Not that many years ago, a variety of gurus and snake-oil salespeople made rash claims of social media revolutionizing the way we engaged with prospects and drove new business. A lot of those people are back to living in mom’s basement. But a lot of them proved their theories working with real enterprise companies.
For any B2B marketer looking to build and grow a business, social media still provides valuable opportunities to find and engage real prospects at the start of their buying journey, but you need to know what you’re doing.
First, it can take an overwhelming amount of time to sort through all the channels and all the noise and actually come up with a lead of potential value, making it hard to justify the ROI if you’re thinking in terms of volume. Second, responding to queries without coming across as too “pitchy” or “salesy” takes a lot of finesse, skill and a genuine desire to help your peers, even if your solution isn’t the answer. Social media practitioners recommend “joining the conversation,” but you need something to say beyond just “buy my stuff.”
To make your social media prospecting time and effort worthwhile and maximize your best efforts, here are seven tips you can use right now, without any further investment.
- Listen for “intent.” I first heard Christopher S. Penn use that phrase sometime in the naughts. Your customers and prospects are asking questions on social media that signal their intent to buy. Spend some time brainstorming the types of questions your target audiences might be asking, and then “listen” for those cues in each channel.
For example, your prospects might be blatantly asking questions like “what’s the best product to do XYZ?” or “who uses Company or Product X? Are you happy with it?” It might be more subtle hints like complaints or even rants about business challenges. But you have to listen. Too often, as marketers, we worry too much about getting our message out there and not enough about listening for signals our audience is offering freely.
- Use listening tools. You obviously want to follow your customers and prospects, but connecting with other influencers in your field or industry is important too. Follow your competitors, thought leaders, reporters and bloggers in the space, and the people your customers follow. Twitter lists and social listening tools can make this easier and more efficient, helping you to stay current on trends, needs and desires without being glued to your phone 24/7.
- Make yourself useful. Share helpful and interesting content, answer questions and even link to content other than your own—whatever it takes to help solve problems. David Alston and Amber Nasland built Salesforce Radian6’s online reputation by seemingly being on Twitter 24/7 sharing their knowledge, providing helpful advice and responding to questions like “How do you measure social media ROI?” or “How do I convince my boss to use social media?” Being genuinely helpful positions you as a valuable resource and creates top-of-mind awareness among your prospect audiences.
- Follow the 80/20 rule. I subscribe to the idea that 80% of the content you share should be helpful to your community and not promotional in nature. The remaining 20% can be about your company. Any more than that comes across as being “all about the sale,” rather than genuinely trying to be a part of the community. Think about those you follow—you know what feels OK and how much feels over the top. Don’t go overboard and your followers will tolerate an occasional pitch when it fits the situation.
- Be Human. Social media is a great opportunity to express your personality and that of your company. Skip the canned, robotic script and have a little fun. Be genuine and approachable (without becoming unprofessional). The more personal and “real” you present yourself to your followers, the more likely they are to view you as an authentic, reliable resource. That being said, no one wants to hear you complain, nor do they want to know your political opinions.
- Share the spotlight. As you expand your network, retweet and share content from those influential in your industry. Helping others amplify their own message shows that you’re invested in the greater good and advancement of your industry, not just focused on your own self-interest. And, as they say, what comes around, goes around—those who you help to spread their message will be more inclined help you spread your own.
- Don’t rush to the pitch. Listen, we all love a hot lead, but resist the urge to pounce on someone the moment they accept your LinkedIn connection request. Take the time to get to know them, find a common connection and build a relationship. No one wants to be pitched right out of the gate.
Making social media work as part of your prospecting and engagement strategy takes time, effort and practice. One way to build skills is to listen and learn from those who are getting it right, even in completely different industries than your own.
Follow these seven tips (and follow the social stars in your field) and you’ll be on your way to opening doors and building relationships that can turn into real business.