Your customers are using social media. That’s no surprise. So is it appropriate for you to join in on the fun and get your business on board? I know what some of you are thinking. "Sure, I know everyone’s using social media, but my company sells products that cost a ton of money and sales can take years to close. I can’t generate a sale, or even a lead, for any of my products using Facebook or Twitter.” If you just said some version of that to yourself, let me reframe the way you might want to think about social media for your business.
All too often, Facebook and Twitter dominate marketing meetings and boardroom conversations about social media, both in B2B and B2C. But social media is far more expansive than just these two behemoth sites. There is almost certainly another platform that will suit your company’s specific needs if neither of "the big two” fit. To shift your social media paradigm, consider the following types of social media outlets and how they might benefit a company with a long or complex sales cycle:
- Photo-sharing sites. Is your product visual or design-related? Help inspire your customers early in the sales cycle with a photo stream on Flickr or Instagram, a Tumblr blog or maybe even a board on Pinterest.
- Video-sharing sites. Does your product have killer demonstrations? Would side-by-side product comparisons help close the deal? If so, video sites such as YouTube or Vimeo could be your golden ticket to capture interest early.
- Message boards. There are message boards for nearly every industry under the sun. If you don’t believe me, check out coffin-talk.net. All you need to do is find out where your target customer goes to ask questions about his/her job and help answer them. This is frequently overlooked, but can be unbelievably successful in finding customers who are ready to buy. The key is to understand the message board’s particular tone before jumping in with a sales pitch.
- Industry blogs. You are probably already reading a few of these to stay on top of industry trends. Why not reach out to them to see if you can write a guest post as a representative of your company? This is a great way to get exposure to new audiences and another effective tactic for early in the buying cycle. If you’re skeptical, consider that you’re reading an example of this right now. Of course, if there are no great industry blogs, perhaps you could create your own. Nothing says "thought leadership” like creating the best content in your industry.
- Professional-networking sites. There’s nothing wrong with cold calling or e-mail campaigns, but a sales team who isn’t engaged on a professional networking site (let’s be honest, we’re talking about LinkedIn) is missing out on a potentially huge opportunity. There is a right way to use LinkedIn, so be sure your sales team knows what they’re doing before they let loose on their own. If done correctly, LinkedIn can be used to generate leads and nurture them all the way through the sale.
- Social-networking sites. I can’t just ignore this. After all, sites like Facebook and Twitter are quite useful for a lot of companies with long sales cycles, but you need to be smart about how you decide to use your account. Using Facebook and Twitter for customer service or simply as a platform to answer customers’ questions is often a great way to get started, though there are countless other ways to use social networks effectively to hit customers at all points during the sales cycle. Before moving on, I need to mention Google+ too. Recent changes to Google search have made it all but necessary for companies to create a G+ page. As always, research is key, so make sure you go in with a plan if you decide to create a page.
- Location-based games. If you have trade shows in your marketing mix, location-based games are a great way to engage an audience and capture early leads. Perhaps you could offer deals or contests for people who check in at your booth.
- Group buying/couponing sites. Group couponing sites have struggled to find their way into B2B, particularly for a complex, expensive sale, so if you have a great idea on how to apply it, I’d love to hear about it!
- Podcasting. Allured by the idea of owning their own radio show to brand their company, many businesses jumped into podcasting without realizing how difficult it is to create and manage a radio show and quickly gave up. But there are more ways to get involved with podcasting than creating your own show. For example, sponsoring a podcast or volunteering to be a guest interviewee on a popular industry podcast are two "early cycle” ways to take advantage of podcasting without the commitment.
- Slide-sharing sites. Do you sell to a target who needs to get approvals from an endless line of executives before he/she can sign on the dotted line? Why not create a sharable slide show (or several) that help your customers sell your product up the chain of command. That way, they have the tools they need to make your case when your salespeople can’t be in the room. Done correctly, slide shows can help you generate leads, then help you again to close the business at the end of the cycle.
In the end, social media may or may not be right for your organization for a lot of reasons, but if you think creatively it can often prove to be a valuable part of your overall B2B marketing mix.