Social Buying: The Importance of Trusted Networks during the B2B Purchase Process

Everyone’s hot to leverage social selling and social marketing. But what about the other side of the equation? Do B2B buyers use social media for purchasing support?  An IDC study says yes! And contrary to common assumptions, it’s the senior executives who are most enthusiastic.

The most senior buyers are the most active social media users. IDC’s Social Buying Study, completed in February 2014 in collaboration with LinkedIn (Slideshare version) studied the online social practices and preferences of B2B buyers. The study concluded that 75% of the B2B buyers studied and 84% of C-level/vice president executives use information from social media and interaction on social networks to make purchase decisions. I’ll be talking about this study at the sold-out Sales Connect conference later this week.

Social buying improves decision confidence.  The operative benefit in social buying is the ability to access trusted networks to increase confidence in high-stakes decision making. When asked about their agreement with various statements about social media, respondents gave these top three answers:
  • They want to use vendors that have been recommended by people they know
  • They want to work with sales people who have been referred to them
  • Their social networks are critical for checking references

Social media make accessing trusted networks easier. Buyers have long trusted their offline professional networks for this purpose. Online social networks improve access to trusted existing networks and open up networks that more easily extend beyond traditional boundaries. The bigger the buying decision, the more important social networks become. The study found that social buying correlates with buying influence. The average B2B buyer who uses social networks for buying support is more senior, has a bigger budget, makes more frequent purchases, and has a greater span of buying control than a buyer who does not use social networks.

B2B buyers use different types of social resources at different stages of the decision-journey. It’s important not to lump all social media into one big stew of a category. “Social” is a media attribute that enables peer-to-peer audience participation. Some media are highly social and others not at all. 

  1. Early Stage: when buyers are exploring whether to solve their problem, they favor news-type resources. Industry-specific media are #1, internet search (a socially-curated information service) is #2, and microblogs like Twitter are #3.
  2. Middle Stage: when buyers are evaluating solution options, 3rd-party experts become #1, industry-specific media are #2, and internet search is #3.
  3. Final Stage: Online professional networks (e.g., LinkedIn) are buyer’s the #1 preferred information source in the final stage of the purchase process, when stakes are highest. This final stage is the riskiest stage because by this time, buyers are teetering on the brink of commitment where they will soon reap the benefits of a great decision or plunge into the abyss.  It’s at this point that they most need the confidence advice provided by their professional network. Online network services like LinkedIn make this easy. Third-party recommendations are #2 and topic-specific communities become #3.
ESSENTIAL GUIDANCE
  • Relationship building, referrals, and recommendations are shifting online, so make social marketing and social selling a priority. Social marketing and social selling are not responsibilities that can be relegated to a special team low in the organization. Marketing executives should consider social aspects to be an integral attribute of all campaigns. Sales professionals and others in key customer-facing roles need to be active on social networks. At best, companies will miss an important opportunity to connect and at worst could incur real damage.
  • Respect the context of social interactions. Understand that when using the digital channels, buyers are seeking access to their trusted networks for information to increase decision-making confidence. Social channels are not simply a new avenue for spamming or cold-calling. Instead, each individual must earn his or her place within the trusted network of people that buyers will invite to participate in the purchase decision.

Social Marketing Guidance for B2B IT Vendors

As you continue to invest and execute in your Social Marketing, step back for just a moment to think about how “Social” fits in your overall marketing-mix.

It is helpful to first look at the overall marketing function. There are two major rivers of information that flow into and out of the marketing organization. The first is the flow of data that informs the “in-bound” product management process, wherein customer requirements are continuously gathered and prioritized. The second is the flow of “out-bound” product marketing work-effort, wherein products and services are presented to the marketplace.

Social marketing is the process of applying social listening and social communicating as a new and value-adding element to those in-bound and out-bound information flows. For example the in-bound product management process has been traditionally informed by customer councils or user groups; where new product ideation would happen one idea at a time, and one customer at a time. With Social product management, crowd-sourcing for voting and ranking of new features can speed up this process by orders of magnitude. SAP today has a robust Social crowd-sourcing engine called IdeaPlace that does just that.

Social Marketing begins with good Social Listening. This involves tapping into the blogs or forums or communities where your customers are present; the virtual places where they are actively becoming self-educated about potential IT product and services. If you can be a good listener, you will then “earn” the right to contribute to the conversation, perhaps by connecting those buyers with information sources and tools to further their self-education journey. B2B IT vendors are placing their bets on this. Just in the past few months I have observed Dell and HP make an overt organizational change by placing their Social Listening function into their existing and formal Market Intelligence functions.

