I don't write a lot about how companies can use the social web for marketing and sales. There are people better at it than me at the agency for which I toil in my day job.
But I've been thinking about how companies who sell not to consumers but to other firms or organizations — hardware companies, OEMs and the like — and small businesses can take what we're learning about web engagement and influence and bring it into their marketing planning.
Thinking this way shouldn't be a surpise: Business-to-business (B2B) is a relationship trade — between a company and its customers or buyers, its partners and its suppliers. And since the social web is also about — or should be about — the relationship rather than the immediate sale, then using its best assets for B2B communications is not at all implausible.
It's a reality that more and more companies apparently accept, at least according to Executive Guidance 2011: Achieving Intelligent Growth:
B2B companies plan to triple their spend (on social media) from 2 percent to 6 percent of their marketing budgets in 2011.
I am not sure from the study if "social media" includes the gated online communities that some companies — especially in technology — create for their customers, software engineers and other partners. These communities have an important role in allowing a relatively safe space for the exchange of ideas, beta testing and resolving service issues. (For a decision model about whether a company should start a protected online community for customers, Social Media Today has a ten question checklist that is as good as any.)
But there are other social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest which can be used to build beneficial business relationships.
Here are a few ideas.
- Let your employees build personal relationships on social platforms with their customers, fellow engineers or sales contacts, especially on professional platforms like Linkedin
- Combine game principles and the broad familiarity with Facebook to create a reward-based training programs for customer sales staffs to improve product knowledge and build closer connections.
- Establish a formal and structured social monitoring program to help find and explore customer (read business) problems and needs
- Set up discussion groups in Linkedin to talk about problems your product or service are meant to resolve, new strategies for their use, opportunities for partnerships and customer recomendations for improvements.
- Take cool shots of your products, or make creative images that capture your service, and post on Pinterest boards, then push people to them using your Twitter and Facebook accounts.
People buy expertise. If I had to choose a core difference between how most B2B business operate versus B2C companies, this would be it. While you might buy a box of cookies or even a digital camera because of features or taste, most B2B sales are based on demonstrating some type of expertise either in a type of service or in the category of a product that you are providing. Once you realize this fact, the lesson for using social media effectively is clear: if you can demonstrate your expertise through social media, you can have a measurable impact on your sales efforts.