Post by Daniel Kushner
Thanks to the reality of social media’s astounding adoption rates, B2B marketers are finally moving away from the debate as to the value of their activity on the main networks. With so much of the world now spending significant amounts of time on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and the like, it simply makes the most sense to leverage these platforms to reach your intended audience – this is where they are, so this is where you have to be.
Despite all the talk about silos being a thing of the past, B2B social media marketing activity is extremely different from B2C. Simply keeping your brand name at the forefront of people’s minds doesn’t cut it in sectors that involve such drawn-out and deliberate procurement processes. When your aim is driving sales for a product that targets fellow businesspeople, social media’s greatest impact is realized when it’s used as a mechanism for lead capture and nurturing.
Channels for Relationships of Trust
At its best, social media is all about conversations and engagement, and that’s the basis of effective lead nurturing too. Marketers who are great at building relationships of trust with relevant leads online prefer to identify prospects, discuss their solutions, distribute content and drive traffic to owned properties via social media. In fact, some 94% of the B2B marketers in the United States use LinkedIn as a key content distribution channel, and 88% use Twitter. What’s more, B2B marketers are increasingly citing LinkedIn and blogs as pivotal customer acquisition channels.
Clearly, social realms have finally matured enough to be considered serious B2B lead nurturing venues. But success here depends on maintaining a clear sense of strategy and goals. We’re easily confused into thinking that a high volume of likes, shares and comments means we’ve succeeded. B2B marketers should instead be thinking about how to encourage leads captured via social media to advance along the sales funnel.
When a stranger or a known prospect comments on a blog, likes a Facebook post, retweets a company tweet or chimes in on a LinkedIn Group discussion, this is an opportunity that should not be wasted. Any of these actions can be considered a micro-conversion and therefore a first step toward a purchase. Even a click from a social channel to your website is an important micro-conversion which, if nurtured properly, can lead to a sale.
Who, Why and What Next
When a B2B lead first interacts with a social media post, he or she is most likely to be at the research stage, and your interactions should be tackled accordingly. He or she may be interested in your product, but that doesn’t indicate that he or she has any idea yet if it will meet his or her needs, if it’s worth the price or if your company has any genuine expertise. Don’t turn people off by getting too sales-y on them.
Rather, this could the perfect time to share some educational content in a private message to start building the case that you have the solution to his or her business challenges. Once each B2B lead has advanced enough to be considered a marketing qualified lead (MQL), your sales team takes over and hopefully finalizes the purchase. Each stage of the funnel has matching content types and engagement styles that are most effective; keep these in mind, and you’ll be able to turn your social media activity into a lead nurturing powerhouse.
If you have access to advanced tracking data via premium analytics tools, you can easily determine each of your prospects’ closest-matching buyer personas and position in the sales funnel by correlating onsite activity with the decision making journey as you’ve mapped it out.
But even if you aren’t yet set up for this level of business intelligence, simply knowing what social media channel and post originally referred your prospect and what type of micro-conversions he or she has performed will already give you lots of clues into who your lead is and how interested in your product he or she is. Use this information to send messaging appropriate to personas and to stages in the funnel. With effective nurturing, getting the right message to your prospects at the right moments is the key to making a sale.
Choosing the Right Message
Follow these general guidelines to successfully use messages for B2B nurturing in ways that match various types of micro-conversions.
- A lead that first comes to your awareness via a comment on your blog is likely interested in more information about the general topic of the post in question. Use this opportunity to answer the lead’s questions and establish a position of niche thought leadership and trust.
- When someone initially connects with your company via Twitter, use the opportunity to engage in light, friendly discussion that goes in whatever direction your prospect determines. Provide informative advice and don’t hesitate to tell a prospect they should look elsewhere if necessary.
- When someone micro-converts on LinkedIn, do some research into the company he or she works for. Determine what kind of issues they may be having and offer some well-thought-out, personalized insights, always emphasizing the benefits of your solution rather than its specs.
- When a prospect responds positively to an automated email that includes educational content, he or she is likely ready to receive somewhat more sales-oriented content.
- Once you see someone clicking through often to sales-focused content, address any loose ends you’ve been discussing with the prospect, and then you should be ready to hand him or her over to the sales team.
Tipping Point from Marketing to Sales
Your company’s marketing team nurtures leads until they’re ready for a sales call. If this happens too early, your prospects may feel pressured and jump ship, but if the sales team arrives on the scene too late, the prospect may have already closed a deal with a competitor. Determining the optimal set of circumstances that identify a lead as being sales-ready is a pivotal aspect of social-based nurturing.
As part of your company’s ongoing marketing operations, the sales and marketing teams must sit down together regularly to review trends and redefine what makes a lead sales-ready. Most B2B enterprises use complex lead scoring formulas for this purpose, whereby each lead accumulates points until reaching the magic number. Once a lead has been assigned a specific number of points, he or she is considered to be a MQL and becomes the responsibility of the sales team.
Points are awarded for each type of micro-conversion and any number of browsing activity patterns on your site, but they’re also awarded for segmenting data gleaned from other sources. For instance, a lead captured via LinkedIn might receive more points than one from Facebook. An executive at a company may be worth more points than a lower-level employee.
Additional segmentation patterns are likely to emerge as you engage in a regular sales-marketing feedback loop whereby conversion rates are correlated with MQL factors. For example, you may find that leads captured via social media on certain days of the week deserve more points, or leads captured via specific landing pages deserve fewer points. A good lead scoring program takes all these elements into account, assigns values to each action and parameter, and regularly reviews any needs to tweak these formulas.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
As with any marketing effort, lead scoring and nurturing is not a one-time project. Set up an initial lead scoring point system, but don’t forget to go back to it and rethink what exactly constitutes an MQL. External and internal factors will influence the lead nurturing process, so you need to be open to changing your system as necessary.
And keep in mind that social media is not just about getting likes on photos of kittens. It is an important tool in the lead nurturing process – one that can outperform all others and drive sales when appropriate emphasis is placed on leveraging data for optimized lead scoring and nurturing.