I read an interesting blog a couple of days ago titled 'Why All B2B Brands Will Be Media Companies in the Next 5 Years.' That's a catchy headline - it certainly caught my attention anyway. Could it be true? How will your B2B sales team operate in a media environment?
Consider this, I have been writing for years about the importance of content marketing and I have been blogging for almost two decades now (how did that happen?). In 2015, I published a book titled 'Customer Engagement Officer' focused on the need for executives to pay more attention to how they are seen when potential customers Google their name.
In 2016, I published an article here on LinkedIn that summarized how content marketing had evolved into social sales. That's almost three years ago, yet I still find myself talking to sales executives who don't understand the need for a positive and interesting social profile. A friend of mine is CEO of a company that often sells services to major governments around the world. He worked out the importance of his social profile many years ago because anyone searching for his name would find a video I had posted on YouTube of him singing 'Suspicious Minds' in a London pub.
The Harvard Business Review published research back in 2016 that emphasized this point. They found that even three years ago B2B buyers were five times more likely to engage with someone who offers ideas and information about their industry online. The message back then was clear. If you want to succeed in B2B sales then you need to be blogging, creating videos, posting photos - doing anything to create content that will be found by prospective clients when they search for you and your company. If a prospect Google your name and finds an old PowerPoint you were talking about seven years ago then how does that look? What if they find nothing?
Back to the point – are B2B companies moving into media? The headline makes it sound like B2B companies will fundamentally change what they are doing - you will all be media companies. It's exaggerated, but then it's a headline and it worked because we are discussing it here.
What I took away from this article is that content is about to get even more important for B2B sales - we need to move to the next level of social sales. You might be running a business that offer contact centers to other companies, or develops software, or clears trash from offices, but you need to think about how people discover information today. Advertising is less important in the B2B world because prospects are more likely to go searching for specific requirements. What they find when they search LinkedIn and Google is what is important so if you want to think beyond blogs (that's at least a good start) then why not consider:
Podcasting; it's like on-demand radio and anyone can create a show. I have my own show called CX Files and you can listen to it on major platforms such as Spotify, YouTube, and iTunes. Buy a mic and you are up and running. Why are you not hosting a weekly show interviewing leaders in your industry? I started my podcast just 7 months ago and now it has thousands of listeners.
TV documentary or series; networks such as Netflix are making it much easier to get a documentary distributed globally. Suppose you are a mining company. Why not fund an up-and-coming documentary maker to create a series on the history (or the future) of the mining industry? If a book about salt can become a bestseller then why not a show about gold mines?
Guilds; take a look at what Rory Stark and Garrett Kenny put together for the CX experts Teleperformance - the 'Games Europe CX Guild.' Search for it on LinkedIn. I'm there because I've helped them to document some of the meetings, but just look at the other guild members. It reads like a who's who of the global gaming industry. They created a new environment where people from the games industry can get together and work in partnership on customer experience issues - that's really powerful and imagine the goodwill it must create in all those companies. Likewise the CX Outsourcers group created by Peter Ryan and Mark Angus shows a similar approach - create a forum where people from the same industry can get together to work on common problems in a safe space (no journalists, Chatham House rules etc).
Awards; why is it usually trade journals and industry magazines that run all the industry awards? Why not just appoint a team of independent judges and start your own awards? Take a look at everything that is wrong with the awards in your industry, improve all those weak points and launch it into the world. When the Engage Customer blog started hosting the Engage Awards just a few years ago they probably didn't expect to create the biggest CX-themed awards event in Europe - but they did it. If a small team with a blog can do that they why can't you with your fancy office and marketing budget?
Magazines and books; when I first arrived in Brazil I set up an online magazine focused on the technology industry in Brazil and South America. Within a few months it had become the premier English-language resource on the subject. I had CEOs who wanted to be featured and Google News would return our stories any time someone searched for information on technology in South America. Ultimately that business switched away from news into industry analysis, but there is nothing to stop a B2B business hiring an editor and creating an independent journal that covers his or her own industry. Look at how Vit Horky has dramatically raised the profile of his business by writing a book about the future of customer service. If you can't write then hire a ghost - I know a good one!
Video; most executives still believe that video needs a script, a studio, and rehearsal. Forget all that and encourage a key part of your leadership team to regularly share video content using platforms such as YouTube or Instagram especially if they are often engaged in travel to interesting places – even just for conferences. Video content is now far more popular than text, even when shared on business networks like LinkedIn and spontaneous off-the-cuff shorts are far more authentic than a suit and tie sitting in a studio.
B2B sales have always been about relationships, but the way that we form relationships today is largely driven by online content. You learn about a potential partner from the information you can find online, whether it's a company you are hoping to do business with or someone you are hoping to date. If your online profile doesn't make the cut then you might as well be invisible. You need to think in terms of Social-Based Marketing, not just the more traditional Account-Based Marketing and yes you might need some advice from a company like Sales For Life, but the good news is that building a B2B sales strategy is not that difficult or expensive, it just needs a new mindset.
B2B sales professionals should look to other industries and even B2C sales for examples and ideas of how far they can go. When Red Bull hosts the world series of cliff diving and owns professional football teams in Germany, Brazil, and the USA (it's soccer to you guys) it's easy to see that they have moved on from just sponsoring sports events to actually owning the content they create. They don't advertise - they create news.
Why aren't B2B brands and sales professionals thinking this far ahead? If your strategic plan extends only as far as publishing a few webinars in which your B2B sales team endlessly promotes your services with a monotony that resembles the road works outside my apartment then you are about to be blown out of the water as other brands use content to dominate your marketplace and industry. Think big. You might not become a media company, but you will be using content to be noticed.