Does "Liking" A Bulldozer Help Sell More Of Them?

It makes sense for consumer-facing companies to leverage social media—it seems natural to like your favorite restaurant or rock stars, after all—but how's it working out for B2B companies?

Those of us who are regular Facebook users are used to giving a "like" to a new album, movie, or TV show we enjoy. But giving a "like" to a bulldozer?

Absolutely. Companies like Caterpillar, the construction equipment company, along with most major B2B companies, understand that the Internet has forever changed the way all of us do business. In the words of Caterpillar Social Media Manager, Kevin Espinosa, "Social media has given the customers a voice. You must engage with them or soon become obsolete to them."

A few months ago, I discussed how business leadership was transforming to an "influencer" type model that’s increasingly inclusive. As I wrote then, "Instead of an "either/or" approach to leadership, we are evolving into an "and/or" dynamic that’s healthier and allows for more viewpoints to be heard and taken into account."

That attitude is actually filtering into every part of 21st century business, even such traditionally "old school" areas such as B2B sales, which had until recently relied heavily on the kind of one-way communication (cold calls, emails, newsletters, etc.) that is rapidly going the way of the fax machine. That’s because social media is actually delivering big results for B2B companies—and, more surprisingly, even better outcomes than B2C companies are seeing. A recent survey of B2B Marketers came up with these startling statistics:

  • Social media helped over 56% of B2B marketers acquire new business partnerships (compared to 45% of B2C marketers)
  • Almost 60% of B2B marketers found improved search rankings from their social media outreach (compared to 50% of B2C marketers)
  • 69% of B2B marketers gained valuable market insight from their social media activity and 53% discovered they could develop a loyal fan base
So, yes, offering a "Like" button on a bulldozer does provide benefits. Of course, if you asked a B2B business leader a couple of years ago if Facebook could actually help their sales efforts or if they’d consider using Twitter to drive business their way, they might have looked at you like you were crazy.

No longer.

Social media and other modes of electronic communication have created a sea change that is affecting all areas of business. Job applicants build online communities and followers, so that when the right position opens up, they can be first in line to be chosen. Companies like Caterpillar use Facebook and LinkedIn to interact with their communities and show involvement. What was once considered a trivial fad is now considered a business requirement.

And this isn’t just a generational movement. Millennials and those who came of age in the digital revolution have a completely different mindset towards technology than us "oldsters," but the fact is we are all now members of what some have termed "Generation C"; as corporate trainer Raymond Morin puts it: "This new generation isn’t delineated by age or demographic evolution. Rather…it’s a new generation of social network and mobile technology users—connected consumers—who benefit from online tools in order to demand a more active role in the purchasing chain."

The key word in all this is "connection" and that’s why I think "Generation C" is a valid term for the change in consciousness we’re all experiencing in the business world. We need to embrace new models of leadership and marketing to match the evolving expectations of those we need to successfully interact with.
That means we have to:

Listen more to our employers and employees, to our customers and our clients, whoever we have a business relationship with. In the social media age, people expect their concerns and opinions to matter and, at the very least, to have them recognized, if not acted upon.

Interact more by engaging in a conversation with those we want to influence, either at the workplace or in the marketplace. This kind of back-and-forth helps the creation of positive consensus that puts more power behind any business effort.

Reach out more through all available connection outlets. Having a profile on such dominant sites as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter is a must, of course, as is posting regular updates that feature genuine content, as opposed to straight hard-sell. It’s also crucial to have systems set up to respond to users’ comments and posts.

Influence more… through community involvement, the recognition and leveraging of trends, and by becoming a "thought leader" in your business sector. The more substantial social activity you engage in, the more influence you wield in your role, whatever it might be.

It’s not just the times that have changed; we have all changed along with them. That’s why it’s vital to view your business practices through a social media perspective. We are all one big digital community and that means more opportunities for all of us to connect in more meaningful ways. And guess what, C-Suite? There has been a lot of debate about whether or not this would work with B2B, but we’re now seeing it’s delivering results.

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[Image: Flickr user JD Hancock]

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  • John Sadowsky

    I enjoyed this article, as I have been considering the question business-to-business applications of social media for several years. In fact, when I was doing research and interviews for my book, The New Marketing: Social Media, Email, and the Art of Storytelling, I addressed the b-to-b question very little, for a simple reason. In 2009 and 2010, when I was doing the groundwork and then the writing, social media was a new medium for business, and there were few examples of b-to-b activity. As such, my book's examples tell mostly stories of the innovative practices of small or large consumer companies building virtual brand communities, and doing it effectively with limited resources.

