Though the unrivaled intimacy of social networking has made it a popular advertising platform for direct to consumer companies, B2B companies have largely ignored the benefits of engaging with their customers directly via the Web.
Much of this is simply the nature of B2B marketing. B2B companies tend to be among the most formal, are the slowest to change and adopt new marketing techniques. Basically, a world of three-piece suits, business lunches and formal proposals, the informal nature of social networking doesn’t seem to fit in.
However, considering that, in many sectors especially, B2B companies still survive and thrive on handshake deals and “who you know” marketing, social networking may be a much better fit than many think.
On that note, for companies looking to sell B2B companies on social networking, or simply industry insiders hoping to get their companies more involved, here are a few tips to help get B2B companies on-board.
1. Focus on Person to Person
Though it may be called business to business, it’s still very much person-to-person marketing. Deals are made not between companies, but between salespeople and buyers. Forging and nurturing the relationships between people in companies is as important, if not more so, than the relationship between the companies themselves.
Pitching social networking as a way to nurture those relationships and establish new ones is often a better way of explaining it than simply referring to it as a new means of marketing.
2. Target Networks That Matter
Twitter and even Facebook, though possibly great promotional platforms, are largely seen as hobbyist tools, more for personal use and thus better for reaching directly to consumers. Instead of focusing on those networks, it might be better to emphasize networks like LinkedIn and Biznik, which are more targeted at businesses.
3. Educate on the Issue of Control
One of the main obstacles that keeps B2B companies, as well as non-B2B companies, out of social networking is the supposed inability to control the message. Since others can now talk back in a very public way, there’s a fear that social networking can do more harm than good.
The problem with this is that the loss of control has already happened and the conversation is already taking place, with or without your input. If you participate in social networking and social media, you at least get to participate.
4. Determine Responsibility and Authority
Though another common thread among all companies, B2B companies typically have even smaller marketing budgets and less staff to invest in social networking. As such, you need to determine who will be responsible for the work involved in monitoring and maintaining the company’s social media presence.
Even if this is to be outsourced, someone at the company has to be responsible for overseeing the process and, if that can be ironed out before making the pitch, a major hurdle to getting such a strategy approved can be removed.
5. Decide on Metrics and How to Track Them
For many B2B companies, one or two good sales can make or break their quarter. As such, it can be very difficult to find metrics that are applicable to the company’s bottom line.
Still, it’s important to determine what metrics you’re going to track and set goals for the campaign. Whether it’s to build a network of X number of people or to get Y number of social interactions, deciding on your metrics and your goals is crucial in motivating a slow-to-change company to take a risk of social networking.
6. Remember There’s More to Social Networking Than Sales
If the company is still reluctant to give social networking a try, it might be a chance to propose a different use for it. Many companies that wind up excelling at social media start out by using it for other activities, such as recruitment, charity work or internal networking.
These are seen as lower risk ways for a company to dabble in social networking without having to put the risk or expense of promoting directly via it. It also lets the company see the effectiveness of the medium before relying on it more.
All in all, pitching social networking to a B2B company isn’t much different than doing it to any other company, other than they tend to be more resistant to change.
Still, if you can put the focus of the conversation where it belongs and show how social media can help grow the business, most will be willing to at least dabble with it some.
Of course, you won’t be able to build a social media empire in a day, but you may be able to get a foot in the door.
As any good B2B company will know, a foot in the door is often the beginning of a much greater, deeper and profitable relationship down the road.