no matter how much consumer brands talk about things like engagement and authenticity, they are still practicing interruptive-based advertising to get you to make a purchase. Right now.

We are all consumers, and are bombarded by these sorts of messages every day. It is hard not to internalize some of that and try to replicate it. Be strong. It is not how B2B marketing works. And it is not how you should use social media to connect with your customers and prospects. As we have written about before, many B2B customers reach out to companies express their interest in a product or a service after doing quite a bit of research. This puts them further along in the buying cycle. Simple, generic product messaging is not what they need. Not on social media. Not via email. Not on your company website. They need information that can start to build the buying relationship.

Again, social media can help build those relationships and set the groundwork for building deeper relationships after the sale is completed. Social media customer service is a reactive approach to serving customer needs, and may be more effective in a mass consumer environment. Maintaining contact with B2B customers through public channels, and providing public information to them by whatever means, like blog posts and online videos, is one approach. Another one is to encourage LinkedIn recommendations. And you can even include your customers in testimonials that you publish online. There are social aspects of email too. This is how you use social media to build and maintain long-term relationships with B2B customers.

So as you are planning your next social media campaign, step back and consider if it is the best approach. Does it support a long sales cycle or does it promote the right now feelings of consumer marketing? Can it also transition into a long-term relationship with the customer or does the connection stop once the contract is signed? As always, I would be interested in your thoughts below.

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