“We catch fish using fishing rods, nothing else"

Recently, while at an event, I had a discussion with a marketing director at a large law firm here in Boston. The subject of online lead generation was brought up and here was his knee-jerk response:

“We are not interested in online lead generation at the law firm, because we’re primarily a business to business law firm and we only get business from known referrers.”

I found this response odd, as most of our clients are in the B2B space, but not surprising. Many people are not privy to the current data and trends surrounding social media, online marketing, and purchasing behavior for the B2B buyer. I immediately informed him that we work with many law firms, accounting firms, and consulting firms in the B2B space. I supported my statement by sighting recent data and statistics from reports and studies by Forrester Research, MarketingSherpa, MarketingProfs, and B2B Magazine. I stated that nearly all of the data and qualitative analysis suggests that B2B buyers of technology and/or services are influenced by social media, and that most B2B marketers plan on increasing their online marketing spend in 2009.

Here was his second response:

“Well, we don’t want that type of business that you get online”

Huh? It was like someone claiming that they don’t want the business they get from public relations, advertising, direct marketing, or even networking. In my response, I explained how one of our professional service clients (that offers audit, tax, consulting, and wealth management services – with over 400 employees) is averaging over 20 new business leads per month, and has generated over $600,000 in new contracts that directly resulted from, and are tracked by, our efforts over the last 6 months. I also cited how when I have made purchasing decisions for our 20+ person agency in the past, I was greatly influenced by product reviews and advice/referrals from individuals in my LinkedIn groups, as well as from content that I downloaded online and from search results on Google. He still wasn’t buying it and so I moved on.

fish-stocking-1Later in the day I asked myself, “Why wouldn’t someone want this type of business (from online sources)?” I thought about what he said and equated his statements to something like “We catch fish using fishing rods, nothing else. We don’t want to try using nets, fishing boats, or any other means because we don’t want the type of fish that you catch using these tools.”

Thinking in these terms helped me to understand that there really was only one answer to my question… It wasn’t that this marketer didn’t want this type of business (as I am sure the firm’s leaders would agree); it was just that this person didn’t want to engage in an activity that he didn’t fully comprehend. This is a very common issue among c-level marketingfishing execs.

My conclusion led me to another question—with social media adoption (for general usage) among B2B buyers growing at a much higher percentage rate than that of B2B marketers (for marketing purposes), wouldn’t it make sense that the marketers who embrace this shift in purchasing behavior at an early stage also be the ones that realize the greatest benefit (i.e. the largest “catch”)?

My advice to any person in a senior marketing role is to educate themselves as quickly as possible on the current trends, data, and purchasing behavior of the B2B buyer and how the Web is influencing and impacting their purchasing decisions.

If you don’t like change, you‘re going to like irrelevance even less.”— General Eric. Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, U. S. Army

Selling the C-Suite on Social Media

One of the popular questions I get asked is “How do I build support for a social media campaign at the C-level?” To get decision makers like your CEO and CFO behind a social media campaign, you must have a well defined objective. Ask yourself, “Whabosst do I want to get out of my campaign?” Do you want to enhance customer service, corporate reputation, brand personality? Or, do you want to generate new leads for your business?

Your social media strategy will vary depending upon your objective. But once you have a concrete objective and strategy, you will need to be able to articulate to the higher-ups how your company will be able to demonstrate the campaign’s effectiveness.

The question about how to measure the return on investment (ROI) for social media participation comes up in every workshop I deliver. The fact is, you can measure ROI in a number of ways:

Participation: The extent to which users engage with your content. For example, blog comments, Facebook wall posts, or YouTube ratings.

Traffic: The number of unique visitors versus repeat visitors to your Web site.

Influence: The number of users who subscribe to your content. For blogs: RSS feed or email subscribers; Twitter followers; or fans of your Facebook page.

Authority: The quality of inbound links to your content

Unfortunately, regardless of your social media campaign’s objectives, your C-level bosses will still probably scratch their heads at these measurements because they will not be able to connect the spend with quantifiable results. The fact is, we can’t attach a dollar value to a conversation, visit, link, comment, or a friend request like we can do with advertising and ad equivalency ratings.

