The B2B Social Spotlight – New Feature!

When it comes to examples of social media in action, consumer companies dominate. From this B2B marketer’s perspective, it is like a tired A-side of well-worn 33-rpm disc: food, fashion, travel and consumer goods. The B-side has its own groove with a preponderance of IT-related social result stories.

Time to change the record.

We’re launching a new, ongoing interview series called B2B Social Spotlight. It’s our way of shining some well-deserved wattage on those B2B marketers who are putting social to work to elevate commoditized products and services. Our goal is to let these folks tell their stories of success (and failures) and help others know the potential power and value of social business.

That said, welcome to installment number one.

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Kyle Thill, Director of Services, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota

Kyle Thill, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota

No matter how you look at it, there is nothing glamorous about a forklift. Lifting and moving things from one place to another is about as utilitarian as an old brown-colored Chrysler K-car… but much more useful and reliable. 

So why does Kyle Thill, Director of Services at this materials handing dealership, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota, have over 18,000 Twitter followers and, as of this writing, sent over 98,700 Tweets?

It’s simple really. Think about how many different types of businesses rely on these brawny little workhorses. It allows Kyle to Tweet a universe of content related to businesses that depend on supply chain and logistics. Kyle’s prolific tweeting helped earn Toyota-Lift of Minnesota the B2BTOTY (B2B Twitterer of the Year) award in the category “Natl/Intl B2B Manufacturer”.

Chalk it up to Kyle’s focus and passion about facilitating smooth operations throughout the business, from personnel, technology infrastructure, and knowledge of inventory control, to data management and analysis, and managing parts warranty and service. It is that range of experience of 28 years with Toyota-Lift that earned Kyle the Toyota Material Handling’s National Aftermarket Sales Manager of the Year in 2010.

E-R: When it comes to marketing Toyota Forklift, did you intentionally set out to do something differently?

Thill: We ventured into social media just to promote our OEMs and us, and to replace the advertising they used to pay for. There was little then, and not a lot more now, of the brand’s representation anywhere in social media. Additionally, as Toyota cut our marketing budget, they prompted us to enter social media because it was “low cost”.

We look to get people to read our blog and possibly get local people to subscribe to our newsletter so to ingratiate us to our brands. Being present, supplying relevant information, and doing in it in a reasonable way can be of value.

E-R:  Forklifts can be seen generic pieces of equipment. How do you work to attract not just customers, but create relationships and build dialogue? 

Thill: We focus on issues that are important to them, such as costs, durability or fuel consumption. For safety, we can talk about safety systems present on our equipment and not on other makes. Ergonomics and operator comfort are a number of critical points that can be focused on there. Everyone has a need. We just have to find it and focus in on how we can satisfy it.

E-R: What aspects of social media have worked for Toyota Forklift? 

Thill: Our primary goal is to expose the market to our people and company through our blog, and not truly focus on anything other than digging into the topics we think our customers are concerned about. I feel our biggest success has been simply to raise the awareness of business to our brand.

E-R: You are a prolific Twitterer.  How do you manage your presence on the platform?

I’m in front of a computer almost all day and use a mix of real-time posting and automation, such as Buffer. I rely on Google Alerts, and Google Reader as my information aggregator. Even with the automation, I think it’s important to be there to respond and interact.

E-R: What online tools do you rely on everyday? 

Thill: Our Blog, Facebook, then Twitter.

E-R: What do you regularly measure to see what is working and what is not?

Thill: As small as we are, we can’t afford too many calories to be spent on analytics. We fall back to the position if what we are doing makes sense we’ll simply “do it” without truly looking back.

From websites, outside marketing firms and social media, there isn’t anything we’re doing that could be questioned regarding value or worth. We think of it as “eating healthy”. It’s difficult to point to anything specific that it makes better, but at the end of the day, you feel good and you’re able to continually improve the effort.

E-R: What has been your biggest mistake using social media? 

Thill: We don’t focus enough on our other brands, meaning those markets that are much smaller than Toyota, with the possible exception of Aichi and its construction equipment.

E-R: What is one thing your Twitter followers don’t know about you? 

