My friend Tom Skotidas and I recently talked about the keys to starting a LinkedIn Group as a means to generate leads for B2B companies. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is part of an ongoing series of conversations about the intersection of sales and marketing, well as social selling.1. Start with your Product or Service in Mind
The first thing you need to do is create a group that is connected to your product or service. This may be related to the product category or your specific industry, but general enough that the right people will find the group relevant and interesting. Choose a group name that reflects the topic and will be meaningful to your prospects.2. Determine the Most Likely Buyer
Since we are looking at this group through the lens of lead generation, make sure you take into account your most likely buyers. The group should be targeted to them. As you are planning the group make sure to develop a targeted persona so you know who should be in the group.3. Never Mention the Product
Even though you have the product in mind, the point of the group is not to sell the product. Market trends and solutions related to the product and services are what is important to the group.4. Create a Closed Group
You can create a closed group or an open group on LinkedIn. Start out with a closed group as you are building it up. This way only people you invite can join the group. As it grows and develops some traction, you may want to make it an open group to take advantage of search and sharing benefits of things posted in the group. While an open group is visible to all, you can still moderate members and comments.5. Manage it like a Community
The LinkedIn group you build is a community and it needs community management. That means you, or someone on your team, must be a manager of the group. This person must have the personality to interact with group members on a regular basis, reach out to them publicly or privately to ask questions or elicit comments, and generally keep the conversation interesting and flowing. A number of different people can serve in this role.6. Build it like a 3-Layer Cake
Start the first layer by getting your staff to join the group so it has a bit of a head start. The second layer includes your closest business partners and some existing customers. Let them know the purpose of the group and that their interaction is encouraged. Once the group has that lived in feeling, invite some targeted prospects to join the group. This is the top of the cake. They are the ones to focus on, and it helps that they are joining an active, growing group.7. Know What Content to Share
The purpose of this group is to provide value to the community, and especially the prospects, so they begin to build a relationship with you. You can do that through content. You can use third-party content related to the theme of the group or even conversation starters, which are just what they sound like. Comments and questions that get people talking.8. Engage the Group
The community managers need to continuous engage the group members to keep the conversation going. That may include messaging someone with a specific and relevant post and asking them to provide their thoughts in the group.9. Practice Both Inbound and Outbound Lead Generation
You can use this group to manage both inbound and outbound leads. Sharing content in the group that provides links back to your blog, website and landing pages encourages clicks and shares to drive more people to those pages. As you build relationships with your targeted prospects in the group, you can coordinate with the sales team to reach out to them. And this is no longer a cold call.10. Remember Marketing Led, Sales Fed
Finally, keep in mind that social selling initiatives like this are run by the marketing team, but ultimately they support sales. You are generating leads for sales.
Are there other best practices you have developed in using LinkedIn groups to generate leads?
The challenge of generating high-quality leads looms large in front of business-to-business marketers today. 78% of B2B marketers say lead generation is their biggest challenge. Just like any other large problem, the best way to address this is to break the process down into bite-size pieces rather than trying to digest it all at once. You need to develop a lead generation process, and support it with robust systems and the right people in the right places.
1. Create a Strategy
Start with the big picture. This should flow naturally from your overall marketing strategy. It should define your target client, including what positions they hold within an organization, the industries they work in, their company’s size, and their geographic locations.
2. Define Your Difference
Before you approach your target market you need to wrap your mind around exactly what makes your product, service, or solution different than competitors’ offerings. And, even more importantly, why that differentiation matters to your prospects and customers. For example, if you are selling a CRM system that can process millions of transactions and your target customer only handles hundreds of transactions, then you have a mismatch.
3. Decide the Criteria for a Qualified Lead
On the face of it, defining a quality lead may seem simple. This is, however, the place where many lead generation efforts fall apart. That’s because sales and marketing have different definitions of what qualified means. Your definition of a qualified lead needs to include:
- The budget that has been allocated to solve this problem.
- Whether or not the lead has the authority to make a buying decision.
