B2B marketers need to be where the buyers are if they expect to drive demand. As more B2B buyers turn to social media to interact with their peers and gain insight from industry thought leaders, progressive companies such as Kaspersky Lab and Johnson Controls are investing more in social media as a demand generation channel.
According to Demand Gen Report’s 2015 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report, 55% of B2B buyers rely more on peer recommendations in their purchasing processes than they did a year ago, while 53% spend more time using social media to research vendors and solutions. B2B marketers are responding to this shift in buyer behavior, based on the 2015 Social Media Benchmarking Report from Circle Research. The study shows that 83% of marketing teams use social media as part of their overall marketing strategy, and 77% expect to spend more time on social media marketing in the next year.
Among the B2B social media marketing leaders is Kaspersky Lab, which piloted a new social media strategy in mid-2015 with 200 partners that yielded hundreds of leads each month. The program has since been rolled out to North America, Europe and the APAC regions.
“While this is still a growing partnership, it is something that we see as an avenue to drive leads without having to go out and aggressively buy or target lists for,” said Jon Whitlock, VP of B2B Marketing for Kaspersky Lab North America, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “It could be something that helps us over the long haul in attracting passive potential customers.”
B2B marketers are moving beyond LinkedIn and Twitter as platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat gain traction among buyers, according to Kipp Bodnar, CMO of HubSpot and Publisher of Social Media B2B, a news and discussion site for B2B social media marketing.
While emerging platforms can be enticing, “direct lead generation becomes more difficult on those platforms as they are more focused on driving awareness,” Bodnar said.
As new and established social media platforms emerge as demand generation tools, tactics such as social listening are gaining prominence among B2B marketers due to the ability to identify prospects based on social behavior and buying intent.
“High-end social listening tools allow better isolation of relevant conversations so that companies can reach out through social to help prospects with their purchasing decision,” said Mike Moran, Senior Strategist for the social strategy and analytics company Converseon and author of Do It Wrong Quickly. “Some prospects are interested in engaging with the salesperson further, leading to a sale.”
Collaboration Creates More Opportunities For Success
With an eye toward driving demand on existing and emerging platforms, sources noted that social media is a great opportunity for B2B companies to better align their marketing and sales departments to maximize engagement with prospects.
“SiriusDecisions research shows that 50% to 70% of pipeline is still sourced by sales,” said Paul Teshima, Co-founder of Nudge Software, a professional networking app provider. “This highlights the need to incorporate sales in your social strategy because [sales teams] will continue to source deals. Marketing needs to provide content and social insight so sales can engage through a social medium.”
Sales can then continue engage through social platforms until the conversation moves offline to email or a private messaging app, observers noted. This can help tie social engagement to company revenue for more accurate attribution.
“The salesperson can then use a CRM system to track all the way to a sale, once they've identified the prospect,” Moran noted. “More and more social conversations are ending in sales tracked by a CRM system. With accurate enough listening tools, you can identify not just individual relevant conversations, but also use aggregated metrics across thousands of conversations for quantitative insights every bit as valid as offline research.”
The same can be said for partner programs, according to Kaspersky Lab’s Whitlock. “When we look at social media, it offers an opportunity for us and our partners to share important information with prospects and existing customers. We produce a lot of valuable content that we share with partners via our portal that they share with their networks. This is a real win-win for everyone involved.”
“I’m seeing existing metrics being combined more effectively to understand how digital affects the buying process,” said Paul Gillin, a B2B social media and social content consultant. “Basically, marketing automation and analytics are improving.”
While there has been improvement, sources noted that measuring social success is still a top challenge — often attributed to marketers measuring social campaigns upon completion instead of while it’s in the field.
“Businesses need to integrate metrics to track leads and sales into their marketing at every step of the process,” said Heidi Cohen, Chief Content Officer for the Actionable Marketing Guide. “It’s significantly more difficult to measure results after the fact and they’re more likely to under measure.”
Cohen suggested that B2B marketers suggested two key ways that B2B marketers can improve engagement with their social content:
Understand cross-platform and cross-device consumption habits: People read business related content and social media on a variety of devices, often to fill time as they’re traveling or waiting for a meeting. The content should be geared toward short bursts of interactivity.
More tightly integrate marketing and sales: The objective is to provide better information that your target audience needs while eliminating redundant work by sales creating auxiliary marketing collateral.
Finding A Healthy Social Balance
B2B brands with diverse social communities that encompass employees, fans, customers and prospects face additional challenges when developing their social media strategies, sources noted. They have to straight the right balance between demand-gen content for the prospects, helpful information for customers, and engaging experiences for employees and fans.
“Great social media marketers respect the needs and preferences of their communities while also delivering on business metrics,” said Alexa Schirtzinger, Director of Content Marketing at Salesforce. “Engaging experiences foster trust and affinity, so when it’s time to leverage social for demand gen, the audience will be more receptive.”
B2B social media doesn’t have to be serious, Schirtzinger noted. Salesforce’s Instagram account offers a playful look at clients and employees to boost brand awareness and drive demand. The company notes how personas can help frame content marketing and social media campaigns to gain a holistic understanding of their target audience — and how employees, current clients and thought leaders can help meet their needs.
“When we’re planning a campaign, we always consider who our audience is, why and how they’d want to engage with us, and what outcomes we want them to have,” Schirtzinger noted. “But getting too specific about personas can be detrimental: one of the big benefits of social and content marketing is the ability to be creative and, through creative campaigns, reach new or unusual audiences.”
Company employees can be a sales tool for social campaigns only in the right context, according to Gillin. “Showing employees being goofy doesn’t help sell anything, but showcasing the expertise and experience of your people, such as Johnson Controls does, can be a great way to establish your credibility.”
Whether it’s employees, customers, partners or industry thought leaders, their representation of a brand via social media can go a long way to boost a B2B organization’s credibility and equity.
“It's a matter of authenticity,” noted Teshima. “B2B businesses need to find other brand ambassadors within the company that are outside of the C-suite. Highlighting and identifying these advocates is a key element of social success.”