B2B Companies Must Keep Pace with the Customer 2.0

Social media has become the go-to resource for B2B customers – both to share feedback about companies they are doing business, with as well as to monitor discussions about products and services they are considering. The control of a B2B company’s brand is rapidly transitioning from corporate marketing departments to the customer-to-customer conversations taking place via social media. Just as shared positive experiences can drive new prospects to your business, unmanaged negative commentaries can spread like wildfire, incinerating your organization’s hard earned reputation. Not surprisingly, customers recognize their growing influence and realize the impact of their praise, or more importantly, their criticism.

This is the era of Customer 2.0. Businesses of all sizes are learning the importance of listening, rather than preaching, in order to acquire and retain their customers. Customer 2.0 is not interested in vague and impersonalized advertising and sales pitches. They are socially savvy and active, know how to connect with one another to talk about your company (more than half of active US Twitter users follow at least one company, brand or product) and possess little desire to maintain loyalty for a company who does not care for and accommodate their needs.

This new environment creates big challenges but also incredible opportunities for B2B sales. Sales professionals can no longer completely rely on traditional email and cold calling campaigns. The good news is social media is leveling the playing field for selling to Customer 2.0. Sales professionals can now gain timely and relevant insights about their customers as well as engage at a very deep and personal level – two huge boons to the B2B sales process. Thanks to social media monitoring and conversation, individuals within the organization have the ability (along with the responsibility!) of championing the identity of their corporate brand and uphold public reputations. The wall between the corporation and the end-user has been torn down; and sales professionals are on the front lines.

B2B buyers have evolved faster than their sales counterparts, and it is Customer 2.0 who is setting the social media trends, not the organization. Hence, companies must learn to accommodate the customer’s preferred methods of engagement. Many organizations have been doing just that for the past year and have seen tremendous rewards.

Although this new engagement model involves a mix of marketing, customer service and sales, sales teams must take the lead in this process. It is the B2B sales professionals who face the continual challenge of defining, learning about and meeting the needs of their customers. The savvy sales person has a new mandate of knowing how to use their social resources and take full advantage of the platforms at their disposal.

So, how will you take advantage of social media to keep pace with your Customer 2.0s? For starters, do not get stuck in of the interrupt-driven world of “sales 1.0.” Listen to your customers and engage in relevant conversations with them. And, stay tuned for more insights on the tools and methodologies you can easily adopt to improve the social selling IQ of your sales team – the rewards will surely follow in the form of higher sales productivity and shorter sales cycles.

SAS Launches Social Media Analytics for Enterprise Customers

Yesterday, SAS, the leader in business analytics, launched an enterprise social media analytics tool. This is a sign the large companies are ready for social media. The very fact that SAS has deemed social media important enough to dedicate resources to building, launching and supporting this new program is one more thing you can hold up as an example of the corporate acceptance of listening and responding to your customers online.

This new product, which is offered as a hosted solution, features a robust analytics engine that can properly code online sentiment at the same level as human analysts, with greater than 90% accuracy, according to online measurement expert, Katie Payne. SAS is used to crunching large amounts of data and social media easily provides large amounts of data. One of the differentiators of the SAS Social Media Analytics product involves the initial software setup. While most social media tools may go back a few months at the most, the new SAS tool captures data that goes back for up to seven years on the various sites related to your industry. Even though there may not be much relevancy beyond the last two years, the capability is there for more.

All analytics products help you answer business questions and determine how you are meeting your business goals. The custom set up of the program involves creating appropriate keywords, finding the right sites and influencers to gather the data important to your company. After you review this first set of data, this becomes the baseline, but not in the traditional way. As you continue to use the software, you have the ability to refine the rules for capturing data and filtering out the noise. While all the original data remains intact for trending purposes, you can re-process it against the more refined filters and re-analyze it. You might discover trends that you originally missed.

The program allows you to forecast both social media sentiment and resources needed to respond, based on past data. You can also measure the effectiveness of professional media, as compared to consumer-generated media, import customer emails to look for customer support trends that are mirrored on the web, and find industry influencers to reach out to. And all this data, along with corresponding individuals, customers and prospects can be shared with your CRM system for fully integrated tracking and management.

