The two words at the heart of B2B social media marketing success

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that many B2B brands get their social media marketing priorities wrong. Here I share a few thoughts on what I think we should focus on, the reasons why, and put forward the two words that I believe sit at the heart of B2B social media marketing success.

Firstly, the stark reality for many B2B businesses

If you’re like me, you may have worked in a B2B business where it can take months, if not years, to win a new customer. Not because you’re terrible at selling or because your product is poor, but because of factors such as contract renewal timings or the need to convince a large number of people to change their existing, well-known supplier.

Or perhaps you work in a B2B business where the entire target market comprises less than 100 potential customers, which means competitors will probably fight tooth and nail over each and every one of them.

And you may even work in a B2B business where losing a handful, or even just one precious account can hammer your profits. I’m aware of people having been made redundant and, in once case, a B2B business shut down entirely, just on the back of losing a few major clients or pitches. Not nice.

I’m sorry to start this post on that sombre note, but it serves to remind us how important individual customers can be in B2B marketing. ‘Every customer counts’ is never a cliché for us. And set against that context, there is one word that is perhaps more important than any other word in B2B sales and marketing… relationships.

Relationships are the beating heart of B2B

Long-term, equitable relationships between a customer and supplier have been the foundation of success at every B2B company I’ve worked in. For the customer, if things work out, long-term relationships mean ending up with a supplier that knows all of their pain points; that knows how they like to be serviced; and that removes the hassle, overheads and uncertainties of swapping suppliers. For suppliers, it provides the stability required to both plan future resources or investments, and to reassure shareholders and other potential customers. It’s the proverbial win:win.

Pretty obvious so far I guess. But if ‘relationships’ is my first word of the day, what’s my second? Here goes…

Word number two…

I once attended a lecture where I heard a psychologist outline, in the most simple and elegant way, the secret to successful relationships:

relationships only develop through dialogue

That is, successful relationships – in both business and personal life – form by people talking. Communicating clearly, in each direction. Two-way, not one-way. Narrowcast, not broadcast. Listening and responding. Being transparent and honest. Talking about what’s working and what’s not. In it together. ‘Til death do us part? (Alright, alright. I know I took it too far).

Dialogue‘ is my second word of the day.

And, once again, while ‘relationships only develop through dialogue’ might also be stating the obvious, I’ve always found it a really helpful saying to remember. That’s because, while there is a time and place for ‘broadcast’ in B2B marketing, it has always helped to remind me that a principle goal of our B2B marketing communications is to stimulate a dialogue with customers, in order to build or strengthen a relationship. To talk to people to learn about what matters to them, so we can figure out how we can help. To understand what they need and what we can do about it. But also to be clear about what we need in return.

Where that often goes wrong in B2B marketing

There is one particular area of B2B marketing where I’ve, admittedly, forgotten the golden rule of ‘dialogue’ from time to time – and where I see other B2B brands going astray… B2B social media marketing.

Here’s my assertion…

Firstly, while serious questions have been asked about the effectiveness of social media marketing for large B2C brands (for example, see this brilliant article from Harvard Business Review, and also watch this video from one of Professor Mark Ritson’s classic, provocative sessions on social media), I firmly believe social media has a vital role to play in relationship development in B2B. I know that many B2B marketers – myself included – rely heavily on LinkedIn, for example.

Secondly, I subscribe to Professor Byron Sharp’s philosophy in that I believe it is absolutely necessary to get our respective B2B brands out there in front of the widest possible audience of potential buyers and influencers. B2B companies that under-invest in building their wider market awareness and brand associations do so at their peril, and sophisticated, high-impact broadcast (via social media or otherwise) has a critical role to play in that.

BUT, if the only (or the dominant) thing that our B2B brands are doing on social media is broadcasting and not converting that to dialogue, I think we should each take some time to consider if there is a better approach. When it comes to actual business development, it’s invariably far better to have a rich, two-way dialogue with a smaller number of potential customers than it is to have no dialogue with a very large number.

(By the way, there is an old expression you’ll be familiar with where there are words coming out of your mouth but you’re not having a conversation… talking to yourself).

How to succeed with B2B social media marketing?

So, in summary, while I believe social media has a key role in B2B marketing, just broadcasting on social media in sub-optimal in my opinion – because the two words at the heart of B2B social media marketing success are ‘relationships’ and ‘dialogue’.

With that in mind, the big question is consequently how to stimulate dialogue and relationships on social media. Thankfully, the delusion that simply saying ‘join the conversation’ on your tweets, LinkedIn posts and other communications was ever likely to succeed has long since passed. So what is the answer?

If you’re like me, you’re probably still perfecting your social media marketing tactics and techniques, but to my mind the answer on social media is the same answer for any other sort of relationship you’re trying to build… Say hello. Don’t instantly try and flog something to someone. Avoid the hard sell. Don’t stalk people. Listen to them. Ask real questions. Show a genuine interest. Let people know when they made you laugh or made you rethink your position. Comment on their perspectives and seek feedback on your own. Find common ground. Humbly, embrace differences in opinion. Don’t ingratiate yourself, but instead show how helpful you can be. Give without expecting anything in return. And then, ultimately – when the time is right for both sides – take the conversation offline, into the real world. Because relationships only develop through dialogue.

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