Aug 172012

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My partner Marc Hausman wrote an excellent column last week for the Washington Business Journal. In it he introduces a concept we’ve been stressing to clients and prospects — lead introduction vs. lead generation.

What’s the difference? Really it comes down to numbers. Our B2B and B2G clients are usually selling a specialized and relatively high priced solution to a very defined set of prospects. They know who these people are in most cases. Where they need help is in starting and maintaining a productive dialogue. That’s where social media can shine — we help out clients transition from interruption marketing to conversational marketing.

Lead generation on the other hand often descends into a numbers game. For consumer markets and for relatively undifferentiated products that might be fine. But it doesn’t translate well into B2B and B2G. Unfortunately, this fact isn’t reflected in how many marketing departments are evaluated.

We recently had a conversation with a prospect who asked us if we could guarantee her 500-700 leads per month! We said heck no, and the vast majority would be worthless anyway. She then told us in confidence that her performance review is based on volume and cost per lead, not quality. So anything that brings in big numbers cheap is the way to go.

I thought about that when I read this excellent article from John Battelle. He points to some of the ways shysters are gaming Twitter and Facebook advertising and ties it to the early days of Google Adwords. Quoting Fast Company, he makes an amazing statement that almost half of the followers brands accumulate on Twitter are bots, not real people.

He also links to a site that promises 1,000 Twitter followers for $17 — now that’s an excellent “cost per lead” of under 2 cents! Of course there’s no way of knowing how many are actual people.

What really hit home was this quote, where he talks about what marketers will do under pressure from their bosses for higher metrics:

Back when I was reporting for The Search, I explored the gray market that had sprung up around Google (and still flourishes, despite Google’s disputed attempts to beat it back). Fact is, wherever there is money to be made, and ignorance or desperation exists in some measure, shysters will flourish. And a further fact is this: Marketers, faced with CMO-level directives to “increase my follower/friend counts,” will turn to the gray market. Just as they did back in the early 2000s, when the directive was “make me rank higher in search.”

There are plenty of ways to address quantity and fill the top of the funnel — email campaigns, webinars, advertising. A lead introduction campaign works well in conjunction with such activities.

But expecting social media to generate huge numbers of real leads in B2B or B2G niches is opening the door to an empty numbers game. It won’t produce sales, and it will probably turn off the sales team and discourage them from trying new approaches.

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