8 Big Ideas to Drive B2B Buzz

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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  • This is a great post, Joe.

    I remember when I was just getting started in this business, I was fascinated by the word of mouth concept. It always reminded me of Muppets Take Manhattan, where Kermit tries to promote his movie via a “whisper campaign.”

    Why is this a tough idea for B2B companies to wrap their minds around? I think a lot of B2B companies are worried that the secret essence of what they do will get loose. This isn’t like Pepsi or Coke, who have 1 secret recipe. The success behind a machine manufacturer or a medical device company is keeping as much secret as possible.

    Also, B2B niches tend to keep close eyes on each other, and word of mouth does happen – from reps visiting multiple companies, from companies seeing each other at trade shows. I think it’s big and scary.

    Perhaps, in addition to what you share here, we need to frame word of mouth so that it doesn’t seem scary to the b2b world.

  • These are some great B2B tips. I used to work pretty heavily in B2B social and it’s definitely a unique beast but totally doable. We see companies like Coke or Oreo or (insert B2C brand here) get millions of followers on Facebook or Twitter and get easily downtrodden when our B2B brand doesn’t see the same. The truth of the matter is, B2B doesn’t have as many potential buyers as B2C brands do (typically) so those numbers won’t inflate. It’s what you do with those numbers is what really matters.

    I think you nailed it with “Nobody has ever celebrated doing chores, so the more your products can feel like recreation, not vocation, the more WOM you’ll spur.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • These are really awesome tips! I especially love the advice to ‘own’ an issue that you feel passionate about. I couldn’t agree more. People are naturally attracted to passionate people — this applies whether you are competing in a B2B or B2C market.

    What Drew is saying is true too. When you are working in B2B, it is easy to get caught up comparing yourself to some of the more visible B2C national brands. But their numbers don’t matter. If you’ve built a loyal following of raving fans for YOUR product, that is infinitely more valuable than thousands and thousands of mindless followers!

  • Hi Marjorie,

    Ok first off: HUGE points for the Muppets Take Manhattan! As they say, any friend of Kermit is a friend of mine. 😉

    I think you are right that B2B brands are either (a.) scared of WOM, (b.) naive to its potential for their industry. So they just sorta pretend the opportunity doesn’t exist, at least not for them. But the fear is truly there and you are insightful to point it out. My guess as to its origin is this: B2C brands, because of the volume of their customers have been forced to recognize that the cliche — “you are not in control of your brand” — is true. B2B brands are slower to recognize that fact, and as a result, they still have this command-and-control “bunker” mentality.


  • Hi Drew. Gosh you must be reading my email. Tracking raw numbers — total fan count, total follower count — can be SO addictive for senior executives, but as you rightly say, the audience for B2B is so much smaller that the metrics should be less about mass and more about engagement, retention, loyalty. 100% agree. Now if you could help me learn how to break executives of the raw number addiction, THAT would make for a helluva blog post! -Joe

  • Hi Tara,

    Thanks for the kind words. You just nailed my philosophy here: “people are naturally attracted to passion ate people” — even in B2B. The challenge is that b2b brands seem reluctant to “set their people free” … b2b brands so seldom “humanize” themselves. I think that the few that do really get noticed. It’s funny that a key to generating buzz is so easy: just be a person!


  • What I did? Look at engagement in terms of percentage than raw data. For example, a Facebook post’s response rate. A brand that has a million fans versus one with only a thousand may get more likes and comments. However, that response rate measures the percentage of fans engaging. Focus on selling that number.

    However, selling percentages is an old sales trick 😉 You probably knew that

  • I agree! I think businesses tend to be a bit afraid of WOM because they feel they can’t control it. Especially the PR folks, it’s scary for them.

    Best wishes,
    Trish (@Dayngr)
    Community Manager | Radian6

  • 8 really great tips Joe! I love “do the unexpected” that inspires creativity, passion and great buzz if done well. (and sometimes if not!)

    Thanks for including us!

    All the best,
    Trish (@Dayngr)
    Community Manager | Radian6

  • Thanks, Joe. Always glad to meet another Kermit fan 🙂

  • Exactly! 🙂 If a brand is approachable, friendly and funny (when appropriate), it is so much easier to enter into a relationship with that brand and be a loyal, raving fan!


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