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SAS SVP and CMO Jim Davis

Here are links to the official SAS information:

Other coverage included:

After watching the demo and reading some of the links below, does this change the landscape of social media analytics and push other social media analytics programs to up their game, or is SAS playing in a different market?

Should B2B Social Media Profiles Feature Product or Company?

As B2B companies develop social media strategies, one question that comes up, usually late in the process, is should they focus on the company or individual products. This is one of those core social media questions that relates back to the marketing plan. Social media does not exist in a vacuum and must support the existing marketing initiatives. Are you looking to increase brand awareness, market share, drive leads, or respond to customers? Only you can answer that question, but here are some broad categories to choose one approach over another.

Plan your Social Media around the Company

1. Recognized Company Brand
If your B2B company is a recognized brand that already has a large amount of brand equity and customers talk more about the company providing solutions rather than their experiences with specific products, focus your social media efforts on the company. This is a sign that people already connect with the company offline and in their minds, so it is a natural conclusion that they will connect with it online. This is also true with large global brands. They should establish corporate presence that can aggregate content from other divisions and countries.
Example: Establish a Twitter account using the name of the company and the logo as its avatar.

2. Offer Related Products or Item Catalogs
Some companies produce a variety of related products that are not branded separately, so there is no reason to consider anything other than a company approach. Most OEMs fall in this category, as do companies that manufacture thousands of individual parts or configurable products. While new customers are looking for individual parts or solutions to common situations, product names may be nothing more than an item number.
Example: Provide a forum for customers and prospects to ask questions of each other and company reps.

3. Company is the Product
This is probably most true with startups, but if there is no difference between the company and the product, there is really no question. For example, if your B2B company has created a web app to serve your industry and the web site is also your company name, that is also the name that should be used for your social profiles.
Example: Create a Facebook page with the vanity URL of www.facebook.com/companyname.

Plan your Social Media around the Products

1. Large Product Community
Just like the example above where the company has an existing awareness, the same is true about individual products. If your B2B products have true brand equity to your customers and within your industry, consider the value of promoting those product separately using social media. If these products have built-in communities, your role is to discover those conversations online and learn from them.
Example: A monitoring campaign is the best way to understand if this is the best approach.

2. Diverse Product Line
If your B2B company has a diverse product line that crosses many verticals, you are a prime candidate to approach social media from a product standpoint. Your products may cross business-size lines or even pricing levels. If the customers, industries and online locations have little in common, there is not much point in trying to communicate with them in the same way, using the same content. Unique communities need unique content.
Example: Create a series of industry-specific blogs that are all housed on one central blog page

3. Distinct Product Functions
Maybe you make a variety of products for one industry, but the functions are so different that they warrant separate marketing, and by extension social media. A company approach makes sense to aggregate it all in one place, but a series of products that serve very different needs can each stand alone.
Example: Create a YouTube video channel for each product line demonstrating its function.

Have you focused any of your social media efforts on individual products? What did you learn from this approach?

A Simple Way To Monitor B2B Competitor Web Sites

Google Reader is an RSS reader that has long been popular in technical circles as a way to track news and information on the web. Recently the folks at Google made an update that makes this web-based tool a lot more important to B2B marketers. An new feature to Google Reader is its ability to monitor changes to Web sites that don’t have RSS feeds. Meaning that you can put an competitor Web site into Google Reader and updates will appear anytime a change or addition is made to the Web site. This could be particularly valuable to companies in industries that have frequent promotions and new product launches.

How To Track A Competitor B2B Web site Using Google Reader
VXB.com sells ball bearings, a B2B product that is sold to manufacturers. As you can see from the screen shot below they company has a basic Web site, which does not have an RSS feed. By simply creating a Google Reader account and adding the URL VXB.com Google Reader creates a feed and allows me to monitor any changes the company may make in terms of hot products, promotions or warranty policies.

