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B2B-social-mediaWhat do B2B services really need to concentrate on if they want to have a viable social media presence? Let's examine the value of social media from a B2B point of view.

While social media has all the engagement buzz right now, the majority of studies are still dealing strictly with the B2C industry, so much so that there’s a serious question mark over the value of B2Bs utilizing SM streams at all.

Of course, LinkedIn has its place, but what do B2B services really need to concentrate on if they want to have a viable social media presence? In no particular order, let’s take a look at the value of social media from a B2B point of view.

1. Cut out the chat.

Businesses care about product and price just like B2C customers. Unlike B2C’s, they don’t want to be friends; they want to be colleagues who get on well, so forget the usual rules for Twitter or Facebook. You don’t need to “add personality”. You need to tell them in plain English what it is you offer, what it’s for and how it benefits their business model.

So, that’ll be traditional marketing then?

Well...not quite.

One of the best things about social media is its lack of tolerance for hyperbole. Think of your presence as a nice way to increase web traffic with a newsdesk function, but make sure you quickly step on any copy containing sentences like “seamlessly synergizes your multistream strategic presence”. Instead, go with “allows you to easily manage multiple accounts”.

In other words: SM cuts out the bulls**t.

2.Provide a great sales experience.

Whatever industry you’re in, one of the biggest consumer and business bugbears is poor customer service.

You can provide a great product, sell it at a competitive price and offer free service if something goes wrong. But I guarantee that if you don’t have a direct point of contact to facilitate that service, you’ll fail miserably. 

Social media is a great way to ensure that your teams know what is happening with each other, and to make sure the people you do business with can contact the right person directly. You can also quickly join up any gaps between sales and development by making sure your reps have a decent knowledge of your product.

This sounds like common sense (because it is), but there’s a difference between knowing all the features of a product and knowing when and how it’s useful, so utilise the training and internal communication possibilities SM streams provide.

3. Level of contact.

There’s a certain view in B2B that unlike individual customers, businesses don’t spend a lot of time hanging out on Facebook. They also get enough email as it is, so you need to be careful about what you tell them and when. Businesses generally want less communication from you, so don’t sign them up to a newsletter. Instead concentrate on genuinely meaningful interactions.

If you have lunch twice a year to discuss a specific project then you are accomplishing far more than blurting updates about version 12.6 of your latest widget. If they need it, they’ll ask. Any business that knows what its doing will also know when to ask for specialist help with complex issues.

This, of course, is ridiculous.

OK, so they do their own research, but where are they getting that data?

Your customers say they want ‘limited, meaningful interaction’ from you. But do you honestly think they’ll ignore free advice or a one-up on the competition?

Follow the SM rulebook: participate and contribute extra value. Use SM to raise your company’s profile and respect levels. Of course you should have guidelines in place, but it’s far more useful to have an engagement rate based on your actual usefulness as a supplier rather than strictly dictated by a calendar.

You can also balance your customer interaction in the B2B market by researching your clients and keeping detailed reports. Conduct regualar appraisals of previous clients and think about their stated needs, and see if you genuinely think their actual requirements have changed.

If you have a strong case then contact them, make sure you have a clear and consistent strategy for outreach based on needs and your own potential for continued business/profit.

If you feel you have a genuine service to offer an existing or potential customer, doesn’t it make more sense to send them a tentative tweet rather than wait 3 months for the next scheduled meeting?

4. Regulating an unlimited buying cycle.

In the data age there’s no such thing as a seasonal buying cycle, so allowing potential clients multiple points of contact is always a good idea.

Your clients will be determining their own contact times, and they’ll already have done their own research. They come across a problem and decide on the tools they need to tackle it before they contact you, and when they do they don’t necessarily require your sales spiel.

They want singular pieces of product information so that they can utilize it for specific reasons. Fortunately that’s information you can provide quickly and easily via SM by detailing upgrades, modifications, and new services.

You’ll remove the need for customers to constantly visit your main site and dispense with the need to send out overlong email reminders.

5. Opinion monitoring

Recommendations from independent online services carry a lot of heft with buyers, certainly more so than information directly from you, so having an outreach team for social media is invaluable.

By creating a regular buzz report and becoming more active on forums, you can engage and create a lot of positive commentary around your service, exactly as B2C’s have done.

While the tone of voice you use may be different, ultimately social media has the potential to bridge the gaps between B2C and B2B marketing, creating better value from pooled research, and as such B2Bs ignore or under-utilize the medium at their peril.

Matt Owen

Published 9 July, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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Paul Keers

While all of your tips are useful, I think you need to draw a clearer distinction between product suppliers and professional services. The latter cannot broadcast 'updates about version 12.6 of your latest widget', because they don't make them. They tend not to have 'gaps between sales and development '. And arguably, professional services DO need to develop and communicate a 'personality', as that is often a key point of differentiation. 

about 6 years ago

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Adrian Swinscoe

Hi Matt,

I like the post but tend to agree with Paul in the previous comment. Whilst I agree that being straightforward and to the point helps, in a service industry often how we do that can be a function of our positioning and brand.

Do you agree?

