What Impact Can Social Media Have on B2B Businesses?

By Tony Restell

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Most B2B firms haven’t fully invested in social media. More often than not, that’s because they simply haven’t seen much return from the time or money they have invested in social media to date. Many business owners have essentially persuaded themselves that social media just “doesn’t work for our type of business”.

Discover how B2B Firms Are Winning on Social Media

As you read this article, my goal is to get you excited about social media again and to open your eyes to all the business wins you are currently missing out on. If you don’t leave this article with your mind racing at the thought of what you could achieve, then I’ll have failed.

In the next few minutes, I’m going to share with you the transformational impact social media has had on a wide range of B2B businesses. These aren’t our clients, but rather businesses that have figured out social media for themselves and succeeded in having it generate massive business wins for their firms. The sheer variety of businesses that are profiting from social media should help dispel the myth that social media somehow doesn’t work in your niche. The chances are it does work for a business like yours; you just haven’t yet figured out how to make it work for you.

Then, having opened your eyes to the possible results, we’ll discuss what you have to get right to replicate these kinds of successes for your business.

Some of you reading this will decide now’s the time to invest seriously in social media - and to go it alone. If that’s you, I’m thrilled to have helped get you enthused about social media again - and wish you every success in leveraging it for your business.

Others amongst you will want to invest more seriously in social media, but will conclude that you need external support to get these results. If that’s you, I invite you to book in a call and we’d be happy to talk about your business and what could realistically be achieved with social media.

Is Social Media Beneficial For B2B Businesses?

So let’s take a look at how beneficial social media can be for B2B businesses - if the right strategies are in place and enough resources are being put into these initiatives.

In order to open your eyes to what other businesses are achieving, we’ve interviewed ~130 business owners and directors to uncover their experiences with social media. They are all LinkedIn connections of our team who were willing to share their experiences to help inform this discussion (P.S. a big thank you to all who contributed to the discussion).

As you read these examples of transformative business wins, keep in mind that these are all modest-sized B2B businesses. For the most part, they haven’t spent any money on advertising. The kind of time/money they have invested to get these results would be realistic for most small business owners to replicate.

In other words, there’s no compelling reason these results couldn’t be replicated by a business like yours. So let’s take a look at what’s being achieved - and ask yourself, which of these examples sounds similar to your business - and therefore represents the kind of results you could aspire to achieve?

  • An accounting business that has historically won its business through referrals. Did a social media mastermind course during Covid and has been active on social media since. The business has quoted for £400k of fees and won £260k of fees, generated purely through social media.

  • A Leadership training & consulting business that in one full financial year generated 32 of their 36 non-referral client wins directly from LinkedIn, with those client wins resulting in them delivering their services to a global client base.

  • A strategy and transformation consultancy using quarterly events as a way of meeting potential new clients, now getting 30% - 50% of their attendees via LinkedIn marketing (making social media a critical part of their sales pipeline)
  • A recruitment agency whose founder describes them as “a social media company that sells recruitment”. 90% of their income comes from social media and associated initiatives (eg. podcasts & webinars) that get them into conversations with new clients as well as being constantly on the radar of existing clients.

  • A branding consultant who’s been approached by journalists as a result of their social media presence and appeared in Success magazine, The Wall St Journal, and Fast Company - to name just a few. This has generated many paid speaking engagements and numerous client wins.
  • A recruitment agency whose visibility on social media - especially for awards they’ve won - has been a significant source of inbound client enquiries and made social media a key source of client wins.

  • An industry federation that was able to more than double their membership base from 126 member companies to 280+ member companies - entirely through LinkedIn / social media marketing. (Note: while achieving this membership growth, they also raised average membership fees by 50%, so the revenue growth has been even more spectacular).

  • A recruitment agency that’s won many clients through social media, both directly and also from the word of mouth effect that their social media presence has created for them in their industry.

  • Customer service focused businesses achieving significant cost savings - as the average call center cost is $6 per call, whereas the average social media customer service interaction costs only $1.

  • A consulting firm winning most of their business via social media. By using a mix of research-based marketing, content-based marketing and event-based marketing, they have been able to win most of their client engagements via social media; with the success of all three of those activities being driven by what they do on social media and the resulting meetings that these activities get them with C-Suite decision makers.

  • A strategic marketing consultant who consistently wins a third of all their clients from LinkedIn.

  • A PPE and Medical Supplies business that used LinkedIn to get all the key relationships they needed to establish themselves in each of the new markets they have entered.

  • A training provider that’s had 2 important client wins and multiple speaking opportunities result from inbound enquiries on LinkedIn, plus far more client wins via more proactive outreach on social media.

  • A video production company that has won most of its client base through LinkedIn (with YouTube as the other main contributor of client wins).