- Their need for a solution.
- How soon they plan to buy into a solution.
- The ability of one of your products and/or solutions to solve their problem.
4. What Information Should You Pass to Sales?
A quick handoff of leads from marketing to sales that includes the contact information is not enough. You need to define the information that will be included with the lead. Sales is going to be much more successful if they are given a deep understanding of the prospects’ buying situation, the problems they are facing, the decision-making structure within the organization, how the prospect has responded to content provided to them, and any perceived obstacles in the way of purchasing.
5. Capture the Leads
Now it’s time to determine how you are going to attract and capture leads. The best campaigns bring together these strengths of both inbound and outbound marketing tactics. While Web and content marketing are extremely effective in attracting people who are actively trying to solve their problems online, they can’t do all the work.
If your company is not highly prominent online, the web searcher may not find your content. Also, many executives are extremely busy and don’t have the time to do extensive Web searches. In both of these cases telemarketing is a highly effective and efficient way to reach specific accounts you’re targeting and to help them solve their problems.
6. Nurture Until Sales-Ready
Many marketing departments feel that the job is done once they have captured a lead. The problem, however, is that the majority of leads are not sales-ready.
Perhaps they don’t plan to buy in the near future, or they are simply not educated enough on the problems and solutions to make a decision. In these cases a lead will need to be nurtured. The nurturing plan should likely include email marketing, relevant content, and the occasional phone call to answer questions, provide relevant information, and, of course, add the all-important human touch.
7. Score Your Leads
You also need to define a system for scoring your leads. This system should be based on both on how the lead has interacted with your website and content, as well as judgments made by your salespeople as to the lead’s interest level.
8. Give Sales People Leads They’re Excited to Follow Up On
Based on the scores generated, you can finally pass the leads over to your salespeople. When you do, make sure you also provide all the juicy background information so they are prepared to make the sale.
9. Measure, Adjust, Optimize
Even when you have made the sale, the process isn’t over. You constantly need to be measuring the results, adjusting your process, and optimizing it.
Photo credit: Flickr
The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs released their annual benchmark report on B2B content marketing. It is based on surveys of 1820 North American B2B Marketers across all industries and company sizes. This is the fifth year that they have released this report, and it continues to improve each year. The entire report is embedded at the end of this post.
The first, and most notable stat in this report is that number of B2B marketers using content marketing has gone down from 93% last year to 86% this year. That is because they changed the definition of content marketing to “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Apparently this helped some respondents realize that there is a difference between content marketing and just creating content.
This is a benchmark study, so it gives you something you can compare yourself to. The study also examines the habits and activities of the most effective B2B content marketers, so you can see how you are doing against those who report that content marketing is meeting their goals and driving business value.1. 86% of B2B Marketers are using content marketing
I recently participated in a project with the Oracle Marketing Cloud where they interviewed marketing professors about the state of B2B marketing and how they are using that knowledge to develop curriculum to train the marketers of the future. It was an esteemed panel of professors, including:
- Barbara Kahn, Patty and Jay H. Baker Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
- Josh Murdock, Professor of Educational Technology & Social Networking, Valencia College
- Mark Schaefer, Marketing Consultant, College Educator and Author, Rutgers University
- Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing, Co-Director of Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, The Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
- Eric Bradlow, K.P. Chao Professor of Marketing, Statistics, and Education, The Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
- Jessica Rogers, Graduate Social Media and Marketing, Southern New Hampshire University
- Jeffrey L. Cohen, Distinguished Lecturer of Marketing Analytics and Social Media, Ball State University (hey, that’s me!)
Download the entire ebook here (registration required), but in the meantime, here are my answers to the questions.
1. What is the number one thing marketers may have lost sight of?
Too many marketing activities are siloed from the top-level business objectives of a company, and are not measured against metrics that others in the company care about. If your executives follow daily, weekly or monthly numbers related to things like sales, customer retention, cost savings and customer satisfaction, then reporting softer marketing numbers will not win any points with those executives. Marketers need to find ways to tie their efforts to those business metrics.
