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With the rise of social media, B2B marketers need to be careful not to confuse the end user with the decision maker

The growth of social marketing is raising questions about whether B2B marketers should adopt more B2C types of marketing strategies to communicate with their customers. But there are some fundamental differences between the two markets that B2B marketers need to keep in mind, said Sean Geehan, founder and CEO of Geehan Group and the author of “The B2B Executive Playbook: The Ultimate Weapon for Achieving Sustainable, Predictable and Profitable Growth.”

“In the last generation, one of the most successful companies was Ford, a consumer market, and, into our era, it’s Apple. Both of those founders and CEOs did not believe there was any value in talking to the customer,” said Geehan. “On the B2B side, there’s no way you can have any sustainable success without including and collaborating with your customers because they have a level of intelligence, insight and experience into what you’re selling.”

Geehan, who speaks frequently to the BMA’s local chapters about best practices in B2B marketing, stressed that despite the ongoing changes in buyer behavior caused by social media, B2B marketers still need to be able to distinguish between the end-user of their products and services and the decision-maker, who, of course, has the power of the purse.

“You have to understand what the motives and priorities are to the decision maker,” he said. “The [decision maker] may or may not be new media savvy, but you have to do your homework. Often times, people confuse the voice of the customer with the voice of the user. The reality is users and purchasers fill out surveys, decision makers don’t.”

He added: “Understanding the needs at the decision-maker level and this perspective should be the foundation of your go-to-market plan and value proposition. That’s when you secure quality leads that get the sales organization excited, resulting in a marketing plan which achieves undeniable, tangible ROI.”

Indeed, 63% of CMOs believe marketing return on investment (ROI) will become the most important measure of success over the next three to five years, according to the IBM Global CMO Study.

The study, based on face-to-face interview with 1,734 CMOs, spanning 19 industries and 64 countries, said that social metrics ranked the lowest (38%) among seven important measures to measure marketing success.

“I don’t believe that, in today’s market, in most industries, decision makers are tweeting, reading tweets, being influenced or making decisions for complex sales, because of any of these tools,” Geehan said.

While B2B marketers certainly need to integrate social channels into their overall marketing strategy, for the foreseeable future the more traditional aspects of B2B marketing will continue to drive new revenue and bolster conversion rates, according to Geehan.

“Ultimately, the decision-maker wants to shake a hand, wants to look at somebody and get other types of information that isn’t going to be served up in a social medium,” he said. “It’s a struggle to get B2B decision-makers to use these channels for business purposes.”

Comments (3)
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Elizabeth Williams
Posted Aug 01, 2012 at 08:04 AM

Good piece and I would add a reminder that relentlessly focusing on C-level prospects is often barking up the wrong tree. The C-suite ratifies purchase decisions made further down the foodchain, so smart marketers need to engage the ecosystem of end users, procurement folks and functional experts. Social is a good way to do that.

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Posted Apr 11, 2012 at 04:20 PM

Good article. I would have loved to have Tweeted it, but alas this page has no sharing mechanism. The links above only go to BMA properties. Hmm. #irony

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Posted Apr 05, 2012 at 11:16 AM

Great thoughts. Certainly the "end" of B2B marketing as some would have us think is not reality. B2B involves multiple decision points seperate from consumer marketing - and regardless of technology and lifestyle/content consumption issues they all have a role in the purchasing decision.

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