Archive for the ‘Prospecting’ Category

Social Media: Still a Mystery to Most Small Businesses

By Amy Howell, CEO of Howell Marketing Strategies

Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about social media for business. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are all new media tools that can help bolster your Internet or digital “footprint.”

You can read all about how social media is ramping up the conversation by doing a simple Google search. But the more important question small business owners want answered is how to use social media to boost sales and get the phone ringing. I call it “turning on the water faucet.” Social media for businesses should mean one thing: free tools that can strengthen your organization’s SEO (search engine optimization), help get your message out, and engage with customers and prospects.

Now these tools may be free, but the time you must spend executing the work can be extensive. A lot of writers just re-hash what’s already been written, so what I find most helpful is to share what we help clients do in the trenches every day. Below are the main barriers to using social media and why it remains a mystery, followed by how to get started and what to do first.

The barriers for most small businesses using social media are:

  • Time and education: It takes time to read and learn about the ever-changing, growing tools online, and most business owners don’t have extra time to devote to this. I hear it every day, and as a small business owner myself, I certainly understand this constraint. Small businesses have limited resources and must focus on revenue development and all that comes with running a business. Social media can help a small business tremendously, but most owners have not had time to get up to speed.
  • Lack of resources: It takes a dedicated effort to employ social media tools. Most companies can hire help, but many simply don’t have the extra resources to do so.
  • Reluctance to embrace new media: A lot of people are just flat out skeptical of social media. There are legitimate reasons to ignore it, especially if you are in a regulated industry (banking, insurance, finance, etc.), as some governing entities such as the SEC have policies against any use of social media for work. I think that will change soon, as I’m already seeing some large organizations issue new policies on social media use.
  • Generational: Most people would be surprised to know that the average age of a Twitter user is between 40 and 55. Age isn’t an excuse to avoid social tools, but it is often an explanation.

How to get started if you want to add a social media strategy to your marketing toolkit:

  • Read, read, read. There are some excellent blogs (like this one) and other resources online that can tell you all you need to know. There is no “magic wand” that will do this for you. If you really want to jump in, you have to do the reading yourself. You can hire it out of course, but the ideal results spring from the business understanding social media and embracing it, even if it means only monitoring at first. Let’s take the Judy McLellan Team for example (@JudyMacTeam on Twitter). Judy hired my firm to help with a real estate marketing and PR strategy that included the use of social tools. At first, we did some of the tweeting and posting. But now, you can find Judy out selling homes while using her iPad and iPhone to tweet and spread information about her listings.
  • Pick one tool and learn that first. For me, it’s Twitter. Once I understood Twitter, I moved on to learning about some other tools. I think by mastering one tool, small businesses can see results faster. Let’s take Cheffie’s Cafe (@Cheffies on Twitter) as the next example. We helped Cheffie’s Cafe spread the word by using Twitter, along with traditional PR during the previous few months. A good Twitter strategy is key to a successful PR campaign.
  • Look at what your competition is doing. Get online and do a little research to see what your competition is up to in the social space. Let’s take OrthoMemphis, a successful orthopaedic practice in Memphis that adopted social media long before its competition did. We have helped OrthoMemphis (@OrthoMemphis on Twitter) use social media tools to not only market their sub-specialists (knee, hips, and shoulders), but also to launch OrthoStat, its acute care walk-in clinic. Combined with direct mail, PR, and patient communications, Twitter and Facebook have been tremendously helpful.
  • Get a social media policy in place and communicate it to your organization. There are some great examples online and free resources available. I suggest any small business that wants to use social media tools have a policy in place just like a media policy. Talking online is like talking in the newspaper, and it’s important to have a strategy and know the dos and don’ts of posting online. Good examples are Coca-Cola, Kodak, and Intel. (A list of these can be found on my blog.)

The smaller the organization (or flatter), the easier it is to employ social media. Even though they may have more resources, larger companies are often more bureaucratic and have more red tape. Larger companies are also usually slower to “get it,” and we have found that companies without all the red tape can move faster and are often more decisive. Social media gives the little guys a leg up and is a great way to have a big voice online.

Using One-to-Many Technologies to Create One-to-One Experiences

By David Harkleroad, Chief Marketing Officer at Hay Group

I’m re-reading Neil Rackham’s B2B classic, Major Account Sales Strategy. While written in 1989, it is still remarkably relevant—and he would have included a section on social media had it existed at the time!

Neil asked experienced B2B sales professionals about the hardest part of selling, expecting to hear, “getting a consensus of needs when several different people are involved in the decision” or “getting customers to see that the need is urgent enough to justify action.” Surprisingly, they said, “getting in the door in the first place!” He concluded, “if you’re trying to penetrate a new account, the easiest starting point is to find a receptive individual—somebody who’s prepared to listen.”

To find those receptive individuals, B2B firms traditionally rely on business developers—or, as any Mad Men aficionado knows, the Roger Coopers or Pete Campbells—who leverage relationships, cold call, or, in its modern day equivalent, spam (does anyone ever open those?) to get in the door. As an aside, many B2B business leaders confuse these prospecting activities (a one-to-one activity) with marketing (one-to-many), much to all of our chagrin.

Today, social media, as many thoughtful B2B marketing peers have learned, offers real opportunities for marketing success by, in essence, using one-to-many technologies to create one-to-one experiences. To build those connections takes time, creativity, repetition, and the right content—similar to any other marketing approach. The challenge is tweaking that content to raise brand awareness, and more importantly, to create sales leads and conversations. A few simple, cost-effective ways to experiment:

  • Make it easy for people to opt in to your content. Listen to what your targets have to say, and create content that both supports your marketing objectives and matters to your online audiences. At the same time, think through a clear call to action for every touchpoint you have online. Offer a clear and simple way to connect for additional information, and track those leads.
  • Have a content hub. A blog isn’t realistic for everyone, although that is the ideal. Consider creating a robust microsite as a center for information on a key topic. It’s a nice platform for external audiences but can also effectively rally internal audiences and salespeople. Or, for those without the corporate resources, a social media news release, such as those found at PitchEngine, can house a variety of multimedia content. Whatever the method, offer clear ways to connect or to solicit input.
  • Build relationships with bloggers. As Kevin Briody notes in The Very Basics of Blogger Outreach, you must identify the right bloggers—and get to know them. This is the time to roll up your sleeves, because there is no “easy” list. However, there are some sources that can help point you in the right direction: Alltop, Google Blog Search, and Technorati. Once you identify a few key bloggers, look around their sites for any helpful information on blog rolls or lists they might produce themselves, such as this one, which offers a robust community of management and leadership bloggers.
  • Engage on Twitter. It’s critical to build your followers before you launch a social media campaign. Adam Holden-Bache provides six useful steps to find your B2B audience on Twitter. Listen for a while. Check to see if your LinkedIn connections are on Twitter. Scan for any customers, prospects, key bloggers, and competitors.

At Hay Group, these efforts have already generated one-to-one meetings with organizations we want to do business with. And our consultants report much more receptivity to meeting requests, which is perhaps the most satisfying result, since it increases their confidence to go open some more doors.

What tactics have worked for you? Please share your successes, so we can all learn.