2. What are your observations with respect to the nuances of the B2B and B2C marketing disciplines?
As a lifelong B2B marketer, and co-author of The B2B Social Media Book, B2B marketing makes sense to me. No matter what techniques you use, you are ultimately driving prospects into a buying process where you can track where they came from. While selling through a distribution network can complicate things, a company sales rep, or someone no more than a couple steps removed away from the company, handles B2B purchases, making tracking possible. I have never understood how Coca-Cola marketers can track their efforts to sell a bottle of Coke at the grocery store or convenience store. This action is too far removed from their brand marketing and advertising to attribute action to particular campaigns.
3. What do you think a B2B marketer can learn from B2C or vice versa?
B2B marketers can learn creativity, creating an emotional response and storytelling from the B2C pros, and B2C marketers can learn more about calls-to-action, attribution and leading a buyer through a journey from their B2B brethren.
4. Can you compare and contrast the curriculum that you’re teaching and the current roles and responsibilities of today’s marketers?
I am teaching students about the importance of their public, online presence and how to keep up with a constant flow of information in their industry. This would not be an explicit part of their marketing role, but an understanding of this will make them stronger marketers. Traditionally, it has been social media savvy folks on the team who really understand how to build a personal presence and follow all the right sources in a manageable way, but these skills are important as a solid foundation for all marketers.
Students learn how to create and analyze social media marketing campaigns that resonate with customers, B2B and B2C, and are based on solid marketing and business principles. Proper goal setting and how to review analytics to understand success are also a key part of my learning objectives. This fits in with the skills and requirements of marketers in the field. Marketers create campaigns, analyze competitors’ campaigns and review the success of their own efforts.
5. What will you teach my future employees this year?
I start by explaining the difference between personal social media, which is what most college students do, and professional social media. They need to understand the importance of a professional profile, not just on LinkedIn, but on all social platforms, if they are going into marketing. This is part of the transition to the working world. I tie social media to business results and the basic principles of marketing, so students understand the value of social media to an organization. I go though major and minor social platforms, looking at current examples and best practices, so students have an understanding of what is happening right now in social media marketing.
Please download the ebook here to learn what the rest of the panel thinks about the state of B2B marketing and how education feeds into it (registration required).
The days when B2B companies picking up the phone or answering emails was good enough are long over. Now, customers take to Twitter even before they call you. They’re tweeting about how terrible your hold music is even as they’re waiting, ripping apart the scripts your agents use even as they’re working on solving their problem and publicly pushing you to deliver a quick fix for a bug they spotted minutes ago. And things are only going to get worse if your B2B company isn’t on Twitter.
When you’re small, having a single touchpoint is definitely enough, but it’s inefficient as you grow your business. Your support queries mix with your branding efforts and often enough, your customers are going to misinterpret your premeditated marketing messages as callous indifference to their problems. So, when you expand into multiple products and reach global markets, you need an entirely different strategy to deal with customers on Twitter (just like you might have an overall strategy for customer support as your company expands).B2B Startups Need One Twitter Touchpoint To Rule Them All
If you’ve just started out and your business has just a few thousand customers, no matter how spread out they are across the world, a single Twitter account would serve both the purposes of communicating with your customers and marketing your brand.
For example, Freshdesk, a leading customer support solution, was down recently because of a denial of service attack. The company immediately got on to Twitter to appease customers complaining about the down time, because that’s where their users went to first. Freshdesk used Twitter as an announcement channel before they could get a blog post ready with more details and told their customers that they were working to fix things.
Twitter provides companies the opportunity to engage with customers and answer questions coming in from different locations. B2B companies striving to provide exceptional customer service have no excuse to be absent from Twitter in 2014.
When you’re small, it doesn’t make sense to have a dedicated support agent looking at your lonely notifications feed on Twitter. You’re probably going to get only a couple of customer questions spread throughout the day. Setting up Twitter to send you email alerts when something comes up on Twitter will do. You’ll know that there’s something bubbling up out there while you’re working on building a great product.
