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.
B2B-sales-deal-size

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-sales-cycle

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?

Is 10 Years Too Long to Meet Your B2B Social Media Objectives?

With last night’s news about the US killing of Osama Bin Laden, I thought about lessons we can learn that relate to B2B marketing. Reporters talked about that it has been nearly 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, and through hard work and dedication, the American military and intelligence community achieved their objective. We know that the B2B buying process can take a long time, but does 10 years to meet your objective seem like too long? Is it too long using social media, which is a long term approach to building customer and prospect relationships?

Do You Have an Unreasonable Objective?
The sales team develops a objective to secure a huge customer, no matter how long it takes. And the sales manager wants the marketing team to brainstorm on ways to achieve it. Using social media tools as a means of discovery, you can learn about the prospective company, learn who the executives who and start to understand what some of their pain points are. There’s nothing unreasonable about this so far, but the no matter what it takes part is a bit unreasonable. Make sure you put some parameters around that, so the marketing team doesn’t spend all its time working toward this ultimate pitch.

Do You Have Milestones to Reach Along the Way?
This ultimate objective needs to have milestones that can be reached so the team can see some success along the way. If the only perceived success is signing the contract, the team may get discouraged if the process takes months (or years!) to complete. Informal meetings at trade shows, developing a strong pitch to show an understanding of the business or a social media conversation (not just a connection) can be set as meaningful milestones in the process.

Does Everyone Understand the Objective?
Frequently sales and marketing are on a different page when it comes to pursuing an objective, but in the case of such a large and overarching objective, make sure that everyone on each team understands the objective as well. The marketing team needs clear direction of what their role in the process needs to be. One way to help clarify the objective is to set up a social media dashboard to track internal and external metrics that can show progress towards the objective. Give everyone access to the dashboard, so they can understand what everyone is driving towards.

What Else is Going On While Pursuing this Objective?
This cannot be the single-minded focus of the company. Existing customers need to be served at the same high level as before. Social media listening teams still need to be looking for prospectives and engaging with others. Content to drive leads still needs to continue while this large initiative proceeds.

What are some other ways your organization can make sure it doesn’t get overwhelmed with one monumental objective?

4 B2B Insights from Salesforce.com’s Acquisition of Radian6

Today Salesforce.com announced the acquisition of Radian6. Here’s a link to the press release if you want details. From a business perspective, this is a big deal because the leader in one space has acquired the leader in another space. But if you are a B2B marketer who is managing or planning social media for your company, here are some reasons why you should care. Even if you don’t use either product.

1. Create Awareness of Social Media Monitoring Among Salespeople
Even before computer-based tools, salespeople kept track of their prospects and the results of their interactions. Salesforce.com is an evolution from standalone versions to a web-hosted, company-wide platform that can integrate with other company systems. The addition of Radian6 to the suite of Salesforce.com tools (even though the companies will still run separately) creates awareness among salespeople that company or industry mentions found through social media monitoring can be considered trackable events in their CRM tools.

2. Raise the Profile of Marketing in the Organization
A classic struggle in many B2B organizations is the one between sales and marketing. Sales generally has more say in the running of the company, as they are more responsible for bringing in revenue. Anything that can raise the profile of marketing in the eyes of sales is a good thing for marketers. With the awareness of social media monitoring gained above, now marketing can be the ones to help sales understand how to implement social media monitoring into their sales functions.

3. More Engagement Possible at More Levels
With salespeople onboard in their understanding of social media monitoring, this expands the use of social media throughout a company. Many social media approaches start in marketing or customer service, and serve customers and prospects at the top of the lead funnel. While monitoring will also serve the company at the top of the funnel, tracking these mentions in a CRM will show salespeople that it is possible to engage at various stages of the buying process.

4. Monitoring and Engagement is Now Trackable
As social media events are tracked in CRM tools, whether it is a mention, a comment or a direct request, each will have a result. This is no longer the world where marketing generates leads for sales and steps out of the way. The social media leads are available for all to see, and both sales and marketing can look for patterns, so they can understand what types of engagement can lead to sales. Depending on a company’s goals, customer satisfaction through social media can also be tracked.

What are some other benefits that B2B marketers will see now that Salesforce.com has acquired Radian6?

How to Use B2B Social Media for More Efficient Lead Qualification

If you’ve read any of my other pieces on Social Media B2B, you’ll know that I live by the Listen, Connect, Engage model. It’s simple and highly effective for leveraging social intelligence to improve sales productivity and customer engagement success. Today, in the third part of the Social Selling Throughout the B2B Sales Cycle series, I will focus on the lead qualification process, where sales organizations can achieve massive productivity gains by quickly and accurately assessing the quality of inbound leads as sales-ready (or not, as the case may be!).

