The vital role of social media in a changing B2B revenue cycle

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By Alexandra Reid

With the rise of social media, today’s B2B sales landscape is more complex than ever before. There are hundreds of social media channels. Within them, a vast number of conversations are taking place, from short greetings to passionate discussions about businesses and their products, new social and technology trends, even what people had for breakfast.

The process of digging through these conversations, uncovering qualified leads, developing them into prospects and closing sales through social media is becoming even more complicated as revenue cycles shorten and large sales become less frequent in a struggling economy.

A recent report from MarketingSherpa explains the changing landscape of B2B transactions and states that average deal sizes have declined since 2010.

In 2010, 19 per cent of organizations indicated average deal sizes of $1,000-$10,000, and in 2011, this increased to nearly a third of all respondents. The percentage of organizations indicating an average deal size of less than $1,000 doubled from 2010 to 2011. The decline of response levels indicating any deal size category over $10,000 further supports the key finding.

In a subsequent report, MarketingSherpa explains that the relationship between average deal size and length of sale cycle is tight. Decreasing deal sizes for B2B organizations corresponds with shorter sales cycles. The reverse is also true.

MarketingSherpa adds, “The larger the deal size, the more complex the buying process will be. Organizations with larger deal sizes, longer sales cycles, and more parties to convince, may have a greater need to establish processes for lead generation, qualification, scoring and nurturing.”

As longer revenue cycles could mean fewer opportunities for large deals in 2012, B2B businesses must take great care to make every lead count. To maintain interest over the long-term, B2B businesses must provide information and engage in meaningful conversations to keep interest alive in each individual prospect. This requires great organization from community managers and social media marketers alike to attract and keep track of prospects to develop valuable relationships.

Here are some tips for B2B businesses to attract, uncover and nurture leads over the long run to ensure best chances of making the sale.

Attract

  • Calls to action are critical: This point comes from Jeffrey L. Cohen on MarketingProfs, who explains that CTA’s should be part of all content you create. “Many B2B companies go through all of the trouble of creating a blog and sharing the links through their social media profiles, but never provide a way to convert those visitors into leads,” he says. A suggested tip is to include a link at the end of a blog post that offers a reader the opportunity to learn about a topic in more depth by downloading an ebook.
  • Optimize your social media landing pages: Brian Massey at Search Engine Land explains the anatomy of a great social media landing page, how it can attract leads and nurture them into prospects or even brand champions. He says that educating people on your business and its product(s)/service(s), exposing the opinions of others, starting meaningful conversations and streamlining design are all vital to attract and convert leads.
  • Share great content that leads prospects back to your site and establishes you as a leader in your space. But don’t go overboard, especially with links. Follow on average the 80-20 rule that suggests only 20 percent of content shared by businesses is about the business itself. For the rest, provide information from outside sources that supports your cause and other helpful tidbits of information. Always remember to value quality over quantity.

Uncover

  • Determine your keywords: Knowing what to search is vital for uncovering qualified opportunities. There is a whole host of keyword tools out there that you could use. For instance, I use Google Adwords keywords suggestions. You could also search your competitors on LinkedIn and see what “specialties” they list.
  • Search your competition: Look at whom they are connected to, where they have established a presence and conversations in which they are participating to find additional opportunities to find and convert leads.
  • Follow conversations: Instead of simply engaging a prospective individual, determine if they have influenced or engaged anyone else in conversations that could be relevant to your business. For instance, if someone tweets something of interest to you, see if they used anyone else’s handle in the tweet. Conversations between two people can quickly become webs and spawn other, separate conversations that can span multiple social channels. Bridge conversations to uncover the most leads. However, you must be aware of how you jump into conversations to ensure you don’t come across as creepy. Some social media users have compared the business practice of following conversations to stalking. Tread lightly.

Nurture

  • Segment: Our Francis Moran wrote a great piece on the importance of segmenting your marketplace. “The key to segmenting the marketplace is to identify those traits – some demographic, some taste-based, many certainly geographic – that define the customers most likely to be interested in your product or service,” he says. This process tells you a lot about who you’re trying to sell to; it also gives you a lot of insight into the positioning and messaging that will be effective to reach them. As emotion-based appeal is the most effective, social media can be a wonderful tool for identifying and playing to the emotions and passions of the people you are targeting to develop valuable relationships.
  • Score: Lead scoring is the practice of using an algorithm to assign a ranking to a sales prospect based on an understanding of the prospect’s interests and buying intentions. Social media activities can be quite expensive, so in a tight economy, this is an important step for time management. There are a number of tools out there that can help you do this accurately. Otherwise, you can ballpark it yourself, using a scale of 1-10 for interest level. Spend more time engaging those prospects who are most likely to buy.
  • Spreadsheets: List the prospect’s name, contact information (social media and other), and the conversations you have had with them by date to develop relationships and ensure you don’t repeat information.

How are you closing sales using social media?

Image: KazExchange

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