Social networking and content marketing have become widely used strategies for B2B selling. And therein lies the problem. There’s too much content competing for the attention of buyers.
Here’s the bad news: you no longer control the selling process through advertising, marketing and and direct sales. To succeed, companies now need to optimize their marketing for customer-led discovery, by creating compelling and helpful content backed by social proof.
Retail brands have done a great job of this by recruiting celebrities and leveraging their audiences to position their products where customers are already spending their time. B2B businesses can use a similar strategy, with some important differences.
Credibility trumps celebrity
Of course, you can hire influencers to write reports, speak at your events, or straight out endorse your products, but those kinds of sponsored endorsements only go so far in a B2B setting.
Retail and business customers have different factors motivating their buying decisions. Retail customers are looking for entertainment and status markers. Business buyers are looking for ways to make their jobs easier, improve their bottom line, and impress their bosses.
Credibility is critical when selling to businesses. Buyers are less impressed with celebrity endorsements. Influencers can play a pivotal role in cultivating the credibility of your B2B solution, but business influencers are typically not bought and paid for like celebrities hawking fashion or lifestyle products.
Credibility is the coin of the influencer’s realm, so effective B2B outreach strategies need to reinforce influencers’ credibility, not undermine it.
Here are three strategies your B2B social selling program needs to have in place to build credibility with your target market.
1. Customers want to buy from recognized leaders in their field. A B2B content strategy should demonstrate expertise and cultivate relationships with other leaders in the space.
You’re not a thought leader because you say you are. You’re a thought leader because other influential people say you are. Every industry has prominent online influencers and thought leaders who are more visible and authoritative than others. By strategically focusing on these influencers and interacting, you can grow your own visibility and authority online.
Curating high-quality, topical content is a foundational activity for establishing thought leadership and adding value in social networks. By sharing and promoting the best content, created and/or curated by external influencers, your company and its leaders will increase visibility and attract reciprocal attention from online influencers. By monitoring social networks and sharing the most valuable content related to your target industry verticals, your company will enhance its positioning as an authority on these topics.
Active curation increases visibility and demonstrates subject matter expertise that differentiates your company and its leaders in the marketplace. It also earns you the attention of influencers. In effect, the key to promoting yourself and your company in social networks is to focus on promoting others.
2. Prospects are initiating their own buying journey by conducting research via websites and in social networks. A B2B content strategy should provide the right information at the right time in the buyer’s self-paced journey.
The typical buyer’s journey encompasses three main stages:
- consideration, and
In the awareness stage, your content should be built on a foundation of actively curated, largely third-party content that provides insights into challenges your prospects are grappling with in their businesses. These insights should not be limited to solutions that your products or services deliver, but should be consistent with your overall philosophy and reflect the best thinking in the field.
For the consideration and decision stages, you need to be creating original content, such as articles, white papers, and case studies, that assist prospects in defining their business challenges and understanding the benefits of your solutions.
Insight-based B2B content should strive to offer knowledge and assistance to buyers, without being heavy-handed in a marketing sense. Helping, after all, is the new selling. Your content should also strive to convey not only what your company and its leaders think, but how you think and what it’s like to work with you.
3. People do business with people they know, like and trust. A B2B content strategy should leverage the personal brands and business networks of individual leaders, while also building corporate brand visibility.
Corporate brand building and marketing has informed the first generation of social media strategies for many businesses, yet maintaining a corporate social media presence is becoming table stakes and less of a differentiator in the marketplace.
Of course, B2B buyers still choose vendors based on their perceived problems/needs and your solution’s ability to address them, combined with the general reputation your business has for delivering on its promises.
However, given the choice between two or more vendors who are similarly qualified, buyers will often choose to do business with someone they feel they know better and connect with, someone who understands them and their industry vertical – someone in whom they can confidently place their trust.
Online social networks are increasingly playing the role of the trusted business networks of the past – and who you know online can be just as important as who you know offline. New prospects are not the only important target for your online social networking activities. Engaging and nurturing relationships with existing satisfied customers, industry peers and online influencers is crucial. When you add value to these important relationships within your network, you reinforce your value proposition and attract new business opportunities.
While buyers have access to more information than ever before, distilling the signal from the marketing noise is harder than ever. Influencer outreach and engagement strategies can cut through the noise and enhance the credibility of your solution to your target B2B audience.