Social media has been used successfully to sell computers, create buzz on cars, and sell blenders. There are even B2B success stories on recruiting accountants and selling software programs. But does social media have anything to offer to the B2B investment goods market?
Sales cycles can last months, product prices start at 6 figures, and the decision makers are around 40–60 years old and predominantly male. OK, at first sight this may not look like an ideal match. However, things might turn out to be quite interesting.
So, who uses social media anyway?
The absolute number one concern is that the decision makers are not on social media. However, this view is not entirely true.
First, let’s take a look at some major players:
- More than 750 million users (source).
- Average age 38 (source).
- Second-most popular site on the internet (source)
- 115.8 million users (06/2011), an increase of 61% in one year (source).
- Average age 46 (source).
- Thirteenth-most popular site on the internet (source)
- More than 200 million users (source)
- Average age 33 (source).
- Ninth-most popular site on the internet (source)
- 25 million users in less than a month (source), does not make it a big deal yet, but definitely something to keep an eye on.
Video sharing (such as YouTube):
- 71% of internet users in the US use video sharing sites (source).
- YouTube is the third-most popular site on the internet
Let’s also take a look at some interesting figures regarding the users of these sites:
- 86% of college undergraduates in the US use social media (source).
- 100% of colleges and universities in the US use social media (source)
- Based on the number of monthly visitors, Facebook has grown 700% in 4 years – and still grows 17% year-on-year. Twitter had only a handful of users 4 years ago. (source 1, source 2)
- Social media use grows the fastest in the 50–65 demographic: they comprised 20% of social media users in 2010, compared to a mere 9% in 2008 (source).
- Business journalists are heavily into social media: 92% are on LinkedIn, 85% are on Facebook, and 84% are on Twitter (source).
If these figures do not raise interest, even in the investment goods market, nothing will.
Why should B2B investment goods companies use social media?
Now that we have established that there are people who are interesting for B2B investment goods companies on social media, the next question is why social media should be used to reach these people.
In short, social media is revolutionary. It is like the telephone, cell phone, internet, or mobile internet. Each of those changed so much about communications that it is impossible to imagine the time before them. Well, I didn’t personally experience the time before the telephone, but the times before the other three I did.
1. Listening to customers and other stakeholders
People talk on social media, because, well, that’s what it’s all about. Sure, they talk more about their cell phones and computers, but they also talk about work and business. What’s even better is that on social media, you get to hear much of what they say.
Hearing what people tell other people about you and your products is a resource that has not been possible to tap into before. Likewise, you can find people who are looking for solutions to their business problems. You can find problems that your products can solve, problems for which you can make products in order to solve them, and problems that help you improve your existing products.
2. Talking to customers and other stakeholders
And here comes the best part. After you have listened, you can also talk. Unhappy customer? Allocate resources to solve his problem. Potential customer? Come up with a solution for his problem. Issues with your products? Create on plan on how to solve them, start implementing it, and report on the results to those affected. Happy customer? Spread the love and let him spread it as well!
Social media provides an unparallelled way to show that you care. Sure, you may have been good at solving customer claims before, but now you can also solve some of the issues that customers don’t bother filing a claim about. Similarly though, if you handle a claim poorly, the customer can make it clear to a much larger network of people than before.
Social media is also an avenue to stimulate the discussion. Tell good stories, showcase good solutions, discuss the trends in the industry. Show your expertise, not just marketing jargon, and give people a reason to listen to what you are saying.
3. Empowering your employees
Social media is not a trick.
You can’t just hire an agency or a copywriter to talk and reply to people and go on as if nothing has changed. In order to really show that you care, and really show the expertise you have, you have to trust your employees. It is the employees who have to be present! Well, you can use monitoring software and allocate issues to people to help with it, but in the end, it has to be your employees, the experts, who communicate in social media: customer service and support, product development, and also sales and marketing.
The development in the translation market is an apt comparison: 30 years ago material to be translated arrived as print copies and the translators browsed paper dictionaries and company catalogs for terminology. Nowadays, everything is done on a computer and files are translated online where the project manager sees the progress of the translation in real time and the translator has access to term bases and translation memories. More agile, more transparent, and more productive.
Likewise, social media will transform companies into more agile, more transparent, and, ultimately, more productive entities. This change does not take place in a marketing department, but within the entire company. The first step is to start talking and listening, and empowering your employees as they are ready for it.
In order for social media presence to work, you have to change the way you work to be more open. You will also need to place limits, a social media policy. After all, it is not a good idea to share all your trade secrets with the world. This needs careful consideration: share too little, and you come out as insincere, but share too much, and you may jeopardize your entire business.
Empowering your employees does not mean external communications only: social media can also be used to improve communications and spirit internally. Internal wikis, forums, and blogs are powerful tools that reduce the e-mail clutter and promote free exchange of ideas within your company.
4. Recruiting new talent
Students and schools are already heavily into social media. The workforce of tomorrow is being raised completely immersed in it. By participating in this environment, your company becomes more attractive to them.
Let’s face it, B2B investment goods, such as heavy machinery, are not trendy. Can a company that manufactures them be trendy? I am not sure. But I am sure that a company that makes blenders can be trendy! So I am quite ready to believe that heavy machinery can be too!
Credible social media presence gives you an advantage when it comes to recruiting the best talent: a company that is open, creative, and fun is definitely attractive.
5. The early bird catches the worm
For an IT company, taking on social media now would be being one of the late-comers. Not so for investment goods market! A conservative market, it has not really tapped into social media yet. It is an excellent time to become a pioneer in the field and reap the benefits!
One can argue that there is such a thing as being too early on a market. I remember the Nokia touch screen phones way before iPhone, after which Nokia was convinced that touch screen was not a big deal. As it matured, it was.
So why act now instead of waiting a while longer? Because social media is expanding explosively, and it is expanding in exactly the right demographics, right now. Getting there now means getting there just in time to grab the attention of these newcomers as well as the existing users before the media becomes saturated.
It takes time to build a social media presence, it is not possible to just switch it on. If you start now, you are ready just on time.
For inspiration, take a look at this early adopter story.
I think the time to act is now. What do you think? Is it still too early for investment goods companies? Will their time on social media ever come?
Picture: Paulo Goode