Scaling Social Media within the B2B Enterprise
By Alex Romanovich
Chief Marketing Officer at EuroSpaClub International
While social media marketing is continuing to make its visible impact within many B2C segments and proving to become the leading competitive advantage for a vast number of consumer brands, B2B companies are beginning to see the value of social media within their corporate structures—from R&D to customer service. B2B organizations are also beginning to refine their uses of social media and parlay them into two major areas of the corporate value chain: sales/marketing and customer service.
In the earlier stages of the corporate value chain, such as R&D and even branding/awareness, the impact and value of social media is clearly demonstrated. Yet for true scalability, two major functions are key: the ability to market and sell the product/service and the ability to adequately, and hopefully superbly, service it for months and years to come.
The B2B enterprise heavily depends on the sales and marketing components of the business—from human resources to the sharing of the expertise and engaging clients with post-sales support and training. Yet customer service is not done when the "sell cycle" is over. Larger companies such as Philips Healthcare and British Telecom, smaller organizations such as BearCom Wireless, and other innovative B2B brands are not only experimenting with social media platforms and "conversations" as marketing tools but are beginning to look seriously at employing it to integrate sales/marketing and customer service to seamlessly blend the client-facing phases of the business development continuum.
Scalability is the magic word for every business interested not just in pure growth, but also business optimization and sustainable quality improvement. It's one thing for Toyota to address quality issues with existing customers (the B2C part of the business) through its customer service function by utilizing social media and other marketing instruments. But in doing so, Toyota also needs to address the entire dealer and customer center value chain (the B2B part of the business) to communicate with, coordinate, and educate service providers to properly deliver the message, fixes, and quality controls down the value chain. Scalability is crucial as never before.
So the question is not whether B2B brands can use social media to gain credibility or make sales. The question is whether they can scale social media within the enterprise effectively enough to make an impact within their customer lifecycle, from sales to customer service.
The true impact and scalability of social media can be felt within the B2B enterprise if these customer lifecycle touchpoints are truly integrated—from researching product functions jointly with the client at the R&D stage, to converting marketing into sales at the product awareness and closure stages, and to satisfying customers' issues and concerns at the customer service stages, only to return back to the R&D phase via a closed-loop path.
Hence, scaling social media within the B2B enterprise requires a few practical preparatory steps that will not only integrate social media to major client-facing functions, but will also truly solve client issues in a scalable way.
Step 1: Provide expertise tied to your product and build an expert reputation. One of the greatest advantages of social media is the ability to put the organization's best foot forward, or to provide expertise through sustainable, visible, and bi-directional exchange via "subject matter" blogs, video training mini-sites, YouTube channels, radio channels, and other social media outlets.
The 37signals project management and corporate Wiki product line, which ranges from Basecamp to Backpack products, is a great example of scalable B2B implementation, fully utilizing social media to deliver training, providing expertise via blogs, and delivering up-to-the-minute customer service updates via Twitter. Shared—or social—expertise is highly scalable because of the "create one, share many" relationship with experts and customers.
Step 2: Research clients and your competition, and improve your products and services. Although it is true for B2C and B2B environments, research is especially valuable in the B2B space, before and after the product development and product deployment phases ("product" meaning product or service). Knowing what your clients are saying, as well as how your competition might be responding to your strategies and tactics, is only one of many facets of B2B social media marketing and research.
Anticipating and validating product changes through social research, social surveys, polls, and customer surveys are of extreme value to many B2B brands. Again, scalability can be easily achieved through "one-to-many" polls and surveys, planned product soft launches with data-gathering techniques, and planned user-generated content outlets, displaying customer or early acceptance group feedback in real time for others to see and appreciate.
Step 3: Scale your sales and marketing efforts through social media. Sales and marketing closely follow expertise sharing and research, as they are in the closed-loop "social enterprise" architecture. If the organization can prove that conversions are possible after sustainable and bi-directional content/expertise sharing and get a positive response to crowdsourcing product function and feature improvements, then the business can get ready to scale sales and marketing functions through social media as well.
Scaling sales and marketing functions doesn't mean that a company has to outfit every salesperson and marketer with Twitter and Facebook accounts; although, if carefully orchestrated, it could improve the sales footprint online. It means that the organization can now base the client intake process on many interactive social elements, such as product inquiries, specification and product description downloads, sales chat rooms, pricing and estimation functions, and other instruments to get clients closer to the closing line. Once these are implemented, the training and careful selection of socially capable and efficient sales and marketing specialists can be deployed.
Step 4: Allocate and scale your resources. This step is highly dependent on the previous three and the organization's willingness to scale along the lines of social media and the interactive customer lifecycle. The above steps also assume that the resources to be deployed are highly trained and will be a good fit every step of the way. Bringing untrained or poorly matched resources to the expertise stage, for example, will greatly decrease the chances of the subsequent steps being successful. Scalability can be achieved only upon careful coordination of well-picked and well-matched employees.
If your enterprise has a strong social presence—from R&D to customer service—you will simplify your interactions with clients and prospects and their ability to engage with you at any point in the client lifecycle. This is the ultimate definition of the scalable enterprise, and social media can be used effectively to achieve success in its deployment and management.