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Successful social media marketing – What B2C can learn from stodgy old B2B

More than once I’ve pointed out that marketers of B2B SaaS applications should look to the consumer side for inspiration to lower costs of sales by automating the sales and marketing process and integrating it thoroughly into the product itself.

However, after sitting on a panel on social media platforms at Digital Hollywood last week, I realized that there is considerable wisdom that can be transferred in the other direction. I’ve often maintained that B2B marketing is actually harder, or should I say more like pulling teeth, than B2C marketing. The reason for this is that B2B marketers have always had the luxury (or burden) of having deep access to the customer’s decision making process. B2B marketers have been engaged in the development of demos, white papers, reference accounts, referral programs, user groups and conferences, influencer marketing in the form of analyst relations, press relations, evangelist/advocate programs, and lead customer pilots, etc. etc. for decades (if not centuries!).

Whereas consumer marketers have been largely restricted to the two A’s of the well known AIDA model, i.e., generating awareness at the beginning of the buying cycle and providing promotional offers toward the end to motivate purchase—until the advent of social media. Unfortunately, the advertising practices and institutions for plugging into the two A’s are so well established that they are still being applied by rote to the ID stages, e.g., Facebook’s now infamous experience with beacon. Advertising practices in B2C have focused on doing things TO consumers in order to “drive awareness and purchase” whereas B2B marketing has been focused on solution selling practices that do things FOR their customers by focusing the customer’s need/pain/ROI and facilitating the purchase process to ensure that it proceeds as smoothly as possible.

IMHO, the changes we are seeing in marketing practices brought on by social media, syndication, and the Internet in general are completely analogous to the changes we’ve been watching inside the enterprise over the last 20 years and they require a similar reengineering mindset to master them (to resurrect a passé catchphrase from the 90’s). The emotional and rationale behaviors that people go through as they make a purchase and develop a relationship with your brand have not changed; however, the new technology allows significantly greater access to and opportunity for automation of these processes. For example, rating systems not only allow consumers to record their recommendations, they accelerate and broaden the reach of a natural, human buying behavior through automation. Both B2B and B2C marketers can learn a lot by reexamining what B2B marketers have been doing manually in the ID stages of the AIDA model with the intent of finding opportunities to reengineer and automate these using social media technologies.

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