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Lee Odden

B2B Marketing Innovation: Tips On Creating Social Influence in B2B Marketing from Alan Belniak of PTC

By Lee Odden     B2B, Interviews, Marketing PR Conferences

Finding a way to influence your prospects, customers, and company advocates is an essential part of doing business in today’s digital world.  Finding different methods of creating influence is essential with complex purchasing processes often present with B2B marketing.

Fortunately, we have the insight of savvy B2B marketers who are out in the field, developing, testing and implementing best practices that are willing to share with our readers here at Online Marketing Blog.

To that end, next up in our series of B2B Marketing expert interviews is PTC’s Alan Belniak.  As Director of Social Media Marketing, Alan focuses on product lifecycle management developing strategy and innovating the right mix of social media tactics to create influence and and value with their business customers.

Please tell us about your role at PTC and the kind of B2B marketing work you’re involved with there.

For those that might not know, PTC is a business-to-business software company that creates software to give our customers a product and service advantage.  Our software is used by many discrete manufacturers and those in the physical goods service industry.  I know, a mouthful, right?  Put another way, though, is that it is a B2B industry, with a long sales cycle, and typically not-inexpensive price points for the software (translation: ripe for content and social media).

At PTC, I head up social media marketing for the company overall, helping colleagues devise and execute on social strategies and plans.  I help uncover the networks and places where the conversations are happening help and participate in contributing to those discussions, and work to drive the information gained back into the company.  I’m excited about showing how social media and content marketing can be used at various points of the marketing funnel and consideration process.

At the MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum you’re participating on the “Social Media Influence – Whos’s Got It, How to Find Them, and What to Do Next?” panel.  Please share 3 practical takeaways from your presentation about influence and B2B Marketing.

Influence can be a fuzzy term these days.  Paul Gillin and I will be showing people what really is influence – and that applies to online and offline, how influence in the business sense is different now than how we might have traditionally viewed it (and what that means to a practitioner), and review some tools on how to go about assessing it and measuring some of that online influence.

Speaking of influence, what’s your take on tools for determining influence?  Klout, Traackr and Kred?  What role should tools like these play in assessing influence and can you recommend others?

I think the tools are just that: tools.  They are not the answer.  They are a number.  Look at it this way: the temperature isn’t the weather.  The temperature is a number that starts to tell the greater story – the weather.  Along with that, you need humidity, a forecast, pressure… you get the idea.  Trying to determine influence by looking only at one number is a fool’s errand.  I think the better approach (and readers can attend the session to learn more) is to use this as one piece of many in terms of understanding influence.  It’s a directional indicator, but it shouldn’t be used as the only waypoint.

The digital marketing world with social media, big data and mobile has created a more complex environment for marketers and their approach in attracting, engaging and converting prospects to customers.  What are some of the B2B marketing strategies you’ve had the most success with in 2012?

We’ve had some success with our SlideShare channel.  Like many B2B companies, we produce a lot of content in PowerPoint.  We came to the realization that if we scrub this a little bit to make it more public-facing, we think that prospects and customers might find this useful.

We’ve also loaded up some ebooks and other .pdfs to SlideShare as well.  What’s interesting is that some of this content is also available on our website.  And some of the content on SlideShare gets more attention that on our website.  So, in a nutshell: put the content where the customers are.

Developing a solid B2B marketing plan takes research, and understanding of the customer goals, pain points and journey.  What are some of the most common myths or mistakes you’ve seen with B2B marketing planning?  Any tips on how to be more successful?

One trap I think some fall into is “shiny object syndrome”.  That is, following the press and online news, and seeing a ton of coverage about the next biggest thing, and thinking it’s a requirement to implement.  Here’s an example: Pinterest is one of the top traffic generators to many sites these days (myriad data supports this).  But is it applicable to all businesses?  For many B2C businesses like fashion and food – it sure is!  What about a funeral parlor?  A document-shredding company?  Is this really a good use of time?