    At the conference and book signings I did from 2010 to 2012, the question of b-to-b often came up from members of the audience, in the following manner: "I find these stories of social media success inspiring, but my company works in the b-to-b arena. Does this apply to us?" My response has often been that b-to-b usage would happen a bit more slowly than b-to-c, since the consumer companies have traditionally been the most vigorous advertisers with any medium. At the same time, b-to-b activity will evolve quickly once it starts, as companies come to see the advantages of internet marketing and interaction with users. In fact, social media usage may be even easier for b-to-b companies, since businesses who sell to other businesses tend to have a well-defined group of customers and prospects for their products and services.

    Having a smaller but more targeted audience can make it easier in some ways to build a brand community, because a company can focus more precisely on the areas where it should be listening, interacting and reaching out to potential users. In other words, one can more readily decide what Twitter feeds to follow, blogs to read, and Facebook pages to monitor when their numbers are relatively limited. The choice of where to be interacting, or of what to write on one's own page or blog, becomes a simpler task.

    In any case, I am seeing far more interest and activity than ever among b-to-b companies, and in the popular press as well. This article is a good example of that evolution, which will certainly continue.

  • Jim Smith

    Paper Maps and Yellow Pages can still be found.  I interviewed with a company recently that still markets B2B with blind Fax.  The spoke proudly of an 'Old School' salesman who prefers a handshake to an email. The fact is that PEOPLE run businesses, and if you can engage them where they eat, you have a chance at building a relationship that can be leveraged.  75% of them are on Facebook, and if you don't have the training, experience, tools, time or aptitude to engage them there it isn't an indictment on the value of the platform.  Hire someone who does, and throw the 'Cover Page' forms in the garbage.

  • Ernest Towle

    Jim, I can't agree more.

    In this digital age, one can easily misconstrue that having a gazillion unique visitors as the be-all-end-all game for marketers. However the proof in the pudding is when $ transacts for products or services or both.

    And at some stage of business there will be a point where products/services will have interactions with other individuals. If the interaction between buyer and seller fails, even the best computer software or data analysis programs telling you what the customer wants, there will either be no business or repeat business altogether.

    After all, I am a firm believer that people buy people first before they buy your product (unless you are a monopoly).

  • Jim Sweeney

     By all means, throw the baby out with the bathwater.  OR maybe recognize that social media is just one tool in the toolbox.  Also I would love for you to show me a single B2B organization for which 75% of its prospective customers is on Facebook for the purpose of doing business.  According to Facebook, only 55% of the American population has a registered Facebook account.

  • Jim Sweeney

    And less you be inappropriately swayed by the research numbers, keep in mind that social media still plays a relatively small role in the overall marketing and communications mix for both B2C and B2B companies, as well as institutions.  The low barrier to entry, both in terms of use and cost, make it a desirable tool, but it pales in comparison to the amount of work and cost organizations continue to put into traditional marketing tools like advertising and publicity and trade shows and direct mail and events.

  • JeromePineau

    Jim, I think you're way off -- Look at what Nike's doing. I believe they've moved the bulk of their marketing spend on social/digital or are about to. Times they have a-changed :)

  • Kath Dewar - GoodSense

     Our own experience marketing with numerous businesses suggests the
    general 'social media' research stats quoted above are being
    misconstrued to apply to Facebook.  The stats aren't broken down by
    social media channel but if they were I suspect they would show most
    social media commercial gain for B2B is coming from LinkedIn and, to a
    lesser extent, Twitter.  LinkedIn is the unsung hero of social media and
    a potent enabler of relationships and deals.  There are some B2B
    segments where Facebook makes sense (eg events and entertainment) but
    for most applications companies would be smart to priortise LinkedIn,
    and its powerful Groups functions, first.  Businesses need a strategic
    social media approach and that doesn't mean one size fits all.

  • Kyle Rohde

    Here's something to ponder: 2-3 years ago, when every company on Earth wasn't on Twitter/Facebook, and every consumer wasn't firing complaints at the companies that were active on social, it seems like you could actually get meaningful interaction with a brand. As social has gone completely mainstream, the noise level for consumers has gone way up and the ability to respond personally to consumers by the marketers has gotten next to impossible (for the big ones at least). I think, perhaps, that social actually was making an impact on sales, loyalty, etc. back then but that is happening less and less now.

    Which brings me to B2B. Since B2B marketing is historically a couple years behind B2C, are we potentially seeing the same thing?

    I theorize all this not based on any grand research, just my own feelings as a B2B marketer and very active social user, both personally and professionally.