I’ve noticed a trend recently with a number of clients and agencies asking us if word of mouth applies to B2B. The answer is indubitably yes – eMarketer’s study showed that WOM had become far and away the biggest influence on US business decision makers by 2007; Forrester researcher Laura Ramos predicted last October that traditional B2B marketing would soon be virtually obsolete; DuPont’s Gary Sandler has long been an authoritative advocate.
However, B2B WOM marketing maintains a much lower profile than B2C, not just because social media commentators are less likely to pick up on B2B ventures, but because valuable WOM means something a little different in this space.
B2B WOM is rarely about achieving enormous reach. If you’ve found a great supplier, you may want to keep them to yourself, and the people you want to connect with are likely to be more selective and close-knit. Typical B2B ‘consumers’ will form a much smaller group than B2C, but each of those people is likely to have much more individual influence. The key here is in building deeper, richer, more sustained and more inspiring relationships with fewer people, rather than aiming for the more widely spread adovacy tribe of a B2C WOM project.
However, the same overall approach in getting those individuals engaged with the brand applies, as social media and word of mouth continue to close the gap between our personal and professional selves. As the recent leap in on-site LinkedIn recommendations shows, we’re beginning to conduct our business and social lives on the same platforms, in similar ways. And a business buyer is also a personal consumer: if we’re seeing poor or little conversation about a brand and their products in our own communities, it can’t help but influence our B2B decisions.
So B2B WOM engagement needs to combine B2C philosophy with an understanding of the values in this specialised scape. Buyers are still human beings who essentially want to be heard by, and connected with, other likeminded people in emotive, exciting ways; but they also form a niche group in which the quality of relationships and conversations, not quantity, is key.