  • A recruitment business that launched a completely new line of business post-COVID, securing all clients for this new service and placing 200 candidates entirely through social media.

  • A business attending a trade expo and having made a significant investment to attend, used social media ads to generate 600k minutes of video watch time in the run-up to the expo and thereby be the most visible exhibitor at the show. Which resulted in them generating $21m in qualified pipeline from the Expo vs. the $5m of qualified pipeline they had targeted.

  • A startup business advisor who gets most of their business from LinkedIn, either directly from LinkedIn or with the site having played a part in that client choosing to work with her.

  • A systems integration consultancy got into conversations with The White House through social media and subsequently won government contracts from that initial interaction; with another similar business win coming about from similar exchanges with the Department of Defense.

  • A neurodiversity trainer who wins almost all their business via social media, principally LinkedIn. The credibility of having been a speaker at TEDx, plus the social proof of other people posting about how great she is as a speaker, makes potential new clients get in touch with her via LinkedIn.

  • A law firm solicitor who was averaging working with 3 clients a month subsequently raised that to 9 clients a month within just a few months of investing intensively in a LinkedIn strategy.

  • A professional services firm that won the majority of its 150 client wins over a 4 year period from the strategies being deployed on social media.

That’s quite a list, isn’t it?! Hopefully, you’ve found some businesses similar to yours that have really got your pulse racing. Certainly, the range of businesses making social media work for them is pretty extensive, isn’t it? What’s more, most of the business wins shared here are sizeable, with many being ongoing wins, such that social media has permanently elevated the success of most of these businesses.

It’s not all good news, though.

More than three-quarters of the businesses we spoke to really aren’t getting ANY tangible results from social media. In some cases, that’s because they’ve not yet devoted much effort to leveraging social media; in other cases, there’s significant time being poured into social media - but there’s either no strategy in place, or it’s an unproven strategy.

“Despite investing time and effort in social media marketing for over 8 years, we haven't directly gained any business from it.” — just one of many observations from those frustrated at the lack of any meaningful return being achieved with social media.

So, let’s talk about what you need to do and what you need to get right in order to replicate the successes you’ve read about here.

Avoiding The Feast & Famine Trap

One of the crucial messages from our various conversations was the importance of consistency. Social media success comes from doing key things consistently and without fail.

This is one of the biggest issues we heard people talk about. Many of the businesses - especially all the professional services firms - found that they tend to invest time in social media only in fits and bursts. When a client project ends, the business finds it has time to invest in social media. But then as soon as a new client project is won, social media efforts are one of the first things to be sacrificed, as team members are assigned to serving new clients’ needs.

A key lesson is therefore that B2B businesses wanting to benefit from social media really need to have resources that are permanently devoted to leveraging it. That could mean employing a new team member specifically to handle social media; or it could mean engaging an agency like Social Hire to devise and implement your social media strategy. What you can’t have is your social media efforts being dependent on the input of a team member with other responsibilities that - at any moment - could take precedence over social media.

So, how you will resource delivery of your social media plan is one key decision to reflect upon, if you want to start getting your share of business wins from social media.

Finding Proven Strategies For Your B2B Firm

I mentioned that many of the businesses we interviewed aren’t getting results from social media, for the simple reason that they either don’t have a strategy, or don’t yet have a strategy that’s proven to work in their sector.

That latter issue is something we have heard time and time again over the last few years. Many months can easily be lost to testing what strategies may or may not work in an industry. In the best case scenario, that sets back very considerably the timescale in which results are achieved. Or, in the worst case, it can lead to a firm abandoning social media initiatives before a winning strategy has ever been discovered.

This, of course, is where the idea that “social media doesn’t work for a business like ours” often originates.

Allow me to share a little insight from our business that I hope will be illuminating when it comes to the importance of expertise and adopting a proven strategy.

Each month, we turn down lots of enquiries about working with us. Why? For the simple reason that we don’t know how to get results for that type of business. This means that we’ll not be able to get results quickly, or speak confidently about the timescales in which results can be expected. None of which sets us up for delighting that client and forging a long-term win-win relationship. In that scenario, we prefer to direct the business to an agency that does work with businesses like theirs and that therefore isn’t going to have to experiment for months to figure out what a winning strategy might be.

So, how does that relate to your business - and to ensuring you adopt a proven strategy for your social media?

My strong recommendation is that you engage someone to do your social media who already has considerable experience of getting the kinds of results you want, and has worked for businesses not dissimilar to yours. That could mean hiring an employee, engaging a freelancer, or partnering with a social media agency like Social Hire…

… all could be viable options, provided the necessary expertise is there. What this hopefully does highlight, though, is that asking someone already on the team to “spend a few hours a week doing social media” isn’t going to cut it. Even if they have strong social media skills, the lack of experience in getting tangible wins for a business like yours is going to prove very costly. If you want transformative results like the businesses above, you need to invest in expertise and a track record - rather than just the necessary hours of work to build a presence.

