I attended SirusDecisions’ excellent inaugural European summit in London yesterday. It was packed with essential information and insight for anyone concerned with improving their organisation’s sales and marketing alignment, and offered compelling evidence for the benefits of getting sales and marketing working collaboratively towards a common goal.
One of the highlights of the event was the presentation of SiriusDecisions’ annual survey of B2B buyers. The study tracks buying attitudes amongst the key players in complex, high-value B2B technology buying decisions - champions, influencers, CXOs, uses, evaluators and ratifiers. They were able to compare trends over time - and presented some fascinating conclusions.
Your buyers are being overwhelmed
I don’t imagine this will come as any surprise to anyone with an email account or internet connection, but your prospective buyers are being overwhelmed with (often poorly-targeted) campaigns. The SiriusDecisions research reported that the average B2B buyer is the target of over 20 campaigns a week - a 32 percent growth since 2006. Over 10% of the survey reported receiving over 50 campaigns a week. No wonder response rates are declining.
A question of trust
Where are your prospective customers turning when they look for trusted sources of advice? Some of the changes over time are interesting. Your prospect’s peer group now closely challenges industry analysts for the top spot when it comes to sources of trusted advice - and of course tapping into their peer group has been rendered easier by specialist business networks and the web-enablement of other professional associations.
Conventional trade publications showed one of the largest absolute declines in importance - but perhaps more surprisingly, vendors have started to rebound from their previous low points, probably as a consequence of a focused effort by a few switched-on vendors to educate their prospects rather than pitch their products. Despite this, vendors remain the second-least trusted source of advice, only exceeded by...
Social Media is the least trusted source
Here’s the bombshell, though, for the misguided evangelists who might claim that claim that all your marketing efforts ought now to be redirected towards social media. By a margin, social media is currently the least-trusted source of information for today’s B2B buyers - worse, even, than listening to the average vendor.
But this finding deserves interpretation, and it seems that naive use of social media on the part of vendors is simply adding to the noise rather than contributing to understanding. I believe - and there are some growing examples - that intelligent use of social media as a considered part of the overall sales and marketing mix is already having a key role to play for the admittedly small minority of B2B companies who are starting to master it.
Social Media without Thought Leadership is like broadcasting into space
So how are companies to avoid just adding to the unintelligible background noise when embracing social media? The answer - as for almost every aspect of intelligent marketing today - lies in the quality and relevance of content and in connecting with your audience. SiriusDecisions concluded that thought leadership was the key foundation, and my own voice of the customer conversations on behalf of clients with B2B buyers has borne this out.
Let’s be clear. Thought leadership isn’t about what your company does or sells. It about what you understand about the challenges and opportunities that face your customers and prospects, and how you might help them address them. It’s about educating, informing, intriguing and sometimes provoking them. But perhaps above all, it has the ultimate goal - whether immediately or in the future - of having them wanting to learn more from or through you.
Using targeted Social Media to connect your audience with compelling content
So one of the ways in which the pioneering B2B companies that are intelligently using social media is to connect their target audience with compelling content and trusted advice. It involves using social media to share information from naturally trusted sources - including industry analysts and their peer groups. And above all, it must reflect an awareness of the trigger events that may disturb your prospect’s status quo and initiate their search for potential solutions.
Avoiding “broadcasting to an audience that isn’t listening” requires that you understand where and how your prospects and customers prefer to consume information. In most B2B contexts, Facebook is unlikely to be the obvious choice. But I encourage you to think of social media from a broader perspective. Listen to your recent past prospects. How did they find you? Who did they turn to for advice when they needed answers?
Understand your audience, and get targeted. Make social media just one part of a thought leadership programme spanning every element of the marketing mix. Don’t ignore the web-enabled communities that have sprung up around professional associations - or specialist LinkedIn groups like that associated with the UK’s Institute of Directors. Create your own communities, by all means, but also tap into the ones that already exist - and be sure to respect their rules and expectations.
Map the BuyerSphere that surrounds your prospects. Work out what is relevant to them. Tune in to what those communities are saying. Contribute to the debate. Educate, don’t pitch. Create great content. Connect your customers and prospects with other sources of information that is going to be valuable to them. Stimulate them to want to learn more. Don’t expect immediate gratification, but if you do this well, you can expect long-term rewards - and a position as one of those vendors people are prepared to turn to for advice.