Written by Patrick Milan, creative destruction officer, Tunheim

“Social bullshit.” Those were the two words that ended my oldest son’s interest in becoming a fourth-generation member of our family’s manufacturing company in Chicago. It was a clash of cultures between my millennial son and his boomer aunt (he being a newbie grunt, she being the COO). The words were uttered as she looked over his shoulder and asked why he was wasting time creating a LinkedIn presence for the business, which has facilities in three U.S. states and Mexico.

Usually, family business stays within the family, but I sense a need to drag this one out for public discussion. This moment represents an honest clash that is occurring in the front and back offices across many business sectors. The consequences are daunting. The risks include the ability (or inability) to attract and retain great young talent, secure revenue with existing customers and grow business by finding and winning new business. For companies like our manufacturing business, the stakes have never been higher.

Millions of big and small businesses grew handsomely for decades with the owners proudly declaring, “We don’t do marketing.” The tools they used were shoe leather, the offer to define a business problem and options for solutions. Most business was built on the development of personal relationships. While relationships remain the highest level of building and securing business, the tools to establish them are changing dramatically and in a very short time period.

57% of a customer’s decision making process is completed by the time vendors are invited to write a proposal

Source: The Corporate Executive Board

The Corporate Executive Board, an advisory firm that counts 80 percent of the Fortune 500 as its clients, says, “Today’s customers are better informed than ever before. By the time they approach suppliers, they generally have a clear idea of the problem they need to solve, the solutions that are available and the price they are willing to pay. The old tools and the old rules no longer apply.”

A recent CEB study of B2B decision makers revealed that by the time suppliers get an invitation to write a proposal or develop a quote, 57 percent of the decision process has been completed.

Brian Solis, Altimeter Group: “The pace of technology is threatening the biggest, most established companies."

Brian Solis, Altimeter Group: “The pace of technology is threatening the biggest, most established companies.”

Brian Solis, author of The End of Business As Usual, says business has evolved to a new era he has labeled “Digital Darwinism.” Essentially, technology and society are evolving faster than businesses ability to adapt. At a digital conference in Chicago, Solis said, “The pace of technology is threatening the biggest, most established companies because they don’t pay attention to change and once they recognize the need to change, they are organized in silos that prevent the nimble approach they need to pull it off and they languish.”

If your customers are figuring out the problems, solutions and pricing on their own, what can your business do? The answer is marketing using digital business tools.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the adoption of digital marketing is helping industrial businesses thrive. The Journal reports: “Industrial companies are starting to catch up with consumer brands in their use of social media marketing using LinkedIn, Facebook and even YouTube to reach buyers for decidedly unsexy products such as electrical components, industrial lubricants and contract manufacturing.”

62 percent of B2B companies adopting social and digital tools as part of the core sales and marketing processThe good news in B2B/manufacturing circles is that skeptics of digital marketing are becoming a minority. Chief Marketer Magazine reports that 62 percent of B2B companies report they are adopting social/digital tools as part of the core sales and marketing process.

Ontario-based Etratech is a stellar example of social and digital tools impacting business results. The privately-owned manufacturer set aggressive goals in 2012 and used a combination of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to tell its story. After a year of investing in digital tools, Etratech shortened its sales cycle to six weeks from six months. Since then, growth targets have increased and customer comments indicate the social business channels are an important part of the decision-making process.

Still don’t see the value?

Try this. Take your company’s top 10 customers and perform a quick audit of their social and digital presence. Our family company did it. We found:

  • All of the top 10 customers used LinkedIn to recruit talent;
  • Seven top customers had strong Facebook channels; and
  • Half had active Twitter accounts.

After that round of research, our family company leadership understood the worthiness of investing in digital tools.

This summer, my youngest son is working for the company that bears his great grandfather’s name. He’s managing an effort to launch a new website, produce two YouTube videos and establishing LinkedIn and other digital/social channels the company will need to compete well into the next generation.

What’s keeping your organization from adopting digital marketing tools? If you are already in this space, how did you convince reluctant leaders to get on board? We look forward to hearing and sharing your comments.

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