In the recent McKinsey article The basics of business-to-business sales success the B2B customers surveyed said "they care most about product and price, but what they really want is a great sales experience".
And in particular they want sales reps with "adequate product knowledge" and "fewer, more meaningful interactions" (only 3 percent said they weren't contacted enough).
McKinsey goes on to say:
"Striking the right balance between contacting customers too much and too little requires understanding their stated and actual needs. There should be a clear strategy for reaching out to customers based on needs and profit potential, with schedules dictating frequency. The best contact calendars center around events that create value for customers, such as semiannual business reviews..."
When it comes to specifics, McKinsey found customers were "more than happy to use self-serve or online tools and selectively tap specialist support for the most complex situations".
What's this mean for social media in B2B?
We already know that the buying cycle and the selling cycle have moved completely out of sync, and in particular that buyers not only inform themselves but that they now determine their own schedule for when they want to contact a selling organisation. They also trust recommendations from independent online sources, in particular forums, more highly than from any company source.
Therefore, the customer-contact recommendation above strikes me as quaintly old-fashioned, and even out of touch with McKinsey's own assessment of the strategic role of social media for business. The recommendation is an internally-focused process with a schedule! This seems a country mile from the way customers want to be treated today, given their presence in the social media.
As an alternative I would recommend "reaching out to customers" has to be a very regular operational activity in the social media, following the usual rules of contribution and participation. The rate of contact will depend then only on the relationship building and value, and not a calendar.
Reaching out in this regular will provide many opportunities to direct customers and potential customers to online forums, and self-serve tools in a value-added way which is relevant to the moment, as indicated through the social media conversations.
McKinsey concludes their article by recommending that companies should examine exactly how they are performing by asking the following questions:
- What are the most influential drivers of the sales experience?
- What things are your sellers doing that could damage relationships?
- How does the perception your customers have of your sales force compare to how they view your competitors?
I'd probably put it a little differently, bearing in mind the social media context and the misalignment of the buyer-seller process.
Firstly, I would ask how can continue to better use social media and digital engagement/assets to really understand the buyer's buying process?
Secondly, what are the most effective things we are doing to facilitate the buyer's buying process (and hence our relationship)?
Thirdly, what can we learn in the social media about how our customers and potential customers view their buying needs and interaction with us versus our competitors.
The exciting thing is that all this information, for many companies, is available today in the social media.
How would you advise a company to improve its B2B sales engagement using the social media?
What would be your three key review questions?