Strategic B2B networking has become an essential marketing effort in the HVAC industry, and LinkedIn is “a powerhouse social network for B2B marketers.”
LinkedIn is the social media platform with the most professionals and decision-makers, and has over 500 million members, being a full plate for brands which aim to develop relationships that lead to sales.
Our client Midwest Machinery is one of them. As it happens with many other mid-size companies that belong to a very specific niche – in this case, commercial HVAC equipment -, investing in mass communication to attract customers is a waste of resources. Focusing on targeted content for particular groups becomes a better alternative and the key to results.
When we started to work with social media for Midwest Machinery in December of 2017, we knew that we needed to 1) generate awareness, 2) establish successful connections, and 3) sell products and services. All without reallocating budget from other marketing efforts.
Growth should be organic, and there was one main goal: attract qualified followers and good leads. Quality over quantity, like Midwest Machinery has always done.
Back then, the company had 5 social media profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google +, and LinkedIn. Even though the majority of them received the same attention, growth on LinkedIn was substantially higher. In a little over a year, the number of LinkedIn followers had increased 2100%, going from one-third of the employees to the most engaged industry leaders – and continues to grow to this moment.
In this post, I am going to share with you the process to get there, the content developed, more detailed results, and how you can make this happen in your company too.
Let’s get down to business!
Believe it or not, Midwest Machinery started with zero automation tools (web-based software that does redundant marketing tasks for you!). This means that every day Midwest Machinery would discuss what to write about, create the content, and then post it manually. It soon became a hassle and tied up significant resources. As a consequence, reach and engagement were very limited.
Knowing the scenario was unsustainable and doomed for failure, Spark helped Midwest Machinery take a step into the right direction. Midwest Machinery brought on marketing automation tools that could auto-post, track and reuse existing content. It’s like having tireless team members working for you while you sleep.
Productivity was immediately improved, and even though looking for great content still took time, automation tools did a lot of the work for them.
When Midwest Machinery really got rolling, they branded their blog Engineering Tomorrow, and not long after they launched a podcast with the same name. Not only was Midwest Machinery sharing content daily, but they also started developing exclusive content too, which helped position themselves as thought leaders in the industry. Along with digital marketing, other communication efforts were contributing to this perception, such as Networking events, training, videos and more. It all fell into place, and people started noticing the company more and more.
Because sharing content with automation tools was a lot easier, engaging team members and the leadership team in sharing content increased the life cycle and reach of each post. With that, engagement sky-rocketed, and Midwest Machinery was finally establishing great conversation on social media.
But how could they keep track of how much new business they were attracting?
Having a strong CRM and marketing suite allows you to track the customer journey from marketing to sales. (I will warn you it’s not easy to set up but it can be done.)
When Spark helped Midwest Machinery incorporated new software and tools, they learned what I call the golden rule of social media: you can only talk about yourself in 2 posts out of 10. The reason why is simple: social media is all about “we,” not about “I”.
For an HVAC sales rep, this means recognizing the value of the partnership with contractors, promoting manufacturers, engaging developers, etc. When talking about itself, Midwest Machinery has always chosen to SHOW its values, culture, accomplishments and what they can do for clients, instead of SAYING it. The company shares successful projects in the field, the day-by-day in the office, events, shows, conferences and expos the team attended, and articles, tools, and resources that position them as thought leaders.
When sharing projects, Midwest Machinery focuses on installation, start-up, repairs, replacements and overall maintenance and technical support, the type of content that really engages their audience. If allowed, they mention the end-user and contractor and tag them in the post. Not only do they see their names being mentioned and feel recognized, but that simple strategy also motivates them to share the content in their own feeds, increasing reach and impact among their follower base.
The reason for sometimes sharing your daily routine is simple. Even in B2B, people sell to people. It’s import to put faces to names and form an emotional connection.
Showing the team at events, expos, conferences, and training plays a similar role, and it is essential to portray that Midwest Machinery is always updated with the latest trends, innovations, and solutions the market offers, and prepared to tackle any HVAC project.
In fact, Midwest Machinery is ahead of the times, posting about IoT, AI, controls systems, refrigerant phase-out, studies, research findings, etc. Also, the company is in constant growth, looking for the best talents to join the team and fill new positions in different locations.
It is always challenging to track the ROI of all social media efforts because not all posts take the reader to a landing page with a form or a trackable URL. However, they ALL contribute to building a strong brand that potential customers will consider when working on projects.
Let’s say the average region has 10,000 potential buyers or buying influencers. There is no way a small sales team can maintain relationships with everyone. Social media allows you to greatly expand your reach, 24 hours a day.
For Midwest Machinery, all social media platforms presented growth, with LinkedIn being the highlight. In several situations, customers asked the Midwest Machinery sales team about when they would be mentioned on LinkedIn like XYZ firm was. The sales team perceived healthy competition among customers, in which they all asked to be tagged. The answer was always the same: “let’s work together on a project, then!”
Troy Gladstone, Midwest Machinery president, is constantly approached at industry events and complimented for the job Midwest Machinery is doing on social media and for being a thought leader. Comments like this, made by people who can truly bring business to the company, are also a solid means of measuring the impact of the work initiated in 2017.
Without a penny of paid advertisements, Midwest Machinery increased the number of qualified followers, generated leads, increased website traffic, improved SEO, and is still harvesting the results of automation tactics to this day.
