Today’s consumers—and by extension, corporate customers—are ignoring traditional marketing channels. They are effectively finding ways to block them which is having detrimental effects on businesses’ lead-generation efforts, cold calling and direct marketing, and ultimately the connection they have with their target audience.
There is, however, one marketing channel that is continuing to open up new avenues for business-to-business companies—social. The benefits that social media can bring are substantial. Monitoring social-media channels provides amazing insight into the web at large—where your potential customers are at. It can augment your marketing and sales efforts in many ways not previously available. The ability to bring the conversations to you and review them provides powerful insight into consumers’ minds.
The web has created an opt-in channel that is based on the old-fashioned premise of trust and relationships. People are interacting with each other, making or breaking brands by their recommendations or poor reviews. In turn, brands and retailers have realised that they are now able to participate in the conversations, but the task of monitoring these conversations and knowing where to begin seems overwhelming.
A recent Alterian survey of marketers found that 40 percent of respondents felt that their staff were not prepared to take advantage of this new channel, evidence that there’s still a long way to go before social media are properly used. If businesses are to embrace social media and harness the power that they possess to target decision-makers in other companies, then there are seven rules that they should follow:
1. Identify people expressing a need for your product or service
When you consider buying a new TV, an appliance or even a car, where do you go first? Most people talk with friends, relatives and gather opinions from those they trust. They also research online. And if they are in a group of friends they trust, such as a forum or Facebook, then they ask their online friends.
There is an inherent trust in these groups and so the recommendations greatly influence the purchase process. Social-media monitoring allows you to effectively pinpoint these conversations. By searching for specific words and phrases you can identify conversations where people are expressing a need for your product or service. At a basic level, you can use free tools like Google Alerts to highlight where you are talked about. Using a paid-for social-media monitoring tool, you can gather conversations from all of the various social networks. This allows you to find pockets of online communities where your potential customers are located and is a great way to find new markets.
Best practice is to listen for a while and ease into the conversation. You could perhaps offer information and educational resources. For example, you can join a relevant group on business network LinkedIn and follow the discussions group members are posting to get a feel for the topics before diving in. Remember, this is not the time to push your products. Take this opportunity to build relationships and come to be a trusted resource. In time the community will send highly qualified leads in your direction. Social-media monitoring also allows you to respond to those with questions about your products as well as your customers. This will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. It also increases your brand visibility because they tell others about the great service they are receiving. Remember, positive word of mouth is invaluable.
2. Create customer profiles
Monitoring social-media activity surrounding your brand is powerful in that it provides insight into the consumers’ minds. Retailers using a professional tool can analyse all the conversations and create “word clouds” that visually depict the most frequently used words. It will also create word clouds of words or phrases that authors have tagged their content with. These clouds provide valuable insight into the words and phrases that are of the highest importance to your consumer group—specific to your search terms. These are the words that should be used as SEO keywords. The sentiment and tone of the conversations can also help you drill into the wants and needs of discussions around your brand and that of the competition. From the word clouds and the sentiment aspect you can create a customer profile that includes:
• The size and scope of your market
• Where your prospects are having conversations—both online and offline
• Psychographic aspects such as culture and philosophy
• Demographics including location, influence, age and sex
For this case it is important to search for industry terms. That will provide you with information about your customer segments that you may not know.
3. Reduce cold-calling
The nature of the social web has created a new opportunity to reduce or even eliminate cold-calling. Imagine replacing cold calls with warm leads—prospects who have already expressed an interest in your product or service—or hot leads—customers that are close to a purchasing decision.
As a marketer, it is important that when generating inbound leads you remember that everyone is in a different stage of the buying process and that your prospect may or may not have heard of your brand. The internet has shifted the paradigm of how your prospects find information. They are no longer only relying on their offline networks. They are searching the web and asking questions in online social networks among peers, contacts and friends. As a result, you need to create content for every level of the buying process. It should be educational and not spam-like. Then place it on your website and your blog and distribute it on sites such as YouTube, Slideshare, Flickr, and so on. These efforts will grow your brand visibility.
The most important step is engaging with potential prospects and sharing the content just mentioned. Once you have a strategy, you can then join the conversations and provide links to your content when appropriate—it is important you ensure that it is applicable to the topic at hand. If the community finds value in your content it will share it with others. Community members will click through to your site, explore your information and express an interest to find out more. It is absolutely critical at this stage that you make it easy for them to contact you. These warms leads are qualified and essential targets.
4. Lower acquisition costs and shortening the length of the sales cycle
Shifting from cold-calling to working with warm leads will greatly reduce the length of the sales cycle. Your prospects have found information in their discovery process, have made a conscious decision to learn more about your products and now want to learn more. The conversion is going to happen more quickly because there is an inherent trust that your brand offers a product meeting their requirements.
The creation of informative content also results in reduced spending on marketing and advertising. Prospects and customers will share the information and the resulting word of mouth is far better than any marketing or advertising that you can buy, because people trust their peers far more.
5. Increase revenue due to cross-selling and upselling
Social-media monitoring can also greatly assist you with your customer care. Excellent customer service plays a critical role in customer loyalty. It only takes one unhappy customer to create an online brand crisis. For that reason alone, it is imperative to be interacting online where your customers are at and monitoring their conversations. You need to ensure that you answer their complaints quickly. Many will choose to express them on Twitter, in a blog post or in forums. Answering your customers quickly allows you to build brand confidence and reinforces that your company cares. It also provides opportunities to discuss their business needs and allows you to suggest other products that would meet their needs. Or maybe there is an opportunity to upsell to a higher level? This superior customer care will be noticed by your customers and will result in increased loyalty as well as positive word of mouth.
6. Reduce marketing costs and reliance on pay-per-click
All of the above activity is based on creating high-quality content that a target audience finds valuable. Social-networking sites make it easy to share your content with their peers, who are also potential buyers. This increased word of mouth will greatly reduce the need for marketing and advertising spend. It’s the most valuable advertising that you cannot buy. Publishing content that others find valuable also builds SEO organically and is highly regarded by search engines. Many are finding that it provides more than enough value to discontinue or refine their spend on pay-per-click campaigns such as Google Adwords .
7. Align sales efforts with marketing
Marketing and sales teams should be codependent. The value in using social-media monitoring and having the marketing and sales team participating in social networks is that their efforts will become intertwined. Marketing will provide the high-quality content and introduce the information to the target markets. The sales team will interact with the customers, be knowledgeable about their needs and build deeper relationships. Together the two can interact in social networks to jointly build relationships with prospects and customers toward the same goal of increased sales.
The social web has created many opportunities to augment lead generation. Social networks are a new channel that need to be tapped by b-to-b marketers. Monitoring online conversations is the key to efficiently identifying those expressing a need for your products and services. Social media monitoring is also instrumental for profiling your customer segments as well as identifying new markets. Creating educational content, placing it around the social web, monitoring the related conversations, and engaging with interested individuals can greatly contribute to increasing word of mouth. This, in turn, will reduce cold-calling, lower acquisition costs and shorten the length of the sales cycle. Participation in social networks will foster cross-selling and upselling efforts. Social networks are revolutionising the way people are connecting online.
Connie Bensen is director of community strategy and social media at Alterian.
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