So: Listen first. Become an excellent listener before you begin to insert your voice in the communications stream as a contributor. There are many examples of this in B2B, and it is accelerating. Dell gets a lot of play as a listening expert and deservedly so: they were a first-mover on this capability more than six years ago. HP now has a Chief Listening Officer (CLO) role. Cisco has been so successful in social media training for its employees that they are now starting to sell this to their customers. Intel just told me that they are now listening in over 50 languages. The list goes on.

To punctuate this last point, some research might be useful. IDC conducts an annual survey on “How Buyers Buy.” We seek to understand: Where do buyers go for their product education? What media types are most frequently accessed? What is the pathway of their digital journey? What is their preferred content types or subject matter? On this last point, buyers tell us that their preferred content sources are (in rank-order): information that comes from peers; then information that comes from independent third-parties; and third, information that comes directly from the vendor.

This is why social marketing should be such an important part of the B2B marketer’s tool kit. If vendors can help prospects to connect with peers as part of their education process; they will be viewed favorably by those prospects. The social media are the best tools for doing this.

A mis-step to avoid…

B2B marketers entering the social media environment will often start listening and communicating with the most popular social tools: Twitter; Facebook; and LinkedIn, to name a few. These are all fine tools and readily at-hand. But the question is: are your customers and prospects using them? IDC research shows that B2B buyers who are evaluating complex products and services are most likely tapping in to the technically-oriented social communities and blogs. And so lesson number one is: “Hang out where your customers are hanging out!”

Best Practices for Paid Social Media – An Up and Coming Tool for B2B Marketers

The stigma of social media is something I have been fighting for years. As someone whose education and career has mirrored Mark Zuckerberg’s (minus the dropping out of an ivy league school to build a multibillion dollar company and taking it public…so really when I say “mirrored”, I mean we are approximately the same age), I feel an affinity to the social networks that have matured as my own career has moved forward. Because of this I have found myself defending the merits of different social networks’ “tangible” value to relatives, colleagues, and random people on the subway. So, when I received an email stating I had $100 free Twitter ad credits, I jumped at the chance to see where Twitter has taken their ad platform. While that $100 was great to boost my twitter followers (speaking of which follow me here), retweets, and ego it didn’t really answer my questions around how creative B2B marketers are utilizing social networks.

To dive in deeper I tapped the knowledge of 3 digital and social marketing leaders to educate me on how their organizations are harnessing the power of social through “Paid Social” Campaigns. The experts I spoke with are listed below:

Lauren Vaccarello, Sr Director of Online Marketing at salesforce.com
Lauren Friedman, Manager of the Social Community Engagement Team at Adobe
Dan Slagen, Head of Global Marketing Relations at Hubspot. (Now SVP of Marketing at Nanigans)
You can find the full overview and guidance on ‘Paid Social’ within IDC’s CMO Advisory Service’smost recently published document Paid Social Media: A Look into How TopBrands Are Utilizing Paid Social Campaigns. For 3 ‘take aways’ for B2B marketers look no further:
There are Two Kinds of Marketers in Social: The Quick and the Dead: A pillar of social is the fast pace and instant reactions it provides. While moving fast is necessary, leading companies go to great lengths to make sure they are able to move quickly and effectively. The experts I spoke with all emphasized seamless communication across the organization to assure there was no misunderstandings on the current social game plan. Additionally, they each spoke about implementing technologies on the backend to measure the data and output actionable metrics.
Paid Social is a Different Kind of Advertising Buy: Social ad buys are not your father’s paid advertising campaigns; marketers must acknowledge this before going head first into a paid social campaign. Social networks are built with the end user in mind; all of the marketers I spoke with emphasized this point. Think creatively when it comes to Twitter or Facebook ad buys, consider leveraging the platforms to amplify a message or push something that will strengthen your community rather than just driving leads.

What Can Social do for Me?: Most marketers have acknowledged and embraced social marketing as a part of their overall strategy. However, that does not mean it is accepted throughout the organization. Before asking for (or putting) advertising dollars towards paid social campaigns, marketers need to answer the question “what can social do for me?” for other decision makers within the organization. The experts I spoke with pointed towards heavy alignment with sales so the reps understand the incoming leads and how to act on them. Some companies put SLAs in place to assure that both Marketing and Sales commit to specific responsibilities. The other best practice is to create a pilot program before committing big dollars and major resources – this way you have specific proof points to set your goals on and optimize off.
What are your thoughts on “Paid Social”?
Does your organization currently run paid advertising on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn?
Do you have any comments to add to what is above?
Sam Melnick is a Research Analyst with IDC’s CMO Advisory you can follow him on twitter: @SamMelnick

