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Is social media effective for B2B lead generation?


I’m probably biased, but I believe the primary objective of business-to-business marketing is driving sales of the company’s products and services.

Of course branding and awareness are also roles that can be played effectively by B2B marketing, but from my point of view these are only supporting roles—secondary to the primary objective of helping drive sales.

In many, if not most, of the companies that sell their products or services to other companies, driving their sales with marketing is best accomplished by using one-to-many marketing communications tactics: To be found by or to proactively contact prospective customers; to deliver key messages and offers to them; to motivating these prospects to become sales leads by their responding, providing information or taking actions that identify them as representing real sales opportunities that the company’s salespeople, reps, resellers and distributors can turn into closed sales and revenue for the company.

Other B2B companies try to skip the leads-to-salespeople-to-sales process, instead encouraging prospective customers to initiate purchases themselves from print or online catalogs and/or via order forms, e-commerce sites, phone calls or purchase orders. Yet many of these same companies eventually come to the realization that not every prospective customer is ready to buy now. So they grudgingly develop programs to proactively follow up with and try to influence these longer-term prospects to move forward in their buying process and to consider the company’s products or services as they approach their purchase decision points.

What’s all this have to do with social media?

I have been working hard, for at least a couple of years now, trying to use social media to measurably move the needle in regard to generating B2B sales leads and driving B2B sales.

I’m sad to say I’m not seeing anything beyond anecdotal results, either from my own extensive social marketing efforts, or from those of my clients.

So I’ve also been searching for evidence of leads and sales from social marketing everywhere I can.

However, the only clear cases of success I have been able to find have involved the people who sell products or services to others who are practicing or interested in learning more about social marketing—preaching to the choir, so of speak.

Examples that come to mind include David Meerman Scott, speaker and author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing & Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly, and Joel Comm, the Internet entrepreneur, speaker and author of Twitter Power: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time.

Some new studies that start to quantify the impact of social media on generating leads and driving sales have been recently released.

A blog post I wrote a few weeks back, How does social media rank in influencing business technology purchase decisions? talks about a recent Forrester Research study that looks at social media’s influence on the business technology buyer. Unfortunately, it does little to quantify any actual leads or sales results.

Michael Stelzner, best known as the author of Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, recently released his report on the results of a survey on social media marketing that he’s using as bait for the Social Media Success Summit he’s producing in May. Although "Generated qualified leads" and "Helped me close business" were listed as benefits seen by the users of social media, they were near the bottom of the list of eight choices, and no information was given about actual numbers of leads, sales or ROI. I think it is interesting to note that most of those who said social media helped them generate leads and close business have been active in social networking for years and/or are investing more than 16 hours a week in it. By the way, some of the results in Stelzner’s report may be biased, considering that only social media was used to promote survey participation, starting with a tweet on Twitter that got retweeted by others and was seen by Twitterers’ networks on other social media including Facebook and LinkedIn.

Regarding social media’s impact on B2B sales, last night I read a briefing from B2B sales guru Dave Stein’s company, ES Research Group, called Do The New Social Media Enable B2B Selling? about a survey they recently conducted. It reported that a large majority of the nearly 400 B2B sales professionals who participated in the survey said they are using LinkedIn and approximately a third of them said it has helped them win sales sometimes or often. Not bad! However, only a small number of them reported using any other social media, and only a small percentage of those users reported that those media helped them win sales.

Marketers, please keep in mind that these LinkedIn users are B2B sales professionals, leveraging it to make one-to-one sales contacts—not marketers trying to use LinkedIn as a one-to-many lead-generation tactic. Again, so far, I haven’t found any B2B marketers who have been able to share concrete numbers regarding leads and sales from their marketing via social media on LinkedIn or anywhere else.

A side note: To learn more about how the B2B sales industry is leveraging social media, software and the Internet, consider attending Sales 2.0 in Boston on May 21.

My quest for quantitative proof that social media is an effective tactic for generating B2B leads and sales continues.

I remember a mentor of mine once saying, "Mac, don’t confuse activity with productivity." I think that thought applies to social media. Sure it’s getting a lot of activity, but is it really productive at meeting what I believe should be the primary objectives of B2B marketing—driving leads and sales?

I’m hopeful that at least a few—among the thousands of B2B marketers who have jumped on board the social media bandwagon—will soon be able to prove, through quantitative data rather than one or two anecdotes, that their social media marketing programs are helping drive more leads and sales for their companies.

In the meantime, I’m going to consider marketing through social media to be a tactic more appropriate for branding and awareness, and think of LinkedIn as an effective sales tool for B2B salespeople rather than B2B marketers.

But when my primary objectives are generating leads and driving sales—more difficult than ever in today’s challenging business environment—I’ll skip social media and instead use some of the many other B2B marketing tactics that already are proven to be productive.

Marketers: What measurable results are you gettting from using social media to generate B2B leads and sales?

If you have any quantitative data that shows the effectiveness of social media as a tactic for generating B2B leads and driving B2B sales, please tell us more about it.

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