B2B and Social Media: It’s a Matter of Time

23 Jan

Social Media marketer (and Twitter rockstar) Chris Brogan posted a query on Twitter and an opinion on his own website on the differences between how social media is used in B2B and B2C marketing.  It’s a question I’ve thought about a great deal, after many client conversations with smart B2B marketers who are very interested in social media, but simply don’t see it as a priority. And they’re not totally wrong — in the short term, for many of them, their cusotmers just aren’t there yet.  But in the long term, they will be.  

Brogan writes:

“Think of this principle: “Be there before the sale.” Sales cycles for B2B products are often very long. When I spoke at IBM Research’s headquarters in NY, I heard about a supercomputer of theirs that has a 3 year sales lead cycle. How much marketing can one do in 3 years to move that box? Instead, how HUMAN can you be for 3 years, while going through the process. I think that’s where B2B gets a big boost from exploring these social tools.” 

And I agree.  As I noted in a comment on Brogan’s post, the B2B company’s role is not to control the conversation ‘out there’ but listen, participate in human ways, as you put it, and, at the right times, engage in ways that invite participation in efforts to help the industry that happens to be your market.

But I note that it’s important to respect the B2B marketer’s point of view.  And from their point of view, this can be a soft argument.   Again, as posted on Chris’ blog:  

When the typical channel-focused B2B marketer looks at his marketing investment, he looks first to direct-to-channel communications via literature and other sales tools, and next to PR — which, at least, gets you on the web — and advertising — of far more limited value, and their own website. Being seen online as human would be something to get to when there is time… and there isn’t time.

The challenge for organizations is that the marketing communications teams feel like they have no time to get what they see as “the basics” done, let alone do “technology stuff” in social media. What they need to do is step back and reassess how their organizations view the basics of communications. That reassessment has to happen across marketing, sales, product management and at the executive level.

The question they need to ask themselves is whether they want to be there as social media begins to grow in importance as part of the B2B sales process, or spend massive amounts of human capital catching up once it gets there.

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6 Responses to “B2B and Social Media: It’s a Matter of Time”

  1. Scott Manley January 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm #

    Hi Ken,

    I agree with your comments. Large businesses will start to get involved in social media but it will probably take them a little time to figure out how, mainly due to beuracracy and legal/policy concerns.

    One thing I’d like to point out though is that B2B is not always the huge corporations. B2B is also selling to the small businesses out there that make up the majority of B2B. Granted, the big money is (or was with the current economy) with the large corps, but the volumes are with small businesses. Small businesses that are both looking for business apps and services as well as selling them are definitely going to immediately take advantage of social media to find the right solution for their business or increase their brand recognition and sales.

    B2B has always been perceived as the big corps because they had the budgets to spend on marketing and major ad campaigns. With social media, we’re going to see much more powerful connections coming from small businesses now that marketing budgets are no longer an issue.

  2. Ken Kadet January 26, 2009 at 11:04 am #

    Scott, thanks for your comments… I agree… I will say that there has always been opportunity in B2B for a smaller, feistier company willing to express an opinion and show an attitude. If you look at the trade media world, every comment and opinion is so thoroughly vetted — and often offered to the spokes-company for review. Being mildly provocative and creative — whether offering a disruptive service or simply having a CEO willing to speak their mind — could get a company a great deal of attention.

    I’m convinced that social media can potentially accelerate this for small companies who can invest the time in it. Being social, stirring the pot in ways that make sense more than hype, being willing to be out there on blogs, forums, microblogs, will make a difference.

    But I’ll say again, it’s a matter of time — time for this to sink in, and time in terms of re-prioritizing marketing resources from “literature-press releases-advertising-website-newsletters” to something closer to “website-blog-community-media-advertising”.

  3. David Kamm February 5, 2009 at 11:19 pm #

    Ken,

    Good post. I agree that most, if not all, B2B companies will eventually have to incorporate at least some aspects of social media marketing. But one area worth a closer look is the intersection between sales and marketing in the case of B2B companies that *primarily* use a direct sales force model (e.g., tech companies with big-ticket products and services). These companies count on their salespeople and pre-sales systems engineers to manage the flow of information to and from prospects (especially before a deal closes), and will need to be assured that the social marketing mechanisms aren’t going to somehow throw a deal off track via too many cooks in the kitchen, a mishandled interaction at a critical point in the sales cycle, etc. Just something for us to think about, and another aspect of the sales/marketing integration challenge for B2B companies.

  4. Ken Kadet February 6, 2009 at 1:18 pm #

    David,
    I agree completely. That’s one of the big barriers for B2B companies — that element of control that just isn’t necessary when you’re simply trying to get consumers into a store or online to purchase “small ticket” items.

    But the B2B marketer — selling direct or through channels — has already been forced to give up a measure of control of message with the web, and this will only accelerate with social media. It comes down to more than marketing strategy — it’s a matter of being where your customers are, listening and engaging.

    Think about it … what happens when an enterprise buyer starts sharing their frustrations with Oracle’s pricing approach over Twitter? Or a prospect your negotiating with asks for experience in dealing with SAP on LinkedIn? If you’re not there, you’ll never know. If you are there, what if you could — rather than having the “social media expert” simply react — funnel the issue back to the sales team and integrate social media and direct responses?

    It all starts with a commitment to communications that meet the prospect…and the customer…where they are.

    Does that make sense?

  5. David Kamm February 6, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Ken,

    Good points, and I think you nailed it with the “funnel the issue back to sales” suggestion. Social media has the potential to empower B2B sales teams with better information in near real-time, which can only help boost their sales productivity if issues are handled properly.

    From a pre-sales perspective, it’s like having a much more multi-faceted inside sales team, aided by new “listening outposts”, etc.

    I’ve always been a fan of having multiple customer touch-points within the organization, so I’m excited to see how this area develops over time.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Social Media for B2B–3 Ways to Take The First Steps « The Kadet Communications Blog - April 10, 2009

    […] 0 Comments I picked up on a conversation a couple months ago about the role of social media in B2B companies. I noted that most B2B companies don’t feel like they have the resources to do justice to […]

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