“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

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?