“Cloud computing” is a very hot topic, and like social media, subject to much debate about “what is cloud computing?” and “what does it mean for business?” Simply stated, cloud computing lets your customers and potential buyers take advantage of services and resources delivered as an online utility. Buyers get the benefits of using your technology without worrying about the technical details as much as they would if they implemented software inside their data centers. The benefits can include: lower capital investment, faster implementation, reduced risk, proven security and improved scalability to handle the increased amounts of data. Purists believe that true cloud computing requires large scale sharing by infrastructure/application providers and their consumers alike. While my colleagues at Forrester try to sort out the market and make it easier for IT buyers to decide where to invest, I’d like to explore the idea of marketing to customers in the cloud. 

B2B marketing needs to embrace the cloud. Most executives see marketing as a large discretionary line item in the corporate budget. During tought economic times, that “discretion” gets cut more often than not.  Marketers perpetuate this short-sighted perspective when they focus more on program and campaign spending and fail to invest in the capital or IT support needed to make marketing execution more efficient and the results more visible to the organization. Cloud computing can give marketers ready access to technology and services that can drive demand and evaluate the effectiveness of their programs without the burden of traditional technology implementation and management.

Cloud computing will also transform the way marketing gets done. In this Web 2.0 world, buyers spend more of time online searching for information, interacting with like-minded colleagues, and comparing offerings long before the first sales call occurs. Cloud-optimized marketing strategies such as social media, paid search, search results optimization, content syndication, and engaging with buyers on social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter deliver brand building and customer engagement results.

To futher explore how social media marketing in the cloud can help to build deeper — and eventually more profitable — customer relationships, I joined Jon Miller (VP of Maketing at automation rising-star Marketo) and David Alston (social media guru who heads up both community and marketing at Radian6) on a webinar, which you can access here.  During the event, we looked at a number of different cloud-related topics including:

1) How to use Forrester’s Social Technographics® Profiles of business decision-makers to design marketing programs that not only capitalize on emerging social behaviors but also fundamentally change the nature of the marketing relationship between B2B buyers and sellers.

2)Forrester’s P-O-S-T methodology – Why starting with People, Objectives and Strategy first, then moving to Tactics and Technology is the best way to ensure success when using social media to engage with prospects and customers in the cloud.

3) How to use social media monitoring to engage prospects, build communities, service customers, uncover influencers, and listen for the point of need.

Over the next few months, I will join the the Marketing Cloud conversation to continue to explore how cloud-centric service and technology providers may be in a better position to serve the modern needs of B2B marketers who see social media not simply as a way to reach new audiences. More importantly, these marketers see social media as a tool to help them build communities of like-minded customers; customers who will remain loyal, buy more over time, and advocate to others on the marketer’s behalf to influence the standing and reputation his/her firm in a transparent, community-centric manner.  The 2009 Forrester Groundswell Awards winners in the B2B marketing categories demonstrate where this trend is heading.  But I would love to hear from you with examples of companies that you feel are doing an exceptional job of using social media to connect with business buyers who purchase high consideration products for on behalf of their firms.