A pervasive belief that social media marketing is only for B2C companies keeps B2B companies from getting the most from this effective channel for communication and collaboration.
When we talk about B2C companies, we’re talking about those selling directly to consumers, while B2B companies sell to other businesses. Despite the advantages of social media marketing, B2B companies lag behind their B2C colleagues. Maybe that’s because companies see Facebook, Twitter, etc. as a social tool where users share everything about their lives, including the products they trust (or don’t trust). Since B2B companies only sell to other businesses, who primarily use social platforms as a channel of communication to customers, they feel there’s no benefit to marketing on these platforms.
That’s not true.
Let’s explore the 5 reasons B2B companies should use social media marketing, using the example of GE.
1. CUSTOMERS ARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Granted a company like GE might not sell products directly to customers. Instead, they sell their appliances, light bulbs, and TVs to Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy, etc, where customers purchase the products. But, regardless of where customers ultimately buy the product, they’re faced with a plethora of other brand options. And Lowes could care less which brand the customer chooses since they make money from any choice. Retailers have little or no incentive to learn about the benefits of the GE brand, let alone know which positioning will work best with an individual consumer. If GE left their marketing in the hands of these retailers, sales would be much lower.
Instead, GE recognizes they’re responsible for their own marketing efforts. They pay for traditional advertising on TV, radio, and print, but they also have a strong presence on social media, with over 2.2 million followers on Facebook, alone.
Just like any B2C company, GE uses their profiles to support their brand by promoting their social responsibility, such as solar power, the unique attributes of their products, and they engage with users. For instance, since they manufacture stoves, they posted recipes for cakes for Valentine’s Day.
2. CUSTOMERS NEED SUPPORT
Like many B2C companies, GE offers support where customers are. Since customers increasingly use Twitter to complain about a brand, GE is there with solutions for whatever failure caused the complaint, even if it really was user error. GE also offers customer support on a scheduled basis through messaging accessed on its Facebook page for individual product lines, like appliances.
According to Richard Branson
Social platforms are no longer add-ons to a business’s communication budget; they should be central to its marketing strategy, and used in coordination with other marketing efforts
Hence, companies should use social platforms just as they use more traditional platforms to support their business.
3. BUSINESS PARTNERS ARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media marketing also helps B2B companies reach and collaborate with their business partners. Facebook found that business executives were 74% more likely to be on their platform, were 2 times more active on Facebook than other types of users.
Business users use social platforms as a way to coordinate activities, to build social connections, engender trust, and other activities in support of strong, collaborative relationships.
According to this research into B2B Social media marketing by Omobono:
In a survey of 115 marketing specialists in B2B roles, Omobono found that 79% rated social media as the most effective marketing channel, with 38% noting that if they had extra budget for next year, they would spend it on social media.
4. SOCIAL MEDIA BRINGS CUSTOMERS TO YOUR WEBSITE
Notice in the following graphic that social media promotes the brand in several ways.
- First, it helps the brand image as a thought leader. That’s certainly true on the GE profiles on Facebook, where they tout new technologies they’re bringing to market.
- Next, social media helps raise brand awareness, which brings more customers to your website where customers can learn more about your products and raise their hand to indicate a willingness to buy (generally conversion in a B2B market doesn’t take place online, but through a sales force).
- Finally, social media is an important part of positioning the brand within the market space.
5. SOCIAL MEDIA ASSISTS SALES
Ultimately, the benefit of social media marketing is that it promotes sales.
Granted, most B2B sales don’t occur online. Rather, social media help by identifying potential customers (prospects), positioning the product to appeal to these prospects, developing relationships with prospects, and lead nurturing. Next, let’s unpack these.
As business has become more global, the list of potential customers has become larger and more diverse. Identifying prospective customers (those with a need, desire, ability, and authority to make a purchase of your products) is a daunting task. In some industries, this is manageable because prospects are few, centralized, or large. In other industries where thousands of diverse, small prospects exist, identifying them is a costly, time-consuming problem.
Instead of identifying prospects, social media marketing attempts to get them to hold up their hands; to identify themselves as prospects.
Now, instead of using the sales force to pour over hundreds or thousands of entries in a company database (such as Dun and Bradstreet) looking for likely candidates, a company can reach to social media users who’ve shown some interest in the types of products the company sells or who work in certain industries, this works especially well on LinkedIn where conversations are more business-oriented and groups exist that focus on specific topics.
Positioning involves not only stressing particular elements from among a benefits list but segmenting consumers (in this case businesses) who share certain priorities, then changing the message to conform to their priorities.
Because social media marketing can selectively reach certain groups of users, a capability that is often muted in traditional media, it’s perfect for developing a positioning that resonates with a specific target audience.
Ultimately, customers don’t buy from companies, they buy from people.
Using social interactions is a way to build trust between buyers and sellers, which is critical for making the sale. Communication across social platforms also helps erase misunderstandings, provides support, and acts to bind the buyer and seller more closely.
Social media is such a powerful tool for lead nurturing that CRM (customer relationship marketing) software, such as Salesforce, embed social media into their programs. Hence, as part of other information available about a prospect, the software contains live links to the prospect’s social platforms. A salesperson can view the prospect’s profile to learn more about them, to build a relationship through shared interests, and learn about important elements in the prospects life, such as marriage or the birth of a child.
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