July 23, 2014

Where is the utility in mobile apps for B2B?

Mitch Joel has a nice post on HBR this week about bringing utility to marketing and social media.

As is often the case, his advice pertains more to B2C than B2B, as I point out in a comment:

“Utility” is a clear, succinct way of putting it. I am concerned about the B2B side of things, though, for complex technology solutions in particular. For customers in this realm, I think utility has long meant access to their peers and to expert advice during the purchasing and post-sales processes. The utility would be in making that easier to do than it is now (going to vendors for customer references, calling up their networks of peers for recommendations and advice, sifting through analyst reports and trade magazines, going to trade association events). Social media hasn’t taken off for B2B because it doesn’t provide any more utility for making those things happen (except perhaps for finding old colleagues on LinkedIn). Online communities try to offer it all in a box, but I don’t see much utility there except for technical people looking for solutions to specific software and hardware problems. For the real customers of complex technology solutions, it doesn’t seen like utility will ever come through an app, unless that app links to a much deeper, rich experience that combines all of the things mentioned above. Perhaps we need to wait for the second coming of Second Life for that. ;-)

Awhile back, I tried to get at this concept, though much less elegantly than Joel, in terms of how B2B could make use of mobile apps. I wonder if anything has changed since I wrote it. I’m not seeing the killer app for B2B utility emerging yet. Are you?

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Why salespeople should sell ideas: an FAQ

We all know the increasing importance of ideas in B2B marketing. But idea marketing doesn’t start and stop with marketers. For the program to be successful, those ideas must find their way into the hands of salespeople. And I’m not sure that salespeople share the same passion for ideas as we do. I think they need to be convinced. Please tell me if you think the following does the job:

  • Relationships are what matter in selling. Why should I start selling ideas instead?
    Relationship selling skills matter more than ever. Idea selling isn’t a replacement for any current selling skills. It is an additional tool.
  • But why are ideas so important now?
    Buyers are spending much more time online than they used to. A (fairly old) study by Forbes and Google found that 80% of C-level executives perform at least three web searches per day. That was in 2009. No doubt that number has continued to go up—especially with the rise of mobile and social media.
  • What does online search have to do with selling?
    As buyers do more searching, they are stretching the buying process earlier and earlier, to the point where they may not have a specific product or service in mind when they search. They are looking for inspiration and guidance on the business problems they face. Increasingly, they are going to the internet for that guidance before they speak with salespeople.
  • So you’re saying there’s a part of the buying process that doesn’t involve salespeople?
    No. I’m saying there’s a new part of the buying process that comes before buyers have decided what they want to do. They assume that salespeople can’t help them at that point. And for the most part, they’re right. Most salespeople are still focused on selling specific products and services.
  • C’mon, nobody goes in pitching anymore. I ask them about their pain points and work with them to resolve them.
    Well, ask buyers and they’ll tell you that you should know their pain points before you even walk in the door. They want to start the conversation with their pain points and work forward from there—without talking about what you have to offer them. They are looking for good ideas, facts, and data about how to solve their specific business problems. That’s what they’re looking for on the internet—why shouldn’t they expect it from their providers, too?
  • But I don’t have access to that kind of information.
    Maybe not, but someone inside your organization does. Every B2B company has subject matter experts (SMEs) who are working with customers to solve problems and have deep backgrounds in customers’ processes, industries, and functions. The trick is to discover those sources of ideas in your organization and capture their wisdom for wider distribution.
  • How do we find and tap into those sources of ideas inside the organization?
    Sales and marketing need to work together to develop an idea network—a group of internal and external SMEs that can help develop and vet new ideas and put them into the hands of salespeople. The big strategy consulting firms have been doing this for decades. But it’s only since the rise of search that buyers have begun to expect this kind of original thinking from all their providers. In a recent ITSMA survey, 88% of B2B buyers said that ideas are important or critical for providers that want to make it to their short lists.
  • How do I get these ideas in a form I can use with customers?
    Besides creating idea networks, B2B companies also have to become publishers. With the decline of B2B trade publishing, B2B providers have to pick up the slack. But it can’t be with warmed over brochures. Traditional forms of marketing are still incredibly value later on in the sales cycle, but at the early stages, companies must produce articles and surveys that can compete with what the journalists used to provide. The management consulting companies have built small publishing engines—with dedicated editors, writers, and other publishing experts—inside their four walls. B2B companies that are serious about idea selling need to do the same thing.
  • Great, so you want me to dump a bunch of whitepapers on my customers?
    No, you have to work with marketing to get those ideas translated into a form you can use with customers—whether that be idea salescards, demos, etc. Sales and marketing need to work together to figure that out. This is where many marketing groups fall down; they stop short of translating the ideas into usuable sales materials. Companies need to become as good at idea sales enablement as they are at idea publishing.

