If you asked the average business-to-business (B2B) marketer what tactics they rely on in 2019, the answer you’d hear is likely similar to what the same marketer might’ve told you in, say, 1985. They’d rattle off tried-and-true tactics like direct mail, trade show booths, cold calls and print media — brochures, catalogs and ads in trade publications. These methods have proven effective at building awareness, driving consideration and generating sales, so why mess with success?

On the other hand, if you asked a business-to-consumer (B2C) marketer in 2019 what tactics they rely on, the answers would absolutely boggle the mind of the 1985 marketer. While B2C has undergone profound transformations in the wake of the digital revolution, B2B remains fairly staid. Digital marketing is a staple of B2C, but less widely used in B2B. Can the same digital tactics that sell Popeye’s chicken sandwiches and Madewell jeans work for ag implements? Despite some skepticism from the old guard of B2B, the answer is yes.

Some marketers might think that in the world of business purchase decision-making, a cold analysis of cost, quality and long-term value are the only important factors. Others might allow that, yes, relationships between salespeople and buyers matter, too. It turns out, however, that B2B buyers behave much like consumers, and that means social media matters. A 2014 study from the International Data Corporation found that 75 percent of B2B buyers and 84 percent of C-level/vice president executives used social media for supporting information in the buying process. Those most active in using social media to influence business purchases leveraged their personal social networks by asking questions and seeking recommendations from peers. This group also tended to have larger budgets and stronger influence over purchase decisions. Meanwhile, Google has found that nearly half of business purchase researchers are millennials and that mobile devices are used for purchase research during the pre-purchase funnel. Another study from Econsultancy in 2017 concluded that up to 67 percent of a B2B buyer’s customer journey is conducted online prior to any interaction with a sales representative. Yet another study, this one from MarketingSherpa, found that figure to be as high as 80 percent. This means as much as 80 percent of a B2B purchase decision is made through online research without B2B brands even knowing they’ve got a hot sales prospect on the hook.

Competent sales reps are necessary to close that final gap and initiate the purchase, but today, digital marketing does all the heavy lifting first. And in a modern economy in which workers are connected after hours and on weekends, top-level purchase influencers never stop making purchase considerations for business, even while scrolling through a social media feed. According to a 2012 survey, more than 56 percent of B2B marketers who implemented social media marketing acquired new business partnerships via social media, nearly 60 percent saw improvements in their search engine performance and 69 percent found new audience insights via social platforms. In the seven years since, social marketing has only become more influential. Here are a few crucial concepts for B2B brands hoping to use social media to move purchase influencers down the funnel and eventually generate highly qualified, easily converted leads. 

  • Make sure your social media presence gives “social proof” to your brand promise.
    The way your brand talks about itself needs to translate to every corner of the web where potential purchasers might find you. A brand that talks about itself as service oriented, easily accessible and customer focused would create a real disconnect with potential purchasers if it didn’t have a Facebook page or Twitter account where users could ask specific questions and receive personalized answers. A brand that advertises its innovations and forward thinking would look awfully behind-the-times if a quick Google search turned up an unkempt social media profile with no updates for several years. Your brand needs to look as good as you think it is on its website and on professional, polished social accounts.

  • Leverage your content marketing efforts to get more bang for your buck.
    Most B2B brands are investing in content marketing now, churning out whitepapers and studies and blog posts and how-to videos as quickly as they can be produced. Such content is time- and resource-intensive to produce, and can have a lengthy shelf life since it’s cyclically relevant to a small cohort of leads near the bottom of the purchase funnel. Use social media to publish this content as widely as possible and get the best bang for your content marketing buck.
  • Build long-term brand loyalty on social.
    Use social platforms to highlight important customers and well-loved sales team members. Thank your customers and be responsive to their inquiries and comments on social media. Engage with current customers and showcase new products and innovations. Social platforms give your brand one more outlet to demonstrate its worth to existing customers and keep them from straying when it’s time to make another buy.
  • Social advertising is underpriced and hyper specific.
    For now, social media advertising remains an incredible value for B2B marketers. With robust targeting and retargeting capabilities via custom audiences, lookalike audience and tools like Facebook pixels, you can use social media to reinforce messaging from your search, display, pre-roll and email campaigns at a fraction of the cost.
  • Social channels are unrivaled in getting people to watch videos.
    Video ranks as the most important content format for 62 percent of the UK’s B2B marketers. So, where to publish those videos? Social media! Every social platform’s algorithm prioritizes video content over any other, and video consumption on every platform is growing. Whether published for free with organic reach or paid as an ad, social media channels are effective and efficient conduits of video content to your audience.

That’s how we see social media working for B2B brands. How about you? Let us know on Twitter!