Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What's Next for B2B Social Media? FYIndOut Now

It's been obvious for some time that social media has an increasing role in b2b marketing, and that b2b companies will increasingly invest marketing dollars there as social media marketing practices become more standardized. Still, most of what's being done today, from creating a company Facebook page to using a social media email signature, is extremely tactical. How can b2b firms approach social media more strategically?

It starts by thinking about the points of alignment between the goals of b2b companies and their buyers:
  • B2b buyers have problems they need solved. Vendors have products and services designed to solve those problems. When the right solution meets the right problem, both sides benefit.

  • Both buyers and sellers want to reach each other as efficiently as possible. That is, buyers don't want to listen to 50 vendors pitch products or services they don't need or can't afford in order to find the one solution they seek, and vendors don't want to waste marketing dollars and sales time chasing prospects who don't need or can't buy their offerings.

  • Both sides understand the importance of third-party endorsements. Every vendor will rave about its own products or services, and buyers get that. So, industry publications, blogs, and analyst reports carry somewhat more weight than a company brochure. Most important, however, are the words of actual customers. Case studies are currently the most common way to deliver this information, though there is still a production cost for the vendor and prospective buyers presume that only the happiest customers will have their stories published.
A new b2b social media site called FYIndOut understands these dynamics, and is seeking to do for b2b buyers what epinions does for consumer products and Angie's List does for household services.

FYIndOut is free for b2b buyers, who can read product/service reviews posted by other users, write their own review, contact multiple vendors at once, and network with other buyers. The creators of the site believe that buyers will post reviews because 1) they increasingly use social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) as part of their professional lives, and 2) for all the reasons (and then some) that people write reviews on consumer sites: self-gratification, self-promotion, to rant about a bad experience or gush ab out a great one, to pay it forward/back, or just to help others. There are no plans for any type of direct reward for contributing currently, though presumably that could change if the need arises.

Vendors can post their company name, website link, and one product/service name with a description for free, or sign up for the "Plus" membership enabling them to do additional promotion; post assets such as white papers, videos and presentations; invite their customers to contribute reviews; interact with the community; and generate leads.

Paid membership runs $99 per month plus $100 per accepted lead. In comparison to something like Google AdWords, depending on campaign efficiency, FYIndOut's cost per lead runs 30%-100% higher, but—the leads should theoretically be more qualified, and vendors pay only for accepted leads. In addition, FYIndOut lets each vendor know who else is getting the lead (so vendors can position themselves accordingly when they contact the buyer) and provides LinkedIn information from the buying company (so the vendor can check for connections there).

On the buyer side, FYIndOut is targeted at SMBs that are generally too small to have policies against endorsing vendors (as many larger enterprises unfortunately do) or to be clients of analyst firms like Gartner or Forrester. On the vendor side, FYIndOut is open to any b2b product or service provider; unlike TechMATCH or CTS, it isn't limited to technology products (and doesn't rely on vendor RFPs for information).

In order to avoid Yelp-style lawsuits, FYIndOut will remove any review content that is factually inaccurate; enable vendors to respond publicly to negative reviews; and encourage vendors and unhappy customers to resolve issues directly.

FYIndOut is the brainchild of Scott Manley and Tony Colon. Scott was previously a senior vice president at LaSalle Bank and product manager at Motorola. Tony was a solution architect at eGain Communications, where he helped Fortune 500 companies integrate CRM systems with collaboration channels such as email, web text chat and online self service.

As Scott puts in in his pitch for the site, "The idea for FYIndOut started because we both believe that the model for finding and marketing business apps and services is outdated. For years now, there’s nothing in our consumer lives where we won’t first go online to see customer reviews before we buy it. Yet, in the business world, we still go by the biggest ads in the Yellow Pages or the top results on a search engine. The other option is to pay a high end analyst firm for an expensive report of vendors in a certain area, none of which they have ever used themselves. None of these options speaks to the solution provider’s quality, just their advertising budget and SEO skills. The goal for FYIndOut is to allow professionals to find the business apps and services they’re looking for in the same manner we’re used to in our consumer lives and provide Solution Providers (big and small) a level playing field to compete based on interaction and quality, not advertising budget."

Success will depend on a number of factors, including getting buyers to post honest and useful reviews and vendors to buy into the value proposition. It will also require generating scale quickly. But given both the success of review sites in the consumer realm and the increasing use of social media in b2b marketing, FYIndOut may have the right timing and the right model to achieve success using social networking to bring b2b buyers and seller together.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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