Thill: We’re humbled by what we see others doing in the social media arena.

E-R: What is the one thing people would never know about know about a forklift? 

Thill: At some point in the supply chain, a forklift has touched their stuff. We’re more reliant on material handling that anyone knows. I’m not certain my parents think yet that this is a permanent job.

E-R: How’s the business doing in light of the economy? 

Thill: We achieved ten percent growth last year, and it looks like the same this year. Our fiscal year ends this month.

E-R: What three blogs would you recommend?  

Thill: That is the hardest question. I’d have to answer in categories. Those from other dealerships or OEMs, followed by construction then logistics or trucking. If I answered with specifics, I’d only change my mind a few moments later.

E-R: How can people connect with you? 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/toyotaequipment

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Toyota-Lift-of-Minnesota/201975476484625

LinkedIn, Kyle Thill: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=51923164&trk=tab_pro

LinkedIn, Toyota Lift of Minnesota: http://www.linkedin.com/company/toyota-lift-of-minnesota

Appealing to Your Next-Generation Customer

Last summer I had a new business meeting with two twenty-something’s wearing shorts and T-shirts.  As an agency owner with more than 20 years in the business, I’ve had to adjust to the fact that now my clients will be younger than I am.

Not that I’ll start wearing shorts to meetings.  But it raises the question: will younger people want to do business with me?

It clearly goes beyond business attire.  So, companies 20 years old and older, take note.

What younger customers respond to is different than your current loyal base.

Why do I raise this issue?  Because we’re finding so many B2B companies still have no social media presence. There are misconceptions — based on a lack of understanding — in the B2B world about the value of social media.

It’s not just social media.  It’s corporate responsibility.  The concept of sharing information.  Giving to receive.  These are new paradigms, especially for older, successful companies.

Yes, you can rely on your traditional communications/marketing methods, up until your current customer base retires.  But if you’re not by now at least looking into some of the more ‘hip’ tools, in three to five years, you will be sorely behind the marketing curve.  And that will be the least of your worries.

More problematic will be having lost the opportunity to forge new relationships with younger customers.

Making a Customer for Life

Many of our clients (and well as Element-R) have long-standing relationships with customers who are uber-loyal.

I learned while doing PR in the medical field (where most standard PR tactics don’t work) the value of forging relationships early on, even at the college, graduate or medical school level.  By simply providing training materials and an expert speaker, we were able to have impact before the medical students became product specifiers.

So start now in reaching out to your customers to establish that loyalty.  Understand them.  How they are different.  How they want to be communicated with.  What they respond to.  Get out of your marketing box.

Case in point:

Last week the Wall Street Journal’s story, “Super Size Me Generation Takes Over at McDonald’s,” tells the story of Travis Heriaud, the 30-year-old son of a McDonald’s franchisee trying some new tactics with his own new restaurant, at a cost of $50,000.

As part of the grand opening, he incorporated a book giveaway for children, and a parade of zoo animals.

The father was skeptical.  But in just one year, the new McDonald’s (which has continued its unusual tactics) has exceeded corporate sales projections by 50 percent.

Needless to say, those ideas and others from next-generation owners are taking hold at other McDonald’s, with things like later evening hours, recycling bins, bringing in junk food critic mommy-bloggers for a tour of the kitchen, visiting schools to talk to kids, reading programs and back-to-school give-aways.

Heriaud wanted to demonstrate from day one that his restaurant “aimed to be part of the community,” noting, “we have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens.”

Customers are noticing.  Make sure yours will, too.

 

The Power of Two: Three Reasons Why Sales and Marketing Can (And Must) Communicate

One of the greatest failings of a business is not listening to its customers. The next is when marketing doesn’t, or won’t, listen to its sales people.

While far from a new problem, in the era of social marketing, such a weakness is potentially disruptive and costly. When so many companies acknowledge that developing targeted, relevant content can help attract customers, some companies still refuse to tap the one source that knows what’s actually happening on the ground.

Attention Marketers: You Don’t Know EVERYTHING

Here’s the thing. Marketing serves a vitally important function, but it does not have all the answers. Far from it. And, honestly, how can it? Its inputs derive from the company leadership, product development, competitive analysis and customer and industry trends.