Does this look like a realistic list? What have I left out?

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How to write blog posts from a white paper

If you’re a corporate marketer like me, no doubt you’ve been put in the situation I faced this week: you have a white paper that an external content person created for the company and now you need to make that content social. It’s an important part of social media management.

Let’s face it, there are some B2B executives who wouldn’t read a white paper even if you threatened them with lima beans (what, you like lima beans? Eeewww!). ITSMA research shows that buyers want the whole menu of content—not just a white paper here or a video there.

So this week I went back to the white paper writer and asked for a series of short blog posts based on the content in the white paper. This person responded with a good question: How would you like it to read and sound?

I decided to write down the ways. After circulating it with colleagues on my idea marketing team (who came up with good additions), we came up with this list. What would you add (or take away)?

  • New point of view. The white paper has one big idea. Each post should have its own strong point of view.
  • Conversational. Blogs need to take the tone down quite a bit from the formality of a white paper.
  • Humorous. White papers are serious. Too serious, in my mind. I’m trying to bring a lighter touch. But you need to try to make the blog post downright fun if possible. Need to poke fun at ourselves and our readers (without getting personal).
  • Challenging. Good white papers challenge, too, but blog posts can (and should) get away with grabbing a bigger fistful of shirt collar.
  • Passionate. Missing in a lot of white papers, this is the lifeblood of a good blog post. Readers have to feel your commitment.
  • Easy. Blogs are the comfort food of idea marketing: quick, tasty, and not great for your long-term health. That means lists and top tens and bullet points and lots of informative subheads. No long narratives. Unlike white papers, the posts shouldn’t pretend to be all readers need for their long-term thinking on a subject. We invite them to taste the healthier stuff by linking to the full menu through the blog posts.

What would you add to this list?

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Is “social media campaign” an oxymoron?

If you had asked me a few years ago whether the traditional marketing campaign had any place in social media I would have scoffed. Just more evidence of marketing’s old-fashioned, ADHD-driven, love-’em-and-leave-’em approach.

I would have had only slightly less disdain for the audience for these campaigns. Fly-by-night opportunists hoping to win your Facebook sweepstakes. Win or lose, after the contest is over, they’d ditch you as quickly as a toddler dispatching a fistful of broccoli.

After all, “engaging” is one of the four components of social media management. If all you do is run contests and campaigns on Facebook, how can you expect to hold onto prospects over the long term?

But then I see something like HP Technology Services (HPTS)’ “Where’s the Humanity in Your Technology” campaign, or Hitachi Data Services (HDS)’ Social Media Buzz campaign. These campaigns were the winners of this year’s ITSMA Marketing Excellence Awards. (You can read synopses of the programs here and here.) The campaigns used two methods that play well to Facebook users:

  • Let them play games. You’ve heard of Farmville, right? Facebook is the fun social network. HP questioned Facebookers about their work styles and matched them to an “IT personality.” Then HP did something cool. It drove them to a microsite featuring a hand-picked group of HP experts (such as these HP cloud experts) with the same “personality.” Visitors could click on the experts to learn more about them and connect directly with them.
  • Appeal to their sense of charity. Many people feel less silly engaging in games and contests if it is part of doing a good deed. Companies are having success pulling in fans by linking to charitable cases. In HP’s case, it was CARE, the aid relief organization.
  • Let them win stuff. Contests, giveaways, and sweepstakes do really well on Facebook. Indeed, HDS initially started publicizing its contest across Twitter, LinkedIn, Google AdWords, and with media partners as well as Facebook, but soon shifted most of the budget to Facebook because response was so much better there. HDS also did something cool. It segmented its offers to get to the audience it really wanted: After running people through a qualification form, the target high-level executives got a chance to win a free IT storage assessment. Non-targets could win Hitachi consumer products and went to a separate database. The strong results from campaign show that C-levels actually are on Facebook and are just as vulnerable to contests as the rest of us.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Koch, you slut. You’re just warming up to social media campaigns because you work for ITSMA and these are the companies who won your contest.