By tapping into social intelligence, the modern and savvy sales professionals can access more personalized prospect information, in less time. Through social selling techniques, sales teams tap highly relevant information to quickly qualify and rank inbound leads, driving a more efficient sales cycle, thanks to real-time business information. So how does this intelligence indicate hot or cold leads in order to focus the sales team and increase the relevancy of sales messaging?

Social Media: Selling’s Stethoscope
Not all leads are created equal – even inbound ones. Sales professionals have long been tasked with finding, vetting and ranking leads according to their readiness and ability to purchase. This information is the heartbeat of the sales opportunity, but has traditionally been buried in internal corporate documentation. However, social media proliferates such information as prospects’ share valuable insight through their social networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Sales professionals who understand how to connect with Customer 2.0 can easily access these details to streamline the lead qualification process. The key here is to identify the right decision makers to connect with by leveraging social connections, and listen to the prospect before engaging them with a compelling message. For example, social profiles indicate where an inbound lead falls in their corporate hierarchy and qualification to make business-purchasing decisions. Other validators like corporate updates on sites, including LinkedIn, highlight news of company acquisitions, expansion efforts or product initiatives – all of which equate to vital information about purchasing readiness.

One of the common lead qualification challenges is that the inbound leads are often are not the decision makers. They are typically lower down in the organization, responsible for research on potential solutions. The trick is of course getting to the decision makers as soon as possible. Here is a step-by-step look into how social selling can expedite the lead qualification efforts:

  • Determine where the inbound lead falls in the corporate hierarchy by validating title / position
  • If they are not the decision maker, identify decision makers within the prospect’s company
  • Leverage your social connections to identify a common SENIOR connection between you and the decision makers
  • Tap into social intelligence to listen to what the decision makers care about / talk about
  • Learn enough about your prospect’s current business challenges and needs to convince the common senior connection to agree to an introduction
  • Convert the lead to an opportunity!

Another common lead qualification challenge is that inbound leads typically come with a single contact. By leveraging social intelligence, sales professionals can identify many additional connections into the prospect for ‘expanding communication threads’ and qualifying the prospect’s likelihood to purchase faster – and moving the deal through the pipeline faster thereafter.

Results
Lead qualification, driven by social selling techniques, improves productivity across the sales organization. As social media expedites the lead qualification process and provides real-time information about a prospect’s likeliness to buy, lead qual teams assess the quality of the inbound leads more quickly and accurately. This enables the sales teams to focus their efforts on those inbound leads that are likely to convert into opportunities, and eventually into customers. In the next post of my series, I will discuss how social selling can expedite opportunity management, driving sales productivity and ROI as well as customer satisfaction.

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
2. Comments
3. Tweets
4. ReTweets
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!

Examples of Social Prospecting for B2B Companies

I kicked off a series on the growing impact of social media on B2B sales. My objective for this series is to explore how social selling techniques can increase sales productivity throughout the sales cycle, and share real-life success stories from both large and small B2B sales organizations as emerging best practice examples. This post will focus on the first stage of the sales cycle: outbound lead generation, or better known in the sales organization as prospecting.

Lead generation is about discovering new businesses to target, as well as getting an in with existing target accounts. Of course, we all know the virtual impossibility of reaching today’s crazy-busy buyer by cold calling or sending form emails. Since Customer 2.0 is becoming smarter about the companies they are doing business with – and demanding relevance for any engagement – sales professionals need to level the playing field by becoming smarter about their prospects. Knowing who to call, when to call them and why they should listen to you, clearly improves prospecting odds. However, deeper customer insight can only come from a 360-degree view into the prospect that incorporates recent business events, social conversations and social relationships – in other words, social intelligence.

The Listen, Connect, Engage model is a simple and highly effective model for leveraging social intelligence to improve prospecting success. Listening to relevant information on what is being said by and about the prospect, sales professionals can augment what they know about who they know with when and where they should know it to ensure engagement with the right people at the right time with the right message.

Example: The Omniture business unit for Adobe
The Omniture business unit delivers Adobe’s highly successful online marketing suite, and has fully embraced social selling over the past two to three years. And, as a tribute to their efforts, they have recently won the Sales and Marketing 2.0 Award for Best Use of Social Media For Sales and Marketing. Omniture sales reps leverage social intelligence sources in every step of their prospecting efforts, from identifying who to target and gaining color on the personas of their targets, to staying on top of key business events about their target accounts to guide the timing and tenor of their initial engagements.

They leverage this deeper intelligence to make their prospect outreach emails and calls much more targeted and relevant. They take advantage of the wealth of prospect-specific information to showcase that they really understand their target audience, and that they have a solid solution to address their specific situation.

