B2B Social Media and Content Marketing in the Sales Funnel

B2B marketers are turning to social media marketing approaches in greater numbers, but they are still looking for ways to better leverage these platforms for stronger results. Content marketing allows them to restructure and repurpose existing content, like white papers, ebooks and product videos, and present them to buyers at the right stage of the buying process for maximum impact.

Content Marketing is Growing for B2B Companies
B2B companies have long relied on content marketing to promote their products, and social media has expanded both the need and the reach of content. B2B marketers allocate approximately 26% of their total marketing budgets to content marketing initiatives. 51% of B2B marketers plan to increase their spend in content marketing over the next 12 months, according to B2B Content Marketing: 2010 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends.

Establish Industry Credibility and Expertise in the Awareness Stage
One of the strengths of social media is to drive awareness of a company, product or service. Many B2B marketers set up Twitter accounts and Facebook Pages to promote product launches, trade show events and other company-centric ideas. Marketers need to share and promote content on social platforms that benefit the buyers to establish credibility and expertise. The most compelling content needs to be created so brand advocates will share it on professional networks like LinkedIn, and within niche communities. Marketing software company Hubspot is a master at publishing content to drive awareness at the top of the funnel. Each content item includes a call to action so the buyers can receive additional content. Content generated leads can be tracked in a company’s CRM system, along with the description of the content that drove the lead. Companies that can build awareness by sharing valuable and helpful content can generate more quality leads. Watch a short video with Kipp Bodnar, Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing Manager about their use of content marketing within the sales funnel.

Provide Customer Solutions in the Consideration Stage
Content created in a social media style and shared on social platforms can help B2B buyers as they progress through the sales process. As buyers move into the consideration phase, they are looking for more than just product information. They are looking for solutions to business problems. Marketers can re-purpose the top 10 frequently asked questions as solutions to common problems and publish them in a shareable ebook. Customers are doing more online research before purchase than ever before, and are further in the buying cycle before they ever have a conversation with a salesperson. This makes it vitally important to have consumable content, easily available and shareable, to keep a company’s products relevant and appearing in search results.

Content Helps to Close the Sale and Drive Revenue
B2B buyers are looking to make safe purchases, as these investments could have significant impact on company performance. By this point in the sales cycle, customer pain points are well known and the product team needs a clear understanding how the product addresses these. One way to demonstrate this understanding is to shoot a short video with members of the product team talking directly about the prospect’s issues, as well as sharing anecdotes from other customers. This private video can be shared online with the prospect team members, or can be sent via DVD if the company does not have access to social platforms. Content in this stage can help to shorten the buying cycle.

A New Way to Think About Content Marketing
Neither marketers nor sales people are thinking about the content support marketing can provide to help prospects in the consideration phase. According to a study by strategy consulting firm AMR International, the first and third priorities for B2B online marketers are lead generation (38%) and awareness (28%). While the second priority in this survey was customer retention, an important online tactic, there is no mention of middle of the funnel marketing. Once marketing and sales people understand the value of this type of content, they will need to talk to product managers, customers and prospects to develop appropriate content to serve this need.

Content Marketing Can Be Leveraged as a Major Component of Change
B2B marketers need to respond to the changing online environment and changing needs of prospects to make more information available on social platforms and in shareable formats to help drive buyer decision-making and close sales. Much of this information and intelligence is already available inside of companies, and raising the influence of the marketing department frees some of this knowledge from its silos. Assembling the right information in the appropriate format in the context of the sales cycle, allows marketers to leverage it in ways that were never possible.

Encourage Sharing
All social content needs to be created with two thoughts in mind. Does this show a prospect how their business need can be solved, and would they be willing to share this with other connections online? As business networks grow, B2B buyers are connected to others in other industries, and can provide benefit and value to their connections by sharing a compelling report or ebook.

Are you using content marketing to drive leads at different parts of the buying process?

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?

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?

B2B Social Media and the Customer Service Funnel

Many B2B companies understand the idea of the sales funnel and track their leads using a CRM system like Salesforce.com or a module integrated into their ERP system, but they are not using the same organized process to handle customer service. According to a May 2009 study, only 40% of companies stated that their employees have the tools to handle customer service. With the explosion of the use of social media for customer service in 2009, the landscape for B2B customer service has become more complicated, and needs structure that can account for a variety of incoming inquiries.

The original sales funnel features four segments as customers move through the funnel: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. While not a perfect model for the sales process, it made some sense, and has even be updated to the more practical segments of Leads, Visitors, Prospect, Customer. We can apply a similar model to the customer service process, except as potential customers more through the sales funnel, their numbers are reduced through qualification of one type or another. The customer service funnel metaphor is not about reducing the numbers, but about making sure all parts of a potentially disparate process wind up in the same place.

A business customer using your product or service discovers a problem, or a potential customer doing their research before a purchase has a question about it. Before the advent of social media channels and the acceptance of tweeting a problem, sometimes out of frustration, a customer would write a letter or call a customer service phone number. The toll-free phone call, or a call to an account manager, is still the most likely customer action to address a problem or ask a question, however, many customers are announcing these online. This may be addition to contacting the company, but sometimes the online request is the only option chosen.

Your company may have dedicated resources to creating an inbound call center to handle both sales leads and customer service calls. If you company is smaller, or your customers have relationships with their account manager, the calls flow in that direction, never making it to the call center. And who in your organization is managing Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or industry online forums and monitoring social web mentions? Maybe marketing, communications, or even an outside firm.

The most important part of the process happens right here. You have to have a central tracking repository that links these events to the customer and no matter where the awareness happens, it needs to be entered into this system. While a CRM system is ideal for tracking these sort of cases, not all members of your social media team have access, and small companies may not be able to invest in these levels of solutions. At a minimum, enter the incident into customer notes in your database with a list of next steps and who is responsible for those steps.

In traditional customer service communications, there is no need for acknowledgment. There is no need to discuss written letters anymore for B2B customer service, and the acknowledgment of a phone call is to receive the information from the customer and respond with an answer or a time frame to respond with the answer. But on the social web where someone tosses a complaint or question out, the acknowledgment serves two purposes. The first is to let the customer know your company heard the cry for help. These tweets in the night are becoming more common. The second reason is so other people see your company has responded. Even if the response is requesting the customer follow you back so you send them a direct message, the public response is an important part of the process.

The goal of any customer service program is to resolve customer issues, while not expending too many resources in the process. Many call center operations focus on reduction in call times rather than customer satisfaction. The public nature of customer service on the social web changes the nature of the customer relationship. A full resolution of customer issues needs to move higher up in the customer service process. The reach of an unhappy customer is now greater than ever. Some of these customer interactions become more costly as marketing staff and account managers get involved, so a clearly defined process and system for handing these back to customer service is important, as cost tracking is still relevant. After resolution of these issues where social media played a role, keep a record of successes for future presentation to management of the benefits of social media.

What are some changes you have seen in customer service not that social media opens up the company to public issues.