The Common Traits of B2B Firms Doing Well on Social Media

Most of the businesses we’ve highlighted in this article have taken steps to build the three pillars of success we consistently see are needed for B2B firms to thrive on social media. These are:

  • Growing the ideal audience on social media
  • Building trust and credibility with that audience
  • Proactively converting that audience to take a more meaningful step towards becoming a client (or a hire or a business partner)

Let’s look at each of these in turn, to help you understand how successful outcomes are achieved.

Growing The Ideal Audience on Social Media

You could be forgiven for thinking that the most important thing on social media is to “go viral” and have your posts generate huge amounts of engagement so that you get seen extensively on the platform. Certainly, a lot of the advice on LinkedIn centres on beating the algorithm and gaining virality.

This is a red herring though, at least for B2B businesses. Most B2Bs target a particular niche market. So, what’s important for their success is not being seen by the whole platform - but rather cultivating an audience of ideal prospects for that business. In many B2B firms, that might well mean you only need to develop relationships with a few hundred or a couple of thousand of the right decision-makers.

When it comes to growing the ideal audience on social media, what your business will want to do is saturate the audience of potential decision-makers in your market. You want as many of those decision-makers as possible to be connected to your team on LinkedIn, following your company pages and / or being members of a group that you manage.

Your team should therefore have a plan in place to grow this audience consistently each month, until you’ve exhausted the market you can go after.

Alongside the interviews we conducted, we’ve also had business owners score their businesses on how they perform in relation to these three pillars. When it comes to growing the ideal audience, the businesses we surveyed scored only 54% on average.

Businesses score only 54 percent for growing their audience on social media

Building Trust and Credibility With That Audience

What you post on social media is important, but not for the reasons that many people think. Most businesses think that if they post in a compelling way and get widely seen, then inbound enquiries will start pouring in. That’s rarely the case, but that doesn’t make what you post any less important.

Posting plays a key role in transforming someone who barely knows you or your business into someone who now knows, likes and trusts you. Everyone who uses LinkedIn can relate to this. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a connection request, where no sooner have you accepted the connection request than messages start being sent to try and get you booked in for a meeting or a call.

This is incredibly ineffective, isn’t it - I mean, you almost always say no to such approaches, don’t you?! The reason isn’t necessarily that you don’t need what that person is trying to sell; rather, it’s that you don’t know them and don’t have any reason to think they are someone you’d want to do business with.

So that’s what the key role of posting should be. By demonstrating your expertise and by posting consistently - and in the ways that the platforms reward with visibility - you can transform an audience of potential clients who don’t know you into an audience of potential clients who now perceive you to be an expert or a credible supplier for their business.

When it comes to building this credibility and trust through posting, the businesses we surveyed scored, on average, 43%.

Businesses score only 43 percent for building credibility and trust on social media

Proactively Converting Your Social Media Audience

Something that really stood out from our interviews with business owners is that those who are getting strong ROI from social media are almost all taking proactive steps to convert their social media audience into clients. A small minority win their business from the volume of inbound enquiries that social media generates, but most take matters into their own hands and are more proactive in bringing people into their sales pipeline.

These businesses can predict with reasonable accuracy the number of potential clients they’ll get booked in for a call, get to attend a business breakfast, have come to a networking event or join a webinar each quarter. Making social media a reliable and consistent source of business leads and ultimately client wins.

Replicating these kinds of outcomes, once you have built the right audience and gained their trust, comes down to knowing what works in your industry - and knowing what copy or message wording is most effective for that audience.

This is the aspect of social media marketing that is most prone to being sunk by a lack of experience and expertise. If you get things wrong and burn your prospects, that’s a major setback in terms of the timescales in which you will get results. This brings us back to the importance of entrusting your social media to someone with the track record and experience to get results in a business like yours. Taking shortcuts here will likely prove to be very costly.

When it comes to proactively converting their social media audiences, the businesses we surveyed scored on average just 29% - and those scoring highly here were invariably also those seeing a real impact from social media on their businesses.

Businesses score only 29 percent for converting audiences into results

Final Thoughts & Taking Action

The fact that you have read this far I’m hoping means you are now excited by the potential social media has to transform your firm’s results? You’ve seen how substantial the business wins are that B2B businesses are achieving via social media. Plus, you’ve gained a better understanding of why your efforts to date may have produced disappointing results.

The good news is that ~80% of B2B businesses haven’t cracked social media yet, in terms of getting it to contribute meaningfully to business results. Taking action now can, therefore, really give your firm a competitive advantage.