I’m not a slut, I’m a snob
Actually, I’m not a slut. I’m more of a snob. I’m a content guy and I think thought leadership is the best way to build nurturing relationships with contacts in B2B marketing. I still believe that. But my monism was shaken not just by our social media award winners but by something else I saw this week. Marketing automation vendor Eloqua released a SlideShare entitled 10 ways to “solve” Facebook for B2B.

The presentation mostly hypes Eloqua’s Facebook campaign, but a couple of things stood out for me. One was that a sweepstakes drove 43% of the traffic to Eloqua’s Facebook page, far more than other sources.

Plan for the loss of likes
Then came the real epiphany. They actually planned the campaign with the expectation that many of the “Likes” would disappear after the sweepstakes. They planned for it and tried to stanch the bleeding with a steady stream of relevant content to try to hang onto the minority who came for the contest but also had some level of interest in and need for marketing automation.

This is your funnel on Facebook
So maybe this is your funnel on Facebook: Build spikes in traffic with contests and giveaways and then try to slow the losses with content so that the overall pipeline grows somewhat after the giveaways have settled.

What do you think? Can campaigns coexist comfortably with a thought leadership lead nurturing strategy? Or will the campaigns just distract us from the need to do the hard work of a consistent relationship building strategy?

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7 reasons why social media success has nothing to do with social media

This week I was asked to speak on a panel about social media to a group of B2B marketers in financial services. It was great getting the perspective of marketers outside of technology. But they call it “financial services” for a reason: They have all of the same struggles as technology services companies—with the added complication of tons of regulatory requirements.

But when the panel was over, I realized something scary: Most of the success factors we wound up talking about had nothing to do with social media. They had to do with other things that companies have to do before they can successfully engage in social media. Here are some examples:

  • Most C-level executives are not in social media—they’re in search. ITSMA research shows that 66% of buyers seek information themselves rather than waiting to hear from providers. They seek that information through search: 79% of c-level executives do at least three searches per day. They are more likely to encounter our content through search than through the social media channels themselves.
  • Social doesn’t happen in B2B without a culture change. When we surveyed B2B marketers last year, 50% said they do not have a social media policy. It would be easy to say that B2B companies don’t have social media policies because they just don’t get it, or they’re slow and lack resources. But I talk to them all the time and I know that’s not the case for most of them. They hold back because they know that they need the full support, commitment, and participation of the business in social media. Without those things in place, there’s no reason to get into it, because you will fail.
  • Before social media can happen, companies need an idea culture. A lot of B2C social media marketing can come out of the marketing group because consumers are looking for deals, product information, and peer reviews. Marketers can handle all that stuff. But you can’t tweet a 50%-off coupon in B2B. You have to tweet ideas for solving customers’ problems. Marketing can’t do that on its own. Social media is the easy part; idea marketing is the hard part. Top executives and SMEs must commit to making ideas part of employees’ individual expectations. One of the reasons I know that B2B marketers get this is because the number one goal of marketers in our survey was to integrate social media into the larger marketing strategy—to link social media to their idea marketing process and their events—the channels that are proven and where the business has committed to contributing content.
  • The business case doesn’t exist for social media; but it does for idea marketing. When we asked buyers how important good ideas are to the buying decision, 58% of executive-level buyers (people buying more than $500,000 worth of IT services at a pop) say that it is important or critical for making it onto the short list of providers. Let me repeat: More than half of your buyers say that if you can’t demonstrate that you have good ideas for solving their business problems, they won’t buy from you. We asked: If a provider brings you a good idea would you be more likely to buy from them? 30% said yes. Of that 30%, 54% said they’d consider sole sourcing the project. Social media are great for developing those ideas and for making them available to many more people. But first you have to have an engine for creating the ideas.
  • Many B2B companies have already said no to social media. I’ve spoken to marketers who have dipped a toe into social media and pulled it back because they saw that their companies simply weren’t ready. They’ve started blogs where SMEs posted three or four times and then got busy with other things or got bored and the blog went dark. Someone somewhere latched onto that and declared that blogs don’t work. They blame the channel rather than blaming their company’s lack of commitment. Then that gets translated into “social media don’t work for us.” Many B2B companies are just now contemplating getting into social media for the second time.
  • Marketing needs a system of record before it can succeed in social media. Businesspeople don’t care how many Twitter followers you have. They care about the size, speed, and quality of the pipeline. We need a lead management process to act as a place to bring people from social media. In our recent lead management survey, just 53% report consistent definitions of lead tracking that are adopted globally. Only 65% have defined the lead flow process. Without a process for integrating social media into lead management, the ROI of social media in B2B will never move beyond brand awareness and website traffic.
  • Thought leadership is more important than social media. At the earliest stage of the buying process, marketing owns the relationship with buyers. Buyers don’t want to hear from salespeople at this point. We call it the epiphany stage; it’s before buyers have articulated their specific needs. But at this point, buyers are trolling for good ideas, insight into industry trends, and news. Companies must have an engine for providing those ideas in place before they can expect to make waves in social media.

