Dell taps social for B2B gains

Hardware vendor says social media helped its business-to-business unit more than the consumer because it is a good stimulus for long-term relationships, which are key to driving sales with enterprise customers.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

At Dell, social media gives a bigger boost to its business-to-business (B2B) sales than business-to-consumers (B2C) because social platforms are key to generating conversation, engagement, and authenticity--components which are necessary in developing long-term business relationships.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in an interview Tuesday, Richard Margetic, Dell's global director of social media and community, said the company's social media strategy does look at consumers to drive loyalty, but more often than not, the nature of the consumer business skews toward transactional, short-term relationships. The Round Rock, Texas-based executive was in Singapore to meet Dell employees, partners and customers.

Social media strategies can have a bigger impact on B2B than B2C sales.

"We feel like we're in a stronger position, focusing [our social media strategy] on enterprise customers," Margetic said. He noted that a large portion of the company's enterprise sales can be linked back to relationships with the people who influence and make decisions on enterprise IT purchases for their companies. 

Dell increasingly has been pushing its enterprise business, as its consumer margins continue to dip amid declining global PC demand. The company last week reported fourth-quarter 2013 revenue of US$14.3 billion. Sales from its enterprise products and services grew 6 percent to US$5.2 billion, while consumer revenue fell 24 percent from a year ago to US$2.8 billion.

From gut instinct to insights
According to Margetic, Dell's social media strategy first took shape in 2006. While people were exchanging views on community forums and blogs at the time, there was little awareness about the many conversations about Dell, ranging from customer issues to industry trends. He said these conversations were "rich with potential" and prompted Dell to learn how to better engage customers and "embed social into the fabric of the company".

This meant institutionalizing a social media strategy across the entire organization, Margetic said. For example, in 2009, Dell launched its social media and community training center (SMAC). Since then, some 12,000 employees worldwide have attended various classes on subjects such as legal and privacy, and tone-of-voice when writing different types of content.

The company also started a subject matter experts training program in October 2012, which targets employees who have expertise and influence in their respective domain or business scope. "Our subject matter experts were already generating content, but that content was not well represented on social media so we had to coordinate those efforts," he said.

It trained about 40 experts to build themselves a broader footprint on multiple social platforms, and use keywords in their content which were important to the specific areas they focused on, such as Windows 8, virtualization, cloud computing, and datacenter management.

Within the first month this initiative was launched, 22 of such keywords brought up Dell links among the top 10 search results on both Google and Bing, when previously these links would not be listed on the first results page, Margetic said.

Over the years, the company's social media strategy has grown more sophisticated, moving from "gut instinct" in the initial stage to better understanding of how social media impacts its business, he said.

He added that its social media position will not be affected when Dell becomes a private company, which will have no impact on the objectives, strategies and resources. "Humans are social beings and their social motivation doesn't change. They want to have meaningful engagement," Margetic noted. "Dell's business objective to bring value to customers doesn't change. These two cornerstones that drive social media success...are the same whether we're public or private."

To sieve insights from all the data generated on social media platforms today, Dell built its own analytics tool, called Social Net Advocacy. It provides real-time, detailed "listening reports" on various factors such as what and how conversations were going about Dell or its competitors, as well as the sentiment of these conversations, he said. "These actionable insights also help us create personalized experience for customers," he added.

The tool helped, on a weekly basis, resolve 97 percent of customer issues and an average 45 percent of people who had negative comments are converted to Dell advocates, according to Margetic.

Editorial standards