Outnumbered. Outgunned. Under pressure.
If you're in marketing, you probably know these feelings. It's a tall order to get a message out in front of prospects and leads, and it's a Herculean feat when you're up against larger competitors for customer business.
A robust demand generation program is a must in this scenario. It's the only way to get your thought leadership and messaging in front of a specialized audience. But in today's modern marketing world, relying on traditional tactics often isn't enough to effectively counter a big competitor's momentum. You need to "socialize" your contact strategy.
Social media is no magic bullet. It can't rescue a broken lead management process. But it can provide an organic, competitive advantage when battling the big guys.
Luckily, many of the tenets of traditional demand generation also apply to social media, but social can be woven into various touches you have with potential customers. Here are seven steps to put together for a successful social contact strategy.
1. Put resources in place for conversations on social channels. If you're going to ingrain social media into your contact strategy, you'll need to put resources in place to respond to people. Many businesses set up customer communities, Facebook pages, or LinkedIn groups, but don't have time or people allocated to reply to the feedback left there. Before you start engaging over social channels, assign "owners," who will quickly respond to buyers' questions and concerns.
2. Help sales establish "personal brands." Like any demand strategy, the conversation starts with marketing but ends with sales. That means you need to properly explain to sales how various leads have been, and should continue to be, engaged socially. In many cases, this means marketing will have to draw up a playbook complete with best practices, how-tos, and directions for content that sales should distribute via social. You want to help sales understand how to position themselves as trusted advisors through the social Web.
3. Don't just ask for email. Lots of the leads you generate may prefer to communicate with you on social channels, and you should give them that option. Social sign-on makes this easier than ever by allowing people to access an offer by signing in with their Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter credentials. By asking for one additional piece of information (their work email address), you can quickly map their social data to existing contacts in your database. You should also offer up RSS feeds to your blogs, suggest your Twitter feed, or ask them to subscribe to your YouTube channel. This way you keep them engaged with "snackable" social content.
4. Make your content easy to share. Demand generation isn't just about qualifying leads for sales; it's also about growing the reach of your marketing. To get social spread, you need to make sharing your content on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn simple. Consider adding social sharing buttons to your landing pages, within your eBooks, and even research (the social Web eats up bite-sized data). Remember, the space on your Web sites and other content is valuable. Look into which channels move the needle for your business and push leads to those places.
5. Practice influencer relations. Many brands have an active PR and/or analyst relations function. But the growth of the social Web has grown the number of voices that could influence customers in your market beyond journalists and analysts. Use tools like BlogLevel, Klout, or Kred to find the influencers in your space. Begin reaching out by following their social media accounts and commenting on their blogs. Offer them exclusive access to your data, or first access to your content. Treat them like a customer you really want, even if they never become an actual customer.
6. Open up your customer community. Plenty of businesses have created their own online customer communities. These are valuable places to make customers aware of product updates and events, help them find advice, and collaborate with employees and fellow customers. An easy way to leverage this among leads is to make it open to anyone on the Web. If your organization is uncomfortable with that move, identify the customers who are most influential and active in your community and ask them to share their experiences on their public social media accounts, like LinkedIn or Twitter.
7. Aim for trust, not size. There are times when you might despair over the number of the competition's Facebook fans or Twitter followers. Don't. Increasingly, brands are finding ways to buy "likes" and followers. But you can't buy trust, and trust is what impacts sales. You can establish trust among your contacts by building relationships with influencers, offering compelling content and resources, and being transparent about your motives on the social Web.
Socializing your contact strategy doesn't happen overnight. Like any form of communication, expanding your reach and influence takes time and consistency. But with the right amount of research, practice, and adjustment, your company can outmaneuver even the most formidable competitor.
Jesse Noyes is managing editor at Eloqua and the lead author of the recently published Grande Guide to Social Demand Generation.