New decisions, new decision making

Those of us that have been talking about the effectiveness of social in the B2B space have been fighting an uphill battle against skepticism, but we’re no longer lacking the data to prove our case. Nor are we still searching for case studies of B2B social done right; those now abound. And yet, we still hear that old refrain (we’ve memorized it by now):

But my  clients/prospects don’t really use social.

Instead of dismissing this person for not getting it, let’s help them get it. Skeptics don’t typically respond well to evangelism alone—they’re looking for the numbers behind that evangelism. Let’s give them what they want! Here’s what they need to know about business decision makers (BDMs) and social.

BDMs are more social than non-BDMs

When asked by GlobalWebIndex what they had done online in the last month by, BDMs were more likely than the average internet user to report that they had:

  • Written a product review
  • Uploaded photos and videos
  • Commented on an article or blog post
  • Contributed to Q&A
  • Blogged
  • Tweeted
  • Managed a social profile

The firm also tracked how these activities had changed since the first survey was given, in July 2009, and found a 18.7% jump among BDMs in social profile management (versus a 14.6% jump among average internet users) and  a 17.5% jump in Twitter (versus a 9.6% jump among average internet users). This tells us that social adoption for BDMs is growing faster than the general population in these two key areas.

BDM buying choices are impacted by social

“Eighty-six percent of business technology buyers engage in some form of social activity for work purposes,” according to Forrester’s 2011 Social Technographics® For Business Technology Buyers. Of the 1,001 US and European BDMs surveyed, 28% reported that blogs influence their decisions; 26% and 16% said the same about online videos and LinkedIn, respectively. When asked what “types of content” they’re looking for online, 18% said “product ratings or reviews,” and 9% said peer experiences.

The numbers get bigger when looking at IT BDMs. EML Wildfire research shows that 58% of them rank social as “the most useful when researching a business-related IT purchase,” beating out search engines, online news sources and IT industry press.

Don’t neglect the rest of the decision ecosystem

For a succinct overview of the differences between B2B and B2C as concerns decision making, I reached out to Jeffrey L. Cohen, managing editor at SocialMediaB2B.com and coauthor of the forthcoming The B2B Social Media Book. Here’s what he had to say:

The biggest difference between B2B and B2C companies is the nature of the sale. Most B2B sales are characterized by long sales cycles and high-dollar price tags. The process is frequently based on a relationship between the salesman and the buyer. There are are also likely to be several decision makers weighing in on the purchase of this complex item. An enterprise software system or an office copier are some products that illustrate these points about B2B purchasing. This is in contrast to B2C purchases, which could be an impulse buy, for a small amount of money, and with no others besides you making the decision. A pack of gum is a good example of this.

B2B social research and strategy tends to be a bit myopic—we talk a lot about, and spend a lot on, the BDM that makes the final call. They’re the people with the spending power, after all. But if we target them exclusively, we fail, because they don’t exist in a vacuum. All BDMs operate within a decision-making ecosystem, and rely on decision supporters, those within and outside of their organizations that inform and educate their choices. I talked about this in a piece I wrote for Convince & Convert:

Your job is to use social media to reach and influence decision makers at companies in your target space. The problem here is that many marketers see this path as a straight line—from them, to the BDM, to the purchase. This just isn’t how it works in the enterprise world. The missing link? The person that is most likely to understand and be excited about your company’s value proposition, the person that puts your solutions on the BDM’s radar. This person is far more likely to be engaged in social media, and they’re more likely to take the time to listen to what you have to say.

Although more and more BDMs are doing their own research, owing to the ubiquity of and ease of access to online information, they still rely on the people that work for and surround them to make the right choices. Get to know the needs and interests of others in the ecosystem, and develop strategies to reach them, specifically. Neglect these decision supporters at your peril!

There will always be skeptics

And they have the right to be skeptical, just as you have the right to embrace social and leave them in the dust. The data has been in for quite some time now, and the social decision maker is waiting for B2B companies to catch up to them.