Getting Down to Business: A Look at the Increasingly Interactive B2B Landscape.

by Steve Parker

Houston Interactive Marketing Association (HiMA), August 5, 2010

Kim Hester, my collegue, and I attended a very informative HiMA luncheon meeting recently. It featured a panel of experts in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, including: Kevin Hazard of The Planet, Andrea Apple from eCardio, and Eric Johnson from Gelb Consulting and G2M Marketing. The moderator was Russ Capper, radio host for Business Makers Radio Show.

Interactive media is the next big wave in marketing and communications. It is a much more client-driven environment than static websites, which was the last major change in the marketplace. People have the same resistance or hesitancy to engaging in this change as they did when they were first using the internet. Today, it is hard to imagine not using the internet or not having a website. For many businesses that sell their services to other businesses, it is unlikely that their new clients walk off the street and into their doors. For most, new clients are driven through internet searches.

There was a lot of useful information provided today. Below are just a few of the key points I wanted to share. HiMA is a great resource for learning about this new wave. They are hosting the Interactive Strategies Conference (IS) in Houston on September 16, 2010. Both HiMA and IS provide connections to additional information on this subject.

This new market place engages a customer who wants to be provided with information with which to make their decisions, not to be sold. The major tools are LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs. The panel agreed that for the professional B2B environment, LinkedIn serves them/their businesses their clients best. At its basic level, it provides networking opportunities with other professionals in your industry. Beyond that, the most successful function is the use of the Groups top 1. These groups are very industry-specific and many times even specific to small aspects of an industry. The discussion forums allow you and others who use them to share information, demonstrate your expertise, and build trust in you with your clients, industry professionals, and other participants in those forums. If you have done a good job of building your LinkedIn profile, those in the LinkedIn network and those with which they interact have all the information they need about your services and background. Once those in this network have built trust, they know how to get in touch with you. The new environment allows the customer to come to you, they don’t like pushy sales.

An example of this point, the use of interactive and social media in marketing, is the new Old Spice commercial which shows a man without a shirt telling the women in the audience to look at him, then look at their man, then look at him and back at their man in an attempt to have them compare their man with someone who wears the product. Old Spice, or more likely, the advertising or PR agency which they employ, put the Old Spice commercial on YouTube, sales from that avenue have increased by 107%. If you know your audience and the avenue it uses to find your product, interactive media can be more direct and timely in bringing customers through the marketing funnel of awareness to sales. One of the panelists noted that last year was her company’s first year to include a budget for interactive marketing. The company’s sales return on investment was six dollars of sales for every dollar invested in its interactive program.

Another point the panelists made was to listen. That is the same advice given to people starting off on Twitter or LinkedIn. Find out what people in your industry are saying. Determine if the group/audience/interactive media platform is the right one for your product. Once you are familiar with it, get engaged. More advice tiven by the panelists was to provide useful information and post links to relevant articles. Continue listening for problems and opportunities. A panel member shared how a leading business who used their type of product posted a comment on Twitter about how the product was not working well and their bad experience with customer service. The person monitoring Twitter for the panelist’s company provided that information to their company’s marketing team. That client is now one of its  largest and posts comments about how great the product and service are.

There was also a discussion on return on investment and several options for measuring that. Based on that ROI alone, many companies are increasing their marketing spending on interactive tools/forums and reduced spending on print and trade shows. A more important point, though, was on return on relationship. Many partnerships are being built using interactive strategies. People are able to feel engaged using these new media avenues. If the experience provides value to them, they return. The user is able to participate on their schedule. As they use any of these tools, they are increasingly more comfortable with them.

The moderator concluded by stating that for many organizations there is a level of fear over security and what information is seen. It is exactly the same thing commented on at the beginning of the internet age. Those issues still exist with the internet, but with planning, most can be averted. The fear is much bigger than the reality.

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