My colleagues and I have been discussing the changing landscape of B2B marketing on this blog for some time now. Our focus has been on the changing B2B buyer and how we can better understand and leverage 'Buyer 2.0' (hat tip to SiriusDecisions) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our demand generation programs. This ‘brave new world’ of B2B marketing, where the changing buyer must be the center of our demand generation efforts, also is a resounding theme at the 2010 B2B Marketing University (Twitter: #B2BUniversity) series Silverpop underwrites.
Digging a little deeper, though, we find a critical element of how the B2B buyer has changed in the Web 2.0 world is not only about individual buyers, per se, but also is about how buyers interact with their peers and how they leverage communities more than ever to make buying decisions.
B2B buyers leverage referrals from their peers in making purchase decisions by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other factor considered in the buying decision-making process, according to data from ITSMA in a post on Propelling Brands, and nearly 75% of B2B technology buyers consult social media before making a decision, per the same data. And B2B buying decisions, more than ever, are made via group consensus. We see this in data from MarketingSherpa (see chart below), which indicates that even in the lower-purchase-price categories, four or more people are regularly engaged in making a purchase decision nearly 2/3 of the time -- growing to larger groups as the purchase price rises above $100K.
[caption id="attachment_649" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Source: MarketingSherpa; click to enlarge"]
The new B2B buyer is no longer a singular buyer. Instead the buyer is what my colleague Adam Needles refers to as a 'complex, savvy buying unit.' This means B2B marketing more than ever must balance engagement with the singular user/buyer with the community surrounding that buyer and his/her decision.
What has changed, and how do we respond?
Web 2.0 technologies make it easier than ever before to leverage peers, to tap the "Groundswell" of other users. That's why, in the Web 2.0 world, communities are quite different from those of yesteryear. As technology continues to develop and grow, marketers need to find ways to engage with their customers and leverage the communities that will shape the perception of their brand and build brands from the ground up. This is the new reality when the most important piece of influence in a B2B purchase decision will come from a third party. This 'sideways' marketing required to reach our target buyer through a peer (through the Groundswell) requires a different mindset. As Brian Solis tells us in his new book Engage, “When you engage with them, you will build an authoritative social network that increases your visibility, relevance, influence and profitability.”
So how do you adapt to this new mindset as a B2B marketer? Three factors -- participating, sharing and adding value -- are critical to successfully leveraging communities to influence our targeted buyers.
Participate: Before you jump right in with gathering people around you, it’s important to note, creating a community goes beyond pushing your business and your solutions with a Facebook page and a Twitter handle. In a recent Silverpop-sponsored BtoB Magazine NetMarketing Breakfast (Twitter: #btobnet), the panelists discussed the importance of going beyond your brand. To really engage with your customers and prospects, you have to focus on your buyers, the issues top of mind for them and the entire buying experience. You have to participate in their community and in their dialogue.
A starting place for this is not only being a member of these social networks, but also having buyer-issue-focused content to drive your dialogue. What is the major pain point your buyers face? This is a starting place for participation. Thus your participation should start with big-picture ideas and thought leadership, eventually channeling buyers towards a direct dialogue with your organization on their timetable. As my colleague Adam Needles pointed out in a recent post on this site, “content marketing is the strategy you need to power thoughtful ‘dialogues’ with potential buyers.” (And this is where a marketing automation platform can both help integrate this dialogue from inbound to outbound channels -- bringing it from the social media world to engaged lead nurturing -- and also drive mass one-to-one engagement with buyers.)
But it starts with sincere participation with buyers on their terms.
Share: Once you’ve developed thought provoking and informative content and have set yourself up as a real participant, you can begin to share these ideas using the available technologies of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, etc. It is the sharing of this information that will allow your buyers to find you, build trust and be part of your community. And they in turn will share this content with their peers and other communities, which creates the Groundswell your company will need to be successful. (By the way, you can hear more about the Groundswell and how to leverage it in your business at the Silverpop May Client Summit where we will hear from keynote speaker and Groundswell co-author, Charlene Li.)
There are no bad technologies through which to share your content. Buyers are turning to the Internet now more than ever to research a purchase, and they leverage different channels at different stages of the buying process. They start with their preferred search engine or social network looking for articles, studies, reviews and reports of their upcoming purchase. It’s not enough just to have your website pop up in that search – you have to be everywhere you can ... or at least in the places your target buyer is looking. So find out what channels your buyers leverage -- what communities they engage with -- and use this to rationalize your 'sharing' efforts.
I would add to that, the more peer influencers you have sharing your content, the better position you will be in. It’s important; not only to publish your own ideas, but to reciprocally share the ideas of your peers and other industry thought leaders and experts. To truly leverage the Groundswell and build your community, sharing has to be give and take. Finally, you need to think about sharing cross-medium. Create a thread by connecting blog posts via Twitter and enabling 'share-to-social' on email campaigns. Help your buyers access content in one medium and share it with other buyers in another arena. This will extend your reach and expand your influence further down the buying cycle.
Add value: Not only do you need content to engage, your content must actually mean something. This is where it becomes critical to think about the stages buyers go through, the information consumption at different stages and how you can supply value-added content that moves them forward in the process. How does this content then align with the communities you're participating in? Content that is product-centric or is pushing a current offer/promotion is the opposite of participation; whereas, content that focuses on B2B buyers' problems and that helps them solve problems is welcomed and valued and will give you 'cred' in the community.
It's more critical than ever to leverage buyer communities for B2B marketing, but it requires some awareness. As you engage, remember to start small and start with the basics – understand your buyer and make sure you're really engaging with the buyer, both in a way that is beneficial to his/her needs and that also benefits the opportunity for your product or service. And remember engagement is a two-way street. If you keep this in mind, you will be well on your way towards leveraging communities to reach your target buyer.