Social Selling … Are B2B Blogs Worth The Effort?

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I have always been a music lover, doing “primitive karaoke” in my bedroom to the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Yes, and even Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade (I want to show you I have some old world culture too)!

As I was transitioning from high school to university, I discovered a whole new world of high resolution audio equipment “the world of the audiophile” (not to be confused with other types of “philes”).  Today, I am a member of the executive team for the Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show (TAVES), an annual extravaganza of new technology for the ears, the eyes and the brain!

Yes - Close To The Edge Album Cover Image

My current music listening recommendations include the Yes “old classic” Close To The Edge, released in the new high tech, high quality Blu-ray Audio format … its something to behold.  I am also a weekend warrior, riding all over on my Harley Road King, and if you want to enjoy some more contemporary music on a Harley video, see and hear The Strypes rendition of the Beatles classic “Come Together”.

But what does this have to do with B2B Blogs?

The devil is always in the details.  And I love the details: the specs, the lengthy reviews, the technology discussions, and the articles on how components work together to create solutions.  I am often seen pouring over brochures, whitepapers and the like before purchasing new audio / video components or motorcycle parts.

But what about Blogs, are they useful to help your prospects and customers gain an understanding of your offerings? Let’s take a look at the broader topic of marketing collateral to see where Blogs fit.

It’s all about Marketing Collateral

As a long time sales manager/sales professional to large enterprises and the consumer public, and as a member of the ArCompany Executive Team who is largely focused on Sales, I frequently ask myself:

“What types of marketing collateral actually help to convey the message and ultimately result in a sale?  What role does marketing collateral (or content as we now call it) play in Social Selling?”

For those of you that follow the weekly ArCompany Blog, you will notice that many of our blogs address the area of Social Selling, because we are always looking for new ways to leverage Social Media to assist our clients’ sales professionals.  If you haven’t seen them, I encourage you to have a look at our “Social Selling” themed blogs.

Social Media: The Untapped Conduit

At ArCompany, it is our belief that the “Social Media Universe” is the untapped conduit for raw, customer-volunteered information.  It is high quality and often unseen by many companies.  This is why we believe that leveraging social media in your business operations will have a profound effect on your bottom line … at ArCompany, it is our “raison d’être”.

When I sat down at the keyboard to write this blog, it occurred to me that perhaps I should ask

What’s a blog worth?  Who reads them?  What do they do with them?  Do they cause conversation?  Do they stimulate action? Do blogs actually help cause a sale?  What is a blog really worth? 

So I did a little homework to find some answers … here’s what I found.

MarketingCharts.com summarized a recent study done by Eccolo Media, where over 500 B2B businesses were asked about what types of marketing collateral impact their purchase decisions.  The following chart illustrates that Blogs were favoured by 29% of respondents to help evaluate technical purchases.  More importantly, the study shows that Blogs were less favoured than were conventional media such as White Papers, Brochures / Data Sheets, and Magazines, etc.

Chart 1 - EccoloMedia-B2B-Tech-Buyers-Most-Commonly-Consumed-Content-Types-Dec2013

Furthermore the results showed that:

  • During the initial sales phase, white papers, case studies, video and infographics reach their most influential point;
  • At the mid-sales phase, detailed technology guides (31%) are at their most influential, while case studies are also important; and
  • None of the collateral types are most influential during the final sales process, although detailed tech guides and implementation scenarios are naturally of more interest during this stage than the other content types.
  • About 7 in 10 respondents said it’s important or very important to continue to receive content from the vendor after the sale has been completed. White papers are clearly the most preferred content type post-purchase, followed by case studies and tech guides.

Then why write a blog for customers?

When I was a child, my parents thought about changing my name to “Why”.  Not because I was an accident or unloved, but because like many kids, I never stopped asking the question “Why?”.  I still do today.

In the same vein as the child that continually asks the question “Why?”, analytical “drill down” into data is always appropriate.

The following chart illustrates that the influence of the type of marketing collateral changes depending upon the stage of the sales cycle, and it shows that Blogs become the most significant marketing collateral tool earlier in the sales cycle.

