1. says

    EXCELLENT Survey – I hope many sales people will donate some minutes to go through it. The result will help more than the time spent (ROI ;-)

    Some thought on “Is Social Media right for your industry”.
    The first thing you may recognize with social media, is the fact that is “industry independent” and this is important because the people who BUY are not necessarily in the same industry than the people who SELL. If I buy a new home I’m not in the real estate industry. If I procure a new phone system I’m not in the Telco industry. If I buy some Aspirin, I’m not in the pharmaceutical industry. If I as a Telco buy a new satellite, I’m not in the aerospace industry. If I as a global distributor buy a new truck, I’m not in the automobile industry. Regardless whether I buy as a consumer or a corporate buyer, I’m not necessarily part of the industry of the seller.

    So when we explore if WE in OUR industry are there yet or not, feels like the wrong question. The more important question is: Are my CUSTOMERS there yet. Just ask them. As a sales executive you have the best relationship to your customers. BUT I highly recommend DO NOT ask them “Are you using social media?” The answer is most likely NO. Ask them Like Dave dis it ion the survey: Are you on LinkedIn? Do you read blogs? Do you… you get the idea. The answer will guide you more than I or any other experienced pro or contra coach can do.

    Then you will want to go into the social web and find out how many people discuss things around say John Deere – JD is in the heavy duty industry. Or in the Agricultural Equipment industry. But the farmers are in the adjacent Agricultural industry. You will find 34,000 farmers and users of John Deere equipment in online groups. John Deere is not there yet. So you are right YOU ARE NOT THERE YET. But the customers are.

    Now think of this scenario: New Holland a competitor of John Deere gets it just a few month before John Deere responds to the attack? What would it do? Needless to explain the answer. Time is of essence and there is AS ALWAYS one who will strike first and followers to react because they are forced on.

    If we now elevate the conversation on a global scale, I hope I find people help to turn our country into – yet one more time – in a leadership position. Because take the above scenario and a foreign car maker taps into the pool of disappointed customers of Ford, GM, Chrysler.

    Sorry for the LONG comment.

  2. says

    Hi Dave,

    Great post and well thought out. I agree that social media is going to have an impact on b2b but it will not be immediate for all areas. I do see it having an immediate impact on the majority of businesses out there that are small to mid size businesses because with social media you can use sweat equity instead of money you’d rather not spend and you’re more nimble. Sometimes we forget this group when we talk about b2b even thought it’s the majority of businesses out there. Larger companies in b2b will take time, and to be honest, while social media will help get attention, it will not cut down on all of the paper work, multiple groups, and beuracracy that you have to deal with in selling to large corps or government.

    I see social media in b2b more as a surfer waiting for a wave. You’ve seen it happening in our consumer lives, like the smallest ripple of water coming closer. Right now we’re all laying flat on our boards watching and starting to paddle, knowing that it’s coming. The goal is that by the time social media starts having an impact on your industry/area that you’re aware, your working towards it, and you’re ready when it hits so you can ride it out and enjoy the benefits while those that aren’t ready get slammed.

  3. says

    Dave, this is a great topic. One you know is near to my heart (for those reading, I’m the one conducting the survey Dave so kindly included in the post). As a marketer, I’ve been engaged in social media for some time now. Being the B2B space, I definitely see the benefits from a marketing standpoint. Now that I work for an organization that is selling into sales, I have a different perspective. I’m looking at salespeople and how they view/use social media.

    Dave, you made a point in one of your posts, that social media can really “suck you in” you also wrote in this post that it could be a distraction for salespeople who still have a ways to go in learning the traditional “proven” practices of sales. I would agree with you there. As much as I love doing, spending time in social media tools can really be a time drain and I think that’s the last thing a sales manager wants her people doing—wasting time.

    It seems that it would make sense for all salespeople to enter the world of web 2.0 on some level, but to be cautious about how much time they are spending with it AND to be looking for the value.

    From a professional standpoint, the areas I can see salespeople getting the most value are by keeping their LinkedIn profile up-to-date and building their network. Also, reading and commenting on blogs is an excellent way to be in touch with one’s customers/buyer and what their pains are and build relationships with them and a good way to learn (sales related blogs). They other area that seems valuable is forums of other salespeople—but you want look for quality groups to join. I belong to a lot of sales forums on LinkedIn and some are better quality than others.

    I come back to the idea of what’s proven. While everyone may dabble, before social media tools are recognized as effective ways to sell, there will have to be some proof. Maybe this is where those masters of sales come in. The A players. They can give it a shot, prove what does and what doesn’t work—because they will find a way to still be highly productive while doing it, because the always do. And then all the B and C players can put those proven best practices to work.

    Thanks for the focus on this topic, Dave.

    Amy Black
    Sr. Marketing Manager

  4. says

    Hi Dave,
    Hasn’t this been a crazy week?

    Our new best friend Axel is doing his best to wind everyone up, many of us taking the bait and rising to support our fellow sales professionals…wow.

    I think I understand where Axel is coming from, but as I commented on one of his “blasts”, he’s over simplifying the B2B sales environment and the immediate threat/relevance of social media to much of this environment. Axel seems hung up on transactional sales as opposed to complex enterprise environments. WORSE, Axel seems reluctant to drag his contemporaries into this debate. Which is just wrong as many of his peers suck-long and suck-hard when compared to sales people in the context of getting “on programme” At least we’re here sticking up for our maligned brethren.

    Let me give you (and Axel) a couple of hypotheticals.

    Hypothetical #1: You’re an up and coming software vendor selling into government in the US. You’re an ethical sales person, diligent, professional; following the rules of procurement as set down by the Federal Government of the United States. What if you found out you lost a major deal, a career breaking deal, only to find out your competitor and the department procurement officer were connected via a social network? Imagine you were on the side of good in this situation – (go and Google “black eye for cognos” and read the LucidEra article). What if you discovered they were connected on LinkedIn, or Twitter, or FaceBook? What are you thinking right now? What if the Twitter trail or FaceBook history shows a trail of “interesting exchange”? Are you thinking your bottom is feeling mighty sore right now? What has social media done for you right now? It’s done you out of a job because you choose to be ethical and honest…Brilliant. that’ll feed the wife and kids…

    So if we follow Axel and co’s gospel through to conclusion government procurement should be down to the person who has the most bitchin’ FaceBook page? The most Twitter followers? The next batch of tanks we buy are down to the guy with the most bogan MySpace site…Damn, give me the cheapest vendor any day over that…

    Hypothetical #2 – Joe sells oval gear flow meters for the petro chem industry. Joe’s core customer base comprises 50yo+ crusty petro-chem engineers who (when in doubt) will refer to their 1967 copy of Jane’s Flow Meter Almanac… Joe’s customers have grown to like him and give him more and more business because Joe has sat through their “war stories” and has built credibility and empathy. Joe’s grown to understand the nuances of their businesses and has genuine interest in their continued success. None of this @insincere whateva dude stuff…
    Again? Social Media? Why? Why now? In this economic environment you suggest Joe pi**es how much time and money up against the wall? So as to dehumanise his personal relationships?

    My biggest bitch with social media proponents (Axel included) is that they tend to get wired on Red Bull and screw themselves into the ceiling mid way through their rant on why we’re all a bunch of d**kheads who are doomed. Why are we doomed? Because we’re not doing social media and web 2.0 stuff? Can some of us adapt? Yes. Will some of us fail to adapt? Yes. Is this limited to sales? Hell no.

    I might just wander over to some of the social media sites and take Axel’s approach of laser-guided carpet bombing…

    PS. sorry about the bad language, it’s hot down under at the moment…

  5. says

    Nice post Dave. Clearly social media presents important new tools and possibilities, not only for sales professionals, but for all business professionals. Anyone that ignores it will be left behind. I would encourage organizations and sales professionals to be actively experimenting and learning now. This means more than having a Facebook or LinkedIn account, this means actively engaging in selective discussions, becoming more aware and contributing to this growing community.

    Clearly, at least from a B2B perspective, we are a long way from leveraging this media to its full potential. Also, like everything before it, this media is a double edged sword. It can be exploited to great impact and it will be abused with even greater impact.

    In the end however, it raises the bar on sales (and customer) performance. Just as there have been many other things that have raised the bar on the professional practice of selling, it becomes one more thing we have to master and leverage, but just like many other things, it is not the “silver bullet.” It is one more tool and set of capabilities we have to add to our tool box.

    Dave, thanks for carrying on such a healthy discussion! Best regards.

  6. gschirr says

    Fascinating post!

    It is not clear to me that most B2B buyers and sellers would naturally belong to the same networks — they would often be at most “weak links.” On the other hand, watching the addiction of 19 and 20 year olds to Facebook, I am sure that social media in business will be ubiquitous within a decade.

    You made my job of posting to my blog today easy — I will just route everyone here.

  7. says


    You have an interesting discussion going here.

    I personally been searching for data, or at a minimum anecdotal examples of how anyone in the business-to-business category has used social media (social marketing) to drive leads, sales and ROI.

    The majority of B2B “results” I’m hearing about seem to revolve around how individual sales people used social media, specifically LinkedIn, to find the right people to call at a company, or used their social network to get introduced to a prospect. In other words they used social media assist in their one-to-one sales efforts.

    However, in regard to one-to-many selling (often known as marketing), lots of people talk about the benefits of social media related to branding and awareness. Although many claim it works well in that regard (and I want to believe that they are right) I’ve found it nearly impossible to find any evidence of that beyond a few anecdotal examples.

    When I probe for more information about results from one-to-many selling leveraging social media, they talk about how it has helped increase their rankings in the search engine results, and how those increased rankings have resulted in more leads and sales. Yet higher rankings in the search engine results could often be better accomplished using other, more direct tactics. Or they talk about how it resulted in them being asked to speak at a conference, and how that speaking engagement resulted in leads and sales. But at what cost or ROI? Could they have generated similar sales results using other, perhaps lower-cost sales tactics? Nobody seems to have an answer.

    And when I practice what I preach by measuring the number of viable leads and dollars in closed sales that I’ve received from the significant amount of time and money I have put into social media to date, sadly the results don’t justify the cost.

    Don’t get me wrong; I still believe there is potential for using social media as a one-to-many sales or marketing tactic. Yet, I’ve concluded that social media isn’t the proverbial silver bullet others claim it to be. And I believe that, like with any other new or evolving media, it will take a while before the paths to success are clear.

    Another thought: If you break prospective customers into two groups; the first being those searching for your products, services or solutions, and the second being those who don’t know that they need what you are selling, I suspect social media will have a significant impact with the first group and very little with the second.

    In closing, a request: If you or any of your readers had good results from using social media, I’d sure love to hear about it. Especially if you have any supporting data you can share.

    M. H. (Mac) McIntosh

  8. says

    I love ya’ all :-) I have to say this conversation, kudos to Dave Brook who sparked it, has been a fun ride. Sad enough for Dave [Brock] It seems HE WAS WRONG and the world is in order, you are all very successful, the sales people actually DO NOT have a bad reputation and we (better said you) can continue to do business as usual. OK so I assume you predict that the market will change and magically everything will soon be like in the good old days…. Sure!

  9. says

    Hey Mac, thank you so much for chiming in. I think you nailed it in a rather unexpected way. You said: “significant amount of time and money I have put into social media to date”
    I’m not quite sure. A quick scan gave me the following: No activities ever on Twitter. Extremely hard to find you on Facebook. Very well maintained profile on LinkedIn but zero activities. Please don’t take this as a personal attack – but rather an extremely helpful insight to me and probably many of us. Your social graph further indicates you are a well respected author and often quoted in your industry as a sales trainer and consultant. Your social profile further indicates that you are highly focused on lead generation and sales management. But so far you haven’t been “wired” in the social media space. That means there is a lot of insight you could have gained from the customers you trained and the effect of the training to their actual customers.

    Here is what I learned from all that which is VERY important for me to realize: Social Media is perceived to be a tool that is not yet ready to be used for sales or even marketing. I guess what we need to make more clear is that social media requires a Mind Set and it only helps as a tool for people with that Mind Set. I also learned from you – and my appreciation is certainly NOT ironic – that we all have to help each other to better explore the inner value of social media. I hope I finish my white paper which I shared in draft with some of you in the next two weeks.

  10. says

    I feel really underqualified to comment (although it turns out I was already following Axel on Twitter – so maybe I’m part of the ‘in crowd’ but just don’t know it!). Here goes anyway.

    What I know to be the case is that some people are making good and effective use of social media to help their sales. They’ve made good contacts initially via linkedin for example, or (if you include blogs as social media) they’ve attracted customers and strongly credentialised themselves before the sale (my wife is a great example of this). But I believe this group to be in the (extreme) minority at the moment.

    I also know that a lot of people are struggling to get any value out and are burning a lot of time doing so. Social media is rather addictive for those of us whith personality types that enjoy new experiences and stimulation (I believe rather a lot of salespeople are like this).

    But this is the way of any new business technology. There’s always a cycle of over-hype – then we all dismiss it – then we eventually find the changes are much more profound than we think.

    Except that sometimes the technology disappears into the bin rather than being profound. And I’ve yet to meet anyone who could reliably predict what will make it and what won’t.

    The challenge at the moment is that the example of the successful use of social media in business are the exceptions – and they’re usually of atypical business. Businesses where customers are more willing to adopt new technologies – or a tiny niche that almost accidentally started using it.

    The pro-camp laud these examples as the future and the anti-camp point out that they’re rare exceptions and that the same principles wouldn’t apply in selling to government, b2b etc.

    And of course, both sides are right.

    Personally, I’d both avoid overinvesting my time in social media today for the sort of selling I do – but I’m also very careful not to write off a concept in its infancy. This baby may well grow up to be big & strong.

    One thing that frightens me a little is “do I need to get in at ground level now in order to reap the benefits later?” It’s fine for me to observe that social media is of limited use today but could be important tomorrow so I’ll “wait & see”. But what if I need to get involved now in order to have the experience (or following or whatever) to be in a position to leverage social media when it comes of age? What if “waiting and seeing” will inevitably leave me lagging behind and unable to catch up? I’m thinking of big pharma and biotech here – most of them didn’t invest, they thought they’d let the small firms take all the risks and they’d come in later when things were more certain – and essentially it causes their pipelines to wither & die.

    I’m particularly aware of Ford Harding’s description of the power curve and “founder’s advantage” when it comes to real-life networking. In any human business network, the “spoils” invariably fall disproportionately to a few network members. And most often they are the founders of the network – the people who got in first, built the most contacts and the most trust, and so reaped the most referrals. It’s not impossible to enter a referral network late and win big – but it’s really, really difficult. What if social media happens the same way? What if I need to get involved now – even if I do waste a lot of time & effort – in order to be one of the few that reaps the benefits later?

    Or what if it’s all a huge waste of time?

    I don’t think it’s possible to know for sure right now. I’m hopin a small investment of time for no or low returns now will pay dividends later when it actually takes off.


    PS I think Mark raises a brilliant point about how social networking potentially clashes with strict procurement policies. Normal netowrking does too, of course – but it’s rather less traceable….

  11. says

    Dave, how can it distract? Social Media is not a tool, a toy to play with, a piece of software to administrate. Email didn’t distract to communicate with a customer, phones didn’t distract to call a customer, meeting a customer in a restaurant didn’t distract, a golf tournament with customers didn’t distract. How can social media distract?

    But All the above where questioned when they arose to become a sales tool. Don’t use email, write a letter or call (1980), don’t use the phone (1940) but see your customer in person. Don’t through out money by wining and dining your customer that is unethical (1920) . Today we do all of the above – more or less successful. And we learned as we go. We don’t make customer drunk and steal their money. We don’t just “swing buy” but like to make it a valuable meeting. We don’t spam them with email any more (at least the better ones) – now 2XXX we don’t annoy them with cold calls any more, we don’t do the pitching any more we know them socially and we know more people and more about the more people than ever before through the new tools we have. There is no more distraction than doing some random or useless calls in the past, or unsuccessful visits… Maybe I misunderstood.

  12. says

    I see social media is little more than an online water cooler. Great for sharing opinions, ideas and gossip….but eventually someone has to do the real work, get their car or on the phone and connect with people the way we have always connected – directly. You cannot develop rapport with a computer.

    Still as 21st century water coolers go it’s not bad as witnessed by all the comments here from people I’ve mostly never met and will probably never meet :-(

  13. says

    Social media is just another form of communication. It’s quite easy to use a telephone, another medium, and not progress a sale. The method of engagement isn’t so much the thing to blame if you don’t achieve your obejctives — it’s that you didn’t define and stick with your objectives when you were engaging.

    So, is social media a distraction for sales people now? Possibly, because many of the forms that social media take don’t help you progress aims so easily. Examples: Twitter is a great broadcast mechanism and good for listening to many voices at once, but I would argue not an effective way of managing one to one dialogue (to estabish needs and discuss solutions, for example); LinkedIn may list many people you want a relationship with to sell to, but the site discourages contact with people you don’t already know (in fact, it places account restrictions on you if just 5 people reject your invitation to join); likewise, most people are on Facebook to social with friends and family and feel uncomfortable interacting with business associates, let alone sales people.

    In my opinion, two things would help sales people make more effective use of social media:

    1) Integration of the stuff they NEED to know into their CRM system so they can focus on the relationship without any distractions, then building that relatiosnhip AWAY from social media (which merely facilitated the introduction)

    2) More social networks focused towards building valuable business relationships where people ARE there to buy and sell, not chat with friends

    I think both will be big but it’s taking a while to get there. I should know: it’s taken us since May of last year to get 10,000 business people engaged on a network to do just business, while Facebook adds that number of new users an hour!

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ

  14. says

    Well said, Scott. Those of us in B2B sales are definitely in the beginnings of the social media hype wave. Admittedly its well established in other business communities. When I say “hype” I don’t mean that in a negative way. Just large amounts of discussion, attention, and yes, some noise as well. My friend Paul Lanigan wrote a good comment on Axel’s post on The Customer Collective. It’s worth reading as well.

  15. says


    This is a brilliant commentary on not only B2B social media hype, but the snarking and shouting approach taken by some to get attention off the real issues and on to their own commercial endeavors.

    Thanks so much for your contribution.

  16. says

    That’s a good way to sum it up gshirr. “I am sure that social media in business will be ubiquitous within a decade.” I suppose it will actually be sooner than that, but certainly not in 2009.

  17. says

    Hey Mac,

    Thanks for weighing in. Your take on all this is important to me as ESR continues to provide guidance to our clients and subscribers. For the readers, Mac’s seriously worth following.

  18. says

    Ian, we’re in agreement.

    I am completely open to the concept that significant business will be started, managed and completed through social media in the future. My big issue is that it distracts salespeople and managers from doing what’s required to win business now.

  19. says


    Thanks for your comment. This is my last remark on the subject. I know I’m not going to convince you of anything.

    My agenda and intentions are clear. I am an independent researcher and analyst (along with my small, but world-class team). We perform research on B2B sales effectiveness and B2B sales performance improvement programs, tools, approaches, and methods and the companies that provide them. Our research methodology is for your inspection on ESR’s website.

    I have nothing to sell but my firm’s objective perspective on how companies can win more business. I don’t sell sales training or sales consulting. I’ve got no hidden agenda.

    You, on the other hand are a skilled salesman with, as we have observed, very specific talents. Apparently you have several businesses, one of which is the Social Media Academy. You have an agenda: To convince people who would read my blog and TCC’s, among others, to consider your viewpoint, enroll in your academy, and perhaps hire you to advise them on how social media can be the platform for marketing and sales success. As an analyst, I have no choice but to be suspect of claims that you make about the pervasiveness and impact of social media on a profession that I know very, very well. The reason I am suspect is that you are not impartial, independent, or objective with respect to the issues.

    One last time I will appeal to the readers of this blog that social media is unmeasured and unproven in B2B sales, as a lead generation mechanism, a relationship building platform, or a way to enhance and augment a person’s ability to compete and sell in the corporate world. Things will change. I expect that. But–and here’s the bottom line–sales people are not as effective as the can or should be. You have dismissed highly accurate, relevant and respected research from numbers of sources that are all aligned on this point. I don’t want anyone else to do that. It’s a serious mistake.

    The reason sales people aren’t as effective as they can be is not because they aren’t connected to their buyers through social media. It’s because they don’t have the requisite business acumen, political savvy, strategic competitive perspective, discipline, negotiation capabilities, process, tools, support, training, coaching, measurement, and a host of other required skills and mechanisms to get the B2B sales job done in today’s world. You are positioning social media as a silver bullet. It is not, at least right now.

    I welcome you back when you have independent validation (sorry, not your opinion or research done by anyone who might profit from the results) that salespeople are winning business through their use of social media. In fact, I will not only welcome you back but will republish the data to our subscribers and clients pointing them toward you as one alternative source for education.

    Until then, you’re selling something and it’s keeping distract-able salespeople and their managers from focusing on what’s really important now. Until then…


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