What do you think?

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Is Twitter “social?”

Majority opinion seems to be that Twitter isn’t really a social platform it’s a broadcast medium. A study by Yahoo Research found that 50% of tweets are generated by an “elite” group of 20k users and that those users tend to follow one another rather than branching out—what many refer to as the social media echo chamber.
For these reasons, pundits say that Twitter isn’t much use for reaching B2B customers. But I treasure this “eliteness,” and while older, high-level executive technology buyers are not on Twitter, the younger ones (and those that wannabe C-level executives) are. And in many years of interviewing this audience and blogging to it, they all tell me that they get online to learn, not socialize (even the older ones use online search like crazy.
Twitter isn’t for conversation, it’s for learning.
These days, my audience is B2B marketers and my goal is to help you learn. I have a search column in TweetDeck for “B2B.” I try to check it every day to see what people are sharing. 99% of the time, they’re sharing links to content—blogs, research papers, news stories, etc.—that they think is relevant. I browse through the tweets and look for things that interest me. Then I click through to see if the content is something that I think B2B marketers might learn from. If it is, I re-tweet it or rewrite the tweet if I think there’s a better point to be made about the content than what the original tweeter said.
If I disagree with the content I’ll say so and ask others what they think. Rarely do I see people who believe that the tweet alone is content to be learned from (except those annoying people who think quotes from famous people are worth tweeting). So I treat Twitter like a reporter rather than a cocktail party host.
Learning is social, isn’t it?
The best truly “social” interactions I see on Twitter are organized chats. I’ve been both a featured “guest star” and an attendee and I always learn something. But again, chats as I’ve experienced them have always been about sharing and learning rather than getting to know one another. What am I doing wrong? Am I wrong to believe that B2B audiences will gradually come to social media channels like Twitter to learn?
Many say that marketers are a different breed than “customers,” and what works for marketers won’t translate to the B2B world in general. I don’t think they’re so different. Sure, marketers like to participate in social media more, but that’s because they are the ones charged with making social media happen in their organizations. But just like their audiences, marketers are smart, educated people who like to learn. But I’m left wondering, is sharing content being social?

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The crisis of buyer information in B2B and how to fix it

cooling

Image by roboppy via Flickr

The other day, I kept getting calls on my cell phone from the same number. Never left a voice mail, (which my gut was telling me should have been a signal), but the number was local. Could it really be that someone I knew was trying to get hold of me?

So, like a fool, I finally called back (the iPhone makes it so easy to do!). With the kind of maddening irony that makes me flash on doing capital punishment-inducing physical harm to a fellow human, I heard a recorded voice say, “Thanks for calling back. If you would like us to stop calling you press…”

Too bad you can’t slam an iPhone.

Pushing the easy button
The episode reminded me of the sheer desperation, sociopathic lack of empathy, and .0000000000000000001% response rate it takes to do direct commercial marketing via the telephone these days. Some of you may not even be old enough to recall what it was like before the National Do Not Call Registry came along. Don’t ask. You think Wall Street and the banks are evil now? You should have seen what they did to doddering seniors’ life savings via the telephone.

It got me thinking, what if a similar easy button comes along for online marketing? We keep hearing that at some point web users may truly be able to stop you from learning anything about them. The “voluntary policing” being done by the ad industry today online is at best an uneasy truce with an internet public not yet bothered enough, too lazy, or too uniformed to do anything about shutting off the cookie oven for good. Certainly, you know that the kinds of douche bags who practice the aforementioned cell phone marketing are no doubt out there somewhere hatching an internet cookie scheme that will so outrage the American public that the little old ladies (and men) will finally rise up and demand relief, just as they did with telephone marketing.

