I recently completed a two-week business to business social media vs. sales experiment with some interesting results.
For Week 1, I tracked the amount of time I spent writing, posting, reading, interacting, re-tweeting, commenting, providing insight and ideas etc. on various social media sites. I answered questions on blogs, forums, and in groups and I shared articles and provided value to others identified as being in my buying target audience. I did much of what the social media experts say needs to be done to be a successful 21st Century salesperson.
For Week 2, I pretty much stayed away from Facebook* and spent just a few minutes posting on LinkedIn and Twitter. Instead, I used the same amount of Week 1 social media time making phone calls and connecting with key prospects. For each call, I practiced sales intelligence and researched each prospect — both the person and his or her company. My calls were very personal, and my pitch was highly relevant to what I knew the other person cared about.
I generated a great deal of interest and strengthened my brand. In fact, one of the articles I wrote received more than 125,000 reads and 150 positive comments. All of this work generated a few semi-qualified leads, but it led to zero sales, and zero dollars in my bank account. It did, however, strengthen my position as an Industry Thought Leader.
I made close to 30 phone calls, leaving voice mails for most, and speaking directly to eight prospects. Following the initial call round, I spoke with/emailed an additional five prospects who had returned my earlier calls. This led to closing three new pieces of business, one of which could end up being the largest contract I have ever signed. All of this work did nothing to enhance my expertise or market position. It did, however, add some nice dollars to my bank account and strengthened my position as an Industry Profit Leader.
Was this a scientifically valid test?
Of course not. Maybe the closed deals were pure luck, timing, or coincidence. Plus, to accurately judge if leveraging social media will improve sales is a test that should be done over a period of months, not two weeks.
Should you conclude that social media, developing a strong personal brand, and positioning oneself as a topic expert and industry thought leader is a waste of time?
That would be silly.
A personal brand is exceptionally important in today's world where buyers have Buyers Intelligence. Buyers know how to use Google. They know how to search for information on you, your experience, and what others think of you and it's important to have a strong and credible online presence. The social media work done in Week 1 (done consistently, over time) to genuinely engage prospects, answer questions, and provide value will almost certainly generate future opportunities and new leads. Social media should be part of a long-term overall branding and marketing strategy.
Yet at the same time, you also can't argue with the results of this two-week test:
Social Media Efforts = 0
Daily Sales Efforts = $
We all only have so much working time. To practice social media by yourself in the way most experts recommend would mean devoting at least an hour per day, five days per week.
In that same amount of time, it's reasonable that you could make six sales calls; one conversation, one call me back later, and four voice mails. During a year, that would mean an additional 1,400 or so calls.
I know with 100% certainty that if I made 1,400 sales calls to highly qualified prospects where I have researched the prospect and am relevant to their needs, that I will close deals. How many? For me, I would feel very comfortable saying that 1,400 calls would equal at least 50 new clients, and probably closer to 100. Spending the same amount of time on social media — doing it better than 99% of the people on the planet — would probably generate four to ten new pieces of business.
So what is the answer?
Can you use social media to educate, engage, and interact with prospects and even clients? Absolutely! Yet is that a sales strategy, or is it a marketing strategy? Can that activity be delegated to someone else on your team, delegated to the marketing department, or even outsourced?
As a salesperson, is your time better spent on LinkedIn Groups and Tweeting articles or is it better spent on the phone or in person with a prospect or client, where you're engaging in a relevant, sales intelligence-based conversation?
Yes…as a B2B salesperson, you should spend time on social media each day. Just make sure you time box it. I might recommend 10 minutes per day. Then delegate or outsource the rest.
If you don't have the resources to delegate or outsource, then time box the thought-intensive social media activity to the weekend. Maybe spend an hour or two per week updating your profiles, writing, publishing and/or sharing valuable content, and using a tool like Hootsuite to schedule your posts.
Social media is NEVER a replacement for sales and relationship building. Devoting time to connecting with prospects and clients is imperative. Practice sales intelligence and learn what is going on with your prospects and clients. Then block out at least one hour or more, each day, to picking up the phone, or better, meeting with prospects and clients in-person so you can build authentic, genuine, and mutually-beneficial relationships that ultimately leads to more business.
The next time you logon and devote valuable time to your favorite social network, ask yourself this important question: Is this helping me be a Thought Leader, or a Profit Leader?
*In my test, I concluded that I needed to delete the Facebook app on my iPhone. I found that it was too easy to touch that button and my allocated five minutes sometimes easily stretched to 30 or more. Honestly, I think I was addicted. So I apologize in advance to my Facebook friends and fans as you're going to see a lot less of me liking and commenting on your posts and photos, and declining your game requests. Clicking that delete app button actually feels very freeing.