“Content quality will be a distinguishing factor in the long term”
Today, 37% of B2B decision-makers have already bought a product or service after finding out about it through content on social media. In three out of four cases, the person wasn't in contact with the company before seeing the content. This is just one of the findings of the third edition of the Social Selling Barometer published in July. The study, which involved surveying 650 B2B professionals in France between February and March 2020, was carried out by La Poste Solutions Business and the agency Intuiti's UserLab.
Story Jungle discussed social selling in the digital era with one of the Barometer's contributors: Franck Chenet of Antalis.
«75% of B2B purchasers consult social media and internet sites before having a first physical contact with a person or a brand.»
"The situation has changed in recent years and we have seen the emergence of social selling on social media networks, as well as an understanding on the part of brands that such networks offer them an incredible space for capturing the attention of decision-makers, notably through targeted content". These were the words of Myriam Nessali, head of Lab Innovation at La Poste Solutions Business, speaking to CB News. In your opinion, is social media having an ever-growing impact on purchasing?
Franck Chenet: First of all, we have to clearly define what we mean when we're talking about social media. At Antalis there are three dimensions. Our strategy focuses firstly on campaigns linked to the brand, products, consulting etc. The second element is that of an ambassador programme, where we call upon the services of our partners, whether in the field of marketing, sales, market leaders or HR. This is because each of them has their networks. Finally, the third piece of the puzzle concerns LinkedIn's Sales Navigator licence, within a social selling programme. With these three elements in mind, our social media strategy has an impact on purchasing if it is thought of as an investment to generate business. Content must be targeted and contextualised. It's not just about being "present" on social media anymore.
If we look at the numbers we have, 75% of B2B purchasers consult social media and internet sites before having a first physical contact with a person or a brand. Social media marketing allows for more responsiveness, more personalisation and more contextualisation: it enables us to adapt even more to business needs. In the past, personalisation could be achieved by simply naming someone in a newsletter. The information gathered today gives us the possibility to communicate with our target audience in a more precise way. Social media contributes to purchasing because it acts like a catalyst within the relationship, even before human contact has been made.
Do you consider social selling to be an indispensable tool?F.C.: It's all a question of 360° visibility for the brand and making sure that social selling has a real added value. Today, if you can't find a company online or on social media, your first instinct is to question the legitimacy of that company as a trustworthy supplier. The B2B sector does not have the same depth of activity on social media as the B2C sector, with its numerous opinions and customer feedback.
According to the Social Selling Barometer, articles and videos are formats which generate more sales. What types of branded content do you favour?F.C.: These formats aren't new. What is new, however, is the range and diversity of formats that we use. We have been building out strategy for a year and a half now. To get our partners on board too, we decided to take things step by step in order to reassure them. It's not about making a video with Hollywood-style production. Traditionally our posts are pretty classic – text and image – with a few videos. Tomorrow, there will be more white papers, infographics and testimonies from clients.
It is true that the use of videos, even in the B2B sector, has become increasingly widespread. The cost of creating a video today is nothing compared to the cost of doing so just five years ago: it has decreased significantly. Citing studies that are currently in circulation, in 2021 50% of all internet searches will lead to results involving some kind of animated or visually aesthetic content (videos, infographics, tutorials etc.). Advertisers need to adapt to the behaviour of different personas. People read a lot less nowadays: there are more and more videos and they are becoming shorter and shorter. In our sector, showing a short video of a bathroom makeover in a hotel has a much bigger impact than simply showing a before and after photo.
«B2B influencers aren't Lady Gaga.»
LinkedIn remains the main social media channel in the B2B sector. 84% of B2B decision-makers use LinkedIn as part of their professional activity. What about Facebook? According to the study, 41% of those surveyed consider Facebook to be a major vector of content leading to purchases.F.C.: Facebook is trying to play catch up with LinkedIn when it comes to its positioning in the B2B market. However, with Facebook, there isn't the same responsiveness or level of targeting: it is not as "fine-tuned" as LinkedIn. The latter has a significant lead over Facebook thanks to its LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
For us, Facebook helps us generate traffic. We tend to privilege LinkedIn because of the progress we have made in terms of social selling. This positioning stems from a company's digital maturity. It is important to note that progress has been made. When faced with big B2C brands, we have the impression that they were born into the digital world, and when we start to think about it we can't even remember when all of that began.
Today, in 2020, in our sector, we still don't talk about influencers: even though they exist. But B2B influencers aren't Lady Gaga. You have to look for them in a different way, and think beforehand about what benefits you want to draw from them. Influencers in our sector do not define themselves as such, but more as professionals, experts in their field. They are not positioned as potential influencers. Calling upon the services of an influencer requires maturity: the initial groundwork needs to be done.
«Out of 39 countries, only three have set up a pilot programme around the LinkedIn Sales Navigator.»
What tips would you give to someone wanting to enter the social selling market?F.C.: I would have liked us to have put in place our strategy sooner. That said, I think that is wishful thinking because we wouldn't have been ready. The importance of timing and of receiving support is key. Of the 39 countries we operate in, only three have set up a pilot programme around the LinkedIn Sales Navigator. I advise teams to move gradually with this tool, otherwise partners can get lost along the way: these remain very new tools. The Sales Navigator licence is designed for very motivated people who are really quite passionate about social media and get the logic of it.
It goes without saying that you shouldn't just make content for the sake of it. If you're not credible when it comes to the content, the visitors won't come. You should never underestimate the learning curve of our partners and ambassadors: you have to closely monitor the frequency of publications and not consume too much of your target audience's time as the bandwidth of the latter is limited. You should be respectful of their precious time and their knowledge base, and you should offer them added value.
Before going out and searching for external influencers, when presenting Antalis to clients and prospects my initial intention is to show that Antalis is an influencer itself. We have to show ourselves to be a reference before seeking out other sites of reference and partnerships, and before curating content.
Only 40% of B2B decision-makers appreciate the quality of content, and this is a percentage that has been on the wane for three years. Is there a real battle to be fought here?F.C.: It's not surprising that the percentage is so low because after being solicited via social media, newsletters, web sites, offline channels (print) and telephone campaigns people are overwhelmed by content. The marketing industry needs a wake-up call telling it to produce less but of better quality.
Today we find ourselves faced with an unprecedented internal dilemma that we didn't have just two years ago. In order to produce a white paper, we chose a premium content agency - but it wasn't enough. We ultimately played our hand well by recruiting a professional freelance journalist specialised in the world of packaging. The reality is that you need to have this instinct. Knowing how to write isn't enough: you need to be pertinent with regards to the target audience you are dealing with. You can't just content yourself with the same old tried and tested formulas and with the "same old, same old", because ultimately this content will portray an image that isn't credible.
Our B2B targets are demanding when it comes to our content being of a higher standard than before. Our editorial line needs to focus on specialised articles which give credibility to the way we have positioned ourselves on the market, but we also need to adopt a generalist approach which shows that we have understood the cross-cutting needs of the majority of our clients. We really have to gauge the level of our clients and be attentive to the needs of the market.
Content quality will be a distinguishing factor in the long term. Future company marketers will no doubt be graduates of journalism schools. We will need people with journalistic profiles rather than traditional marketers in order to better handle editorial content and achieve coherence between the need that has been identified and the response that Antalis can provide!