Obviously, this is less of an issue in B2B than B2C. Cookies help us learn more about our website visitors, but you won’t learn nearly as much about the spending patterns of B2B executives through web cookies as you do with B2C buyers.

Privacy is a concern in B2B, too
Yet even in B2B, we have a growing concern over privacy in lead management. Anecdotally, we hear that content gets exponentially more clicks when there’s no registration form attached to it. And people’s B2C experiences have a habit of leaking over to their B2B behavior. Generally I think we can say that the trend and sentiment among B2B buyers is to hand over less information over time rather than more.

So how to stave off this impending crisis of buyer information? It may seem facile, but social media are the answer. Rather than trading information for value or simply stealing it through invisible cookies, what if we actually did it the way people do in real life: through a personal relationship?

Buyers click more on pages with people
Buyers want to get to know your subject matter experts. They really do. I saw a terrific interview recently with Ethan McCarty of IBM, who talked about how IBM is working to get its employees involved in internal knowledge sharing through social mechanisms. You should read the whole thing, but one bit jumped out at me as great data for proving why we need to get more personal with buyers:

“Through A/B testing we have found that pages with IBMers on them perform significantly better than those that do not have IBMers on them. For example, if we have a web page that is designed to get visitors to click deeper into our site, the presence of IBM experts on the page improves both the performance and the overall feedback we get about the page. It’s kind of no surprise—when we are transparent, people trust us and feel better about the experience. What was interesting to me is that this is even the case when they don’t interact directly with the IBMer on the page.”

Marketers who let their subject matter experts get more personal with buyers will win in the end.

What do you think? Are you making plans for a post-buyer information age? If so, how?

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4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing

Recently, I was preparing a workshop on social media for an ITSMA client. The marketer in charge of the company’s social media effort gave me a clear edict: “Look, I don’t want you focusing on Facebook, okay? We don’t see the value of it for B2B and we want it off the table. Every time we talk about it, we have an endless argument that leads nowhere.”

Seemed a bit harsh, but I had to admit that I had been harboring my own doubts about the value of Facebook for B2B for a long time. I’m not saying that B2B companies shouldn’t be on Facebook. I think every company should be on Facebook. There are just too many people passing through those turnstiles not to put up a sign somewhere. So I think B2B businesses should have a Facebook page that shares whatever content the company is already producing. Why not? It’s yet another channel for reaching customers and the effort required to set up a Facebook page and create RSS feeds of your content to update it is pretty small.

But let’s put this all in context. What is B2B marketing all about? Relationships, right? And I just don’t see what’s good about Facebook for creating relationships in B2B. Much of what works on Facebook seems to fall into two camps:

  • Charity. I see many brands launching altruistic campaigns on Facebook to get attention and burnish their reputations.
  • Contests/giveaways/games. Much as people at trade shows will do just about anything for a t-shirt, it seems pretty easy to get people to click the like button if they can get free swag or get a chance to win something. EMC, Cisco and Intel have had success with this kind of focus for some time now.

But I notice a few things about B2B efforts on Facebook that leave me skeptical:

  • Engagement is campaign focused and temporary. I see brands investing effort in campaigns around a particular event or contest, but what about the space in between? If the only way to get people interested in your content is by giving them stuff instead of wisdom, how are you supposed to sustain that connection over the long term?
  • Conversation is banal or non-existent. The B2B pages I’ve seen on Facebook are broadcast focused. Lots of big graphics and calls to action around the above mentioned swag and charitable causes, but I’ve never seen anything in the way of substantive discussion that anyone would mistake for thought leadership, as you would on say, a good blog post by a subject matter expert.
  • The like button is a blunt instrument. There’s no denying the power of Facebook as a platform. Its sheer numbers mean that brands get tons of likes. But click on that like button and X,Y,Z Company is in your Facebook stream forever (with no clear way to get rid of it) along with the stuff you really want to read from your BFFs. That’s gotta get old pretty quickly. Research shows that people unlike brands on Facebook nearly as often as they shut off other channels and for all the same reasons: “too frequent, irrelevant or boring communications.”
  • The perception of Facebook as a consumer platform persists. I keep waiting for Facebook to buy LinkedIn or Twitter and just put an end to the business vs. consumer distinction. But until they do, it seems that the perception will persist. Is it any wonder that B2C marketing techniques dominate? Facebook just doesn’t seem like a good source for B2B thought leadership.

