There is a strong distinction to be drawn between businesses targeting other businesses (B2B) and businesses targeting consumers (B2C) in the ways that they approach online brand engagement. Certainly B2B and B2C companies are gaining equal amounts of utility from peer-to-peer referrals. The differences lie in how and where they are best able to leverage these referrals and convert leads to sales.
The 2012 Social Media Marketing Report put out by Social Media Examiner surveyed over 3500 marketing professionals and uncovered a number of statistics highlighting the fundamental differences between B2B and B2C social media activities. Some key findings include:
· Over 96% of B2C marketers reported using Facebook as a marketing tool, while only 87% of B2B marketers reported the same.
· 76% of B2B marketers said they are more likely to increase their activity on LinkedIn compared to only 55% of B2C marketers.
· B2B companies lag behind B2C in Facebook activity, with just 68% of B2B reporting increased activity compared to 76% of B2C companies.
· 71% of B2B marketers planned to invest more time in blogging compared to just 65% of B2C marketers.
When analyzing these results it’s important to understand the distinctions to between B2C and B2B business models, the needs of their customers and how this relates to online referral marketing programming.
B2C companies are product driven, maximize the value of individual transactions and have a single step buying process. This means that the cycle of lead to conversion is vastly shorter than that of a B2B where a potential customer must be nurtured and developed throughout a long process of engagement.
B2B companies also need more content and online services to establish the business as an expert in the industry. B2B buyers tend to be more sophisticated and informed about the product and won’t make an investment unless they are absolutely sure of its utility for their business.
For a B2B company, building strong relationships with partners and acquiring trust matter just as much as a strong product. More so than B2C companies, a B2B buyer relies on rational, value-based decisions. The impulse purchases of B2C sales don’t happen when a professional career is on the line. It’s a fact that the B2B community is driven by reputation and word of mouth meaning that active participation on social networks can establish a company as an industry leader and position them to create profoundly successful customer referral programs.
That B2Bs are better able to establish a market niche given their industry-specific focus also plays a factor in their approach to cultivating a strong community of online advocates. B2Cs stand in contrast to B2Bs by operating in an emotional, saturated market of brands and products. A key reason why peer-to-peer referrals are so effective for B2C companies is that they allow a business to establish trust from the onset and move away from the pack of similar products. Because B2B companies have a more focused customer base, they can utilize targeted messaging on social networks easily and efficiently.
It makes sense then that LinkedIn would be more beneficial for a B2B than B2C. LinkedIn provides the opportunity for a business to connect and discuss topics of interest with targeted professionals. They are able to gain industry knowledge, unlimited networking opportunities and have the potential to establish themselves as thought-leaders in their niche. In fact 65% of B2B companies reported having acquired a customer via LinkedIn. LinkedIn as a social networking tool is more focused on professional materials than Facebook or Twitter given the origin of the website. Actively courting referrals on the professional network can pay back dividends in the form of high-value leads and customer acquisitions.
LinkedIn may be the avenue of choice for a B2B company, but survey results also showed that in spite of the more complicated buyer-seller relationship, marketers gained utility from social media referrals across the board.
Social Media Examiner’s report interviewed a number of B2B business owners and found that:
· Over 56% of B2B marketers reported acquiring new business partnerships by utilizing social media.
· 60% saw improved SEO search rankings as a result of social media engagement.
· Almost 70% reported that they were better able to gather insights into their market by using social media.
Promoting any business comes down to being able to build a strong and engaged community around the brand. In the case of a B2B company, the larger goal is to gain a foothold as an expert in the industry; someone that another business can trust and rely on.
“Best-in-class” B2Bs, or the top-20% of aggregate performers, are significantly more likely to incorporate social media efforts into their lead generation process. A report by MarketingProfs found that:
· Almost 65% of the top B2B companies integrate social media into their traditional acquisition channels in comparison to 51% of average performers.
· The top B2B companies gained 230% more leads via social media than their competitors.
Clearly something is working well for these companies when it comes to their online marketing practices and all the data collected points towards increased activity on social networking sites. In fact, a recent case study showed that IBM reported a 400% increase in sales in the first quarter after starting their pilot social-selling campaign.
B2B companies create a brand identity, but must then create a number of campaigns and triggers that nurture a potential lead through the sales process. Having a strong referral program can make the difference between a strong vendor relationship and letting the lead run cold.
So does online referral marketing work for a B2B company? The answer is an emphatic yes. Despite the harsh, stoic veneer, keep in mind that businesses are social too. Customers trust their friend’s recommendations the same as any other business. The real potential of social media for B2B businesses doesn’t lay in general engagement strategies (although these certainly help). The potential lies in turning customers into brand ambassadors and use online platforms to amplify a predefined message.
For example, say that someone chooses to download an eBook you recently published. While this content alone may bring your one customer, offering them the opportunity to share the resource with their online network can bring in hundreds of new readers that now know of your brand’s expertise.
The data all points towards social media having an increasingly large role during the B2B buying process. In fact, significant portion of B2B marketers say they’ll more actively use social media this year than ever before. And as social media’s influence grows, so to does the necessity to leverage the platforms as a means of bringing in new customers.
Consider that between 2009 and 2011 (just two short years) social network usage by B2B marketers shot up by over 20%. Clearly businesses are beginning to recognize the utility of social selling, especially in regards to customer referrals.
In addition, the subscription-based business models of many B2B SaaS companies requires a substantial amount of lead nurturing and retention activites to ensure a sustained client-company relationship. Referred customers are not only the highest value leads, but also are most likely to remain engaged and excited about using your product.
Amplifying your message through online peer-to-peer referrals not only produces immediate benefits in the form of more high-quality leads, but also positions your business to take advantage of the newest frontier of B2B marketing and become a leader of social influence across the web. It clearly is a platform too great to ignore and should be adopted by any B2B company seeking to optimize its customer acquisition strategy.