For business-to-business (B2B) marketers, 2013 could be the best year ever, or just another one of barely getting by. Just hitting the metrics on scorecards and dashboards or really making an impact on the businesses they are responsible for. In 2013, prospects are more selective than ever with their time. They expect so much more than just a data sheet or a series of choreographed PDFs to each of their stages of the buying process. They want to know that your company is in their corner and gets their problems—not at a simple level but at the very heart of who your company is. This is especially the case with B2B manufacturers who have deep expertise in solving complex problems. They especially need to connect quickly with prospects to get sales cycles moving. 2013 is going to be a year full of great marketing intensity. It is up to B2B marketers to choose if they want to compete at that level or not right now.
Social Media Is How Customers Want to Learn
One area I consistently see CMOs divided on in their efforts to compete is the value of social media. I think it is incredibly shortsighted of any CMO—whether in B2B or business-to-consumer (B2C)—to discount its value and say it is irrelevant to their marketing efforts. Really? Since when is this proliferating set of communication channels and platforms irrelevant? Since when is it irrelevant to connect with customers on how they want to learn? Never. It’s time for more B2B CMOs to wake up and see the value of social media in their marketing efforts. It could just be the catalyst that reconnects them with their customers and ignites innovation through marketing, sales and product development.
Galvanizing Your Company to Excel for Customers
Nothing galvanizes a company more than being on a mission to excel for their customers. It takes the focus away from the internal politics and places them squarely on the customer. When a B2B marketer decides to entirely commit themselves to stay in step with their customers and how they learn, they get a shot at the most precious resource of all: trust. And while there are plenty of studies for and against the value of social media in B2B marketing in general and manufacturing specifically, it is unequivocal that how customers choose to learn and how they decide which companies to trust with their businesses are literally shifting between the feet of many of the world’s greatest marketing-driven companies.
Two companies we’ve been very impressed with at Cincom doing this well are Balluf, one of the world’s leading sensor manufacturers and Block Imaging, a leader in global imaging equipment. Both are successfully using social media strategies to strengthen their brands and attract new customers. They have each created impressive social media strategies to serve their customer base as well.
One of the best recent articles on this topic ran in the CIO Journal of The Wall Street Journal on January 14. Titled “Manufacturers Sign on to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter,” the article provides several excellent examples of how B2B manufacturing companies are successfully using social media. Here are several key takeaways:
* About 68 percent of companies that sell products or services to other businesses said they engaged in social media marketing, according to a September 2012 survey by Chief Marketer, a publication of Penton Media Inc. And, 79 percent of consumer brands use social media for marketing purposes.
* The article shows how electronics contract manufacturer, Etratech Inc., began using LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube just over 12 months ago to more effectively promote their business. Given a set of aggressive sales targets, the company had to move fast and tackle selling problems with entirely new ways of thinking. This led them to adopt social media as a significant part of their marketing strategy quickly.
* Etratech says their manufacturing facility is one of their most valuable selling points, yet many prospects don’t see it until well into the sales cycle. This is very common in B2B industries. Using YouTube videos to deliver virtual tours of their manufacturing facility has helped to speed up sales cycles. Etratech says sales cycles that took six to eight months are being compressed to as little as six to eight weeks.
* Caterpillar Inc. is using separate Facebook sites to serve the information needs of various customer segments and constituencies including construction, power generation, paving and financial services. The feedback continues to be very positive from customers who appreciate how much easier it is to get support from Caterpillar, including common questions answered.
* Caterpillar Inc. has also seen positive results from the use of social media from a multichannel standpoint as well. Today the B2B manufacturer is reaching customers via YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. The company has also integrated its CRM system, Salesforce.com, with it social media sites. Caterpillar reports that this is a major process improvement as their current generation of customers are adopting Facebook as a platform to learn about new products.
* Getting the most value out of social media needs to be a strategic part of any marketing department—integrating legacy, third-party, CRM and pricing systems together to give sales and service all of the information they need to responsively serve customers. The B2B companies that are excelling at social media today commit and excel at integrating these systems together to reduce the time it takes to get customers and prospects the information they need. It’s no secret that any customer or prospect on social media sees time itself as much more compressed than those using other channels. The expectation of immediate response is always there; it’s critical how B2B manufacturers choose to respond and manage it.
Customers are changing faster than many B2B marketers give them credit for. Look at social media as an opportunity to continually earn trust by delivering useful, highly valuable content continually. That’s when social media begins to make a difference.