I belong to a bunch of B2B marketing and sales online forums, and one question that comes up constantly (here, for example), is: Should B2B companies be on Facebook?
There are two standard answers to the question: No, because FB is for B2C; or Yes, because all brand exposure is good. Eventually someone strikes a compromise by saying: “Yes, but not really so don’t spend real money.”
While there are elements of truth in all of these answers, they’re not very helpful in making the right decisions about when and how to incorporate Facebook into a social business strategy.
Should B2B companies be on Facebook? Yes, absolutely. How you should be on Facebook is is the real question, and the answer depends on you, your customers, and your customers’ customers.
B2B isn’t a single category. It encompasses many different industries with different buyers and Go-to-market strategies. Law firms, investment banks, automotive supply shops, and semiconductor manufacturers are all B2B, but that’s where the similarities end. Even within an industry, the differences can be great. Think of the difference between a Big 4 accounting firm and the accountants who file taxes for the shops on High Street in my home town of Oxford, Ohio. Both are B2B, but their clients couldn’t be more different.
How you should be on Facebook depends on what kind of B2B company you are. In the end, the criteria are pretty simple and they come down to fundamental principles of marketing and selling.
Principle #1: Go where your customers are
If your customers and target customers are on Facebook, then you should be marketing on Facebook.
On some level of course almost everyone is on Facebook. But since you’re a B2B company, your target audience members are identifiable *as* your target audience only when they’re talking about things related to their work.
That’s when you can market to them. If your buyers are talking about work on Facebook, you should market to them on Facebook.
Will the ROI be better on Facebook than on more B2B-oriented sites like LinkedIn or Twitter? There’s no way to know in advance. Run some tests. Spend some money, compare the results.
If your buyers aren’t talking about work on Facebook, then you can’t target them. That means you’re wasting your marketing spend. Look elsewhere.
Principle #2: Expect your customers to go where their customers are
Just as you are trying to spend time on the social networks your customers frequent, they’re doing the same thing with their customers.
Companies whose customers are on Facebook are far more likely to be active on Facebook themselves, talking about who they are and what they do. That makes Facebook an excellent place to market to and prospect for retail marketers, small business owners, hospitality executives, financial advisors, and other professionals who market and sell to consumers.
Within industries, and even within a single company, the differences can be decisive. If you sell marketing services to personal injury law firms, Facebook can be a great place to invest. If you sell the same services to firms that specialize in corporate deal-making, not so much. Law firms go where their clients are.
Just because your buyer’s company is on Facebook, however, doesn’t mean your buyer is. Marketers take a keen interest in Facebook and spend a lot of professional time there. Salespeople may as well. But other roles don’t. You might reach the marketing department of an HMO on Facebook, but you probably won’t reach the accounting department.
Principle #3: Seize opportunities to nurture 1-1 relationships
So far I’ve been talking primarily about Facebook as a marketing channel. It has another, more powerful use: as a relationship management channel.
Regardless of your industry, 1-1 relationships with business buyers and influencers are highly important. B2B purchases are rarely simple, one-off transactions. They’re highly considered purchases, often involving large amounts of money, complex decision criteria, multiple stakeholders, and assumption of risk for both buyer and seller.
Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, Facebook is one of the best places to nurture 1-1 relationships.
I don’t recommend connecting with all your customers on Facebook. I also advise against delivering sales pitches on Facebook. Those things are creepy. They blur the line between personal and professional networking in a way that will win you very few customers, and may even cost you a few friends.
But where there’s a natural opportunity to strengthen a relationship that’s both personal and professional, I say go for it.
Over my own career, some of my customers have become friends. I’ve met many of their families. When we get together, we talk personal lives first and business second. It’s a small number, probably less than 5-10% of the customers I’ve worked with in my career. And yes, we connect on Facebook. There’s a larger number of friends and former colleagues who are potential customers or referral partners. Those connections are valuable too, because you never know where the next intro will come from.
Digital marketing and sales tools have trained us to analyze the world as a series of impressions, clicks, leads, conversions, opportunities, and closes. That’s all well and good. But every now and again it’s an important to step and remind ourselves that behind it all we’re all just, well, people.
Facebook is unbelievably, spectacularly, shockingly good at helping people stay in touch with each other. As long as you resist the urge to spam and approach Facebook in the spirit of authenticity and meaningful connectedness, it can only help your business — regardless of what you do.