As part of a bigger digital marketing plan, Midwest Machinery had its website completely reinvented and launched in November of 2018 as an industry resource to learn about new HVAC tech, to download useful content, and to quote parts and service. Since the launch, Google Analytics shows that website traffic has almost tripled, and it’s a steady upward trend. It’s not accurate to say that this is only because of social media, but combined efforts – including social media – led the company to its current position.
How can you get there too?
Make it Happen
1. Make it part of your routine
I start my day in the office the same way every morning.
Every day I go through all of the Midwest Machinery social media profiles to see how we are performing in terms of likes, reach, engagement, impressions, etc.
It has become an important ritual, and essential to review strategy and approach. Social media is definitely not something you can do and forget about even if you make use of automation. It requires daily involvement.
It’s all about forming deeper relationships by engaging and responding to every single like or comment.
2. Know it will take time
Organic growth doesn’t happen overnight. Instead of running a 100m race, prepare yourself for an Ironman. Gather tons of content, see how you can improve your website, promote your social media channels at any given opportunity, keep an eye on what’s going on in the office that could result in a good post, ask the team about projects, and post, post, post.
You may feel a little frustrated at the beginning, but as soon as you have a solid base of followers and good content, they will do part of the job for you, advocating for your brand and sharing your content.
Remember, it’s slow growth but it WILL happen if you stick with it.
3. It is not about you, it’s about them
VERY important to remember. Post primarily about others. If you are going to post about YOU, post about how YOU helped SOMEONE else achieve what THEY wanted. The best way of promoting yourself is by putting others first. Promote them, and they will promote you.
People don’t want to see you bragging about your accomplishments, they want to know why it is important that they develop and maintain a good relationship with you. Keep in mind that everyone will eventually think or literally ask “what’s in it for me?” and you should have answers.
4. You’re a humble leader, and that makes you powerful
Take for example Richard Branson, one of the businessmen with the largest amount of followers (15,805,838) on LinkedIn and founder of the Virgin Group. I just entered his profile looking for something that would show you what I meant with being a humble leader. The first post was exactly what I wanted, so was the second, the third, etc.
He is not talking about himself or Virgin, he is talking about persistence, about failing hard because you are always striving to be the best.
Midwest Machinery’s mission is “we strive to be our customers most trusted and valued partners in their pursuit of designing and constructing better buildings and mechanical systems.” Do you see the word THEIR? That’s what I’m talking about.
5. Review/revisit content periodically
You will always find content that needs to be either removed or added to in order to be relevant and make sense. In the HVAC industry, the spring represents the beginning of the cooling season. If you simply have ALL of your library content in the queue, you may end up talking about cooling tower winterization when it’s above 80 degrees outside.
Be careful with these minor mistakes and make sure that content to be posted is still valid.
6. Count on automation
Simply because it will take a LOT off your plate. Believe me. I consider myself an old school person who still prefers to use pen and paper. However, not having automation will stress you out, you will always be working against the clock, and the results hardly ever will be as good as they could be with automation. There are several tools and programs out there, some of them are even free. Do your research, find the best solution for you, and get a good night’s sleep. Seriously, it will change your life.
7. Share your “behind the curtains”
If you work in B2B, find a way of sharing your human side. It’s someone’s birthday, a coworker has just welcomed another family member, another cooked breakfast for everyone in the office, everyone decided to go bowling in the evening, the sales team is in another country for training and tried a new and exotic dish, or you’re having a potluck. These posts, believe or not, get as much attention as that amazingly successful job with before and after pictures. Why? Because people want to see people in social media outlets.
8. Comment, like, share, engage.
Social media is a two-way road. – there is no engagement without engagement. I remember that back in 2011 I created a Twitter profile that quickly reached around 8,000 followers. The secret? The same one for when you meet someone in person: mirroring. If someone comments, reply or make another one at a different moment. If someone asks you something, answer – even if it’s “I don’t know, but let me do some search and I will send you a direct message when I have the answer”. If other brands or people tag you, tag them. If they share your content, share theirs. All of this will only strengthen the relationships you build online, and soon you’ll have a strong brand.
9. Choose the right tone
Your brand has a tone of voice. Midwest Machinery is open, approachable, energetic, fun, knowledgeable and helpful, and also straight to the point and with a sales mindset. Your brand may be more technical, formal, traditional, dry, humorous, empathetic, sarcastic…as long as you speak in a tone that your buyers resonate with, it’s all good. If your brand does not have a tone yet, stop and think about it. It will make your life so much easier for future posts.
10. Remember the purpose of LinkedIn – Business connections
I strongly believe that “to each social media platform, its own content” – with some exceptions. You may be tempted to post something on your LinkedIn that has nothing to do with business. My recommendation is that you don’t do it. Keep it professional. You still have Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram,
Google +(RIP), and Snapchat for different types of content.
Midwest Machinery has been talking about generating specific content to their three main platforms. As I mentioned before, social media management is an ongoing activity, and that could be one of their next steps to achieve even better results on Twitter and Facebook.
11. It’s everyone’s job
I can’t stress this enough. Building a successful social media corporate profile is not a one-man job, it is a shared responsibility. You don’t go to all Lunch & Learns, you are not in all of the conferences, you didn’t participate in all projects…well, that doesn’t mean you can’t post about everything. As long as the team feeds you with new content, you’ll always have something to post. It may be a challenge to develop the habit of taking photos, recording videos, being your eyes when you’re not there. Be persistent, ask again, and again. Even if you don’t use the content at that moment, you will always have some backup content in your library to use later. Don’t give up, you’ll get there!