If you're not courting IT buyers in social media or online communities, then "you're missing out," said Erin Bolton, director of digital solutions for MarketStar, a marketing consultancy in Ogden, Utah.
"It's imperative that technology vendors have a social media presence to engage and influence the IT buyer," Bolton told CMSWire. "This presence is critical to reaching buyers at every stage of the evaluation cycle."
CMSWire caught up with Bolton after the release of the IDG Connect report, "Connecting Conversations to Content," that called for those courting IT buyers to dive into social media. Today's catch-up with Bolton starts a three-part CMSWire series.
Today’s IT buyers evaluate solutions differently than in the past, Bolton said. "Vendors need to respond with meaningful, relevant sales techniques," she said.
According to "Selling Power Research," a 2013 report by Sirius Decisions, 70 percent of the IT buyer’s evaluation cycle occurs online now -- as opposed to 30 percent just five years ago. This requires, Bolton said, those trying to connect with IT buyers to engage with buyers where they seek and share content relevant to their needs.
Buyers in this space "get online to research, self-educate and evaluate solutions," Bolton said. This dialogue, she added, takes place in online communities where buyers seek and share content and interact with peers.
"These communities are great places where vendors can participate, engage and influence buyers," Bolton said.
According to Tech Target's "The Digital Convergence of Content, Communities and Social Media" report in 2012, IT buyers use multiple online channels to research technology products and solutions:
- 64 percent online IT publication sites
- 55 percent online independent communities
- 48 percent online vendor communities
- 23 percent social network sites
"Today, it’s easier than ever
for vendors to become part of the 'Digital Dialogue,'" Bolton said. "They can engage directly with buyers and initiate conversations through online communities, blogs posts and chats."
Education versus Promotion
You've heard the phrase "separation of church and state." For marketers going after IT buyers, gospel to them is "separation of educational and promotional content," according to the IDG Connect report.
"The right content is critical to success," Bolton said. "It continues to be the most important tool for a vendor’s success when engaging with IT buyers in the Digital Dialogue. Buyers seek high-value, relevant content that educates them on the solutions they seek. Because IT buyers participate and contribute significantly within IT social communities. They naturally influence the perceptions and purchasing decisions of their peers."
And the IT buyers want your content.
According to an IDG Enterprise report from 2012, IT buyers download an average of nine content assets created by or for the vendor they eventually select. Buyers in the enterprise want an average of 10 content assets and buyers for small to medium-sized businesses want an average of eight.
"Vendors must develop a variety of relevant content assets that educate buyers on their solutions and move those buyers through the evaluation cycle from interest to purchase," Bolton said.
Educational content still rules. Be an industry leader, not an industry salesman.
"Yet that doesn’t mean promotional content is unacceptable," Bolton said, adding the recent IDG Connect report recommends vendors provide a mix of both educational and promotional in order for buyers to get the most out of their social media efforts. "The greatest opportunities for vendors are the ability to influence buyers with high-value educational content at every stage of the buy cycle and being in the right IT social communities."
B2B and Social Media
Though some are skeptical about diving into social media to gain B2B leads, Bolton agrees with the IDG Connect report that it's important and gaining steam.
"B2B social media is critical to the success of any integrated marketing strategy targeting the IT buyer," Bolton said. "The current buying cycle evidences the need for vendors to participate online over more traditional marketing approaches."
To court technology buyers, develop an integrated sales and marketing strategy that leverages, Bolton said, online communities and content throughout the buying cycle.
"Capture interested buyers online right when they begin to self-educate on solutions," she added. "Then nurture and strengthen those online relationships as buyers continue to evaluate various solutions and build a short list. Finally, further qualify your buyers to purchase -- online, over the phone or in person -- and be the strategic partner that builds brand loyalty for your solution."
Title image by Elisa Locci (Shutterstock).