Again, I’m not saying Facebook shouldn’t be part of a B2B social media strategy, but its utility as a platform for building a deeper relationship with B2B buyers still seems limited. What do you think?

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6 lessons on how NOT to market to customers

Here’s the kind of pressure that social media puts on us: After not posting anything to my blog in nearly six weeks, I feel compelled to offer an explanation. Isn’t that sad?

Hey, but that’s how it is. Social media are like a school of sharks; keep moving forward or sink lifelessly to the bottom.

Well, I have an explanation, or an excuse, and a damned good one at that. I broke my hip about four weeks ago (my bike slid from underneath me on a rainy morning on my way to work). More specifically, I broke my femur at the hip, which left me with a decision to make: pin together a 51-year-old femur (with its attendant wear and tear) or lop it off at the top and get a brand new, shiny fake hip. Since I can’t resist that new hip smell, I opted for the stainless upgrade.

Now, don’t think I’m looking for an outpouring of sympathy. I’m telling you this because:

  1. I don’t want to lose any more credibility and subscribers than I already have during this lull in activity (as any social media “expert” will tell you, six weeks may as well be six years—unforgivable, unimaginable, and definitely under caffeinated. As one “expert,” (who showed no evidence of ever having blogged herself) once sneered to me, blogging is as easy as “doing email.” Oh, I guess that’s why my inbox is so crammed all the time.)
  2. During my time on serious, hard drugs (narcotics, shh!) I realized that I really have become one of you marketing types. Any time anyone delivers a service to me now, I immediately start thinking about how the service is “being positioned,” and whether the “value proposition makes sense.” I’m a goner. A marketing geek. (I thought drugs were supposed to prevent that sort of thing.)

All of which is a lead-in to this week’s entry, which is what we as B2B marketers can learn from health-care marketing.

The answer is: nothing.

Healthcare marketing is awful, practically non-existent. Sure, healthcare knows how to sell drugs, but in terms of preparing the customer for the experience of service delivery, fuggedaboudit. Here are some examples:

  • Educate the customer—or don’t. Many of us in B2B can be proud of how we educate our customers and prospects on the business issues they face—from current regulatory changes to future “sea changes.” We help ease them into the idea that they need our services and solutions to solve these problems so that the experience of spending all that money feels a little less like stepping off a cliff. Here’s how a doctor introduced himself to me in the emergency room: “Hi, I’m Doctor X. We’ve looked at your x-rays and you’ve broken your hip. You’re going to be going to surgery. Somebody will be in to talk to you about it.” And then he excused himself and left the room and I never saw him again. I wanted to get right up and walk out of there. Oh wait, right…
  • Whatever you do, don’t let the customer meet the people who will actually be doing the work. Unfortunately, this one does often ring true in B2B, at least in my experience in consulting. Send your top dog, most empathetic, articulate, industry-savvy, alpha salesperson in to market the service, and then show up to do the work with the freshly-minted biz school grads and the interns.
    In the trauma ward of the hospital, perversely enough, it’s the opposite. Twenty-something interns come in and tell you how awesome the trauma surgeon is and how awesome your experience is going to be. Then the interns show up again together later on in a big group trailing behind an older, more confident surgeon (surgeons seem to have no shortage of confidence and gain more as they age), making it clear that the interns are still being educated by this person and/or institution, thereby calling into question any of their assessments of the awesomeness of the surgeon. But this guy still isn’t the surgeon. He’s a colleague. Then, as you are lying on a bed outside the O.R. waiting to be worked on, you meet the doctor who will be doing the work. (Thank goodness for Google—the day prior I found that he got five-stars on a health review site! Operated on a New England Patriot!)
  • Delight the customer with an upgrade—for awhile. In both B2B and B2C, we’re getting better about throwing unhappy customers a bone. A discount here, an upgrade there. The short-term costs are marginal compared with the longer-term goodwill they buy. When I finally made it out of the ER and was given my hospital room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a huge room and I had it all to myself, in a newly constructed wing of the hospital. And the nurses were unbelievably attentive. One of them finally acknowledged that I was in the intensive care unit for heart patients (there wasn’t room for me in orthopedics) and that she was “used to giving constant attention to people with zippers in their chests.” Caring for me was “like a vacation,” one of them said. I was in heaven. All the ginger ale I could drink and nurses compulsively asking me what I needed or wanted whenever I opened my eyes.
    Then, the day after surgery, the nurse informed me that I was being moved to be “with my own kind” over in orthopedics. Now, the only time I got ginger ale was when it was delivered on a tray with green Jell-o and chicken broth at mealtimes. But the reduced attention did come with a benefit—I got a little “drug remote” with a red button I could push to administer my own morphine. Later that day, they took away the remote and gave me a roommate.
    Could you imagine after clawing your way to the suite upgrade at a hotel having the desk clerk say, “We’ve found a room like the one you were originally supposed to get—with cleaner carpets this time—and we’ve taken the liberty of moving all your stuff from the suite into that room. Enjoy the rest of your stay.”
  • Segment your audience. In B2B we pride ourselves on knowing our audience. We have marketing designed for the C-level executive, the buyer, the influencer, and the front-line types. Meanwhile, 51 is pretty young for hip replacement. I’ll probably need to have it done again if I hit the average life expectancy of an American white male and manage to hang onto some form of health insurance. Most people who have hip replacements are older. That must be why the exercise sheet they gave me pictured a balding man with white hair and extra lines drawn in his face, a floppy tank-top t-shirt covering a paunch, and spindle appendages meant to approximate arms and legs, wheezing his way through leg lifts. Motivational.
  • Market your strengths. The highest production-value material I received upon discharge was a two-color, 24-page glossy magazine entitled “A Guide to Taking Warfarin.” (They put me on blood thinners for a few weeks after surgery.) The guide to what I should do after having a hip replacement (including exercises) was five Xeroxed pages stapled together.
  • Above all, empathize with the customer. I think we do this pretty well in B2B. We hire marketers and salespeople with direct experience in the customer’s industry so that they can talk to and sympathize with the customer’s pain points. During one of my two two-minute conferences with the doctor in charge of the orthopedics wing (not my surgeon), I made the mistake of asking what sort of pain killers I could expect to receive upon release. He interrupted me with, “No one said hip replacements aren’t supposed to hurt.” Thanks, Doc.

