5 Recommendations for Improving the Impact of Social Media on Your Solutions Business

Social Media logosGuest Blog post: Charles Born

Social communities are changing how we have traditionally created and supported our brands in the minds of consumers. Started by the internet and accelerated by the smart phone, the ever present location based and persistent connection to the internet makes today’s B2B consumer no longer a solitary target. Rather, consumers are connected and empowered with mobile devices, information from the internet, and two-way communications with their peers and it’s changing forever how we market our brands and solutions.

Studies have suggested that over seventy percent of a B2B consumers purchase process is completed before a sales person or company is ever contacted. Regardless of the exact percentage, its clear B2B consumers are forming opinions and assessments as they research their business problems, examine potential solutions and consider recommendations from their peers. By the time they engage with your company solutions directly they most likely have formed opinions about the solutions they think will work even if those opinions are misguided. The result is your sales team has an even bigger job in solutions selling: while dealing with value and pricing issues, they need to reshape the buyer’s view of the solution.

perceptionIs this really new? In reality, this is an issue marketing and brands have been struggling with for some time. In the past you could influence your potential customers’ perceptions and opinions by working with aggressive outbound marketing campaigns, trade shows and PR , telegraphing your story and value proposition to the masses and shaping their opinions. While not totally irrelevant, increasingly today traditional marketing and branding programs are rapidly being usurped by interactive community-oriented engagement marketing. This is where social media marketing comes in to play and it’s a big opportunity for solutions marketing if we use the right approach. We need to continually rethink the mix of marketing programs and tactics and develop new ones for reaching our audiences to include social media marketing and social communities. This is an incredibly complex challenge, but there are some foundational principles we can consider that will help us successfully navigate the issues.

Five Tips to Improve the Impact of Social Media for Solutions

Improving the impact of social media on solutions is a broad topic and one that as a marketing science is still very much in an evolutionary state. I recommend you consider these five tips for maximizing the impact of social media initiatives on solutions businesses.

1. Understand the value of social media on your brand and your solutions and how to measure it.

SolutionI’ve observed that one of the many issues companies have with their approach to social media is they get the value and measurement backwards. They view social media as simply another tool in their toolkit of available integrated marketing tactics -- almost like a replacement for PR. After all, who doesn’t want to get closer to, and “more socially connected” with their customer? Unfortunately, in almost a knee-jerk fashion, companies begin to execute social media programs without really understanding what outcomes they are trying to drive. Just as you focus on the business results of your solutions in marketing – so should you focus on the expected business results from social media marketing. Start by identifying the objectives for social media marketing and then match the tactics that support the objectives. With this approach, measuring the ROI of social media can be as simple as looking at the delta in the consumer behaviors and business outcomes you intended to influence in the first place. And if you have identified these key objectives that map to your business objectives, it’s quite likely your company has the financial models to determine the value of those changes.

There are many tools that you can use to monitor and measure the impact of your social media activities. Frankly, while useful, I believe these tools can create a lot of informational noise and not a lot of insight. They tell you very little about the value you’re creating with your social media strategy. If you are trying to assess the ROI of your social media practices, step back from all that data noise and ask the basic question – does my social media marketing focus improve how I engage the customer, and did it move the profit needle? For complex solutions you want more than just traffic. You need to engage. Solutions sales are built on trust and relationships. Look at the business outcomes you are trying to influence and match the social media tactics against those goals. Measurement then comes from looking at the effect your social media practices have on changing those business goals month to month. Sounds a lot like Solutions Marketing doesn’t it?

2. Jettison the standard product-based value proposition messages and change all your company communications to results-based solutions communications.

communicationThis is the core premise of solutions marketing – and results-based messaging resonates much better with buyers. And it’s just as true in this social media age. People engage in social media content when you are talking about business issues, how to address them and the measurements on business value these solutions have. Results-based messages invite interaction and response. Product based features and functions do not engender the same response. You can leverage these results based solution discussions in various contexts or environments on the web. It is within these contexts or online environments where you will connect with potential users and engage in discussing business issues that relate to your solution. This requires some company alignment and brings us to the next point.

3. Align your company in ways that best engage your buyers and subsequently allow you to deliver value.

alignmentSometimes called “customer touch points” or “engagement points”, consistent experience and relationships are key here. This is not a new concept – in fact, it’s quite an old one – but it’s even more important today than ever. To achieve a consistent customer experience and develop a relationship, it is necessary to align sales, marketing and services organizations into a single team with shared buyer-centric metrics. This is why solutions and solutions marketing are more important than ever. Getting internal alignment is not always so easy, but when your business is continuously exposed by the transparency of social media, the entire company must be aligned and on board. The next two steps can help drive this alignment.