Results: Omniture’s results prove a solid ROI on their investment in social intelligence: More than doubling its prospecting effectiveness by penetrating around 30 out of every 100 target accounts, as compared to a 10-15 percent penetration seen before using this new approach.

Example: SuccessFactors
As the global leader in business execution software, SuccessFactors also experienced significant gains in sales productivity over the past few years by embracing many aspects of social selling. For example, SuccessFactors reps listen for key trigger events such leadership changes and expanding operations to surface reasons to reach out to prospects and engage them in timely and relevant conversations. Sales reps also effectively warm up their cold calls by finding new connections into their prospects by digging up how targeted individuals may be connected to friendlies inside SuccessFactors’ customer network through colleagues, common board of directors, previous employers or reference customers.

Results: SuccessFactors has seen significant improvements in both high-end selling – especially with C-level executives – and volume selling.

Listen, Connect, Engage
Both of these examples underscore how successful sales organizations can adopt social selling to significantly boost prospecting productivity: They listen for changes in buyers’ environments to uncover new buying opportunities. They effectively tap into their extended social networks to warm up cold calls. They engage in timely, relevant conversations with decision makers. Ultimately, they convince their prospects that they can positively impact key business issues and challenges – and they get in the door.

The next post will focus on the next stage of the sales cycle, lead qualification and discuss how social selling can improve the speed and efficiency of validating inbound opportunities. In the meantime, I’m interested in listening to what you have to say about how social selling has impacted your prospecting efforts. What are your success stories? Did you encounter any challenges in the process?

Social Selling Throughout The B2B Sales Cycle

The impact of social media on brand monitoring, customer service and marketing is a hot topic these days, but there has been less discussion about one of the biggest areas of social media impact: B2B sales. The opportunity to capitalize on social media in sales is clear: if Customer 2.0 leverages social media to inform their purchase decisions, why not tap into the same well to inform our sales engagements? As customers evolve, so must the process through which we sell to them, right?

Engaging today’s socially-savvy customer involves far more than a grasp of the basic facts and figures about their companies, and requires a broader view that incorporates recent business events, social conversations and social relationships – in other words, social intelligence. B2B organizations have been slower to tap into social intelligence to connect with customers compared to their B2C counterparts, but this is beginning to change. Sales professionals are starting to seize the power of social intelligence to augment “what they know about who they know” with “when and where they should know” it to ensure they engage the right people at the right time with the right message.

For example, take TriNet, a successful and rapidly growing HR services firm that delivers payroll HR compliance to small and mid size businesses. TriNet has found that talking to prospects at times of change (e.g. new CEO/management, new funding, expansion, significant changes in hiring, etc.) critically drives their sales team’s success. Timely and in-depth knowledge of trigger events at their target accounts gives them compelling reasons to start conversations. With an incredible 70 percent conversion-to-appointment rate, TriNet has experienced substantial success.

So how can B2B sales professionals most effectively leverage new social selling techniques to increase sales productivity? We advocate a three step process, based on the following principles:

  1. Listen to your prospects and customers, so that you can understand their unique needs and business challenges,
  2. Connect with them through networks that are common between you and your prospects, and then
  3. Engage with them in a relevant conversation, anchored on how you can help your prospect improve their business.

Listening to the social conversations surrounding target accounts and their decision-makers can help sales professionals determine the best individuals with whom to begin a dialogue. Tuning in to these conversations can also provide peeks into the personalities and work styles of these prospects – something that is often visible in social media profiles.

Listen to prospects: Gain professional insights into changes in buyers’ environments
Change often triggers more change. As in the TriNet example, certain trigger events, such as leadership changes, new product launches, new office openings or mergers and acquisitions, can lead to buying opportunities for new products or services. While we can observe some of these trigger events through traditional news sources, social media adds an insider’s perspective that helps sales professionals get ahead of the curve. Social insights can mean the difference between losing a deal (or not even being aware of it in the first place!) to “catching a lead in mid air.”

Once you know who to call and what to say once you get him or her on the phone, you need to find the best way to connect with the prospect. Sales has always been about who you know, but social networking now allows you to connect with a broader range of people than you were able to reach without social media. When you take advantage of Facebook or LinkedIn, you can easily discover how you are connected to influencers at your target companies, and how to initiate “warmer” introductions with them. Armed with unique insights on how your products and services can address your prospect’s current business challenges and opportunities, you have what it takes to engage prospects in relevant conversations that are likely to result in a rich engagement – and hopefully a win.

