Social media – an increasingly important B2B tool
I won’t lie. When I first started Purchasing Insight in 2009 I didn’t know what it was. The motivation was personal and the mission was straight forward. I wanted to set up a pure play internet business that was built on a social media platform. Initially, I had no idea what the business model would be but I was driven by a gut instinct and an intuition educated by nearly 20 years in B2B internet technologies. My instinct proved to be sound and increasingly people within the procurement community are understanding the importance of social media as professional tools and vendors are becoming more savvy about employing social media in their marketing mix.
Anyone who tells you they know everything there is to know about social media probably knows less than you do. Whether it’s used as a marketing tool or as a means to access market information, it is not entirely clear how social media works. But it is very clear that it does work.
In an especially good article on the topic in the Harvard Business Review, Bill Lee articulates some of the reasons why social media is replacing traditional marketing approaches and why buyers should be taking advantage of it. In the article, headlined Marketing is Dead, Bill explains why traditional marketing no longer works and although he concedes that there remains speculation about what will replace the broken model, he explains that “actually, we already know in great detail what the new model of marketing will look like. It’s already in place in a number of organizations”.
“Used properly” he adds, “social media is accelerating a trend in which buyers can increasingly approximate the experience of buying in their local, physical communities. For instance, when you contemplate a major purchase, such as a new roof, a flat screen TV, or a good surgeon, you’re not likely to go looking for a salesperson to talk to, or to read through a bunch of corporate website content. Instead, you’ll probably ask neighbors or friends — your peer network — what or whom they’re using.”
I think it’s a bit strong to say that marketing is dead. Of course there is still a role for tradeshows and traditional advertising but vendors in the B2B space who see social media as some sort of sideline are missing a trick. Your advocates, the buying community and the decision makers that you need to influence are becoming increasing active online. They read Spend Matters, Purchasing Insight, Horses for Sources, Sourcing Innovation and all those other great online resources – they contribute to discussion groups on linked in – they use twitter as a means of consuming content in bite sized pieces. These people are creating active, vibrant online communities.
To quote Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Vendors need to ensure that they are being talked about in the places that the buyers hang out which is increasingly on-line. One vendor explained it to me like this. “We need to understand who are our advocates, who’s talking about us and importantly, who’s not talking about us. Customers judge us by the company we keep and a large part of our marketing focus is about trying to influence those social media conversations. ”
In 2009, I was in good company not understanding how social media would impact B2B business and only 12 months ago, I’d have said that social media as both a procurement tool and a marketing tool was too immature for us to know exactly how it should used but now, the fog is clearing and we can be much more certain about how to use social media successfully to both buy and sell.
Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin