Al Krueger's "Comet Branding Internet Radio" show always sparks interesting discussion. This morning I joined him, Brian Solis and Nicole Jordan to discuss "The Changing Role of PR as Media Evolves." While our PR fundamentals discussion was compelling, it momentarily branched into something that I feel is a bigger issue -- how social media relates to classic demand generation.
While discussing why marketing leaders should or should not blindly get social, Solis said that social media can not only support lead generation but it also helps convert leads into bona fide sales deals. I respectfully disagreed, saying that social media can be used for brand awareness which may lead to demand generation, but it will not be present during the entire sales cycle.
I've yet to see any solid case studies that show how social media has helped convert leads into paying customers, especially for enterprise IT companies trying to sell into the Fortune 500. Solis says he has some -- and I want to see these.
Following the conversation I had a chat with Steve Mann, global vice president in marketing for SAP, where he leads the company's social media strategies. Mann said that while social media is very good at the top of the demand generation funnel and good at the bottom of the funnel, it is not useful for moving people down the funnel into conversion.
"At the top of the funnel, social media is fantastic for building awareness and generating interest. It's easy to use," Mann said. "But once there is interest, we haven't yet cracked the code on how to leverage social media to take a qualified lead down the funnel to a sale."
However, once the lead is at the bottom of the funnel social media can be used to connect a prospect to a customer reference. For a real-world example, Mann says the SAP Community Network of 1.5 million members is a resource for its sales teams to do just that. Prospects can come in and kick the tires on SAP by talking to customers who are implementing or have implemented its solutions. It is therefore incumbent on SAP's marketing team to leverage the community in their marketing strategies to the company's sales targets. But, he says, the marketing strategies must make sense.
"Using social media for social media's sake is not the right thing to do," Mann said. "Using social media to connect with prospects and have a conversational dynamic is the right way to approach this."
The challenge of social media and the demand or lead generation connection is that, in enterprise IT, the sales cycle is tremendous. Because social media itself moves fast and furious and quickly evolves, it almost begets an element of instant gratification. But that just doesn't work for enterprise IT companies.
"Selling to the enterprise is a very sophisticated buying cycle. The cycle can be many months long. You're not at the top one day and at the bottom the next day," Mann said. "There are many steps a prospect must take before it becomes a customer. If someone says that you can use social media at every step in the sales cycle, that is incorrect."
Have questions for Mann on social media and demand gen? Find him at his Twitter feed.