B2B Gets Yelp’d

As its VP of Content Marketing, guest blogger Joe Chernov is responsible for identifying, sourcing and distributing Eloqua’s market-facing content over relevant social channels. He co-chairs the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s member ethics panel and presents at conferences and universities about social media and marketing ethics.

If you’re a restaurant or retailer, you ignore Yelp at your peril. The online forum put businesses’ reputations in the hands of everyday consumers – consumers who mete out reviews based on their individual accounts of quality and helpfulness. The success of the site ushered in a return to customer service becoming a vital part of B2C marketing success.

Well, now it’s the B2B industry’s turn to get Yelp’d.

Social media, along with Q&A sites, have put buyer-based reviews at the frontline of B2B marketing. In the same way Yelp put support and customer service a key marketing concern for stores, bars and restaurants, sites like Quora, LinkedIn and Twitter wresting control from B2B marketing departments and putting it in keyboard-happy hands of customers.

“Companies are realizing, with some degree of horror right now, is that all the cutbacks they made to customer service over the past 20 years are coming back to haunt them,” says Paul Gillin, co-author of “Social Marketing to the Business Customer.”

This has been seen as a cost area that needs to be cut, Gillin told me. “Then social media comes along and guess what? All of a sudden their customer service becomes the weak area.”

The changing role of marketing

Marketing’s job has traditionally been to positively position the organization’s product. And in the past, consumer problems and complaints were fielded in the closed-off walls of call centers – perhaps thousands of miles away from the CMO’s office. As a result, customer service suffered.

With the advent of social media customers are discussing their complaints and opinions in public forums. In the cell center model, only the customer and the company hear the complaint or praise. In the social media model, potentially thousands of fellow customers and prospects hear it. And suddenly marketing has a problem. In the social age, your worst customer might have more impact on your prospects than your best marketer.

Socially savvy businesses are recognizing the need to engage customers on these forums, and are increasingly turning to places like Twitter as a support channel. “I’m seeing more anticipation from B2B companies on places like Focus, LinkedIn and Twitter,” says Ardath Albee, B2B Marketing Strategist and CEO of Marketing Interactions.

But the problem is one of culture and scalability, she adds. Many organizations still struggle to cede control of their messaging, even as the social Web is pulling that rug out from underneath them. Those that do get it might struggle with training and trusting thousands of employees to engage customers online. “The problem with B2B is marketing resources are so strained anyway,” Albee says. “Most of them don’t actually know their customers.”

Perhaps the bigger issue for B2B companies is that, while social media might have caused this problem, it alone can’t fix it. You can respond to customers through social channels, but just marketing to them further doesn’t change perceptions if you don’t have a strong support structure in place, Gillin says. “Social media is not a channel for the business to talk to its constituents. It’s a channel for constituents to talk to each other,” he says.

Addressing customer concerns

Truly addressing customers concerns via social channels requires bringing marketing, customer service and product development together. “Marketing has traditionally been the way that we fixed problems, but now you have problems that can only be fixed operationally,” Gillin adds. In other words, it’s marketing’s problem, but not a problem marketing can fix alone.

And that leads to another headache, because marketing and support are usually given the shortest shrift in internal decision-making. According to a survey of high-tech of marketing executives at B2B companies by Forrester Research, only 3% of respondents claimed marketing was the most influential business function at their company. Support services earned a mere 1%. The non-descript “Other” category scored higher than that.

If B2B companies want to succeed in social media, they’ll need to think more seriously about marketing and customer service. And marketing needs to expand lead nurturing their existing customer base. “They need to nurture their customers the same way they nurture their prospects,” Albee says.

Jesse Noyes’ contributed to this post. As Eloqua’s Corporate Reporter, Noyes finds hot topics and compelling stories throughout the marketing world. He started his career at the Boston Herald and the Boston Business Journal before moving to Austin, TX. Noyes last contributed to Social Times in December 2010 with How Much is a Facebook Fan Worth in B2B.

 

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