When word-of-mouth marketing experts Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends and John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing sat down this month in Las Vegas at the Corporate Executive Board's Enterprise Council on Small Businesses Summit, every B2B marketing executive in the room paid attention. Here are some of the important tips they shared for B2B companies marketing to small businesses online:
General advice on encouraging word of mouth
- Campbell's advice on marketing to small businesses: Being human goes a long, long way with small business owners. "They love to see people's faces," she pointed out. If you're targeting small businesses, include employees' pictures and individual voices on your site and in your marketing materials.
- Your enthusiastic advocates will emerge within the online dialogue about your company, said Campbell, so make sure you do everything possible to encourage and support them. These are your most valuable assets in the world of word-of-mouth marketing: They'll defend you to critics and praise you to their trusted circles.
- How to enable a viral "ripple effect"? It all starts with a mind-blowing experience, said Jantsch. That might be content, or product, or customer service -- but to get a lot of people talking about you, you have to do something extraordinary. (Easier said than done, as we all know.)
- Many small businesses are already using social media, advised Jantsch, so do your homework. If you're making a sales call, know what your target has done that day on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn before you walk in the door.
- You'll get more word-of-mouth power by using social media to educate your audience rather than selling to them, said Campbell: "Always think about how you're adding value."
- Jantsch recommended asking customers about their experiences with your products and services, and capturing those comments on video. Customers love it, he noted, and it's great content that's easily shareable on your site or theirs, or through other marketing channels.
- Don't assume Yelp doesn't apply to B2B, said Campbell. She's found some very interesting B2B companies reviewed there -- she listed San Francisco marketing company Vertical Response as an example.
- Jantsch encouraged B2B marketers to take online reviews for what they are: an opportunity to engage with customers, both the happy ones and the less satisfied ones. When you find an unhappy customer talking about his or her experience, get in there and make it right -- in public. That will go a long way toward establishing trust with your audience. He also challenged B2B marketers to "get bold" about asking for feedback from customers.
- Another good reason to encourage your customers to write online reviews: shelf life. Campbell said product reviews she wrote four years ago are still drawing significant traffic on Small Business Trends.
- Distribute the reviews you do get via other marketing channels, counseled Jantsch. Have you gotten a few good reviews on Yelp or Citysearch? Reprint and link to them them on your website and in your email newsletter.
- How should businesses deal with outspoken critics? "The line between love and hate is very thin," Jantsch reminded the audience. Hear them, acknowledge their dissatisfaction, help resolve their issues, and talk about it every step of the way to turn a critic into a fan.
Resources (as in "How will we staff this function?"):
- Jantsch suggested rotating responsibility for responding to online comments and inquiries throughout the organization, up to the CEO (yes, he said this with a straight face). Once top management has a sense for the kind of online conversation happening with your customers and target market, they'll be more likely to see the value -- and authorize the funding necessary to maximize its potential.