Specifically, they are the most powerful tool in the pre-sales phase when customers/ prospects are unaware of their problem and are simply looking to learn new things.  And they also continue to be a dominant tool in the “understanding the problem” initial sales phase.

Chart 2 - Eccolo-Content-Consumption-B2B-Buyer-Purchase-Cycle-Dec2013

But, like the young child, we should again ask the question; why? A further drill down into the data will reward us with another tidbit of “blog worth”.

The Eccolo Media study also separated the data into three business sizes: Enterprise, Medium Business and Small Business.  Then within each of these business size groups, the study drilled down into opinions from “influencers” and opinions from “decision makers”.  The following is a summary of the key findings at this drill down level, as they relate to the use of blogs:

Pre-sales

  • Small business-decision makers see blog articles as carrying their greatest weight at this stage;
  • Enterprise decision-makers find blog articles and infographics to be offering their greatest influence during this stage.

Initial sales

  • Mid-market influencers tend to see most content types – blog articles, infographics, video, case studies and white papers – as being most helpful during this stage
  • Mid-market decision-makers find that blog articles, infographics, video and white papers are more influential at this stage than at any other
  • Enterprise influencers consider blog articles, infographics, video, case studies, and white papers to be most influential at this stage

 Mid-sales

  • For small business influencers, this is the phase when blog articles are most helpful

 Final sales process

  • No one considered any of the content types to be most helpful during this stage, as buyers appear to see each type of collateral as being most important during earlier phases of the sales cycle

Blogs are extremely useful for all three business sizes in the early phases of the sales cycle, particularly for decision makers before they have identified a problem and are really in the early “learning” mode.  So, in the B2B space, blogs are an early phase education tool for people that will ultimately make the “buy decision”.

Blogs are only PART of the B2B Social Selling Strategy

In my blog entitled “Same Rules, Totally New Tools: Social Selling … With a Little Irish Flavour” I wrote;

Selling to a prospect is still an art form and does require the smooth and witty flavour noted above in the Irish history lesson.  A sales proposal must be compelling (a good story), entertaining (with flair and drama), clear and concise and deliver interest or value.  Limericks, the Blarney Stone and the smooth talking Irishman seem to be important and desired components of an effective sales person and sales strategy.

The Eccolo study confirms this statement by showing that Blogs and other types of marketing collateral are extremely effective at the early sales cycle stages.  However, they do not significantly impact the final phases of the sale — they do not close the sale.  An effective sales person is still required for the close.  The fact is you need both, but Blogs do have real value.

For sales people, listening is even more important today than it used to be, but now it is both in customer interaction (through “face to face” and through social tools such as Blogs and their related comments / conversation) and in online research.  The combination of the historical “confident and articlulate sales art form” mentioned above, along with the use of online listenting tools, related research and analysis of this information, and enjoyable trusted content through social tools like Blogging is the new selling process, or more accurately, Social Selling.

Most people find it useful to learn by example, so with help from HubSpot Blog, I have selected a few B2B companies that are credited with producing first class customer blogs::

  • Oracle Eloqua (@Eloqua)
    • Blogs with strong infographics
    • Buttons that enable sharing through various social media services
  • Intercom (@Intercom)
    • Blogs which use a learning approach (“a teachable moment”)
    • Data rich content
    • Balance of product info and educational info
  • Deloitte (@DeloitteCanada)
    • Offers a range of formats (“how to” guides, podcasts, online debates, newsletters, videos, etc.)
    • Open ended discussions promoting inclusion into the conversation
  • GoToMeeting by CITRIX (@GoToMeeting)
    • Shares information on other business content that promotes “working smart” through other tips beyond video conferencing
  • GE Aviation / Skyward Blog (@GEAviation, @AVgeeks)
    • Strong community that asks for input from their members and links them to other social media services groups

And of course the ArCompany Blog (@ArCIntel) which is the home for this blog article (a little gratuitous promotion).

In conclusion;

Krista Bunnskoek of Wishpond.com, says in her blog “How to Boost your Blog by Using Real Personalities that Connect with your Customers: some of the most effective company blogs are those that write with personality, and let you get to know the people behind them.”

