It makes sense for consumer-facing companies to leverage social media–it seems natural to like your favorite restaurant or rock stars, after all–but how’s it working out for B2B companies?
Those of us who are regular Facebook users are used to giving a “like” to a new album, movie, or TV show we enjoy. But giving a “like” to a bulldozer?
Absolutely. Companies like Caterpillar, the construction equipment company, along with most major B2B companies, understand that the Internet has forever changed the way all of us do business. In the words of Caterpillar Social Media Manager, Kevin Espinosa, “Social media has given the customers a voice. You must engage with them or soon become obsolete to them.”
A few months ago, I discussed how business leadership was transforming to an “influencer” type model that’s increasingly inclusive. As I wrote then, “Instead of an “either/or” approach to leadership, we are evolving into an “and/or” dynamic that’s healthier and allows for more viewpoints to be heard and taken into account.”
That attitude is actually filtering into every part of 21st century business, even such traditionally “old school” areas such as B2B sales, which had until recently relied heavily on the kind of one-way communication (cold calls, emails, newsletters, etc.) that is rapidly going the way of the fax machine. That’s because social media is actually delivering big results for B2B companies–and, more surprisingly, even better outcomes than B2C companies are seeing. A recent survey of B2B Marketers came up with these startling statistics:
- Social media helped over 56% of B2B marketers acquire new business partnerships (compared to 45% of B2C marketers)
- Almost 60% of B2B marketers found improved search rankings from their social media outreach (compared to 50% of B2C marketers)
- 69% of B2B marketers gained valuable market insight from their social media activity and 53% discovered they could develop a loyal fan base
So, yes, offering a “Like” button on a bulldozer does provide benefits. Of course, if you asked a B2B business leader a couple of years ago if Facebook could actually help their sales efforts or if they’d consider using Twitter to drive business their way, they might have looked at you like you were crazy.
Social media and other modes of electronic communication have created a sea change that is affecting all areas of business. Job applicants build online communities and followers, so that when the right position opens up, they can be first in line to be chosen. Companies like Caterpillar use Facebook and LinkedIn to interact with their communities and show involvement. What was once considered a trivial fad is now considered a business requirement.
And this isn’t just a generational movement. Millennials and those who came of age in the digital revolution have a completely different mindset towards technology than us “oldsters,” but the fact is we are all now members of what some have termed “Generation C”; as corporate trainer Raymond Morin puts it: “This new generation isn’t delineated by age or demographic evolution. Rather…it’s a new generation of social network and mobile technology users–connected consumers–who benefit from online tools in order to demand a more active role in the purchasing chain.”
The key word in all this is “connection” and that’s why I think “Generation C” is a valid term for the change in consciousness we’re all experiencing in the business world. We need to embrace new models of leadership and marketing to match the evolving expectations of those we need to successfully interact with.
That means we have to:
Listen more to our employers and employees, to our customers and our clients, whoever we have a business relationship with. In the social media age, people expect their concerns and opinions to matter and, at the very least, to have them recognized, if not acted upon.
Interact more by engaging in a conversation with those we want to influence, either at the workplace or in the marketplace. This kind of back-and-forth helps the creation of positive consensus that puts more power behind any business effort.
Reach out more through all available connection outlets. Having a profile on such dominant sites as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter is a must, of course, as is posting regular updates that feature genuine content, as opposed to straight hard-sell. It’s also crucial to have systems set up to respond to users’ comments and posts.
Influence more… through community involvement, the recognition and leveraging of trends, and by becoming a “thought leader” in your business sector. The more substantial social activity you engage in, the more influence you wield in your role, whatever it might be.
It’s not just the times that have changed; we have all changed along with them. That’s why it’s vital to view your business practices through a social media perspective. We are all one big digital community and that means more opportunities for all of us to connect in more meaningful ways. And guess what, C-Suite? There has been a lot of debate about whether or not this would work with B2B, but we’re now seeing it’s delivering results.
[Image: Flickr user JD Hancock]