Social Networking

Content may be king; relationships are personal

Since time immemorial selling has been about relationships. From the three martini lunch to immeasurable rounds of golf and scads of tickets to sporting events, salespeople have used every method possible to connect with and cultivate prospects (and clients) at a personal level. Now we’re being asked to believe that a new, disruptive technology has somehow altered the landscape. We no longer have to connect with people at a personal level to establish a trusted relationship. Now we can do it with content; a powerful, less expensive alternative – marketing automation! Content is king; no handshakes required, thank you very much.

So, how do we know what content to send them? What are they interested in and how do we know that? Exactly how interested are they? Where in the journey toward obtaining a solution are they? Where’s the pain?

If you follow the marketing automation model, and many do, you send out dozens of emails to people each month, each with a content offer. And then you track what they respond to and act accordingly. You send them whitepapers and round them up into webinars. Each time you gather more and more information about them (although, in practice, it always seems as if they ask the same questions each time I respond, no matter how often I respond, almost as if they really don’t know me at all).

Sounds to me like a lot of investment in creating content (although they tell you that you can “repurpose” the content you already have) and not so much invested in asking me the important, simple questions like: Why did I ask for that whitepaper? Why was that webinar topic of interest? What’s keeping me and my colleagues up at night? Where are my priorities and my company’s priorities at the moment?

They don’t bother asking me any of that, but they do send me lots of free content. The problem is that, when I look at the content, I discover that it’s either relatively shallow or, even if it has merit, it generally doesn’t quite apply to me or my specific challenges.

Eventually, I stop clicking and stop asking because I have actually soured on the relationship. It doesn’t give me what I need. I get no value from my time investment.

Of course, other than having to pay for creating the content (a substantial cost if done right), on the surface it seems as if it hasn’t cost them very much to generate highly qualified leads. I suppose if you are already investing in scads of content creation, then repurposing it will work. But, for most companies, that’s not the case.

No doubt, some people find that strategy hits the spot for them. The content they use is on the mark; it meets the needs of prospects and brings them into the fold through a self identification process. They may even make a purchase and become customers. When you measure the acquisition cost of that sale, it may seem attractively low, especially when compared to the cost of having to engage people personally from day 1 (excluding, of course the substantial investment in content and software/services).

But what about me, my needs and a sale to my company? That’s lost. Who’s measuring lost opportunity cost? Who’s assessing what might have happened if someone had taken the time to engage me directly, asked the salient questions, cultivated me at a personal level and earned my trust and my business? How does that figure into the cost per customer acquisition matrix?

It seems to me that if I’m going to buy into the marketing automation model, I want to do it on the basis of knowing what interests a prospective customer BEFORE I send them content. I always want that content to be relevant to their needs, and I want every single touch to bring value to the relationship – a clear statement that I listened, I heard and I have responded accordingly.

I can’t risk basing my relationship development strategy on inferences – on remote behavior from a distance. I prefer proactive to reactive. I need to speak with them first, understand their needs, concerns and aspirations. I need to establish a detailed profile of who they are, how they go about making decisions, how important to them is finding a solution and, most importantly, what are they trying to accomplish and what have they tried already that has failed. I need to know them – personally.

With knowledge of who they are and what’s important to them in hand, I can build a regimen of delivering exactly the content they need, knowing that it will bring value to them and establish the beginning of a trusted advisor relationship. And to achieve that most effectively, I need to invest in my own resources or hire a company like ETI Sales Support that has the people, skills and experience to engage them personally, consultatively and reliably to build a positive brand image, assess the level and quality of the needs they have for the solution we represent.

How ETI is embracing the new Social Networking tools and technologies to improve Lead Generation and Lead Qualification results

Having viewed the development of social networking in the past year from the sidelines I think it’s time I had my say. The main question needing an answer is, does Social Networking as a lead generation medium, work? 

Networking has always been an obvious way to develop business and business opportunities.  What’s more it’s very effective. However, the fact is that this activity is rapidly moving from the club or the golf course, or the local business network to the WEB.  This provides you with the opportunity to expand your contacts substantially, unhampered by geography or company size.

Networking for lead generation reminds me of the insurance sales rep who’s just out of training.  He’s all gung ho and motivated to make it happen.  Yet where does he first turn? To no one’s surprise he turns to his natural environment - his personal network.  First to the family, then to friends and acquaintances. Then to the prospects they recommend.

However, there’s no doubt that as he ventures farther afield to include strangers, his network will yield fewer genuine opportunities. Though he swims manfully against the stream, absent good luck the new recruit may not survive. His only hope for the future is to engage in an effective lead generation effort before his money runs out. Or to hope the company he works for will slip him a few sales ready leads to help him stay afloat.

LinkedIn

I’ve subscribed to a number of groups on LinkedIn these past few years. Frankly it’s been a big disappointment.  There are large numbers of participants out there trying to sell whatever it is they sell. They contribute nothing or very little to the dialogue.  Others are there to recruit.  These groups do seem to constitute fertile ground to find staff - much as happens in regular social networks.� From time to time I also notice people posting topics for discussion that are on point. But for the most part it’s fairly obvious that the questions posed are self serving - designed more than anything else to promote the reputation of the poster.

Twitter

Twitter is another phenomenon I have struggled with.  I suppose if you admire and respect someone and want to know what he/she is thinking or doing every day, then being a follower is useful.  On the other hand if you’re a thought leader on a particular subject – with many followers – it’s also likely that being a twitterer could be useful. 

I tend to think of myself as a thought leader.  I write, I hold a goodly variety of opinions and I’m capable of communicating thoughts to my clients and prospects via a variety of channels.  So I ask myself – do I want to sit and post tweets day in and day out for my followers?  Fact is I don’t and being a follower or being followed 24x7 is really not my thing.

There could however, be some potential in Twitter in terms of Lead Generation. But this depends how numerous your “follower” network is and how motivated they are to become buyers or recommenders.

How is ETI embracing the new networks to improve lead generation results for its clients?

eti’s primary business is focused on B2B (complex) lead generation.  Our ultimate goal is to to maximize client’s sales force productivity. Here then are some of the things we’re doing to exploit the new resources.

Firstly it needs to be appreciated that these networks are often fantastic information resources. That, technically, is the business we’re in.  Because we engage with prospects in consultative dialogues for the purpose of identifying information and characteristics which indicates the prospect’s ability and need to purchase our clients’ solutions.  To achieve that purpose our Business Developers actively participate in the networks to better understand the market places our clients do business in. 

Secondly, we link directly to these resources from i*collaborator - eti’s CRM/PRM framework. This enables us to search dynamically within LinkedIn, Plaxo and Facebook, to extract third party information that could be leveraged to reveal big fish prospects. Nor are we shy to hook smaller fish which have good growth potential.

Thirdly, we make these facilities directly available to our clients via their Opportunity Dashboards so that their sales persons are motivated to leverage the new opportunities without their having to do the research themselves. 

What else might we do?  Well we’re always open to new ideas and would welcome and appreciate your thoughts.

Conclusion

As a lead generation tool for the most part the networks mentioned remain on the periphery.  In their current incarnations they will probably not become mainstream lead generation tools.

However they do have enormous potential as tools to build influence and credibility. And that’s the best use of a network.  Because with that credibility will come the desired recommendations and referrals that will help you maximize your lead generation efforts.

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