A guest post from {grow} community member Joe Chernov:

 

I’ve been running in word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing circles since, well, since such a circles existed.  Yet despite the existence of an active industry association and a cluster of WOM-related innovative companies, we, as an industry, still haven’t produced something elemental — a repeatable, measurable model for B2B word of mouth.

Why? B2B is a unique beast.  For one, a company typically buys the product, which reduces an individual’s visceral drive to applaud (or pan) the purchase.  Also, our social groups tend to be a patchwork of people from all corners of our lives, not just work associates, creating fewer opportunities to “buzz” professional products than there are for consumer goods.

Yet despite these challenges there are several fundamentals that are sure to generate WOM buzz … even for B2B marketers.  Here are eight big ideas:

1.    Make promotions sharable.   Running a contest isn’t inherently WOM, nor is starting a Facebook page.  But creating a contest that inspires participants to pass along the promotion (especially on social channels) is WOM.  Group buying (Groupon, LivingSocial) and group messaging (Beluga, GroupMe) are red-hot categories.  Why not group referring?

2.    Point of service is the new point of sale.  In his aptly titled book, Word of Mouth Marketing, author Andy Sernovitz talks about the importance of point-of-sale as a WOM trigger.  It’s the moment when the brand/consumer relationship is consummated.  Since the buying process in B2B markets is more protracted (what IS the point of sale?), that same intimacy doesn’t necessarily arise when the contract is signed.  Instead, it shows up at the point of service – the moment the user’s need is the greatest. Rackspace recognized this opportunity and built a major Web hosting brand on the simple principle that unconventionally fast support yields unconventionally chatty customers.

3.    Speed doesn’t slump. Being quick to comment has always been a vital ingredient of public relations.  But the social web rewards speed disproportionately.  For example, respond first on Quora and your answer is 60% more likely to be talked about than others’ answers, regardless of quality.  WOM, guaranteed.

4.    Make your content share-worthy.  Of course your content should be valuable and timely.  But that’s no longer enough to ensure it spreads. Your content has to compel people to share it.  Think about any of HubSpot’s “Grader” widgets.  It’s impossible to grade your social presence without urging your friends to do the same.

5.    Think: Spheres of influence. BzzAgent CEO Dave Balter coined this term after his company ran a WOM marketing program aimed to persuade business travelers to switch to an upstart airline.  Balter found that it wasn’t the executives who generated the most buzz, but rather their administrative assistants. Turns out, those who booked the travel reaped the biggest benefits. In other words, don’t forget to consider the messenger when you craft your messaging.

6.    Do the unexpected.  Rackspace exhibited at this year’s SXSW Interactive event (their booth staff donned fake “sleeve” tattoos to poke fun at themselves for being the big B2B player at the hipster conference).  Salesforce.com shocked the B2B world by bookending the Superbowl halftime show with television ads, an unconventional move for an enterprise SaaS company.  Doing the same things in the same places ensures the same people will talk about you.  New venues yield new conversations.

7.    “Consumerize” your enterprise application. Yammer and Chatter make internal communications feel like a Twitter client.  37signals makes project management feel like an iPhone app (come to think of it, the company actually offers a Web app).  For our part, Eloqua is trying to make B2B marketing feel creating a PowerPoint deck with our Eloqua10 product.  Nobody has ever celebrated doing chores, so the more your products can feel like recreation, not vocation, the more WOM you’ll spur.

8.    Own an issue. Tap into something customers care about — an issue.  Think of Radian6 and “listening.”  The company and the cause are synonymous. Own an issue that you care deeply about, and you’ll unearth more opportunities for WOM than your products ever could.

These are just a few of the can’t-miss ways to increase buzz for your B2B business.  If they can be effective techniques for CRM, lead management, and infrastructure companies, then they certainly can work for your organization as well.

This is a difficult topic for B2B but ripe with opportunity. What do you think?

Joe Chernov is the VP of Content Marketing for Eloqua, a revenue performance management company, and the co-chair of the WOMMA ethics panel.

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