So, this is why I spent considerable time describing my background at the beginning of this blog; to help you get to know and trust me.  Hey, if you can’t trust a heavy music loving, techie audiophile, Harley rider that lives for sales, who can you trust?

Let me know what you think and please share your experiences.

Image sources: Kris Olin, Flickr

As VP of Sales at ArCompany, Bob’s experience has focused on transforming sales and marketing organizations into tightly knit customer relationship account teams for Global Enterprise Clients. With prior senior leadership roles in Telecom / IT with Bell Canada, AT&T, and Allstream, he was instrumental in developing stronger, synergistic cross-functional teams to provide high value for Fortune 1000 customers. He is also an accomplished systems engineer with experience at General Motors, IBM and continues to be a “serial entrepreneur” in start ups with Internet and mobility business directories, innovative software security, telehealth solutions, petrochemical process control systems and social media companies like ArCompany. His “credo” is “listen to your customers and delight them with innovative solutions they haven’t seen”.

11 thoughts on “Social Selling … Are B2B Blogs Worth The Effort?

  1. Danny Brown says:

    Solid insights, Bob. I read the MC survey recently and it’s definitely interesting to see where the various points of contact occur in the sales process. The early educational role of blogs makes perfect sense, particularly for smaller businesses that can’t afford the cost of white papers and surveys.

    What it also suggests is that brands really need to make sure they have a strong CTA and analytics / visitor data CRM in place, to take advantage of these early reviewers, before they suffer Best Buy syndrome and act as the education point for businesses to learn from before going elsewhere.

    Cheers!

  2. I have to say, this is one of the best blog posts about lead-gen content marketing I’ve read in a very long time. Well done Bob! I’ve bookmarked it, and will dissect and pick apart when I do my content planning for 2014. 🙂

    Daniel Hebert
    Inbound and Community Manager
    InNetwork Inc.

  3. ArCIntel says:

    DannyBrown Thx for sharing. ^AJ

  4. BobJonesArC says:

    Danny Brown 

    Thanks Danny, I appreciate the kudos.  I completely agree with your comments on capturing data and performing analytics on your Blog and Website visitors, as they may be your next customers or not, depending on the action one takes.

    I also had fun putting the Blog together … which is always an important consideration.

    Best of the season to you and the family.

    Regards … Bob BobJonesArC

  5. BobJonesArC says:

    danielghebert 

    Daniel,

    Happy to be of service.  Hopefully our ArCompany Blogs on Social Selling will help businesses to realize there is a “brave new social world” out there just waiting to be leveraged, whether you are B2B or B2C.   ArCompany can also shed some light on how best to do the leveraging.

    Let me know how my blog impacts your content planning for 2014, as you progress, and I will continue my research on both B2B and on the B2C side.  Also, please share it with Gerry P. and Chris K. … associates from my old Telco stomping grounds.

    Best of the season to you and the InNetwork Team.

    Regards,

    Bob

    BobJonesArC 

  6. ArCIntel says:

    bowden2bowden Thanks for the RT Randy

  7. hessiejones says:

    GaryFilan thanks for the mention Gary:)

  8. ArCIntel says:

    mantispulse thanks for the mention! ^HJ

  9. mantispulse says:

    ArCIntel Hey, we just started our multi-author corporate blog, so appreciated the extra stats.

  10. Hi Bob, Thanks for the mention! Love your article! I feel like Ive gotten to know you a little more – and you’ve given us all good solid info on why blogging is important for relationship building in the sales process. Thanks!

  11. BobJonesArC says:

    Krista Bunskoek

    Krista, You’re very welcome … I know good advice when I see it and that’s what I took from your Blog.  The ArCompany Blog is done by a rotation of the four partners and a number of guest bloggers; on various subjects, mostly relating to business use of Social Media.  Please have an ongoing read and let me know your feedback.  Also, please feel free to propose a guest blog if you feel so inclined.  

    On behalf of the ArCompany Team, we wish you the Best of The Season.  Have a look at our amusing Holiday Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9it9r7h6hU&feature=youtu.be%20.%20%20I%20think%20you%20will%20find%20this%20one%20quite%20amusing. .

    Regards … Bob  BobJonesArC @ArCIntel

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