Over the next several posts, I will explore effective social selling tactics for every phase of the sales cycle. I will also share success stories from both large and small organizations. I have broken the sales cycle into four stages, both because many companies organize their sales teams around these stages and staff accordingly, and also because different social selling tactics may be more appropriate through each of these sales stages:

  1. Lead generation (better known in the sales organization as prospecting) focuses on discovery of new businesses to target, as well as getting “in” existing target accounts. Knowing the right people to call, and making those calls highly relevant, certainly improves prospecting odds.
  2. Lead qualification is about assessing the quality of inbound “leads” to quickly and accurately classify them as sales-ready (or not). Determining where the contact falls in the corporate hierarchy is helpful, as are any insights that validate the opportunity. Speed and efficiency are key for lead qualification success.
  3. Opportunity management is about turning an opportunity into a win as quickly and as often as possible. Relationships certainly matter, as do a keen awareness of trigger events that may impact a prospect’s decision.
  4. Cross-sell and up-sell are about selling to existing customers by assessing any new or increased appetite for your portfolio of products and services.

As I prepare to discuss these topics, I’m interested in listening to what you have to say about social selling. What are your success stories? How have you implemented social selling in your organizations? What challenges did you encounter in doing so?

How to Prevent B2B Sales Calls Using Twitter

Many B2B organizations are starting to use Twitter to listen to their customers, engage with customers and even prospect for new customers, but how does it work from the customer side. As a department head, you have to frequently field phone calls from sales people. You are probably receiving more cold calls then ever, as businesses are trying to grow new business in a time when their customers are spending less. These calls reduce your productivity and take you away from running your department. Here’s a great way to reduce the length and number of these calls.

Require all vendors to contact you first on Twitter and engage with you before you’ll take a phone call.

The first thing that will happen is that you will get fewer phone calls. Most sales organizations are not prepared for Twitter. A sales manager can’t have his reps tweeting all day. And with so many marketing departments still learning how to use Twitter, do you think there are many sales reps that would say they would be happy to contact you on Twitter? And those that do get you on the phone, you can just be firm and tell them your department policy. All vendor relationships must start on Twitter.

The salespeople that do understand Twitter and use it for prospecting will be happy about your policy. It is much easier, and much quicker to contact you via Twitter. The interaction is shorter, it takes less time away from other phone calls, and it is easier to provide links with valuable information that you can read on your own time. A sales rep would rather point you to a case study of their services, not recite it to you over the phone.

Twitter has become another channel for communication, and one that provides much more background information at the click of a link. By requiring contact on Twitter, you can find out more than ever about the rep, their company and their products or services before replying back. Depending on the size of company, you may even be able to find out about interactions with other customers and prospects. If they seem to be spamming others with their messages, you don’t need to respond. But if they are talking about industry issues, providing value to others and humanizing themselves in the processing of Twitter communication, it is probably worth responding. A sales rep that understands Twitter is a good contact. After several conversations on Twitter, you might consider taking their phone call and hearing their sales pitch. But even if you, someone who understands Twitter will accept that. You can refuse them quicker and easier on Twitter.

With so many customers setting the rules for interaction in the sales cycle, is your sales organization prepared for customers who insist on Twitter connection as the first step? The days of this, or something similar, may not be far off.

The Role of Social Media in the B2B Buying Cycle

We all know there are major differences between B2B and B2C buying. If a potential customer is looking for a new computer or electric mixer, by the time they bring that search online they are probably pretty far along in the buying cycle.

The B2B buying cycle is more complicated than that. Usually because we are talking about a larger purchase, many people need to be in on the decision for it to be approved. There is a much higher risk and making these decisions just takes longer. More than one person is involved in the buying cycle and there is more time spent on the research phase, often by more than one person.

Buying a faulty personal computer is unfortunate but is much easier to deal with than a faulty complete HR software system that doesn’t fit your company’s needs.

Social media is another touch point for your next potential customers to find you while they are researching what their company wants and needs. Consider if your presence on a social media site could help you achieve your business goals.

Would a more personal online interaction help a potential customer reach out to you with questions or request a demo? Even though we are talking about B2B companies, each one is staffed with people. Those people spend time on social networks, blogs and forums researching and talking about every industry under the sun.

Traditionally the buying cycle in B2B takes longer. Having an open door of communication between the potential customer and your online community manager could be the determining factor when it is finally time to make a decision.

Listen first. Monitor social networking sites to see who is talking about your products, services and industry. The thing about social media sites is you do not actually control if your company is going to be discussed – the users of the sites decide. You only decide if you are going to be a part of the conversation.

By participating in social media you are potentially building trust online. The transparency of your company lowers the risk of your potential buyer.

Social media is increasingly becoming a core part of the research process for B2B purchases. Within social media sites you can converse, educate and build relationships with potential buyers. While researching products and services, users are getting more savvy and finding more and more information online. When someone is researching you and your company for their next large business purchase what do they find? Are you a part of the conversation?