Twenty years ago, when I was a young marcom professional, Web sites were a new invention and corporate Web sites didn't exist. I can remember massive debates on whether our company needed one. The media (which at that time was printed in magazines and newsletters) was publishing articles about companies trying to figure out how to make sense of the e-commerce phenomenon, and many b-to-b companies were late adopters of the Web because their executives didn't believe in the Internet and didn't think anything would come from it.
Today, I listen to conversations about the merits and future of social media and networking for b-to-b. I sit across the table from b-to-b executives who don’t believe that social is impacting or will impact their buyers’ behavior. The most common myth repeated over and over again to me is: C-level decisionmakers don’t have time or are just too important to use social media. To be honest, it feels like déjà vu -- it’s the exact same dialogue the industry had about impact of the Internet on b-to-b buying. And I’m pretty sure that, down the road, we won’t be having this conversation anymore, and social won’t be a issue; it will be just an ubiquitous component in the marketing and sales ecosystem, just as the corporate Web site has become over the past two decades.
Let me debunk the myth. In SiriusDecisions’ study last year of C-level executives’ buying behavior, we asked how they self-educate themselves during the buying process. The number-one method that C-level executives reported using was “Search the Internet,” while a close second was “Asking my team or colleagues to come back with a series of options.” This means that, when C-level executives and their teams are searching for information, your company needs to have A LOT of relevant and meaningful content published (blogs, tweets, articles, etc.) on their business issue or opportunity (thought leadership or topical content) as well as your products and services (product and solution content). If you don't, you’re not going to come up in decisionmakers’ search results.
This is the reason why we recommend mandatory social media upskilling across product management and marketing functions. Product managers must consistently incorporate their subject matter expertise as well as their industry knowledge into social dialogue occurring outside the company, within the company, and between customers and prospects. Those that don’t have the skills to do so will miss a major channel that these critical audiences prefer to interact within. We recommend to our clients to train marketing and all product managers to conduct social media dialogues, and to understand and adhere to the organization’s social media governance policies and procedures.
In addition, product and solution marketers can use social channels to learn about customer wants and needs, drive dialogue through social-optimized content, and identify online communities of customers with the goal of generating awareness and demand for offerings. Social media is also proving to be a powerful, scalable vehicle for reaching influencers (e.g. analysts, media, bloggers, customer advocates). Companies that don’t tap into viral networks risk losing relevance and currency with their marketplace. We recommend that our clients build a structured social media monitoring conduit into the discovery stage of innovation. We also urge that they use internal social platforms (e.g. Jive, Yammer, Chatter) to enable interactive dialogue with salespeople and gather feedback about innovation ideas.
Fads come and go, but social media is not a fad. It’s an emerging channel of communication that b-to-b marketers need to experiment with, evolve and eventually establish as a norm. Product management and marketing leaders need to adjust to social’s impact on b-to-b buying behavior and start leveraging it now as a way to connect with buyers.