Why Becoming A Social Business Encourages Innovation

At our recent Marketing Innovation Forum, Forrester’s Peter Burris illustrated the changing tech buyer’s journey and what that means for marketers. Following his presentation, I sat on a panel where I emphasized the importance of fostering social media as a collaboration platform in B2B businesses, based on a new McKinsey study:

Companies will go on developing ways to reach consumers through social technologies and gathering insights for product development, marketing, and customer service. Yet the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds that twice as much potential value lies in using social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises.

As I told our 50+ attendees that night, the most important thing to take away is this: We are the last generation that uses email. If you don’t believe me, watch a seventeen-year-old, who will in five years be the face of our new workforce.

These individuals participate in one-to-many conversations on Facebook. They collaborate one-to-one by texting on their mobile devices. They demand real-time feedback and input, not the “send and wait” we’re used to with email.

This makes them incredibly more efficient than us regarding how we do business today. They’re faster problem solvers. In fact, the same McKinsey study says, “Improved communication and collaboration through social technologies could raise the productivity of interaction workers —high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20 to 25 percent.”

Companies who acknowledge the need to become a social business sooner than later are reaping early rewards. The example we discussed at our forum was Marketo, the marketing automation company. Their home page boasts a quote from Paul Green, Marketing Automation Manager at Enterasys:

Marketo, hands down, is the most innovative company today. Other vendors in the market are 12 to 18 months behind Marketo.

How did they get this reputation? BtoB Magazine’s 2012 Social Media Award page for best “Closed Community” tells the story:

Marketo has restructured their business around customer conversations, but they aren’t doing this just through social listening like many of their competitors. People at every level in the company are motivated to listen and respond to customer comments inside the Marketo community. They then bring interesting ideas and recommendations to the table to discuss twice monthly. This practice has resulted in Marketo designing their product to truly fulfill the expressed need of their customers. In fact, 60+ features suggested by members have been incorporated into Marketo products.

A side benefit? Customer support cases have dropped by one-third, which makes perfect sense. If you design your product to work as your user wants and needs it to, they have less reason to request help and less motivation to want to complain. And with over one million total page views as of BtoB Magazine’s publication of the award and more than 1,000 ideas proposed by customers, Forrester Research nominated the project for a Groundswell Award, and Salesforce.com designated it best in class.

None of this is possible if businesses relegate social media to a specialized playground for experimental marketing or perceive it as a time waster. The sooner we embrace the reality that customers of both B2C and B2B companies have drastically changed their journey with social media, that they demand more real-time interaction with their brands, and that our future workforce won’t know any different, the sooner we can start giving social media the seat it deserves at the executive table helping determine how to run a more innovative business.

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