So, you have to convince the C-suite to look at it another way. One way I like to think of ROI is the Risk of Ignoring. Conversations about your company’s products or services are going to take place online whether you are aware of them or not. Many consumers increasingly expect that their online ruminations will be monitored and responded to in real-time. By joining social networking sites, you can listen to your clients, engage them in conversation, address their questions and concerns, and empower them to be ambassadors of your brand. Otherwise, you risk ignoring your clients and prospects and risk losing them to competitors.

But, as a social media marketing advocate AND as a small business owner who understands the importance of watching the bottom line, the way I like to measure the ROI for social media participation is by the number of quality new business leads generated. At 451 Marketing, we generate business leads for our clients by monitoring the Web for mentions that relate to their offerings, engaging current and prospective clients in conversation, and providing them with helpful information (i.e. white-papers, podcasts, webinars, wikis) that we develop to address their needs. When an individual expresses a need for one of our client’s products or services or downloads content, we turn their contact information over to our client as a qualified business lead. If our client’s sales team converts that lead into a win, that’s a measurable dollar figure that they can take to the bank.

B2B Marketer? Every Brand Can be “Social”

Forrester Research Reports that B2B Technology Decision Makers Use Social Media to Make Purchasing Decisions

Forrester Research recently released a report stating that 77 percent of technology decision makers (who make purchasing decisions on behalf of companies) use social media for business purposes. 77 percent is HUGE! So, you can assume that your prospective customers are active online.

Forrester Graph

Don’t understand the chart? It’s ok. What it boils down to is that your prospective customers do participate in social media throughout the buying cycle. Some are more active than others, but the vast majority of decision makers are online. So, savvy B2B marketers should be online too. But, most B2B marketers are not effectively using social media to influence prospects’ purchasing decisions.

Below, I explore some possibilities as to why B2B marketers are not using social media to promote their companies.

Possible Reason #1 – Marketers think there is no way to develop B2B service business other than through referrals.

In the olden days of marketing (just two or three years ago!), B2B businesses increased sales primarily through referrals, but the playing field has changed. Or, more specifically, the way people communicate has changed. Today, people communicate through traditional channels like over the phone, and they talk via email, on blogs, in online forums, and through their social networks (how many groups do you belong to on LinkedIn?). B2B marketers can benefit from this change in communication behavior by working with an agency like ours that uses advanced technologies to monitor the millions of conversations taking place online and identify prospects that are in need of your services in real time. New media technologies also enable us to engage your prospective customers in conversation through their preferred social media channels, which they use to communicate with their peers and look for solutions to their business problems. Being able to monitor millions of online conversations simultaneously is extremely helpful in developing new business leads. It’s like going to a business networking event with millions of attendees and monitoring every conversation in the room at the same time for prospects in need!

Everyday, thousands of your ideal B2B prospects/targets are expressing their needs for solutions to their business pain points through social channels. You can generate and nurture new business leads if you have a protocol in place for identifying prospective clients, engaging them in conversation, and offering content that positions you as an expert and helps to solve prospects’ problems.

Possible Reason #2 – It’s too difficult to prove ROI with social media.

This is a FALSE statement. (I would say this is “Crap” but that would make me crass)

ROI can be measured! The way we measure ROI from social media for all of our B2B clients is by the number of quality leads generated – ‘Nuff said! We successfully generate new, quality leads by strategically executing campaigns that involve leveraging social media technologies and search marketing strategies. These campaigns also involve engagement protocol development, engagement through social channels, content development (white papers, webinars, podcasts), extensive monitoring of the social Web (using tools like radian6), landing page development, possible CRM integration, and drip marketing planning.

Possible Reason # 3 – B2B sales are too complicated to take place via social media or a social media agency.

First of all, social media is not a tool for closing business deals, so don’t think of it in that way. Instead, social media is a tool for listening, identifying prospects’ pain points, creating awareness of your brand and the benefits you offer, expert positioning, engagement, and lead-generation.

Second, just because there are very few social media agencies that have expertise in B2B marketing (our agency is one of the few that focuses on B2B), this doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you are a B2B marketer looking to execute a social media campaign, you need to find a social media agency that understands the complexities of the B2B sales cycle, and the sometimes difficult B2B buyer.

To identify a good B2B new media communications agency, I suggest you start by looking at the staff of the agency. Ask yourself questions like: “Are these people seasoned communication professionals who I would trust to help create content for my lead-capture and/or demand generation initiatives, or are they just a bunch of techies who are knowledgeable about the latest, shiny applications?” “Would they know how to map out a cohesive strategy to tie in their efforts to my demand generation campaign?”