4. Understand the customer’s evaluation process and map the customer touch points to social media.

customer touch pointsThen align your social media programs and position your solutions to those steps. Wondering how to find these customer touch points in social media? Consider this approach. When consumers are looking for answers to a problem they generally start out by understanding the cause of a recurring business issue or problem and how peers might have solved the problem in the past. You can picture them surfing the web for information and doing repeated searches. Once they get comfortable and gathered some initial impressions, they might then begin to work on how to approach the problem by searching and utilizing the vast resources of the web and leveraging social media to engage with others aligned with their issues. From there they often begin to target outcomes along with a desired approach and the metrics they might apply to the solution. The results they want to achieve are influenced largely by this research. And only then, after all this research, do they start a serious vendor search. When finished, the consumer has a short list of vendors and a preference along with a list of open questions. So armed, they approach you with expectations of what they need and want.

If your thinking, this isn’t new, you are right. Consumers in the past often executed evaluation cycles similar to this depending on the industry and the solution. And in the past you influenced them through traditional marketing and communications programs or through partners and channels. But, today the consumer sources are far broader than in the past – and these sources have been expanded by the internet and social media. This is your opportunity. Consider these evaluation and buying steps in light of social media outlets and avenues that apply to your solution. Then create ways to engage within these avenues. The three major evaluation and buying steps listed above may not be the right steps for your industry or solution. In any case, it’s key you indentify them. Map them to your objectives as suggested in step one. The universe of possibilities in social media marketing is too large for you to effectively manage without this focus.

5. Understand that value in today’s social media dominated world is not an event, but a collection of ongoing relationships.

social networkNow, that you followed step four, you can begin to understand how your buyers are defining their needs and you can begin to define processes and solutions marketing programs using social media that fulfill those expectations. This is how you turn your customers and other stakeholders into true evangelists. There are some tools and processes you can use to define this. First, use your CRM and sales systems to analyze just how customers are engaging with you over time as determined by the data. Find patterns sliced by industry and roles within companies. It’s often a discovery process. One answered question raises another.

Spend some serious time here studying the results in preparation for getting out from behind the reports and engaging directly with current customers, new customers and lost sales opportunities. Your focus in these important meetings is to understand by industry and role within the company their evaluation and buying process in person and not by the reports. Talk to them about what triggered the need for the solution, what actions they took, where they went to find answers, what they were looking for, who they spoke with and how they evaluated the information. By conducting focused interviews like this you will learn how to align your solutions marketing to social media marketing outlets that are most effective. What will emerge as well will be the best ways to engage with the types of content that will interest consumers and build the relationships and evangelists you need to successfully build and sell solutions in today’s social media dominated world. And more importantly I know from experience you will find insights that will spill over to other marketing and sales programs thereby enhancing your solutions marketing programs as well and elevating them within the organization.

Conclusion

five suggestionsI’ve outlined five suggested steps in a continuing and evolving journey to integrate social media into your solutions marketing. While each step is useful unto itself, the real power comes as each step builds and moves to higher levels of discovery. Sometimes alignment in step 3 won’t come until you finish the analysis and research in steps 4 and 5 and the voice of the customer is heard. Clearly social media marketing is much more than “likes” on a Facebook page or some creative videos on YouTube or tweets to a waiting but distracted audience. Social media helps you build relationships and engage as your future customers find a path to your door through the complex tangle of content on the internet. Engage or perish – the future for your brands and solutions is the community.

  • What have your experiences been in this journey?
  • Is your organization making effective use of social media?

About the Author - Charles Born has 30 years of broad global marketing experience in B2B and B2C environments. He is passionate about using solutions and solutions marketing to create dialogs and establish value with B2B consumers. He can be reached at Charlie@crazymoonconsulting.com or through Solutions Insights.

