I’m often asked what the use of social media is if you’re not selling directly to consumers – what if you’re B2B?

The thinking goes like this: if social is all about people and relationships – and Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are populated mostly by real individual people – then what use are they when your customers are other businesses.

A classic example would be an investment platform provider whose customers are Independent Financial Advisers, not the consumers making the investments.

Here’s the thing.

Businesses are full of people and business people – just like consumers – are on the social web. You only have to look at the examples of IFAs to realise that. Maybe they’re not there explicitly to represent a brand – but they are there nonetheless. And when they’re at their workplaces they are often making spending decisions that are influenced by their experiences the evening before on the social web.

But even more important is that social media excels over all other forms of media in its ability to facilitate human relationships. And this is why social media works for B2B even more than B2C.

Human relationships play a greater role in B2B than B2C. 

Take, for example the classic B2C sales of a can of Coke or pair of jeans – these are quick-hit interactions based on emotion and impulse. They often have little to do with human relationships – not deep ones, anyway – but are more based on consumers’ feelings towards a brand. In fact, most B2C companies find it harder to have personal, human relationships with their customers by sheer dint of the size of their customer bases.

But in B2B, where the markets are often very small and spends are high, the interactions are more intense because the need for information is so high prior to and during a transaction. So much information changes hands, much deeper relationships develop in comparison to the surface-level B2C relationships.

B2B purchasing is based on rational, value-based considerations, like quality and dependability. The question is always “what is the value of the product we are buying?”, not “what are the brand promises of this company?” or “what does the seller believe about the world?”. And the sales cycle is often long so the seller has to demonstrate that she is in the game for the long haul. Social media offers a number of ways of doing this, such as consistently publishing buyer-oriented content to your blog.

Another key factor: B2B purchasing decisions have real impact on the lives of those making them. Careers are bet on buying expensive products like software or research. People are actually concerned about their livelihoods when they’re in discussions with B2B suppliers. So we’re talking about very serious relationships between the buyer and seller. The buyer can’t have too much information and always wants to feel more comfortable with the decision they are making. This is not true of B2C purchases generally.

Social channels are great at communicating complex and in-depth information. For example the buyer might return often in the run up to signing on the dotted line to check reviews, testimonials, explanatory videos and helpful blogs…or he might spend some time interacting with other B2B customers on Q&A sites, like Quora, or niche forums and communities.

Finally, time and energy goes into integrating a B2B supplier into a business. B2B buyers often don’t just buy a product; they buy a company. They buy into the health, knowledge and ability of the supplier.

Will the YouTube channel/blog/Facebook page make the sale on its own? No. But here’s a fact: 93% of business customers start the process of buying by searching the web.

So if you’re selling to businesses rather than direct to consumers, there’s even more reason to be on the social web.

Michael Taggart is head of digital and social at MRM. Follow Michael here on Twitter or visit his blog at www.michael-taggart.com

Image from http://www.nickgarner.co.uk

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