Last week, I met with the (small) business solutions division of a large consumer technology/services provider to talk about gearing up their B2B marketing. We talked about whether the same tactics that work for their consumer audiences might also work with small business prospects (typically less than 100 employees.) TV and radio came up in the discussion because they were getting ready to launch local market tests.

So here’s the thing:

  • Few (about 20%) of the over 500 B2B marketers who we surveyed recently say they use TV and radio, compared with about 90% who use tradeshows and PR – real die-hard B2B tactics. However, those who can afford TV say it’s off the charts for building brand awareness.

In contrast…

  • 60% of US small businesses we surveyed told us last summer that they rely on word of mouth (talking to peers, colleagues, or folks in the industry) to make up their minds about IT purchase decisions.
  • A similar percentage of North American and European SMBs told us in our December survey that they felt the same about word of mouth.

So it seems obvious that I should tell these folks to back off on the TV and radio and go for the word of mouth stuff, right? But what exactly does word-of-mouth marketing look like in business marketing? Does it work for buyers considering new accounting software as well as buying more copier paper?

Peter Kim tells us that WOM marketing interest is heating up, but marketers struggle with ethics, measurement, and where to get started. The most popular buzz-creating tactic is clever television advertising like the FedEx cavemen, CapitalOne’s miniature business man, or Staples’ Easy button. Figuring out how to measure buzz impact on the small business community is the next challenge.

Tomorrow’s buzz will come from customer testimonial – and the more unsolicited it is, the better. Testimonial marketing is intriguing because customers speaking highly of your products or services are the brass rings all B2B marketers want to grasp. But they fall flat when buyers detect the whiff of compensation or stilted, happy stories. Let’s face it, customer case studies are a mainstay in the B2B marketing bag of tricks, but how do marketers transform them, online or off, to also provide grist for the water cooler?

B2B marketers have some work to do to figure word of mouth. We think one gutsy tactic is to ask buyers for feedback on product features, quality, or service levels and then publish the results on the Web site to get the conversation started. What interesting ways have you seen business try to get the buzz going?  And do you think testimonial will spur growth in WOM advertising, especially among the smaller, tighter business buyer communities?