Mark Hilary

B2B: How Companies Socially Sell To Each Other

When people ask me what I do, I say that I’m a writer. They usually ask what kind of novels I write, but then I have to explain that there are many kinds of writer. I have written 15 non-fiction books and I’m working on two new ones at present, and I continue to contribute to the media with journalism like this in Huffington Post.

However, there is another area of writing that I’m extensively involved in and that is ghost-writing for executives. We all know that politicians have speech-writers and famous celebrities get their books ghost-written by professional writers, but executives?

It’s true. Content marketing has become an extremely powerful way for people to talk about their company in a way that is markedly different from advertising. It allows executives to show how much they know about their area of focus, rather than just advertising their services. This has become particularly important in the B2B (business to business) area in the past few years as social business networks like LinkedIn have exploded in popularity.

I wrote an entire book about this, but for a more condensed view take a look at what the Harvard Business Review (HBR) said about changes in the way that companies sell to each other. Over 90% of sales are now based on a recommendation and 84% of B2B buyers start out with a referral. You might ask what is important about this. In short it means that nobody buys from people they don’t know. The image of a salesperson cold-calling business executives and hoping for an order is hopelessly outdated.

But if you are selling widgets and you want to look beyond your current crop of customers, how can you look further if nobody takes calls from strangers? By demonstrating that you are a leading expert in your field using content on platforms such as LinkedIn and trade journals.

If that sounds woolly and fuzzy, like something the marketing director might talk about as intangible, then take a look at some of the statistics in the HBR research:

  • 82% of B2B customers say that the social content published by their chosen supplier plays a significant role in that buying decision.
  • 72% of B2B business development specialists report that their use of social tools helps them to outperform their peers who are still relying on traditional sales methods.
  • B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with someone who offers ideas and insights into their industry on their LinkedIn profile.
  • B2B sales professionals using social networks to improve relationships are six times more likely to exceed their quota than less social-savvy peers.

Does that sound intangible? This is not like social media marketing where you ask the CEO to use Instagram because it might create a cooler image for the company, this is how companies sell to each other in the 21st century.

To use an example, imagine you are a leading supplier of telephony systems and you are trying to win business from a company that wants to create a secure network for home-based employees. Before pitching your ideas to this company you create some content talking about the best solutions, the worst mistakes, and the future of supporting employees at home. You don’t just sell your services, you write an article as if it were for a business journal, but discussing the subject where you are an expert.

Publish that content on your corporate blog, on your personal LinkedIn, maybe on some trade journals – editors are usually happy to take free content provided you are offering valuable ideas, not just flogging your services. Now go and make a pitch to that company.

What happens? If they check LinkedIn to see who you are, or Google your name, a deluge of content hits their screen with ideas and tips showing how you are a leading expert in this field. If the result of a search like this influences 82% of B2B customers then can you afford to be the person who is socially invisible?

The way we all communicate with each other today has been heavily influenced by social networks for the past decade, but in the B2B environment there is a more fundamental change. Don’t be a social stranger, consider how content shapes the way that potential customers think of you – an expert partner offering help or some annoying sales guy you want to block.