Transforming your results will necessitate developing the three pillars of success that we discussed above. Notably, only 12.5% of respondents to our scorecard score highly across all three pillars. Which makes it no surprise that the proportion of businesses succeeding on social media is correspondingly low.

In terms of taking action, you’re welcome to validate your own social media effectiveness by taking our quick scorecard here. If you’re interested in working with Social Hire to strengthen your social media, then I’d welcome you booking in a call to see if we’d be a good fit. Lastly, any additional thoughts and observations would be welcomed in the comments below.

Thanks for reading this far - and I look forward to speaking with many of you in the coming weeks.

Footnote and Thanks To All The Participants

There were some other points of interest and anecdotes raised on these calls that don’t fit into the main flow of the above article, but that we nonetheless didn’t want to miss out on sharing with you. So these additional points follow. Plus, we wanted to highlight the list of B2B business owners and leaders who took part in this series of interviews. Some asked to remain anonymous, but most we have been able to thank here - and I shall also invite them to share details of their company and the services they provide in the comments section below.

Other interesting points to emerge from the conversations:

  • A big challenge on LinkedIn is that companies and their owners don't tend to post the truth about what's happening in their businesses. So if you are looking for signs that a company needs support or help turning the business around, you're unlikely to find that in anyone's posts.

  • For a lot of professional services companies, client confidentiality means it’s very hard to share case studies and success stories - meaning that other ways have to be found to convey expertise.

  • Getting some personality into posts is a challenge if you have someone else on the team writing posts on behalf of the Founder, but that's a trade-off in that it frees up the time of the Founder to work on other more business-critical things.

  • Don’t overlook the importance of “lurkers”. Most users never engage with your posts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t seeing them and being won over by them. In time, you’ll start to have your social media posts come up in conversation with people when you’re having a meeting. But up until that point, you had no idea they were even seeing your posts. The reality, though, is that the posts have influenced their perception of you and therefore helped you in securing meetings and referrals.

  • “The more you try to sell on social media, the less you'll actually sell!”

  • For bigger businesses, view your social media marketing as part of a wider marketing strategy - ensuring you sustain awareness, promote partnerships and celebrate wins.

Last but not least, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who made time to be interviewed or to have their social media effectiveness scored. Without you, this article would have had to be based on our own clients’ wins, which wouldn’t have made for nearly such a compelling assessment of the impact that other business owners could achieve through social media. So my thanks to all the founders and business leaders who gave their time and shared their experiences:

Alex Robinson, Andrea Isoni, Andrew Kingston, Astrid Davies, Barrie Pierpoint FCIM, Becky Middleton, Ben Clark, Brandon Lee, Brooke Sellas, Carole Fossey, Cecilia Lorraine (Hara) Patterson, Cesar Viana Teague, Charles Clark, Chris Hanna, Clark Beecher, Colin Bidewell, Dale Parry, Daniel Feiman, Darren Blackburn, Darryl Dioso, David Barrington, David Biggs, David Kenny, David Winterburn, Denis Barnard, Di Howard, Doug Strycharczyk, Eleri Haf Cosslett, Emily Gordon, Eric Torkia, MASc, Gareth Wax, Garry Hunt OBE, Gary Armstrong, George Gallant, Hasan Abdallah, HUGO VAN DIJK, MBA, Iain Cox, Jack Smith,

Jacques du Preez, James Brewin, James Ker-Reid, Jeffrey (Jeff) Roberts, Jeffrey Lermer, Jim Lenaghan, Joe Reddix, John Caswell, John Daly, John Dimalanta, John McHale, Jon Keel, Josh Dixon, Kamrul Islam, Keith Armstrong, Kelli Schutrop, Kelly Mattarocci, Kim Henderson, Larry Cummings, Laura Moxham, Lee Davies, Lee Judge, Lee Lam, Lily Newman, Linda Ferrante, Lindsay Warren, Liz Allan, Liz Capants, Mahmood Aziz, Marcus Nanson, Marina Bradford, Marina Byezhanova, Marina Hop, Matt Rose, Matt Scherer, Mickey Baines,

Mike Butler, Mike Gardner, Najib Hasnain, Neil Hannaford, Nick Westall, Nicole Martin, Noreen Cesareo, Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, Rich Blakeman, Rich Cash, Richard Bolandz, Richard Ilsley, Richard West, Rob Wherrett, Robin Davis, Roz Fairburn, Ruth Fisher, Sarah Eggleston, Sarah White, Scott Sullivan, Somil Goyal, Steve Alker, Surj Bami, Tim Connolly, Toby Day, Tom Galvanek, Tom Johnston, Toni McLelland, Tracey Barr, Vic Williams, Vinny Amatulli, Vladimir Dimitroff.

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