B2b buyers are changing; we are all publishers now – answering the top audience questions

How relevant is this podcamp chat? It’s a fair question, given my audience was made up of small business owners and practitioners, with one medium-sized business. As it turns out, concerns about reaching buyers are very similar to that of the large enterprises diginomica focuses on. The difference comes down to tactics. In particular, how those tactics are operationalized.

1. Buyers are changing across industries – the decision-making process varies by industry and company size, but as a rule, B2B buyers are more informed. They conduct more of their own research and have sharper BS filters against marketing blitzes. They value informative content over sales platitudes. The impact of peer reviews is another example of a more empowered consumer – and a more social/networked buyer.

Great content via topic authority is hard. But you still have the problem of content distribution, and the more fundamental problem of earning – and sustaining – attention. Buyers are distracted; earning attention is tougher; buyers spend time inside massive walled gardens like LinkedIn and Facebook that are beyond your algorithmic control. Search still matters, but counting on audiences to remember you amidst the noise is now naive. Therefore, the goal for reaching buyers is:

4. Build opt-in audiences/communities via the content that buyers care about, thereby earning trust and credibility. Opt-in is a value exchange that (should) build trust as buyers invite you into their notification streams and inboxes. Become a part of the communities you serve. And, as folks opt-in, they are sharing data that allows you to better understand their needs and what moves the needle. This is done through a combination of free (searchable/shareable), sign-up, and/or paid content – preferably multi-media.

Sum: you want to be searchable, subscribable (opt-in), social (accessible and relatable), and measurable (measure the results of your efforts and make course corrections). I am skeptical about social except as the last step after shareable content is created. At that point, the advantage of social is less about pushing content, and more about being accessible to those who have questions about it – from a position of topic authority. Accessibility and transparency matter for trust.

And: helpful content that shares your customers’ experiences, founded on a bedrock of customer use cases and testimonials. You can even get your customers involved in sharing that content – if they are passionate about what you’ve done for them. Use a “hub and spoke” model to share and distribute content. Usually, your own web site should still be the hub, even if a couple of the social media spokes are crucial.

And: isn’t there a diminishing return on time when you invest across social networks? Great point. We must have an intimate grasp of the community we are serving and where they are hanging out. For most B2B companies, LinkedIn is the most relevant network to be a part of, with Twitter taking on importance for larger scale events or hashtag discussions. Facebook usually less so, except for consumer/lifestyle brands.

However, few folks want to discuss topical content via email replies. And who wants a private discussion on a topic your whole audience cares about? That’s where social pays off. It’s true that most B2B buyers are not active socially. But those who influence their decisions often are. Understanding the network that impacts your buyer is vital to your social strategy. It’s usually a mistake to market to one buyer persona, and not to those they network with and trust.

We shouldn’t accept a naive push to up our social game from social media gurus. Not all social efforts are created equal. If you’re just posting blog links to LinkedIn, you might not get the same traction as if you posted original content to LinkedIn. And if you have a LinkedIn group with 10,000+ people, your ability to reach buyers is much greater. Allocate time accordingly. But always take into account who is replying and opting in, not just how many are viewing. Vanity metrics are mocked for a reason. What about spam and security filters blocking your content? My official sticky note for this session

This uphill reality – one more roadblock in the struggle for attention – doesn’t invalidate the power of content, but it does underscore why you want a passionate audience and an active community around your work. Those folks will respond to your troubleshooting questions (“did you get our email?) because they are willing to go the extra mile to get your stuff.

That’s why you want to put a human face on what you do. Being solely reliant on an online presence limits your content effectiveness. In this case, the attendees’ company was not putting on events or presenting sessions at industry events. Those are important for solidifying relationships. They also provide ideal opportunities for discussions about which content is reaching your audience and which isn’t. In this case, it sounded like the attendees’ own firewall was part of the problem.

That’s another part of the culture challenge. The alternate title for my session was: “Buyers are changing – sales and marketing must change too.” The implications of those changes is a theme I’ll return to. But a little content birdie told me my colleague Den Howlett is cooking up a piece on this very topic, and last I checked, he was a pretty good chef. Stay tuned.