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Social Marketing Guidance for B2B IT Vendors

As you continue to invest and execute in your Social Marketing, step back for just a moment to think about how “Social” fits in your overall marketing-mix.

It is helpful to first look at the overall marketing function. There are two major rivers of information that flow into and out of the marketing organization. The first is the flow of data that informs the “in-bound” product management process, wherein customer requirements are continuously gathered and prioritized. The second is the flow of “out-bound” product marketing work-effort, wherein products and services are presented to the marketplace.

Social marketing is the process of applying social listening and social communicating as a new and value-adding element to those in-bound and out-bound information flows. For example the in-bound product management process has been traditionally informed by customer councils or user groups; where new product ideation would happen one idea at a time, and one customer at a time. With Social product management, crowd-sourcing for voting and ranking of new features can speed up this process by orders of magnitude. SAP today has a robust Social crowd-sourcing engine called IdeaPlace that does just that.

Social Marketing begins with good Social Listening. This involves tapping into the blogs or forums or communities where your customers are present; the virtual places where they are actively becoming self-educated about potential IT product and services. If you can be a good listener, you will then “earn” the right to contribute to the conversation, perhaps by connecting those buyers with information sources and tools to further their self-education journey. B2B IT vendors are placing their bets on this. Just in the past few months I have observed Dell and HP make an overt organizational change by placing their Social Listening function into their existing and formal Market Intelligence functions.

So: Listen first. Become an excellent listener before you begin to insert your voice in the communications stream as a contributor. There are many examples of this in B2B, and it is accelerating. Dell gets a lot of play as a listening expert and deservedly so: they were a first-mover on this capability more than six years ago. HP now has a Chief Listening Officer (CLO) role. Cisco has been so successful in social media training for its employees that they are now starting to sell this to their customers. Intel just told me that they are now listening in over 50 languages. The list goes on.

To punctuate this last point, some research might be useful. IDC conducts an annual survey on “How Buyers Buy.” We seek to understand: Where do buyers go for their product education? What media types are most frequently accessed? What is the pathway of their digital journey? What is their preferred content types or subject matter? On this last point, buyers tell us that their preferred content sources are (in rank-order): information that comes from peers; then information that comes from independent third-parties; and third, information that comes directly from the vendor.

This is why social marketing should be such an important part of the B2B marketer’s tool kit. If vendors can help prospects to connect with peers as part of their education process; they will be viewed favorably by those prospects. The social media are the best tools for doing this.

A mis-step to avoid…

B2B marketers entering the social media environment will often start listening and communicating with the most popular social tools: Twitter; Facebook; and LinkedIn, to name a few. These are all fine tools and readily at-hand. But the question is: are your customers and prospects using them? IDC research shows that B2B buyers who are evaluating complex products and services are most likely tapping in to the technically-oriented social communities and blogs. And so lesson number one is: “Hang out where your customers are hanging out!”

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