Adrian

about 6 years ago

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Chadrack

Very valuable points and tips there. However, as Paul mentioned in his comments, personal service providers must be able to create some level of interactiveness. But the caution here is that you mustn't forget what you're there fore. You're a business and not some social freak. Learn to draw the lines and you will be able to achieve your purpose with social media.

about 6 years ago

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CM

While I agree that B2B marketers need to remember what they are there for, we also need to remember that like with B2C, we are dealing with people and as rationale as we would like to believe we are and base our decisions on, decisions (yes, even buying decisions in the B2B space) are still going to be made and based on emotion. Personality and a real voice in social media is key. The rules of talk less about yourself and more about others still applies. So cutting out the chat- to a certain level, customers and prospects still expect to connect on a level that goes beyond hyping the benefits of your product or service. People want to connect with a company that is passionate about what they do- that is where good customer service starts. Example: we manage the SMM for a highly scientific and technical software firm. The best responses we have seen on places like twitter and facebook is when we share what others are doing with the software, or showcasing what we think the 'coolest' and most innovative things are. We don't need to mention the benefits of the software because it is self evident. Additionally, more people now talk about us more than we talk about ourselves. That is the kind of expertise and credibility that is the goal of SMM. And when a prospect is looking for a specialist, they know where to turn. Not because we tout them as a specialist, but because everyone else does. To the point of great sales experiences, I agree that the gaps between sales and product development need to be eliminated and SMM is a great tool to help facilitate that. I would add to that that marketing, sales and product development need to be on the same team and speaking the same language. In order to make the message match the experience, marketing needs to know what the product experience is- good, bad and ugly- and address it from the first contact. Sales needs to know what marketing is promising, and visa versa. This should be happening BEFORE it is evident on social media, otherwise you will find yourself putting out more fires than actually interacting with customers and prospects.

about 6 years ago

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Rene

Really interesting post Matt. As an often overlooked sector (despite being probably the largest) I'm finding it interested how the general buzz around b2b marketing is generally increasing in the business  marketing press and online.

I think some agencies and practitioners have made hay trying to convince their customers that it is a dark and mysterious art. True, we are dealing with more complicated multi-contact buying and influencing relationships but I think certain elements remain the same: chemistry and relationship, value and price.

I'm an advocate of 'social media' in business, though I think the term itself is polarising when applied to the business community. There are clearly some platforms that are not appropriate to some businesses but even if you only factor in the SEO benefits, shouldn't every business have a Wordpress blog, a YouTube channel, a Flickr stream, a presence on Linkedin and Twitter?

Being where the audience is can only strengthen your profile.

There are some interesting comments about what to say, how and when to say it above. I think for businesses it is important to nominate some key spokespeople, and as you would any PR campaign, have key messages as well as key topics on which you generate content and share and discuss other people's content. CM makes some good points on this.

about 6 years ago

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Camilo

I disagree about not "adding personality."  Personality is a critical component of branding and if you're not extending your personality via all media (social included), you create brand dissonance and discourage brand loyalty.  

People don't want to interact with Acme Inc. robots on Twitter/Facebook - they want to know they're talking to real people that exude the company's personality.

Camilo Acosta

www.RootOrange.com

about 6 years ago

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JT Long

Great tips. I really agree that the sales experience for B2B needs to be a positive one. That is why setting up the right eCommerce system and following through is so important. Thanks for the tips.

about 6 years ago

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Ajeva

Great tips you've got here and I'd say nothing beats the traditional way of doing business by keeping your pitch short and simple ( or stop beating around the bush ). It's just that with the social media hype these days, we see plenty of gimmicks and glitterazzi that don't have anything valuable to offer a customer. Blatant self-promotion is self-damaging. If you have wrong brand values, your business is simply - doomed.

about 6 years ago

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กาแฟ

Very valuable points and tips there. However, as Paul mentioned in his comments, personal service providers must be able to create some level of interactiveness. But the caution here is that you mustn't forget what you're there fore. You're a business and not some social freak.

about 6 years ago

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Felix Hemsley

I liked the article, and the bold nature, but I have to agree with Camilo on this one. Personality is a key component of branding, and not adding personality to interactions and relationship building leads to a very short term view. You remember people you like, people you interact with on a regular basis. You can't afford to be faceless in Social Media. The conversations we have and the influence we have on multiple 'human' levels is as critical in the B2B environment as in B2C, it's what makes us all human. Sure, there needs to be less waffle and cuddling in a B2B discussion, but that doesn't mean removing the personality. We don't deal with brands we deal with people, and when you're dealing with people, act like a person and you will more likely be trusted!

about 6 years ago

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Ben

For months, I've been pondering the value of SM for B2B marketing. I've learned two things: (1) What users want and expect in this context is "access to experts." Give them that, and your other marketing goals will be met. (2) Unlike traditional marketing, B2B SM is much more about negotiation and much less about persuasion.

about 6 years ago

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Jeff Pinkham

As CM commented, SM in business can contribute to keep the relationship vibrant and it will also help pick up early sales opportunities before they are formalised. Jeff Pinkham

about 6 years ago

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Tommy

Really interesting comment. I agree that Sm within the B2B industry really needs to cut to the chase and simply focus on meaningful relationships. 

But is also true that the level of SM relevance exist on a continuum not all industry fair well on SM. Arguably SEO is needed or some form of PPC, but more of achieving brand presence than any real marketing. 

One such example would be the shipping and chemical industry. Alot of the senior management today still prefer huge stack of papers on their desk with all the information. Sales occur during golf sessions and fine dinning. Alot of these people really rely on Word of Mouth and connections of the "sales staff" to clinch sales. 

in this kind of industry, where the target audience who are not digital natives. i find that using SM would be fair tough. Any others who might disagree? - Tommy 

about 6 years ago

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Kevin Warhus

Great post. There are some really good points in here. I think it is above all, most important to put out engaging content that adds value to the people and other businesses who follow you. From there I think that monitoring and responding to the people who reach out to you is the best way to be seen as having great customer service within the social space. Its also a great way to get repeat business and help spread good reviews through word of mouth.

over 5 years ago

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