Where Social Leads Come From

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Lead Generation and Marketing Funnel

Social Business Series (III)

The articles in this Social Business Series are being written for real-life Sales and Marketing Professionals in small and mid-sized companies, who are busy running their business and have not had the time to read everything  in the emerging Social-anything space or spend a lot of time in consumer social websites.We have already explored the Scope or Social CRM/Social Business Software and the Tangible Use Cases for Social CRM.

Let’s now focus on Lead Generation, a critical aspect of any marketing and sales process and look at how Social Business Processes and Tools deal with it.

Classical Lead Generation and its limitations

Traditional methods of lead generation have been modeled as a “funnel”: among all potential buyers in the market, companies needs to move (or “nurture”) them from awareness (know it exists) to consideration (think of it as viable supplier) to preference (consider it the most adequate) to action (decision to buy) to loyalty (experience value and remain a long-term customer).

The mission of Marketing is to manage that funnel and deliver sales leads ready for a transactional engagement.

That is a fine model, but it often breaks or doesn’t work as efficiently as it should because current nurturing methods are based on a broadcast message push (typically a periodic e-mail blast to a list) followed by hope for a response signal by the prospect (submission of a lead form or a click into a landing page).

That statistical reliance on serendipity (catching the “suspect” at the exact time she is sensitive to the message) annoys the audience and makes the process highly inefficient.

The Buying Process has always been social

You heard this before:

  • People buy from people they trust. Buyers need to trust the brand or, at least, the person interacting with them in that “last mile” of the sales process.
  • The majority of purchases are based on recommendation. Buyers tend to buy what their peers recommend.

Classical Marketing acknowledge those two points (reason why we invest in our brand and  try to create collaterals such as case studies and customer lists).

If you look at how sales people prospect, it is already highly social: based on personal trust relationships, personal interactions,  word-of-mouth, referrals, etc. 

So, why did Marketing Programs fell in this hole?

The reason why classical marketing abandoned the social aspects of the buying process and reached for more analytical/statistical methods is very simple: Human Touch is hard to scale in the physical world.

Effective methods of interaction like face-to-face meetings (and, some would argue, golf outings) where we can interact, emphatize, and listen to the specific needs to our customers are expensive and cannot be used for very large groups of prospects.

The Print Medium and, more recently, other electronic broadcasting media are just not effective in producing engagement.

So, broadcast we do. Blast the right message to a very large number of people. Luckily, a small percentage of the audience will be receptive to it and a few will emit a signal of resonance. We “capture” the “suspect” and push them through the funnel.

There is a big divide in how Marketing and Sales operate. That divide is reflected in the typical animosity between functional areas we find in most companies.

Enter Social Media

A few weeks ago a friend told me: “Facebook gave people freedom to publish their thoughts on the Internet.” The nature of Social Media is to invite and enable open access to the medium, without strong control by the smart, rich or powerful.

We in the business communication world feel the loss of control over the megaphone. After our initial experiences with Social Media, we complain that it is impossible to rise above the noise to convey our message.

But wait. Broadcasting our message was never the goal. The function of Marketing is to create awareness among potential customers, identify them, and nurture the relationship until they are ready to engage in a sales transaction. The goal is to help to grow the business.

There is now a medium that can support the social aspect of buying and selling. If we can show that it scales in ways that exceeds face-to-face interactions, then we are on to something.

Ok, so tell me how Social Lead Generation works

Whether or not you believe classical methods work, Social Lead Generation does not discard the model, it leverages a new media to change the protocols and methods of communication.

Social Media creates interactive channels and allow companies to nurture engaged communities in a way that is scalable. In Social Channels, it is possible to communicate without intruding, to listen to a large number of people and aggregate it effectively, and to personally engage when appropriate.

Advertising on search phrases to show targeted messages that are meaningful to the individual or using web analytics to track the steps of a customer on your website are just the beginning of that transition towards a more personal way of doing marketing.

The new venues for marketing activity and funnel nurturing are online communities, not print or trade shows.

As in the physical world, communities need an infrastructure to support them. These venues are your website, your customer communities, consumer social media venues (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), other online forums.

You don’t monitor communities, you and your employees must be part of them.

How can Social Action Scale?

  • Social Tools will allow you to monitor social channels so that you can listen to a large community of customers and prospects and filter what is relevant to you or what requires your personal attention. When someone posts a status update in LinkedIn saying “looking for a solution to problem A, anyone has suggestions?”, that is the time to move the engagement of that person from nurturing to sales.
  • Use of Social Media involves creating transparency and removing you as a bottleneck of the nurturing process. No need to create glossy customer cases, just let customers talk directly with your prospects. No need to run focus groups and try to synthesize from anecdotal stories, just let the community directly participate in the product development process.
  • No need to manage a closed technical support knowledge base, open it to the community and let them help build and manage it. Customer are willing to work to look for information or help their peers if you empower them to do so.

But this is not only about efficiency. It is about going back to the origins of buying and selling as a social activity. True scaling of marketing can only happen if you can convert your happy customers into active advocates that can help you define the brand, evangelize it, influence peers, recommend, and bring new prospects to you.

That is where Social Marketing and Sales is going. This is what emerging Social CRM and Social Business tools are trying to support. Shift focus from reaching more names to turning your existing customers into advocates.

From Loyalty to Advocacy

When Marketing thought of customer life-cycle, it aimed for loyalty among long-term customers. The Social Marketing Funnel goes further and hopes to cultivate Advocacy. Social Media adds another dimension to the influence of customers: their social graph. Loyal customers do more than provide repeat revenues, they become your main resource to feed the funnel with other potential customers who value their opinions.

Social Marketing is about providing a resonance chamber to your advocates.

If you find this article useful, keep an eye out for the other articles in this series. You can subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and leave comments suggesting other topics of your interest.

Also in the Social Business Series:

  • Social Business Software: Social CRM, Enterprise 2.0. Do I need one of those?
  • Social CRM Use Cases: How can it, specifically, improve business performance?
  • Where Social Sales Leads Come From: Social Lead Gen and Marketing Funnel
  • Consumer Social Media: What business should do about Twitter and Facebook
  • CRM to Social CRM: Is that a gradual transition or a revolutionary change?
  • Open Leadership: How you need to adapt to lead a new generation
This article was originally written for and posted at http://www.theclickcompany.com

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