T-Mobile Proves that Social Isn't Just for B2Cs

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The "Uncarrier" relies on social conversations to connect with prospects for its new B2B initiative.

For a long time, social media was a B2C marketer's game—but the B2B players of today are starting to catch on. In fact, one in five B2B marketers have generated revenue from social media, according to the "2014 State of Digital Marketing Report" by digital agency Webmarketing123.

Wireless carrier, or rather "Uncarrier," T-Mobile US has predominantly reveled in the B2C space. That changed in 2013 when Deutsche Telekom—T-Mobile's parent company—acquired cloud-based business communications company ChooChee to form the Deutsche Telekom Hosted Business Services (HBS) and offer cloud-based telephone services through T-Mobile.

Paul Sebastien, CMO of T-Mobile's Deutsche Telekom HBS division, describes the business phone space as “very crowded” and “messy” and says that small businesses in particular were being marketed to inappropriately. A combination of focus groups and surveys informed T-Mobile that "no-name startups" were offering small businesses confusing contracts with hidden fees, providing "laundry lists" of unneeded features, and generally just using a lot of incomprehensible technical jargon in their marketing.

T-Mobile decided to go after this under-served segment through the launch of its communications platform in a pilot program about six months ago. With a goal of acquiring 500 qualified customers in mind, T-Mobile turned to social listening to better identify and connect with prospects.

Dialing into a new realm

Working under the T-Mobile umbrella provided benefits and challenges for the newly acquired Deutsche Telekom HBS division. While it allowed the segment to extend T-Mobile's popular "Uncarrier "initiatives to its small business clientele—for example, no contracts—the name also brought along associations of being a consumer wireless brand.

“You have to deal with the fact that people perceive T-Mobile as being something different than what you're offering,” Sebastien says.

T-Mobile kicked off its pilot program with an email acquisition campaign, but although T-Mobile experienced high top-of-funnel rates, Sebastien says conversion rates were low. “That just wasn't really effective,” he admits. So T-Mobile turned to social to find potential customers, with the added goal of turning these pilot customers into evangelists, building case studies, and determining what language was being used to describe customers' phone system pain points and desires.

"The world has shifted to social and mobile," Sebastien says. "While email is still pervasive as a utility, only once one gets past the 'trusted' barrier and further across the funnel does email become effective. But otherwise, the attach rates are just no longer there, in large part due to the shift to social and mobile."

Calling on social

T-Mobile partnered with social management platform provider Viralheat and used its monitoring tool to search social channels—including blogs, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter—for hashtags or keywords that indicated a business might be in the market for a new phone system; words such as “moving,” “expanding,” or “new hire.” The company also looked for clues as to who was unhappy with their current phone service, keeping their ears open for phrases like “phone down,” as well as businesses that were talking about the industry in general.

“We were surprised that a lot of our competitors—especially the smaller ones—were using very technical jargon,” Sebastien says. “The way that customers were talking about their needs was very different. They weren't using technical terms. They just wanted a business phone system that works for them.”

After scouring the social sphere, T-Mobile researched prospects engaged in conversations, looking specifically at their business type and title. The company then manually entered its insights into Salesforce to build profiles, although Sebastien says that T-Mobile is currently developing an automation system. T-Mobile's internal sales team could then connect with these prospects—often by approaching them with a relevant piece of content. T-Mobile also used the language featured in prospects' posts in marketing and materials, including the company landing page.

“Talking to your customers in the way that they want to be spoken to is very important,” Sebastien notes.

Ringing in results

Not only did T-Mobile exceed its goal of obtaining 500 customers, the telecom actually ended the pilot early after acquiring 1,000. Besides leveraging social conversations to bring in business, T-Mobile used its insights to identify evangelists to promote its offering as a “best of breed” product.

“The majority of them were customers that were appropriate to serve as references because they were already very active in social media,” Sebastien says. “They were willing to evangelize the virtues of our solution because they were already very active and very vocal.”

While Sebastien is the first to admit that hindsight is 20/20, he says he wishes T-Mobile had started its social listening practices earlier. For instance, T-Mobile expected small business owners to look for phone systems that were easy to use. As a result, the company focused on this feature in its original marketing materials. What the company didn't expect was how significant flexibility—in terms of scaling up or scaling down—is to small businesses. That was a revelations discovered through internal research and social conversations that resulted in T-Mobile rewording its messaging.

T-Mobile is currently preparing for its official phone system launch this year, but Sebastien knows that he'll have to refine the company's automation capabilities if he hopes to scale its customer base.

“If we're not the first ones to respond to the fact that someone out there has tweeted that they're moving or expanding offices, some competitor will,” he says.

Though social has the reputation of being a strictly B2C channel, Sebastien says social listening can be beneficial for all companies, particularly when it comes to shaping messaging based on customer sentiment. He also observes that all forms of communication, in essence, are inherently becoming social.

“Social media isn't just one channel anymore It's really everything....A business customer in the B2B space is a consumer when [he's] at home, on [his] lunch break, or on [his] iPad reading something,” he says. “And that's where you need to be as a business."

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