There’s a great line in the movie Jurassic Park that sums this up.  Dr. Ian Malcom (played by Jeff Goldblum) says to John Hammond (Richard Attenboroogh), as they narrowly escape death: “You spent all this time asking yourself ‘if you could’, when you should have spent a little more time asking yourself ‘if you should.’”

One tip when developing the plan is to conduct a social media and audience audit.  That is, spend some time searching for non-branded SEO-like terms in your space.  See where the conversations are happening – good, bad, and otherwise.  I call this a listening exercise.  The key is to track where people are saying the things they are saying.  This will help you determine where you should spend your future time, as well as where not to spend it.  And this isn’t a one-person activity (though it could be).  We’ve done this successfully with a handful of people, and with a little bit of time every day for about two weeks.  The read out of the results has always been interesting and enlightening.

With all the hype in the business marketing media, it’s tempting for companies to chase trending B2B marketing tactics like social media and content marketing.  How do you decide what the right B2B marketing tactical mix is for your business?

Similar to above, I think it’s largely dependent where your audience is.  A social media audit/listening exercise will help tell you that.  With that in hand, it’s good to look at industry data – the kind of data that’s available on MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute.  Different industries and roles within those industries consume different kinds of media.  Lastly, and really the best method: ask.  When possible, speak with customers and ask them genuinely how they go about getting smarter on a topic, learning, or which factors go into the decision-making process.

There are many resources online and off to leverage for practical and innovative information about modern B2B marketing.  Of those resources, blogs can be particularly useful.  What are your 3-4 favorite B2B marketing blogs?

Social Media B2B is a great resource.  Jeff and Kip produce some really great stuff there.  Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist is another good one – not so much tips and tricks, but more high-level thinking.  Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert is a great read as well.  I also like Christopher Penn’s Awaken Your Superhero blog (This is a good mix of theory and application, several times a week. For content, Content Marketing Institute is tops.  Speaking of tops, no good blog roundup would omit TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog. And there are a few others that are good for marketing in general, that can be applied to the B2B context – David Meerman Scott’s WebInkNow, Seth Godin, and Social Media Explorer, to name a few.

Please share your advice for other B2B marketers out there on how they can be more innovative.

Here’s a tip on a non-innovative idea: regurgitating your website or press release.

Instead, focus on three things:

  1. Utility
  2. Share-ability
  3. Remarkability

Is what you are providing useful to me?  Are you breaking new news before others, providing an interactive cost calculator, or helping me compare large sets of complex data quickly?  If it’s useful, I’ll want to spend time with it.  Once you’ve got me hooked, can I share it easily?  Sure, I can copy a URL like anyone else.  Can you embed share chicklets/widgets/buttons right into the thing itself, to reduce the friction of me sharing?  If I achieved a ‘score’ of sorts, can I share that out to my networks to show them what I did?  Does the meta data that goes with the post explain it well enough?  And is it remarkable that others may comment on it, either in your feed or via email afterward, or even in the hallway?  If you can achieve varying levels of these, then you’re innovating in this space.

And how can you determine the content for that idea? Talk to prospects. Ask them what keeps them up at night, trying to figure out.  Chances are, they aren’t the only ones.

Alan, Thanks for your tips on creating influence for B2B Marketing Innovation.

If you’re looking for even more insight on making your business more innovative,  be sure to check out Alan’s panel discussion at B2B Marketing Forum: “Social Media Influence – Who’s Got It, How to Find Them, and What to Do Next?”  Thursday, October 4th at 9:00am.

Also be sure to check out the TopRank session on 360 degrees of optimization with search and social media marketing: Integrating Content, Search & Social to Optimize the Funnel” – Friday, October 5th at 8:15am.

We’ll be releasing an eBook soon that’s chock full of B2B Marketing Innovation tips from B2B marketing champions like IBM, SAP and Silverpop, so be sure to check back!

What’s your best B2B Marketing Innovation tip?
We would love to hear from you.  Share your best B2B marketing innovation tip and you will have a chance to win two of the best books on content marketing: Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman and Optimize by Lee Odden (hey, that’s me!).


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