You can no longer segment your business customers into those who use social media for business purposes and those who do not. Why not? Because according to Forrester’s newest B2B Social Technographics® numbers, fully 100% of business decision-makers use social media for work purposes. Other stunningly high numbers: 98% of business decision-makers are Spectators (they read blogs, watch videos, or listen to podcasts), 79% are Joiners (they maintain a profile on social networking sites), and 75% are Critics (they comment on blogs and post ratings and reviews), all in the context of their business activities.
Therefore, it’s no longer a question of whether you should use social, but how. B2B marketing executives no longer need convincing to invest in social. However, social marketing efforts are maturing beyond experimentation — where measuring results is secondary — to science. At this more advanced stage of maturity, marketers need to understand exactly how and when their customers are using social and target them differently in each stage of the customer life cycle.
Your customers don’t make blanket use of “social media,” “social networks,” or “communities” in general. Instead, they use specific social networks and communities for specific goals, both personal and business-related. The communities your customers visit for personal reasons are not always the ones they use for business purposes.
For business purposes, the No. 1 and No. 2 communities aren’t specific public social networks but “niche” communities focused on specific objectives. For example, business technology buyers might visit IT Central Station or Spiceworks to learn more about multiple competing technologies at once; alternatively, they might visit a community managed by a single brand, such as the Cisco Communities or SAP Community Network (SCN).
Tech marketers often fret over their marketing mix, but it’s usually couched in terms of “how” – e.g., “How do customers get information about us?” or, “Do we have the right mix of web content, events, blogs and [now, of course] social media conversations?”
We know that all those “how” things are not equal. Customers utilize web content more than events, and events more than blogs. But every bit as important (if not more), and sometimes not taken into consideration, is the “who” of the “how.” In general, customers highly value tech vendors’ websites and events, industry analysts’ research reports and blogs, channel partners’ online videos, and social media conversations with peers. But customers’ go-to information source preferences vary by industry, company size, and geography. [For more information, see the Forrester report on “The Who And How of Influencing Customers’ BT Decisions.”]
With social media stacked on top of websites stacked on top of events stacked on top of collateral … well, I don’t have to tell you how complex marketing-mix allocation budgeting has come to be. But designing your mix model on a “who-what” framework simplifies the model, and goes a long way to ensuring that you’re investing in the information sources that customers are tapping.
What is it that you think makes one tech company stand out from another? “My product is better than your product”? Not anymore. “My salespeople are better than your salespeople”? Possibly. “My channel is better than your channel”. You’re getting warmer. How about, “My marketing machine is better than your marketing machine”?
For example, 41% of customers identify “the vendor’s (not including its salespeople’s) ability to understand our business problem”, compared with only 21% who identified “the vendor’s salesperson’s ability to understand our business problem” as the most important vendor action factor when selecting a tech vendor. Marketing is clearly the difference-maker.
But cloud computing changes everything. The implications of cloud computing go far beyond its technology delivery/consumption model. It seems I get questions from tech marketers about all things cloud these days. A few examples:
“How can I use the cloud more effectively to market our solutions?” (Answer: It’s not what you read in USA Today about Facebook and Twitter. According to the results of our 2011 B2B Social Technographics® survey, discussion forums and professional social networking sites (read: not consumer social sites) outpace Facebook and Twitter ten-fold as information sources for informing businesses’ technology purchase decisions.)