Charles Born, Crazy Moon Consulting, LLC

Graphic credit: zcorebusiness.com, videoconferencecenter.org, social2b.com, hightechmarketing.us.com, thomasgroup.com, wellnessbriefs.wordpress.com,blogstorytelling.wordwritepr.com

Comments (12)

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Vanessa Scarbrough-Cain

I am so thankful to grow up in an era where I am able to watch the evolution of social media and the impact that it has on the business environment. Since the entire realm of social media is still in a stage of infancy, companies have much to learn and gauge what works for their company. I agree with the blogger, when he says that many companies respond in “knee-jerk fashion.” Due to the rapid popularity of various social media outlets companies had to begin with more of a trial and error method while they were trying to figure out what would work best. Many companies just create Facebook pages or Twitter accounts and assuming those will generate the desired results but usually they are just taking a shot in the dark and hoping for the best. I can attest to this from my own personal experience. Upon working arriving in China I began working for a yoga company. I was hired to attract the expat market here in Shanghai. I was supposed to do this through social media outlets. I can tell you that it was very difficult to gauge the impacts of how well it was working and if we were achieving the desired results. Another point that I found interesting was the “customer touch point” of “engagement points” in terms of alignment was very interesting. Especially in a world like today, consumers want consistency. When consistency is not prevent consumers get frustrated and will quite possibly switch to another company.

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Richard Lee (richardkulee@gmail.com)

Great post Charles. It is very true that seventy percent B2B consumer purchases are completed even before they reach a sales person or contact the company. Consumers are now becoming more educated with the amount of available information open to them, although most of the information consists of white noise; it is our duty to direct our consumers the right direction. Having proper metrics when engaging in social media is an excellent tip simply because, you need to measure the value perceived by the consumer through social media inputs. Also, metrics help you always align your goals and objectives and it is an easy way to check the current status of your marketing objectives. Without proper metrics, it would be hard to get support for project that does not give visible ROI’s and proper value that goes unnoticed. Aligning your internal organization and its objectives for social media before launch is a must. Having a sense of direction internally will have more focused approach on engaging your consumer and delivering value. Although, this step is a no brainer, some companies do not align themselves internally and give off misguided information to its consumers. Blog post gave very insightful information on tackling social media for a company. One must use the tip of proper metrics and aligning internal organization to guide the consumer in the right direction and always meeting your goals and marketing objectives.

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Eunjoo Choi (eunjoochoi21@gmail.com)

Thank you for the recommendations! I do support Richard's opinion too. Customers are exposed with large much information and which results in a confusion on which recommendation they are willing to take. Generally customers rely on professional‘s blogs or notable publications. I believe the way to gain beneficial knowledge from choosing a social media blog is from a reliable source with credible reputation. When choosing a recommendation from a credible source, one is able to maximize utility of the information given and turn it into a thought leadership idea.

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Marco Dragoni (mdragoni2012@student.hult.edu)

Excellent post Charles. Social media has become a fundamental tool to inform and influence customers in their buying process. Before B2C consumers and today also B2B consumers base their purchases considering all the information available to perfectly match their expectations. Being a management and technology consultant, in many cases I found clients influenced by the information available on blogs, online communities and social networks. As you highlighted in your post, often it was more the time spent on changing the buyer’s point of view rather than the time spent on pricing or timing issues. Here the social media marketing plays a fundamental role to drive the B2B consumers in the right direction supporting the selling process. Moreover, selling complex solutions is not like selling a normal product. The amount of traffic driven to the website, the average time per visits, etc. are not a relevant metrics to consider. More important is how the visitors behave on the website around particular topics, which questions are trying to answer while navigating, etc. This, combined with surveys and interviews, can lead to a better alignment between solutions marketing and social media marketing. Hence, companies can also use social media as a tool to learn from customers and be able to better answer to their questions. For example, they can create ad-hoc content to generate interest, strengthen the relationships with customers, and understand if a problem is relevant for the audience considering the activity around it, the amount of comments, etc. After that, the company can address this problem posting dedicated whitepapers, blog posts, etc. spreading the idea of a solution stimulating another time the interest of the customers using the social network as a thought leadership tool.

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Kaelen Park (kpark2012@student.hult.edu)

I find it very interesting to read about the impact that social media has had on solutions marketing. It seems that social media is infiltrating all aspects of he modern world, so solutions marketing should be no exception. I agree with Vanessa in the sense that too often, social media, in many cases, is not used at its most valuable capacity. Most of us that are part of the youngest generation entering the job market have been asked to use social media in some form, especially (but not exclusively) in marketing. Additionally, I recently read about companies, such as IBM, selling a “Social Media Marketing Solution”. Social media can help market solutions, and social media solutions are now being marketed!