Facebook Announces 1 Billion Users – It’s Time for All Marketers to Give it a Go

A few days ago Facebook announced that their active users surpassed 1 Billion. This is a huge number and like it or not, as a Marketer, you cannot ignore a community of this size. At this point, it is irresponsible to write Facebook off as a fad. Its user base covers all demographics and geographies – chances are, as a business, whoever you are selling to is on Facebook. While I certainly do not advocate for suddenly changing your advertising mix to a 25% Facebook Ad spend or hiring a brand new agency to build a Facebook Page that rivals Coke or Jet Blue, I do believe there are plenty of good ways to start dipping your toes into the giant ocean that is Facebook.
I readily admit that the standard thinking is Facebook is a B2C tool – Facebook is great to reach consumers, however I believe there is something for everyone. B2B marketers need to think creatively, manage expectations and take learning’s from similar communities (think LinkedIn). And if you’re worried that you might be behind the curve or not sure the amount of time and energy to spend on social, through IDC’s 2012 Tech Marketing Benchmark Study (full results to be published this quarter), we learned that only 0.9% of tech marketing program budgets are spent on social media. So, while there is a lot of hype around social, we are still in the early days of truly leveraging social as a powerful marketing tool.
Below I’ve listed three ways you can start utilizing Facebook to make sure you aren’t missing an opportunity:

  • Skunk Works Project

While it’s great to have an agency who can own Social and Digital, having staff internally that are just as skilled is important. Facebook advertising is relatively easy to get started with, so it lends a perfect opportunity to give a key staff member a skunk works type side project and see if they can get value out of Facebook. Let them be creative, see what you can get out of Facebook, a worst case scenario is results are unsuccessful but you have a staff member who learns new skills – this can’t be overlooked in a world that continues to rapidly move towards digital. 

  • Don’t Forget Mobile

It’s easy to think of Facebook as a website where people go to when they want to take a quick break from work or inconspicuously “catch up” with old friends, but the future of Facebook is Mobile. In fact Mark Zuckerberg recently stated that 600 Million are Mobile users. With that many users on Mobile already, you can be sure that any major updates to the platform will have mobile users top of mind. Combine that with Facebook’s need to continue to monetize, it’s probably safe to predict there will continue to be new and creative ways to reach your target audience through Facebook’s Mobile platform. Be sure to keep your ear to ground when it comes to Facebook and Mobile, test out new products, you never know when one might be just what you need to reach key targets!
Quick heads up! 
For more research on Social Marketing please view our report: Despite the Hype, B2B Social Marketing Is Still in Its Infancy: 2012 Guidance for New Investment Dollars and Staff

  • Ask For Help


No one is expecting you to be a Facebook expert – it is still a very new platform and it is ever changing. Thankfully, there a ton of innovative companies that work with the platform or leverage Facebook to help large brands reach their goals. Start with your agency, see if they have resources, partners, or experience with building out the type of campaigns you are looking for, if they don’t have the answers, find out what vendors are leaders and schedule a call with them to see what they can offer. You don’t have to go at it alone. 

Regardless of what you do remember to measure measure measure. We never advocate aimlessly trying new strategies without a solid plan and a way to track and compare.
Have you had any experiences with leveraging Facebook? Let me know how it went and how you think it can be best used to reach your audience (if at all!).
Sam is a Research Analyst within IDC’s CMO Advisory Service you can follow him on twitter: @SamMelnick

How bright is the silver lining of Salesforce.com’s Marketing Cloud?

At their annual Dreamforce shindig last week Salesforce.com announced the formalization of their marketing capabilities as the Marketing Cloud. Essentially it is a coupling of four key pillars of Salesforce.com’s front end:
  1. Customer intelligence: Data.com enriches contact and account information with fresh feeds from sources such as LinkedIn and many others. Enables both sales and marketing to create detailed contact profiles for segmentation, targeting and campaign management.
  2. Social advertising and content management: The recent Buddy Media acquisition provides support for a wide range of social channels (social, web, mobile) and formats including contests, videos, and photos. Users can coordinate their publishing and advertising activity and measure impact throughout the social sphere.
  3. Social listening and analytical tools: Radian 6 monitors popular social services such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, as well as blogs, forums, communities and more. Supports 17 languages and mobile access.
  4. Core CRM functionality: Salesforce.com consolidates resources to provide sales reps with a single source that can connect them with other applications, contacts, colleagues and workflows. Pulls data together into account/opportunity context. Delivers reporting data to sales and sales managers and can provide opportunity and pipeline performance data into other systems such as marketing and order management.

