Here's a reality check for business-to-business firms engaging in social media: Content isn't king, at least as far as tweets and posts to other forums are concerned.
Granted, on a B-to-B marketer's own sites white papers and blog posts have their place. But participation in social media should take a back seat to the much more elementary—and less sexy—functions of customer identification, lead capture, measurement and integration into the sales channel.
That said, B2B marketers need to participate in social media. "Their customers are there, and the conversation is happening about their [offerings]," says Greg Ott, CMO at B2B web marketing firm Demandbase. "However, they have to minimize the allocation of time and resources they put into social media until they are able to capture the return on investment.
There's a good reason for taking a critical look at the amount of time spent on social media. By and large, these channels don't generate return: Instead, they have the potential to feed into mechanisms that generate return—if the backend systems are in place to make best use of those feeds.
"If you are highly engaged in social media, but don't yet have a website optimized to translate that attention into revenue, your social media efforts won't give you a return," Ott says.
Ott offers five prerequisites B-to-B marketers must have in place to maximize the return of their social media endeavors.
1. Know the profile of their customers.
"Marketing efficiency comes from acquiring more prospects who look like your customers," Ott says. "You are not likely to sell to people who don’t have the attributes of people you have sold to in the past."
Relative to consumer marketing, B2B marketing is a low-volume, high-value targeting exercise. "There are only six million companies in the U.S., according to the census," says Ot . "And there are only 20,000 that have more than $100 million in revenue. Knowing the profile of who is most likely to buy is the critical first step in developing any marketing strategy program, including social media."
2. Prepare their website to receive a visit from prospects engaged through social media.
Websites, says Ott, are shifting from being merely another channel to becoming the hub of interaction. "All of the multichannel interactions, including social media, conversations on airplanes, discussions at trade shows, outbound phone calls and so forth will at some point lead to [a marketer's] site."
As such, sites must be set up for lead capture. "I've seen sites that rely on the 'contact us' button in the top right hand corner," Ott says. "Others have a lead capture form of up to 18 fields that prospects would need to fill out to show they are interested. Making a website ready for lead capture starts with making it easy for visitors to signal their interest, and that start with the forms."
Forms should not have more than six or seven fields—and the information captured should be the minimum necessary to qualify visitors regarding their appropriateness for a marketer's wares. What is and isn't essential is based largely on the scope of a marketer's offerings: The tighter the target audience, the more specific a marketer needs to be in terms of defining what a high-quality lead is.
3. Have great content on their website.
"B2B vendors are becoming publishers," Ott says. "Their websites are places where people are expecting to find valuable content and insight—not only on the vendor, but more importantly about the industry, and best practices which are relevant to the prospect."
Content should reflect all of the key markets a vendor serves. This includes verticals as well as size: If the offerings small- and mid-sized prospects are most likely interested in differ from those most appealing to large organizations, a site's content should reflect that difference.
"A limited set of editorial content is what traps marketers into a one-size-fits-all experience," Ott says. "With any content development or marketing strategy, the chore is to make it highly relevant to visitors who come to the website.
4. Get great at measuring.
Ott says B2B site metrics fall into three areas: Engagement metrics, conversion metrics and source metrics. A B2B marketer needs to be able to look beyond the totals for all site visitors and segment each of these by the audiences most likely to make purchases.
Engagement metrics include evaluating how well the content on the site does, both on a page view basis as well as bringing appropriate audiences down the sales path within the site.
Source metrics include qualifying visitors by referring sites or actions. "For B-to-B companies, there will always be a large chunk of traffic that does not fit the profile of who they sell to," says Ott. "They want to engage only in the companies they care about."
Conversion metrics go hand in hand with source metrics in guiding marketers regarding where to put their social media resources. Following leads from a referring social media source through conversion to sale will indicate to a marketer which outlets are the most lucrative.
5. Incorporate all of the information gained from the above activities into the sales channel.
The website—the primary point of interaction with people in the pre-customer stage—needs to be connected with the tools that manage leads and turn them into revenue. These tools can include customer relationship management or marketing automation systems or whatever the mechanism is that ensures a prospect is contacted via telephone or e-mail or connected to the right sales rep.
Implementing the steps above allows a B2B marketer to actively, and relevantly, engage in effective social media. And once prospects engage with an organization through social channels, the marketer can turn those engagements into measureable activity that leads to revenue.
"What makes social media relevant is listening and then pointing to specific content hosted on a marketer's site," Ott says. "If a maintenance, repair and operating supply firm [with a social media strategy] discovers an online discussion about budgeting for maintenance contracts, it can add value to that conversation.
"This is where the content marketers have developed starts to pay dividends," Ott continues. "When other prospects engage in that budgeting conversation and see that content, their most likely next step is to engage on [the MRO supply firm's] Web site. Then the marketer can convert them into a lead, and track their progress into the sales pipeline."
Ott offers a final note for B2B firms considering social media strategies. "Social media is an ongoing initiative. It is not a project-and-done. There has to be the commitment of ongoing resources to participating in relevant conversations with the people who fit the profile of those most likely to become customers. Nobody wants to know you like the tiramisu at a conference."