Anyone who thinks that all the solutions to a company’s marketing strategy can be constantly cooked up in a lone office is either overworked, over confident or overlooking the obvious.

Here are three reasons why an ongoing marketing /sales dialogue is crucial.

Deeper Insights. There might be an issue your customers are thinking and talking about right now that is crucial to their sales and revenue. The good thing is that your sales people know about it. The bad thing is that you don’t. Imagine the rewards you could reap if you were addressing that issue that went to the core of your customers’ pain and that your company understood it and shared insights on how to solve it?  How much long term good will and potential revenue are you missing out on?

Info Alignment. Marketers are generally measured on producing deliverables –brochures, white papers, ads, and so forth – even if none of that activity results in measurable financial impact. Aligning what “stuff” works for what stage the prospect is in the sales funnel does two things:

1. It puts a microscope on the kinds of support and sales materials that will help move the prospect to a customer, cutting down on useless and costly materials; and

2. it arms sales people with the right piece of information at the right time to supply useful and relevant information to drive the process forward.

Working From The Same Page. A perennial rant from sales is that it believes marketing doesn’t listen to what it needs and delivers materials and messages it doesn’t want. Message to marketing: don’t ignore sales, involve them.

Sales knows what resonates with customers, and how to best communicate it, so what better way to improve your marketing and messaging by routinely bringing them into the process of coming up with ideas/angles? Marketing will get valuable inputs and sales will get useful, valuable and timely “stuff” they really want.

So many channels and mechanisms exist, from email to Twitter, to communicate mission critical information rapidly and regularly. Developing two-way access between sales and marketing will not only promote better communication, but ongoing trust. This cultural shift, while not easy, is essential.

Marketing and sales shouldn’t be treated like two separate operations; they are simply two parts of a bigger process. When you connect the two, good things happen for the entire organization.

How Getting Personal Can Synch You With Your Customers

Talk about getting personal.

Here’s a fun story about getting and giving attention on a one-to-one level.

As reported on CBS TV Chicago in early February, local high school student Keenan Cahill found out just how much attention he could get by simply having fun.  He could’ve never expected the outcome.

Affected by a life-threatening disease called MPS-6 that stunts his growth — and dreaming about one day being an actor or singer — the outgoing teenager began videotaping his lip-synching routines to various hit songs, and posting them online.

His antics attracted the attention of Katy Perry, who recognized his fun video via Twitter, and sent out a link to the video.  The results?  The video went viral, and Cahill became an “Internet sensation.”

Even better, he began getting personal visits from 50 Cent, Tyra Banks and others who went so far as to join him in his Elmhurst, Illinois bedroom so they could ‘co-star’ with the lip-syncher.

Imagine a famous singer knocking on your front door!

Can we find lessons here for business?  Indeed.

The music stars recognized:

  • A fan’s interaction with their content (in this case, music)
  • The chance to further expose what this young man was doing to their other fans – since it benefited them from a pure publicity perspective
  • An opportunity to do good by:

- Showing up at his home to share in his excitement and fun takes on their songs
- Showing their humanity and support of a disabled teenager, leading to a thrilling outcome   that surely has changed his life.

This can no doubt be an inspiration for the B2B world.

  • What if … You and your staff found more (and more interesting) ways to connect with how your customers use your products or services, on a one-to-one level?
  • How can you go the extra mile to recognize their success, or help them achieve greater success?
  •  How can you SURPRISE your customers in a similar way (even one, two or three customers a year)?

Every company wants its videos to go viral.  While most business products and services don’t have a Hollywood aura, often we’re all too stuck in the boring business world to find (or put) the humanity into our stories.

This is the beauty of the connected world; the social media world we live in … The opportunity to be human, to speak and interact one-to-one with customers.

So start showing up for your customers.  Get involved.  Get personal.  Share in their excitement.  Recognize.  Act!

Challenge your team to do something out of the ordinary. Give!

Your customers will thank you for it.

Personal interaction is the new era in brand and reputation building.  B2B companies that apply it are succeeding in ways they never expected – proving the old adage: “give, and you shall receive.”