This past year we’ve witness a meteoric explosion of social media, social business, and many other peripheral digital communications channels. Without question, social media has dominated the business news in terms of conventional media channels as well as digital media channels. B2B organizations are either dipping their toes in the social media waters while some have dived in nose first with elaborate presence. One thing is clear, many are trying to do “something” with social media even if unsure what that “something” is. Undoubtedly, there is pressure emanating from an executive view that most likely sounds like “we’ve got to do something with this social media thingy” since it’s in the news everywhere. Perhaps sounding eerily similar to that recent conversation you’ve had with your teenage son or daughter who answers your “why” question with “because everyone is doing it.”
Predictably, when there is a high degree of the unknown, we begin to see the conventional terms arising to be applied to something new. Clamoring to show ROI, accountability, measurable results, tracking results, the ROI calculator, and etc. This clamoring attributable to a classic tension point of those who want to invest in a rising force with those who must see predictive returns to justify. Leaving both sides to exit a meeting screaming about that old adage of what comes first – the chicken or the egg?
So what really is going on? This is the million dollar question without a clear answer yet. The only thing we can be sure of is that buying behaviors have changed and that expectations about the buying experience have changed. The picture of each of these changes continues to be fuzzy at best. While there have been many reports that show quantifiably how buyers are accessing social media, what is going on qualitatively remains murky. What follows are some views on how social media is qualitatively transforming the B2B buying experience:
Scripted Talk Tolerance: buyers are demonstrating a low tolerance for what has been the traditional use of scripted talk. It is puzzling to see that companies continue to “arm” their sales and marketing organizations with scripts. Even in social media platforms you see “scripted” talk being used. Treating social media basically just as another form of a brochure.
Listening Post: social media represents the new “listening post” to buyers. Buyers have always by nature gravitated towards a listening post. From the old western frontier saloon to the modern day conferences buyers have listened. Social media has created a widespread availability for buyers to listen in on what is new, what others are saying, and for good sound advice without having to reveal who they are.
Online Education: we are hearing much these days about content marketing, content curation, content creation, and the likes. A read on this from a buyer’s perspective and how it is changing the buying experience is that buyers expect to be educated. In reality, B2B businesses are learning to become a new breed of online educators. Buyers, when confronted with problems, issues, and initiatives, are impulsively online seeking to educate themselves about what confronts them. If this “thirst for knowledge” cannot be filled, on they move until a source is discovered that can. Social media can represent such a source for education.
Freedom of Choice: what is fast becoming an overly used expression is that “buyers are in control” these days. No kidding! I’m not sure sales and marketing were ever in “control” of the buyer. What appears to be the real development is that buyer’s have freedom of choice in terms of how they wish to interact. In what seems like something out of a history book, buyers really had only one choice for many years – to interact directly with sales. Social media and the digital age have transformed the buying experience in the sense that buyers have more choices to interact. And some buyers, what may seem unfathomable with all of the swirling news surrounding social media and “buyers are in control” actually do prefer to pick up the phone and call a sales rep to say “come in for a chat.”
Peer Review: one of the mainstays of the science, education, and legal professions over the last one hundred years has been the foundation of peer review. Peer review meaning an expectation to publish works in the journals in noted professions and dialogue with your peer professionals on the latest hypotheses, trials, rulings, and etc. Social media platforms, in an alternative form of the traditional means, represent a new mode of peer review for professionals in B2B domains. This is much different than peer-to-peer networking per se’ for it alludes to establishing a form of reputation, creditability, and subject matter expertise. Peer review within social media platforms is transforming the buyer experience by creating a “collegiality” atmosphere to the overall buying experience.
Brand Advocacy: social media represents a new fountain of advocacy for a particular brand. An all encompassing advocacy of a brand and the experience they represent. The key differentiator is that buyers will contribute to brand advocacy organically versus being asked to through whatever promoted means designed to “compel” them to do so. While B2C promoted advocacy can catch on, B2B buyers are astute in differentiating organic advocacy from promoted advocacy.
These six perspectives represent qualitatively arrived at views on how social media is transforming the buying experience. Views on the changing buyer behavior and the changing buyer experience based upon qualitative interviews with buyers. What is apparent is that the expectations about the buyer experience is transforming and will continue to do so. The real news not being social media per se’ but a realization that B2B organizations need to start thinking and planning for how they can reinvent the buying experience for their buyers. What buyers appear to be saying is not “where are you on Twitter or Facebook” but “how can I be educated, have a learning experience, and be in a collegial bond to solve some real problems” without all the fanfare that surround the “find me” and “follow me “edicts.