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Allan Fernandes (alfernandes2012@student.hult.edu)

It was very interesting to read the artticle As consumers embrace new technologies and emerging channels, these provide newer means for marketers to connect with them. The key challenge for today’s marketers is to provide the right message at the right time through the right channel. Maintaining brand consistency, coordinating with multiple internal and external service providers, developing actionable insights that reflect a complete and accurate understanding of the customers and speed-to-market are clear challenges.

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Pocharaporn Udomwatthawi (pudomwatthawi2012@student.hult.edu)

Social media can play a big role in solution marketing, which are obviousely supported by understanding the value of social media today. As I have been always considered about the impact of social media, this artical is very much helpful, and also interesting and inspriring me in the way that it could be use to measure business value for every kind of business. Nowadays, technology has brings business different kind of solution to make a better vision on how you could deal with the right target and giving business feed back.Many customers can find all the out source information via social media and blog. Social media have break the limited of information finding and also advertising. This is a solution tool that anyone could make it as easy as access, any time any where and fast. Moreover, many company these days have move into social media solution strategy, as we can see from many fan page in Facebook have occur during the week.

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Santiago Rodríguez (srodriguez2012@student.hult.edu)

As all the available media, is not just using it, is how we use it... I think one of the biggest challenges for Solutions Companies is to figure out how to use this social media, and how to meassure the results they are looking for, as mentioned in the article; but even more challenging is the fact that social media is made for the masses, and attracting people from companies, that are looking for solutions to their business problems, into participating in Blogs, Facebook pages, Youtube channels, etc. becomes an additional challenge. Social media should have a momentum of its own, most of it is free, but time consuming which makes it even more difficult to cuantify in terms of ROI, the article suggests "to take out the noise" but again it will depend on how objective is the criteria used by the marketer or the analyst of the outcoming information

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Nikil Vinayakrishnan (nvinayakrishnan2012@student.hult.edu)

"Customer is king" - I personally think that the solution method was a theory that existed for a long time but people had to care more about the theory and its meaning because of the increase of information and community areas. Let me explain my theory, even though community platforms and social networks have been very important for creating brand awareness, brands needed to understand and apply the best practices of those environnements to increase their awareness. This is simply due because our relation with technology plus the full access to information have changed our perception, our needs and our exigency as humans. This article gives very interesting insights on how to create that relationship with your customers through 5 different ways. The use of metrics is so important and so difficult in the same time due to the lack of consistency on the web environment. While doing some research, I would recommend to take a look at Gary Vaynerchukk and its approach on brand equity.

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Nikil Vinayakrishnan (nvinayakrishnan2012@student.hult.edu)

Excellent insight Charles. The point made regarding understanding the consumer evaluation and buying cycle. I felt this was one of the most important point in the article since it goes to core of solution marketing,” knowing your client”. Another true point is how companies are using the social media. i would say that you were very right, I validate this through my own experience in the corporate banking field in the middle east. There was no underlying objective or metric while using the social media. It was just a “me too” reaction. Everybody is doing it so do we. I absolutely agree with the need to align sales and marketing into one team, but I would say that this is one of the most challenging aspects of solution marketing since it always seems that these two very important aspects of the organization seem to be at war with each other. Alignment as a concept is great but implementing it is the challenge which most organizations shy away from since the cost, resources and the research required to implement would help in the long run but most just want short term results.

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Brittany Harrison (bharrison2012@student.hult.edu)

Social media is the new currency in the world's largest market, China. With over 300 million chinese on a social network in 2010, social media is vital to the future success of businesses in China. Just creating a social media site is not enough anymore, the competition is high and users are less prone to visit or stay on a site that neglects to gain their interest. In the blog it was mentioned that providing a a problem-solution platform is the path to stimulating the interest of users. While I can agree with this, how do you manage to not provide generic solutions? Sure, you can provide tesimonials but why would a customer be willing to provide "secrets to success" to their competition? Secondly, on the part of the supplier of the solution, do you not run the risk of your competitors taking your "trade secrets"? We are all aware that social media is vital to success. However, how do you manage the loss of privacy created via social media and the ability to provide a sustainable competitive adavantage?

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Jairo Ramirez (jramirez2012@student.hult.edu)

Even if integrate social media in solutions marketing, this post gives a good point to start. However I felt that these steps help more to sell (or to start the relationship) than to increase the loyalty or to improve the image of the company. Moreover, there are a lot of opportunities in the social media to be approach. I agree that it is relevant to align the company with the messages that are going in and out in the web, and I think one of the opportunities are in that side because people use to group in communities with similar characteristics and there is one point to send a common message to them.