Example Site That Does Not Have An RSS Feed

Create A Feed
Here is the message you see when you put a Web site into Google Reader that does not have an RSS feed.

Example Of A Google Created Feed
After Google creates the feed it should look like this and can then be placed in a folder.

Small application changes like this can make day-to-day tasks much easier. This could be a great first step for B2B product teams to begin to see the impact of online monitoring and competitive analysis.

Do you see value in this feature of Google Reader and would you use it?

Video: Basics of B2B Social Media Monitoring

Social media starts with listening or monitoring the social web, but before you can begin, you need to know what you are looking for. We caught up with Amber Naslund, Director of Community at Radian6, and asked her about the basics of social media monitoring for B2B companies. Watch the video as she discusses the following topics:

  • Three parts of monitoring: brand centric mentions, competitive intelligence, industry intelligence.
  • Build your own dashboard using iGoogle or Netvibes or other sites where you can aggregate multiple RSS feeds.
  • What is the tipping point to upgrade to higher-level, or paid solutions?
  • How do you begin to understand the sentiment of the data you find?

Amber blogs at AltitudeBranding.com and tweets from @ambercadabra.

Are You Really Listening to your B2B Customers?

Every discussion of social media begins with someone telling you that you need to start any social media campaign or program by listening. What are you really listening for? Mentions of your brand, your industry, your competitors? Maybe you find and follow blogs from industry thought leaders to understand the social media landscape in your niche. But once you start tweeting, blogging and creating content on the social web, it becomes even more critical to listen for mentions of your company or brand.

Social media outlets, and especially Twitter, have become a communications tool for customers to reach out to their vendors. It has become publicly acceptable to complain online about your experiences. And make sure to use the proper Twitter account in your complaint. Sometimes it is venting to feel better, while other times it is done to warn others about the experience. But from the vendor side of things, this is some of the most important listening that you do.

The following example comes Bandwidth.com, a business phone and data provider in Cary, North Carolina (disclosure: and a client). I had nothing to do with this situation, but because they are a client, I also monitor their brand mentions, so I observed the following in real time. (Note that screenshots of customer tweets were captured immediately, while those from Bandwidth were captured the next day, so the time stamps don’t seem to match even though they occurred in the same time period).

An existing customer makes a comment about a problem that customer service wasn’t able to solve.

That comment is retweeted.

A new customer wonders what he has gotten himself into.

The original customer responds to the new customer and says he is normally a fan, but expresses a bit of frustration the customer service rep didn’t try hard enough.

The company replies to the user and others who tweeted the complaint or tweeted about it.

The original customer tweets that he received a phone call within minutes of his tweet of frustration.

That comment is retweeted.

The company publicly replies to the customer that customer service is dealing with the issue, even after the phone call talking to him on the phone. They also include an email address for additional contact.

The company thanks those involved for their patience.

The next day, the original customer tweets that customer service followed through.

That comment is retweeted.

This is a real example where a company monitored Twitter and saw a tweet from an existing customer that required follow-up. And that follow-up was a phone call. The person was a customer so it was easy to find their phone number and call. The one piece of inside information that I have is that the social media person, in the marketing department, is the one who followed up with the customer. After the phone call he followed up with customer service so they could solve the customer’s issue.

These situations are easy to find on Twitter, but you need to make sure you are looking. Whatever tool you use to manage your company Twitter account, even the Twitter website, makes it easy to spot Tweets with your account name, but you also need to set up searches for the company name without the @ and some common misspellings. Do this even if you have a simple company name (search Twitter for Goggle). The other part of this was that social media person has the authority to perform customer service. There is no need for approvals up the command chain. Note the three parts of the customer’s tweets: 1. follow-up to tweet 2. quick response 3. follow-through to solve the problem. This situation also points to the importance of setting up monitoring tools across the social web, because the comments are just as likely to appear on forums or other sites.

So the next time you discover a customer service situation on Twitter, as a marketing, pr or communication person, or even an agency, what is your customer service role? What are your means of response and time of response? How do you connect the dots back with the traditional customer service department? And how do you enter this as a resolved case into your CRM system, because you know that you should?