Salesforce.com is taking its “Social Business” mantra to heart by building its marketing functionality with a “social first” philosophy. The question is: will this be enough to satisfy Salesforce.com customers (and the company itself)? The answer is probably not. The functionality you won’t find in Marketing Cloud is significant – the core campaign management tools, workflows, analytics and more offered by marketing automation vendors (e.g. Eloqua, Marketo, Neolane, Pardot, etc.) Even though there are fewer seats to be sold to marketers as opposed to sales, these two worlds are rapidly converging. The systems needed to automate them will need to do likewise, as evidenced by the tight integration of most marketing automation systems with Salesforce.com and the recent announcement of Chatter for Eloqua.
But Marketing Cloud is undoubtedly only the first step, in fact it’s well beyond the first step for Salesforce.com and the only issue going forward is how do they continue to expand functionality in this area?  The build or buy equation for Salesforce.com currently favors the build approach as valuations for marketing automation vendors are sky high, at least in terms of an acquisition. Salesforce.com has plenty of time to creep into the marketing automation arena, establish itself as a more serious threat and then re-evaluate its strategic decision around marketing functionality.
In the meantime, marketing automation vendors have their work cut out for them. They must stay well ahead of where Salesforce.com’s Marketing Cloud may go. They must continue to grow rapidly, prove their staying power and market value. Customers, however, should have no illusions that Marketing Cloud is an enterprise marketing automation platform in its current state. There is much more to marketing than social engagement especially for B2B models. Waiting for Marketing Cloud to evolve or for social to mature is simply not a choice, there is way too high a price to be paid in terms of market share, growth, and profitability. So if you’re considering marketing automation don’t delay or change course because of Marketing Cloud. Charge ahead full steam and should the social engagement of Marketing Cloud pop your ROI, by all means add it to your arsenal. 

Social Marketing: Beyond the Hype or Behind the Curve?

What is the reality of Social Marketing adoption? Does usage match up to the hype and high expectations? Or is this already an over-blown marketing fad, even in these early days?

IDC is beginning to see excellent examples of use, where Social Marketing is moving beyond  experimentation and is beginning to put down roots as a “value-adding” contributor within the marketing-mix. Our latest research from shows that 84% of IT buyers are accessing social media to keep up with trends and stay connected.

However, of that same 84%, only 19% believe that social media has influenced how they interact with vendors and make purchase decisions. It would seem that tech vendors and tech buyers are inhabiting many of the same Social media spaces, but Social Marketing as a more intentional effort to influence buyers still needs work. Tech marketers are learning that they must give before they expect to receive, and focus on creating social media interactions that are highly relevant and provide value to buyers.

IDC is closely watching levels of investment and attention to the deployment of Social Marketing. How much is actually being spent in this area? What is the marketing-mix allocation of scarce monies and human resources to work on these initiatives? IDC starts by looking at investment and activity in Social Marketing. When one examines the actual allocations. the results are surprising. Investment in Social Marketing tools and programs is just 1.3% of the discretionary budget for a large IT vendor. As for the human resource: dedicated Social marketing talent is just .7% of total staff – or in other words – a part of one person’s time.

The infrastructure and tools to support Social Marketing must come in to place. Our research also shows that Social Marketing tools are at the top of the CMO’s shopping list for 2012. Only 34% of marketers surveyed currently agree that they have access to the right information at the right time to support decision making, analysis, planning, or forecasting.

We are still in the early days of this. I cast my vote on the side of optimism, and believe that Social Marketing execution will, in-time, be a core element of the B2B marketers tool kit.

In the mean-time, assess where are you on your progression towards delivering value, and earning the rewards of Social Marketing. Here are three tips for Social Marketers:

1) Don’t rush the listening process: Our parents taught us to “listen before you speak” and here is a great place to remember their words. IDC is seeing good usage of Social Marketing for the key activity of “Listening and Monitoring”. In fact, “just listening” to the conversations about your company–without even “saying” anything–is an excellent way to step into this new media. Many companies are rushing this step, which has limited their ability to meaningfully engage with their targets. Data from IDC’s 2012 Buyer Experience Study shows that buyers are most commonly found in communities and blogs, making them an excellent source of relevant conversations.

2) It’s not only about presence, it’s about influence. Always prioritize the value that you can bring to your audience. Help educate them. Help connect them with their peers. These are attributes that they dearly seek, versus being “sold to” by their tech vendors.

3) Invest and evolve: Continue to invest in Social Marketing and increase proficiency. The relatively low level of dollar and staff outlay will grow quickly in the coming years. At the same time, there should be a relatively sizable gain in cost per impact vs. traditional media. Social Marketing is capable of providing high impact at a relatively low cost. Invest and increase proficiency to achieve higher levels of impact.

