Study: Is Social Media a Source for B2B leads?

If you fill a glass with water, is the glass half-empty or half-full?  Sure, social-media channels offer B2B sales and marketing executives with the opportunity to engage with individuals who are visiting their websites and otherwise might not be reachable. But do people visiting websites via social networks represent a legitimate demand for a company’s products and services? A recent study sheds some light on the question.

Visitors from the top social sites were generally uninterested in product or contact pages, suggesting they were not in the market for the company’s products or services, according to a new survey.  The study, which was conducted by lead generation company LeadForce1 was released by eMarketer. It examined the behavior of visitors to B2B websites who had been directed to the sites from social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Wikipedia.

According to the survey, most site visitors referred from Facebook or Twitter visited only one page before leaving. This suggests that social network users are willing to follow company links to check out content but unlikely to make the jump to doing product research or other sales-related activity.

However, sales and marketing execs should not be so quick to dismiss people who visit their websites via social networks, said Nicole Perrin, senior editor of eMarketer. “Just because they’re not going to the product section doesn’t mean they’re not prospects,” Perrin said. “If they’re engaging with any of your content, it’s an opportunity for the company to build brand awareness and present [the individuals] with original content, experts and services.”

Part of the problem is perception. Compared with their B2C brethren, B2B execs are still having a tough time with buy-in for social media. Forty-six percent of B2B respondents said social media was perceived as irrelevant to their company, while only 12% of consumer-oriented marketers had the same problem, according to a separate study that was recently released by eMarketer.

Perrin said companies could sharpen their conversion rates among people who visit their websites via social-media sites by already having a strong presence on (their respective) social networks and getting involved directly in the conversations that are going on.  “It’s the ability to start a relationship with people before they’re ready to buy.”

Perrin pointed to IBM’s “Listening for Leads” program as a prime example of how B2B companies can deploy an effective social-media strategy. The program has people Big Blue calls “seekers,” who on a voluntary basis go to particular social media sites where they listen to conversations and determine whether there’s a potential sales opportunity. Ed Linde II, whose team is responsible for building web assets to support the IBM.com sales channel and organic web visitors,  told eMarketer that the program has “uncovered millions of dollars worth of sales leads,” so far, and is expected grow even more. “It’s going to these [social-media] sites and directly identifying” potential buyers, Perrin said.