Of course, I can’t complain. I have health insurance, I’m walking again, I’ll be able to ride a bike again, and the accident could have been a lot worse than it was. But healthcare sure could use some help on the marketing front. Anybody got any ideas?

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How do you know when you’ve reached the next level in social media?

I was thrilled to run a social media workshop this week with a large B2B technology and services provider (and ITSMA member). The great thing about the experience was that this company is already doing social media. In other words, I didn’t have to spend any time defending the honor of social media and explaining why they should be doing it.

This was all about the how.

But even the how was different. This company has established a highly visible presence in social media—indeed, it has won an award for it. The marketing team wanted to do the workshop because, as one executive told me, “We’re committed to social media and we’ve done some good things, but we want to take it to the next level.”

That got me thinking. Exactly what does that mean? What is the next level of social media in B2B and how do you know when you’ve gotten there?

We could all use some way to gauge our progress, especially in large, dispersed companies and marketing organizations. So let’s try to define what the ground level is so we know when we’ve established the base level of organizational social media skills. Here’s my take (I hope you will help me with your thoughts).

  • There is cultural permission to speak. Companies need to give themselves permission to engage in social media, both within marketing and in the broader culture of the company. I speak to many regulated B2B companies who (still) don’t believe their employees can engage in uncontrolled conversations with customers and prospects. The company I worked with this week no longer has that problem.
  • Internal social media is thriving. Most B2B companies I work with are much farther ahead with internal social media efforts than with external. I’m committed to the theory that companies can’t be effective at engaging in social media marketing until they’ve gotten the hang of it internally first.
  • Basic social media governance has been established. I’ve yet to see a B2B company have any success in social media that doesn’t have a social media policy, at least some training, and an informal social media center of excellence.
  • The organization views social media as important to relationship building. Unless social media is embraced by respected subject or experts outside marketing and PR, you haven’t gotten past the first level yet.
  • Social media is integrated with traditional marketing. Most companies need to use social media as adjuncts to traditional marketing practices before they can feel comfortable going farther with it. Social media supports an event, or an offering introduction, then ebbs. It’s hard to go to the always-on mode with social media at first. Most companies just don’t know how to sustain it. But at least they are testing and practicing.

I think this defines the base level of social media capabilities—the things you need to have in place before you can begin down the long road of perfection. What do you think? Do you agree? What would you add or change?

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