Caterpillar: Courting Customers

Caterpillar is one of the most far-flung companies in the world, with thousands of its high-priced excavators and earth movers digging holes and cleaning up debris for hundreds of public and private customers in dozens of countries at any given moment. So the Peoria, Illinois-based heavy-equipment giant is turning to social media in a variety of ways to tie that vast and sprawling community more tightly to its brand.

“We try to connect the dots with whatever content we do on social media,” says Kevin Espinosa, social media manager. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to sell a piece of machinery—a product, a service or some training. We try to generate leads for our dealers and get them to dealers as fast as we can, so they have a relationship with the customer.”

Caterpillar starts with using social media to “create a relationship with our customers that we’ve never had before,” Espinosa explains. For example, at the top of the sales funnel, Caterpillar is adding to its chops as a “thought leader” in its industry with blog posts that share with B2B customers “how to be a better landscaper, a better miner or how to get the most out of that skid steer.”

The company also uses Facebook, Twitter and other social media to direct customers to stories about “how some piece of Caterpillar equipment is being used at a tornado or hurricane site or a hydraulic excavator that is really efficient,” he explains.

Caterpillar also has turned to social media to help dig up smaller customers in verticals, such as construction and landscaping that may have been using Caterpillar equipment for decades without much contact from the company. “There are so many customers we don’t even know, where their pieces of equipment might be in the second or third generation of ownership,” Espinosa says. “And we need to get that customer back because our annuity and our business is parts and service. It’s a big deal.”

The company stalks “that customer” by going to small Cat owners’ own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other external, social-media nodes, looking for relevant hints in their profiles, posts, “likes” (such as the Facebook pages of Caterpillar competitors) and so on.

Caterpillar also uses “social listening” in which its social-media personnel track what “key industry influencers” are saying about important topics in the industry. “We want to develop relationships with them, so they can help us spread the message about our brand,” Espinosa said.

To assess the impact of all this activity, Caterpillar also is putting metrics in place “so that when we do post about a new hydraulic excavator and tweet it and put something [about it on] Facebook, we can figure out how it turns into sales,” explains Espinosa, “by tracking how visitors respond to the ‘call to action’ that typically accompanies online content.”