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

How Might Kids Perceive Toyota Now?

The repairs at Toyota dealerships continue as the news of the recall and the sheer number of Toyotas on the road are an ever present reminder that the company has a problem.  Talk about a Catch-22.

When Toyota eventually gets to the downward slope of it’s Everest-sized speed bump, what will it do to repair its broken reputation, not only for consumers of driving age, but those who are simply passengers in their cars? Considering a conversation I had with my daughter this weekend, Toyota better start planning its long march back now.

Kate, who’s getting close to 10, was sitting in the back seat of our 12-year-old Subaru Outback, returning with me from a trip to the movies when she said this:

“Why does Toyota lie?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, wanting to present a balanced picture of Toyota’s response to the crisis; the incidents and number of recalls that occur with all car makers; and intricacies involved in replicating engineering and mechanical failures, “Toyota didn’t necessarily lie.  The problem with its cars is a bit complicated.”

“Why is it complicated?” she pressed.  “If Toyota knew its cars had a problem why didn’t they try to fix it sooner?”

Wow.  Kate is no news junkie by any stretch, but she is an avid reader.  Maybe I should re-up my subscription to the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s like those commercials,” she continued.  “Some offer deals to get people to buy their cars, but the other commercials where people are talking about how happy they are with their cars seem fake.”

‘Well, honey, I think Toyota will be fine,” I responded.  “People will continue to buy their cars.”

To that, Kate said flatly:  “Those people are chumps.”