Over the last ten years, there has been a profound change in the way business people make buying decisions, and social media is at the heart of this.

Where buyers used to rely on conversations with sales people or subject matter experts to help them understand their problems and ways to solve them, they’re postponing one-on-one communications and doing much of the research themselves.

They’re going to the internet, search engines and social media, and this is driving B2B firms in a variety of industries to realize that if they don’t change the way they approach new business efforts, they could be kissing a lot of their best opportunities goodbye.

Here are the most common objectives we run across in our work with B2B firms.

  1. Establishing a professional presence. I’ve mentioned it before but it bears repeating. In most B2B industries today buyers will check providers out on social media as part of their decision-making process. This is especially true of LinkedIn, where buyers look at personal profiles and company pages to get a feel for the people and the firm.This most basic reason for investing in social media is defensive. If you’re not visible, not active or not appealing, buyers are likely to move on to your competition.
  2. Expanding brand awareness. Familiarity is a key component in making buyers comfortable about doing business with you, and social media is one of the easiest ways today to make more people aware of you, your company and your subject matter experts.While each social network has its own options for generating awareness, every one of them does it. On LinkedIn, for example, you can promote awareness and familiarity through strategic network-building, status updates, group participation, publishing articles and even running ads.
  3. Attracting and engaging the right prospective clients. As buyers continue to avoid or ignore telemarketing and cold email attempts, they remain refreshingly open to genuine, personalized outreach on social media. If you take care to avoid spamming and to provide buyer-related value, you’ll find even high-level prospects are willing to engage with you.The key to attracting and engaging these prospects on social media is to avoid “selling.” Instead, use it to educate and to be helpful.
  4. Establishing and cultivating visible thought leadership positions. While the concept of a “thought leader” has become little more than a buzz word for many, buyers–especially of professional services–expect their providers to be more than merely experts. They expect them to be among the go-to people in their area of expertise, to offer innovative ideas and visions of the future.Much like conference-speaking engagements and articles published in trade journals, social media provides a platform to showcase expertise and prove the ability to turn ideas into actions. Such thought leadership often allows providers to charge more for their services.
  5. Research. Social media is an excellent source for learning about and keeping up with clients, customers, prospects and competitors. Years ago, the opening in-depth conversation between a B2B sales person and a potential buyer was generally dedicated to learning about the buyer(s), their company, their industry and their problems. Try that approach today and you’ll get kicked to the curb.In fact, taking the time to really learn about your potential buyer or new client before contacting them can substantially increase your success in getting to a conversation in the first place. Top B2B sellers know this and 86.7% claim to always research prospects before making contact (Source).Similarly, it pays to know what your competitors are up to and where else can you find such an extensive collection of the latest information on new hires, new clients and new products.

Social media can be frustratingly confusing to professionals who don’t work with it every day. Good social media programs–those that actually contribute to a company’s bottom line–begin with a solid strategy, a lot of research and the polishing of key individual profiles. These programs involve far more than simply posting updates to your company page.

The first step towards a solid social media program is to find an advisor you trust. Someone who speaks your language and can make a few light bulbs go on in your head. Regardless of whether this advisor is internal or external to your firm, he or she should understand complex sales and marketing processes, in addition to understanding social media.

If a social media professional can’t tell you exactly how their work contributes to your bottom line, it’s time to find a different one.