In B2B marketing, conventional wisdom holds that you target and keep the eyeballs until you can convert them from lead to client. You want to monopolize that line of sight, taking every opportunity to present your brand, deliver your message and advance that prospect in the sales cycle. So, when your tactics turn to social media marketing and corporate blogging, all thinking turns to retention. You want that reader to stay on your corporate blog until it’s time to make contact with a member of your sales force.
Well, conventional wisdom has had a good run, and it’s time for a change. For professional services companies, especially, it may be smarter to give up your readers for a while – and help them make better decisions in the process. Do this effectively, and they will come back. That’s what we’ve found with Structured, an IT solution provider with which we’re working on a social media marketing initiative.
First, let’s take a look at the standard practice of corporate blogging in the professional services sector. Usually, the approach is “grab and hold.” You invest in bringing prospective clients to your blog and then do everything you can to keep them there. This includes using tags and tag links, links back to related stories and clear navigation designed to invite additional clicks (and brand exposure). Longer stays and deeper visits, of course, translate to a more profound relationship with your corporate blog and a vote of confidence that indicates an increased likelihood of sales cycle entry.
But, what happens when your reader needs more information? This is where you’ll have to make some tough choices.
Professional services relationships rarely exist in a vacuum, particularly in the IT industry. A solution provider may provide the knowledge and insights to architect and implement a solution, such as cloud computing or a disaster recovery/business continuity system, but the pieces come from the IT manufacturers with which the solution provider partners.
For the client, this means that multiple relationships are brought into play, and a decision about a solution provider may coincide with one about technology. When Structured markets its implementation services, it also needs to discuss the solutions in which it specializes (such as those from Hitachi Data Systems and Citrix).
The increase in decision points ads some complexity to the social media marketing effort, as selecting a service provider also entails selecting a technology manufacturer. To overcome this challenge, it can be helpful to provide links to the specific solutions related to a client’s IT needs – e.g., linking to the Citrix desktop virtualization page.
What about the conventional marketing wisdom, though? Isn’t this risky?
Risk does exist, but conventional wisdom doesn’t address the underlying need. If you send a reader out to another company’s site – even if it is a partner – there is the chance that the solution will resonate but that he’ll opt for another service provider. On the other hand, trying to monopolize your prospect’s attention could lead to frustration, as sufficient information isn’t easily available to support the selection process. Few will enter the sales cycle of a company that doesn’t make it easy.
Ultimately, the risk of losing the prospect is mitigated by your content. Write to your target market’s business issues, and simplify the process of getting specific technical information by linking out to the partners. This approach, taken by Structured, leads to a higher level of service through social media marketing, as the company is willing to give up the eyeballs as a demonstration of client and prospect commitment. Essentially, this technique is a loud public statement that “we put our clients’ needs first!”
The complexities of B2B and service provider marketing mean that tradition rarely offers the support that is ascribed to it. As with client relationships, marketing in this sector needs to be high-touch, specific and well-planned. This extends to corporate blogging and social media marketing: instead of following the crowd, think about the best ways to reach, engage and convert your target market. If this means sacrificing the monopoly on a reader’s attention, do so. Invest in your market’s education, and the market will remember how you helped.
Tom Johansmeyer is the Senior Content Director at enter:marketing. He also blogs for Cigar Reader, of which he is co-founder, Gadling, and Luxist.
Disclosure: Structured is a client of enter:marketing.