The staff at Buffer also make it a point to wow their customers when they least expect it. They consistently engage with almost every tweet they receive, and keep users informed every minute when there’s trouble. They use Twitter as a medium to deliver exceptional service as the whole world watches, and earn fans along the way for their transparency.Dedicated Support on Twitter Is the Best Bet for Big B2B Companies
If you’re growing like crazy (by the millions every month), and if your customer base is primarily young and tech-savvy – quick to get on to Twitter even before looking up your phone number or support email address – you probably need a dedicated support presence on Twitter to deal with the sheer volume of queries you may be getting.
Twitter works well in helping distribute critical information to some of your most vocal customers.Spread Out Support Presence Across Regions and Products for Global B2Bs
For a company like Dell that has millions of customers all over the world, a distributed support strategy works pretty well. From executives to dedicated teams, it’s not uncommon to see Dell’s distributed Twitter accounts responding almost instantaneously to consumers who are seeking information about their devices and tweeting about their PC problems. Dell scores in this regard by decentralizing their social media channels, and having a considerable number of their employees respond to customers region-wise.
Customers also end up having a positive customer service experience instead of a nightmarish one waiting on hold endlessly trying to get their problems resolved.
How have you scaled your Twitter customer support presence as your B2B company has grown?
Photo credit: Flickr
My friend Tom Skotidas and I are at it again and this time we talked about how anyone, but especially B2B sales pros, can use their LinkedIn profile to attract inbound leads. Tom calls this inbound social selling. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but there is more to it than just that.1. Re-Think the Purpose of Your Profile
Rather than just create a profile that shows your job history and qualifications, create a profile that shows how you can solve your target audience’s problems and serve their needs. Think of your profile as a piece content that reflects your company’s capabilities, rather than your resume.2. Use the Right Keywords
Throughout your LinkedIn profile you should use keywords that are related to your products and services. Not just any keywords, but ones that your prospects commonly use. One way to determine those keywords is by using Google’s Keyword Ad Planner Tool. It is designed to help determine keywords for Google ads, so you need an AdWords account (connected to a regular Google account), but you don’t need to place any ads to use the tool.3. View Your LinkedIn Profile as a Web Page to be Indexed
As you are re-thinking about your LinkedIn profile and using the appropriate keywords, remember that this is a web page that is indexed by Google and other search engines. LinkedIn is a high-ranking domain and can show up as a top result in searches for your keywords.4. Don’t Forget About LinkedIn Search
Active LinkedIn users use the search functions within LinkedIn to find what they are looking for, beyond people’s names and companies.5. Optimize These 9 Fields in Your LinkedIn Profile
Once you have your keywords to attract your prospects, what do you do with them? There are several fields in your LinkedIn profile that Tom identified as the most relevant.
- Headline: The default is your current job at your current company. This is the most important thing to change to appeal to prospects.
- Contact Information: This should include the best ways to contact you, plus a website or landing page that includes information to your target prospects
- Summary: This is where you can really speak to the prospect about how you and your company can solve their business problems, using a good selection of keywords.
- Experience: What you do in your job is another opportunity to tell the story of your success helping customers solve problems.
- Marketing Assets: Work with your marketing team to get Powerpoints and PDFs to add to your LinkedIn profile and use your keywords in the title of the pieces.
- Skills & Endorsements: Have others endorse you for skills that are most relevant to your target prospects. You have the ability to edit your list of skils.
- Publications: Relevant blog posts, ebooks or articles quoting you can be listed here. If you don’t have any, this is a good time see if you can collaborate with someone to create some things to list.
- Recommendations: Ask your customers for recommendations. They will use the terms that others in your industry use, and they will also validate your position as someone who is helpful.
- Groups Joined: The Groups you join show on your profile, so make sure you join relevant Groups with names that look and sound good.
What have you done on your LinkedIn profile to attract B2B prospects?