Paul Furiga can get the attention of a business-to-business company’s CEO with a pretty alluring deal.
“I can get you to your 100 customers more often, more efficiently and with more fresh dialogue using social media than using any tool you can possibly imagine,” says the president and CEO of WordWrite Communications LLC, a Pittsburgh public relations agency. “How could they say no?”
Surprisingly, they do; the B2B market seems slow to embrace social media. Sure, business is moving online, acquainting corporate America with platforms from Facebook and Twitter to Yelp! and Foursquare. But when the best social media strategies and case studies seem to come from big consumer companies (ahem, Zappos), where do smaller B2B companies look for their social media guideposts?
Of course, some strategies are successful despite your structure, so mimicking some proven approaches from the big boys is a start. But the inherent differences between B2B and business-to-consumer companies necessitate that you tailor your strategy for your customers and goals.
“A $10 million B2C company, the average transaction size might be $100, so they are going to have 10,000 customers,” Furiga says. “The average $10 million B2B company might have 10 to 50 customers who are spending a heck of a lot more money on their average sale. For a B2C company, it’s all about how many followers you have and how much activity you get. For a B2B company, it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality — does your social media directly drive business results?”
Social media equips you with practically free tools to connect with each customer — and when you have 50 customers to their 10,000 consumers, that’s a definite advantage.
“B2B companies should be — and actually are, although you don’t see the trend yet — having much more success in social media,” Furiga says.
And here’s how.
Start with a hypothesis
Your first concern is probably something like, “Are business customers even using social media?”
It’s a valid question, and it’s the launch pad to creating your social media strategy.
“The first step is understanding: Are your customers there? Are they participating in those channels?” says Jennifer Horton, best practice consultant in the customer success and strategy group at Eloqua.
Eloqua, based in Vienna, Va., develops marketing automation and demand generation software to help companies “measure the digital body language of their buyer,” Horton says. The first step in that process is the same as any campaign.
“If you’re just getting started and you’re trying to understand, then let’s pick a hypothesis, i.e., ‘I think our customers are on Facebook,’” Horton says. “Then let’s prove that out or disprove it. We’ll get our Facebook page created, start to develop our fan base and use it to promote thought leadership content or upcoming events.”
To build that hypothesis, some of Eloqua’s clients use website analytics to identify which sources drive traffic to them. If they see significant volume through Facebook — which Eloqua found to be the top-referring social source of website traffic in a study of their entire client base — they dig deeper.
To prove a hypothesis, just like in a science experiment, you need research. Here, that comes from tracking what’s happening. Start with baby steps: Look at quantity before delving into quality.
“One of the places that a lot of people start is just understanding the total number of fans that they have or the total number of followers on a Twitter handle or the number of members that have signed up to receive e-mail updates,” Horton says. “Understanding your reach is definitely first and foremost. It gives you a good understanding of your potential to drive opportunities out of this group of people.”
Maybe people are already buzzing about your company, giving you a head start in building a fan base. But don’t forget about current customers on other platforms. Bring them with you, from newsletter subscriptions, e-mail opt-in lists and direct mail databases to the social space.
Then find ways to inject yourself into conversations, positioning your product or service as the answer to a question.
“Listening would be the first part of that, listening and understanding the topics that are being discussed, who’s participating in those conversations, and then identifying the appropriate response,” Horton says.
If they’re not talking about your specific company yet, back up and see what they’re saying about your industry or service. For example, Horton was on a Salesforce.com user group one morning when someone asked for a recommendation of an e-mail tool. Knowing Eloqua’s software would be a good fit, Horton alerted a sales rep for follow up.
“The companies that are doing (social media) well are … looking at ways of identifying where in the conversation in those social channels it makes sense for them to insert themselves and … providing a relevant and compelling offer to get them to continue the conversation that maybe started in a social community,” she says.