A lot of what we read and hear about social media focuses on how businesses can use it to market to consumers (B2C). Yet, as a business-to-business marketing consultant, I'm far more interested in its B2B applications.
This is perhaps the main reason I was looking forward to Paul Gillin's breakfast seminar at the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council last week. The other reason is that Paul has an uncanny ability to connect the dots in ways that add new meaning to any topic that he addresses.
B2B Marketing differs from B2C marketing
Paul distinguished between B2B marketing and B2C marketing by noting that because B2B purchases are often bigger, more complex, and ultimately "bet the company" decisions. Therefore, the focus is on value, and then service and support.
Most buyers have a rigorous process for ascertaining value because they know that they will have to live with their decisions for a long time. This process includes seeking expert advice.
Winning depends on influencing the experts
As validated by a 2008 Marketing Research study that Paul cites, the experts they rely on include employees who have experience with the product or vendor, analysts, and peers in that order. Although the decision makers don't ignore vendors' marketing materials, personal recommendations carry much greater authority.
Winning therefore depends on building relationships with the experts--and those that influence them. Today, much of that influence is happening through social media, so that's where vendors need to be.
Strategies for determining who is influential and what interests them
Paul outlined a number of strategies for figuring out who wields the most social influence and what will engage them. He recommended turning to peer validation sites such as Technorati to identify candidates and then looking to sources such as presence in the mainstream media, traffic rank, number of inbound links, Hubspot's website and Twitter graders, and the number and quality of Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections to assess each individual's level of influence. To learn what interests them most, Paul suggested checking their blog rolls and tag clouds.
It's about engagement, not merely circulation
As Paul points out, it's all about engagement, not merely circulation. Once you've identified whom you need to reach you'll want to treat them like reporters and reach out to them with news that they'll find interesting.
Nevertheless, it's important to remember that they're not the reporters of old--and therefore will have different questions and concerns. Paul provided a number of examples of engineers that blogged on their technical specialties, CEOs that blog about the issues that face their organization, and others who are passionate about the niches they cover.
Case studies, tips, and more!
Then there were case studies to illustrate each point. Paul showed examples of how companies used social media to attract attention, save money, get rid of excess inventory, and generate revenues. He also discussed which social media tactics work best at each stage of the sales cycle. It will come as no surprise to readers of his earlier book The New Influencers that blogging remains a favorite.
Next were tips for would-be publishers. Chief among them was the importance of having clear business goals and a strategy for achieving them--at every stage of the sales cycle. Paul noted that he feels that small business can really excel at social media because they know their niche, are nimble, and are less likely to get caught up in politics.
Another important piece of advice was to "fish where the fish are". With Twitter and posts on group discussions linking to blogs--and Facebook's new "Like" button--the walls around each platform are continuing to come down.
Find out where your audiences congregate and go there to communicate. Answer questions on LinkedIn. Post presentations on SlideShare. Then, you can link back to your site so the engaged can learn more about you and your company.
Finally, recycle and extend. The same content can serve as a foundation for a blog, a podcast, and even a video. You can reference it in a LinkedIn group on Twitter or in a comment on someone else's post.
Read the book
Lots of good advice--but this blog post is just a teaser. To get the full scoop, you'll need to wait for the book--due out next January. For a sneak preview, see Paul's slideshow entitled B-to-B Social Media--Really.
This article originally appeared on the BB Marketing Plus Top Line Blog.