Why Facebook Matters for B2B

Updated: October 29, 2009

One question I often get from readers and audiences at conferences is whether Facebook has utility for B2B. It's a good question, so I thought I'd address it at greater length in a blog post.

The answer is yes. First, B2B sales are all about relationships. Higher price points and longer implementation cycles mean greater buying decision risk, so buyers often rely on trust rather than price. Trust hinges on relationships. Facebook is the ultimate relationship manager. Second, when B2B decision-makers are on Facebook, they are logged in as individual consumers. We have an opportunity to personalize our messages and target these individuals equally for enterprise software as we do for diapers.

In particular, many of the sales reps I interviewed use Facebook and LinkedIn together to better navigate buyer organizations, build one-on-one relationships with decision-makers, keep deals alive when a longer sales cycle is required, and prospect beyond direct connections to friend-of-friend networks. Information that people share about themselves on a Facebook or LinkedIn profile, such as someone's alma mater, hometown, and status update, can behelpful in qualifying leads and used to build interpersonal rapport, for example bonding over having mutual friends or having attended the same college. This was the thinking behind the Faceconnector application I developed two years ago, which integrates Facebook profile and friend information into Salesforce CRM and was the first business application on the Facebook platform.

Facebook as personal CRM. Facebook is a contact database with photos, profiles, updates, and birthday reminders to help us stay in touch with more people. The cost of staying in touch has gone down, so we are able and willing to stay in touch with a greater number of people. Our networks are expanding especially on the fringe with weak-tie relationships. Interestingly, business research shows that social capital and consequently business capital are maximized on the fringe. We aren't usually hiring and closing deals with our parents and best friends - it is with our friend-of-friend networks where the greatest opportunities and gain are to be had.

The following is a brief excerpt from my new book, The Facebook Era, about how B2B professionals can utilize social networking tools for prospecting and navigating customer organizations.

Purchase decisions are made by individual people, not entire companies. Transactions succeed or fail because of a few key such individuals—your customer champion, executive decision maker, customer reference, sales rep, product expert. By strengthening the bond and improving information flow among your internal deal team as well as with key customer stakeholders, social networking sites can help your company create a more productive organizational selling machine.

For example, B2B information technology company Aster Data Systems successfully sourced its initial wave of customers using social networking sites. As a small startup, Aster lacked brand recognition, and did not have the budget for large marketing or advertising campaigns. To source early customers, Aster instead tapped into the company's collective social network on LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook. Senior management asked all employees, not just sales reps, to tap their networks for potential prospects who had keywords like"data warehousing" in their title or functional expertise. In just a few months, the resourcefulness of this strategy has already begun to pay off. LinkedIn and other social networking sites are used to identify who among those contacts connected to Aster employees might be interested in the database product. Then a sales cycle is initiated through a combination of LinkedIn and traditional communication modes. Thanks to the power of the social graph, Aster has successful signed on more than a dozen customers.

In addition to helping facilitate one-on-one relationship building, data from social networking sites at a high level can also be used for B2B deal strategy—i.e., how to approach a deal, which individuals at the buyer can be connected with, and who has influence in the deal. Sales methodologies like TAS, Miller Heiman, and Solution Selling emphasize the importance of navigating customer organizations and identifying key decision makers. There is powerful data contained in the online social graph to help aid this exercise.

Online social networking sites reveal a wealth of information about people's title and role, status in the company, working relationship with other contacts, and decision making status. One high tech account executive who has successfully sold into many IT departments told me that whenever he gets a new contact, he immediately goes to LinkedIn to understand how the individual fits into the bigger picture. There are a few subtle but critical pieces of information for which he is always on the lookout that greatly affect his strategy on a particular deal:
o Political strength and tenure
o Likelihood of being a champion or roadblock
o Organizational structure

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