You Can Buy a Lead, but you Can’t Buy a Relationship

By Sander Biehn | Jan 30, 2014

Sander Biehn is founder and CEO of Thought Horizon, LLC. After a successful career in sales at AT&T, he founded his company in 2013 helping organizations to build, manage and succeed using social selling.

I stole this title from a recent tweet by my friend Jeff Simmons. It couldn’t have been better said.   How many leads can you generate per month with your engagement model?  I hear this question all the time.  One thing is for certain, the marketing platform companies, many of whom assembled at DreamForce in 2013, have done their job.  Sales VP’s have been completely  brainwashed into thinking in ‘cost per lead’ metrics when enabling Social Selling for B2B sales. I have to admit, it is a tidy way to measure one product against another, but let’s take a step back.

I thought the goal of sales was to sell? Since when has a lead generation machine trumped an actual sale?  In order to capture the true benefit of any Social Selling program, the campaign needs to focus on generating relationships not leads. This is the new territory that has been discovered in social media. CEO’s tell me that trade show leads are anywhere from 75-95% junk.  Why not hope for something better than another lead generation program? Why not expect real results?

Here are the challenges:

1. Historically, marketing campaigns have revolved around lead generation.  It is a well understood science, steeped in analytics dating back to the “Madmen” days in the 1950’s.  It is safe, and makes sense to the CMO. But true Social Selling will require input from the Sales Leadership.  If it looks like the same old marketing programs dressed up in social clothing, it probably is. Sales and Marketing must merge their expertise and expectations to get the most out of this new form of reaching clients. Look, clients have changed their buying habits by heavily using social media instead of sales people.  Why wouldn’t a Social Selling program seek to truly capture their attention on those channels?  Trading email addresses to be used in a drip campaign in return for a peek at a white paper won’t work if you wish to create a true relationship.  Giving away thought leadership that inspires customers will.

2. No one wants to step out on a limb and make new sales revenue a marketing campaign metric.  This is where I and my fellow social selling experts can do better. We are half the problem. We want to position social selling as if it is a marketing campaign and leave the selling role to the sales team. But with 57% of a sale complete by the time a salesperson is called (this according to national marketing groups), why shouldn’t the line blur?  The real promise of social selling is that a relationship is formed using thought leadership on social channels. Once  a relationship is  developed, the role of a sales team is still vital.   But the time it takes to close the deal is vastly compressed. I have seen this again and again.  In old world parlance, these new prospects come in as referrals.  I believe social selling needs to be as much a function of Sales as it is of Marketing. Therefore, the only fair measurement of success should be new sales revenues.

There is no need to entirely stop lead generation activities.  However, Social Selling is an entirely different beast that should measure success the same way a sales manager inspects her sales team: by building relationships and selling.

Who will join me in making a new kind of pitch to clients looking to activate sales via social media?

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