Joining-up B2B social media with sales: “don’t fill the web with lousy content”
Here’s the deck and a commentary from a session I ran at the PR Moment Social Media in B2B Communications conference in London yesterday. There are some public relations (PR) practitioners that get upset when you align the outcome of a PR campaign with something as brutal as sales.
Purists will tell you that public relations is about building reputation and achieving mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.
It’s a definition that I use myself. I firmly believe that public relations has a higher purpose in changing the world for good through economic growth, social change and personal fulfillment.
The outcome of mutual understanding can be many things including dispute resolution, political success or improving the reputation of an individual or organisation.
If you’re the Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting China this week it can also be trade and business for Britain. If you sell cement to builders, or toner cartridges to small businesses, it can help shift your products.
Here's my deck from the session yesterday.
B2B marketers need encouragement
PR Moment published data last week which was soft on the adoption of social media for business-to-business (B2B). It interviewed 50 B2B marketers during a two week period and found that social media accounts for less than 10% of marketing activity for approximately two-thirds of B2B marketers.
This is a conservative market: 46% of companies categorise their social media stance as ‘cautious, still considering’.
My view is that few B2B companies have a smart approach to planning and measuring social media. PR Moment reports that less that 15% use analytics.
Let’s have a quick look at the opportunity. This is a chart from Philip Sheldrake’s book The Business of Influence. Here he synthesises analysis from The Cluetrain Manifesto by Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger which predicted in 2000 that the Internet would flatten and democratise markets.
The opportunity for any organisation is to use the Internet to identify the conversations that are taking place between an organisation and a market, and a market and an organisation’s competitors. It enables organisations to understand the motivations of a market before making a marketing investment.
It may be the case that your market simply isn't online. For example, you're unlike to find conversations that are relevant to the sale of submarines or nuclear power stations, in which case B2B social media isn't a way for you to sell. Move on.
Yet even when there are a large number of conversations taking place online in a market B2B organisations continue to sell in very traditional ways. I get an email like this every day or so. It’s the online equivalent of direct mail.
The irony of this is that it is from an organisation that sells social media tools. Five minutes work would tell you everything you’d need to know about Ketchum to make a smart approach.
Developing a B2B sales strategy
My view is that B2B organisations jump straight to tactics rather than planning programmes against a customer journey. Too often marketers focus on a single tactical element of the sales pipeline, typically lead generation or engagement, rather than considering it in its entirety.
1. Listening to the social web
The social web is the single largest market research exercise that your organisation didn’t commission. Use Google, LinkedIn and Twitter to explore what people are saying about your organisation and market.
An hour’s desk work and some smart queries will typically enable you to develop a good understanding of the issues and topics that drive a market. This will form the basis of your content when you’re seeking to engage with the market.
2. Identifying influencers
Once you’ve figured out the topics that are important in a market you’ll want to determine who are thought leaders. These may also be your potential customers depending on the market.
Traackr provides a more sophisticated approach to influencer identification. It’s a tool that we use atKetchum. Here’s data returned from an analysis of the cloud market. If you’re selling in this market these are the people that you need to engage in conversation, with the goal that they recommend your product or services.
3. Content marketing
We’ve listened to conversations in our market and identified influencers. We now need to build a content strategy so that we can engage.
This is a chart from the Content Marketing Institute that shows the various types of content that organisations in the UK use to market themselves. This data is for B2B and B2C organisations.
Lack of planning rigour is one area where I think B2B social media fails. Another is content. In their enthusiasm to jump on the social media bandwagon I think organisations are filling the web with lousy content.
Text is the comfort zone for public relations practitioners. I’m an advocate of the written word but there are plenty of other forms of content.
Prezly is an organisation that sells online newsrooms. Whenever it attends events it creates and shares summaries of speeches such as this session by Huntsworth’s Lord Chadlington at the ICCO Summit in Paris in October. I have no idea if any of the Huntsworth agencies are Prezly customers but I have no doubt that this image got their attention.
Screwfix is a building supplier that sells to trade. It uses humour to great effect to engage with its audience of builders. Here are two great examples: a monster constructed from PVC piping and a competition where builders are asked to tweet images of signs from their vans.
One of the findings from PR Moment’s analysis was that less than 25% of B2B marketers would never try any paid-for form of marketing activity on social media. That means that they are going to struggle to collect data from a site such as Slideshare which requires users to pay a premium for lead generation.
It is indicative of how new forms of media work. To build and engage a community on any of the new forms of media, such as YouTube or social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn, you’re going to need to apply a paid component.
Likewise if you want to pay off your earned media with a call to action it makes sense to work with a media ad network such as Outbrain to promote yourself around the content.
5. Closing the deal
B2B sales process is straightforward. If you correctly identify the topics and issues relevant to your market, identify the influencers to engage in conversation, and then create the right content, you’ll start to fill your sales funnel.
Depending on the nature of your product or service you’ll then need to engage prospects on an ongoing basis through a variety of means, some online, some offline.
Sales cycles vary considerably from market to market. That process starts with capturing data in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and developing an ongoing relationship and closing a sale.