Dreamforce ’10 – the don’t Miss Event of the Year … for CIOs

Salesforce.com held its annual user conference December 6th to 9th in San Francisco. It was unusual in that very little of the messaging from Salesforce.com itself was aimed at sales people. The company has clearly and emphatically hammered its stake in the ground as the cloud platform provider for the enterprise. Marc Benioff and other top SFDC execs spent all of the general session keynotes on four key ideas:

  • Platform
  • Cloud
  • Social
  • Mobile

If that were a word cloud of the transcripts of the keynotes “platform” would be the biggest and boldest of the four. The company made several significant announcements about how it is enhancing and building out the enterprise cloud computing platform of the future – much of it aimed at CIOs and developers. First however, there were a couple of items that will be of interest to sales and marketing people:

Full integration of Jigsaw. Jigsaw, the “crowdsourced” contact database will now provide dynamic updates to records, greatly reducing blank or incomplete record status and making it easier for sales and marketing people to contact the right individuals within their target accounts – to the extent that Jigsaw can provide clean data.

Chatter Free. Announced earlier this year, Chatter is the SFDC collaboration app. SFDC cited user numbers in the 10,000s at NBC, Qualcomm, and Nikon, and 100,000s at Dell. With Chatter Free, limited Chatter functionality will now be available to people that don’t have SFDC licenses. Users can add SFDC features for $15/user/month w/o the need for a SFDC license. Salesforce.com clearly expects Chatter to make SFDC adoption a viral phenomenon. What Chatter adds to the picture beyond being “Facebook for the enterprise” is the ability to follow not only people, but groups, accounts, and contacts – potentially any record in the SFDC.com database. Chatter will help companies share tribal knowledge as well as better coordinate the outreach multiple business units may have with key contacts and accounts – both very good things that go way beyond being Facebook Friends with all of your customers and employees. Regardless of whether it drives more licenses, it sets the stage for the platform sell that’s coming next.

Platform as a Service (the CIO part)
Database.com. Significantly, SFDC claims database.com is open to any environment, any programming language, and any device. It provides relational data services, full text search, user management, row level security, triggered and stored procedures, authentication, support for APIs (db to db calls), as well as a myriad of other features such as the ability for each record to have a profile that supports followers and feeds (see http://wiki.database.com/page/FAQ for more info.) Touting the power of the cloud, SFDC presented statistics showing that in the last year the number of transactions grew 50%, the number of records doubled from 10 billion to 20 billion, and average response time decreased.

Open Apex. Salesforce.com has launched an open programming language for the cloud that supports multi-tenancy. Now developers can work in the cloud to customize and enhance Salesforce.com apps as well as develop a host of other independent enterprise applications for any function – marketing, accounting, services, provisioning, HR, etc. This should fundamentally change the perspective of the IT department about cloud computing – it’s open, has its own IDE and database, supports web and mobile development. You no longer have to have code on premises to manage and customize your enterprise functionality.

Ruby on Rails. Web development is native to the salesforce.com cloud platform. Java support is provided by vmForce and acquisition of Heroku provides both a hosting platform and an IDE for native Ruby on Rails development in the cloud. This greatly eases the process of making enterprise apps web and mobile ready.

“Now we’re finally a real platform company”

SFDC now comprises: salesforce, serviceforce, chatter, jigsaw, database.com, appforce, siteforce, vmforce, Ruby, Apex, Eclipse IDE, ISV force, and more. The mantra heard repeatedly from senior SFDC execs was that Salesforce.com is now a real platfom company.

The big picture for Salesforce.com is to provide all the layers of the IT computing environment as a shared service that is managed, tuned, updated, and upgraded automatically. This greatly reduces the administrative overhead for IT while providing all the application and data control they need to rapidly respond to business requirements (and not having hundreds of rogue DIY projects all over the place.) All good things, but the risk is whether the platform can be trusted to provide all that without failure or outage or providing a conveniently centralized target for cyber attack.

While SFDC sets its sights on becoming all things to all people in the cloud, it is not intending to be the single source for automating the response to revenue process. Recent IDC research shows that 75% of SFDC customers also use up to five other sales and marketing automation solutions (see Marketing Automation: The Rise of Revenue, IDC #225860, Dec 2010.) The Expo floor featured representatives from the entire sales and marketing ecosystem – marketing automation, customer intelligence, list and database management, sales enablement, forecasting tools, proposal tools, and many others. As a result, customers will continue to be in the position of cobbling together “best of breed” solutions, and having to integrate the data, systems, and workflows required to manage and measure the performance of the customer creation process.