Now, I would like to hear from you. Why do you think so few B2B marketers incorporate social media into their business lead generation initiatives?

B2B Company? You Need an Agency with B2B Experience

If you are a marketer for a B2B company and are considering contracting an agency to execute social media marketing initiatives on your behalf, you should look to agencies with expertise in B2B marketing. Most agencies that specialize in social media have a lot of business-to-consumer (B2C) experience. They identify clients’ target markets and use online social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace to boost brand awareness with the goal of turning people into customers, donors, users, members, etc.

But the B2B sales cycle is different from the B2C cycle. It is more complex, and is much longer. To be successful in B2B sales, companies need to connect with prospective clients and develop relationships with them prior to the beginning of the sales cycle to establish baseline awareness and engagement. A competent social media agency recognizes this, and initiates conversations through Twitter or other social sites to introduce individuals to their clients’ services and provides them with insightful and helpful content. Once this engagement is established, the agency will continue to monitor the activities of your prospective clients, and will be able to recognize when the opportunity arises to position your service as the solution to your prospects’ business needs. Only an agency that understands the complexities of a client’s industry and business model, as well as the typical pain points of the client’s prospects, can be effective at managing these communications and generating new business leads.

A superior agency also recognizes that the sales cycle does not end when you close a deal. Good social media agencies understand that social networks can amplify voices, and that a satisfied customer who raves about your product or service on Twitter can increase word-of-mouth brand awareness, and ultimately, generate more sales for you. But on the other hand, a dissatisfied customer can cripple your sales success, so an effective agency understands the importance of staying in touch with your customers after the close of a sale. If a customer tweets about a problem he or she is having with your service or relationship, your agency representative will reach out and ask how he or she can help. Or at the minimum, the agency will direct the customer to the individual capable of solving his or her problem to avoid any further negative discourse.

Based on our experience, successful B2B Social Media Lead Generation Programs are the result of carefully planned and executed strategies that incorporate the above. These programs typically involve tactics such as:

  • Content development (e.g. white papers, webinars, podcasts, etc.)
  • Monitoring online networks frequented by prospective clients
  • Starting and participating in conversations with prospective clients through these same social channels
  • Web site landing page development to capture business leads
  • Customer relationship management (the process of recording interactions with current and prospective clients and using the information to improve customer service)
  • Drip Marketing (distributing several promotional items over a long period of time to maintain contact with current and prospective clients)

A good B2B social media marketing agency will know how to leverage these tactics and social tools to build brand awareness, listen effectively, start and participate in conversations, maintain good relationships, and most importantly generate quality new business leads.

What is 451 Marketing?

I often get asked to force-fit our agency into predetermined labels. For instance, I was recently signing up for an event and was asked the question: “Are you an advertising agency, a public relations agency, an interactive agency, a social media agency, or a marketing agency?” I had to choose one, so I chose “marketing agency.”

The truth is, we have elements of all of these pre-existing terms and categories, but we are really much more than that. Further, the term “marketing agency” makes most people think of the stodgy traditional shops, which we are not. On one hand, our expertise can easily be categorized – lead generation through new media. But one might ask if that categorical description is something that people can mentally digest…quickly? After all, if we are going to label ourselves shouldn’t we do it in a way that is straightforward and potentially unique? Maybe we could go with – “Lead generation through the strategizing and execution of social media campaigns, traditional public relations, PR 2.0, search leveraged public relations, search engine optimization, mobile marketing, advertising, and branding and positioning”… I know, way to long.

How about, “451 Marketing, the agency that makes a lot of money in a short amount of time for their clients by using quantifiable techniques?” Getting closer, but still think people would probably want something a little more refined. We could try something that talks about our commitment to being at the forefront of our industry, describes our constant efforts to know more, apply more, and educate each other on the latest and greatest in new media. We need to create some way to convey how we bring better ROI’s for our clients compared to our competitors? Maybe, “451 Marketing, constantly working to be at the forefront of new media and delivering ROI’s like no one else?” Nah… not in love with it, still to long. I think we need something that captures it all in one succinct impactful statement.

Maybe something like… 451 Marketing, “The Leader in New Media CommunicationsTM“. I like it!

AJ Gerritson, Founding Partner at 451 Marketing