The 2009 Forrester Research report about what influences IT buyers in a B2B context presented the following list of the most influential sources of information for technology buyers. As it happens, the positive impact of all of the sources of influence on Forrester’s list can be enhanced through social media efforts. Starting from the top, in order of influence, the sources are:
- Peers and colleagues
- Vendor, industry, trade web sites
- Your direct vendor salesperson
- Technology or business magazines
- Consultants, VARs, or SIs
- Industry trade shows or conferences (in person)
- Industry analyst firms
- Forums, online communities, social networks
- E-mail or electronic newsletters
- Web events or virtual trade shows
- Interactive media: podcasts, video, online demos
(surveying 1217 technology decision makers at companies with more than 100 employees).
Also according to Forrester, 91% of B2B technology buyer decision makers use social media to gather information.
It’s critical to recognize that a successful social media lead generation strategy doesn’t require reaching out to every customer on a one-to-one basis. Instead, the most powerful online strategy is to use existing communication channels by reaching out to the influencers who already have a one-to-one relationship with customers. Here’s how this strategy maps to Forresters list:
“Peers and colleagues” – People will go out of their way to share good news with their friends. It’s human nature to tip off friends about big finds. The right tools can make it extremely easy for people to share information about products and services via email, Twitter, and other channels. State of the art viral messaging hooks can be built into the sellers web site, including a subscrition email messaging system and connections to other transmission mechanisms on the web (like Twitter). These are all trackable, incidentally, to provide feedback about the spread of a seller’s messages via various channels.
“Technology or business magazines,” “Consultants, VARs, or SIs“, and “Industry analyst firms” – I lump all of these together under the category public relations (PR). The experts and commentators in almost every B2B community are constantly trading information. More and more of this discussion happens using social media. Social media like Twitter and blogs are now a key conduit for building relationships with journalists, bloggers, analysts, consultants, and other experts, who in turn influence IT decision makers. (See my post earlier this week for more about this.)
“Your direct vendor salesperson” – Social media can reveal which specific people working for potential buyers are looking for a seller’s solution. For instance, LinkedIn provides a virtual directory of who does what inside many companies. Twitter and blogs can provide a blow-by-blow account of the projects specific people are working on.
“Web site“, “E-mail/newsletters“, “Web events“, “Interactive media“, and “Blogs” – Initial contacts are stickier, stronger, and last longer when people can effortlessly keep in touch with a seller using the form of online communication – email, blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, webinar, etc. – that they are most at home with. But a surprising number of B2B sellers aren’t using these off-the-shelf subscription and interaction options to convert contacts into leads.
“Forums, online communities, social networks” – These three are pure social media. But a company must actively and consistently participate in them to have an impact.
Last but not least, within every communication channel mentioned above it’s important to listen and learn what people are saying about your company, its competitors, and its markets. Companies that don’t make an effort to become aware of what influencers and customers are saying are likely to miss both sales opportunities and criticism. It takes an effort, but a wide variety of tools are available to automate the process.