By adaptive - January 23rd, 2014

Social media is putting more power into the hands of the marketing department says James Kelliher, chairman & CEO, Whiteoaks

Before I start – would anyone reading this who is involved in sales rather than marketing please look away now?
Now they’ve gone, I’m safe to say this. At the moment, in many organisations the marketing department simply cannot win. When business is good, the sales team takes the credit. When it’s bad, they blame the marketers for not putting out the right messages and preparing the market so they can do their job. Within this, the PR team – whether in house or agency – is often the prime scapegoat. However, it seems that the rise of social media could change this balance of power. 
Currently the marketing and PR worlds are buzzing with discussion about the use of Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and their future equivalents. Are they re-defining our roles? Is there still a need for traditional media engagement? How can we continue to manage our brand reputation?
Yet, when it comes to the crunch, social media is just another platform for influencing and communicating to the market and should be just one of the tools used to build brands and ultimately increase sales. As such it should be used only as part of a defined strategy integrated with other more traditional marketing methods. Just aiming for more “friends”, “likes” or other endorsements is just taking a very circuitous route to the real end goal – the generation of revenue.
However, there is one crucial advantage that social media has over other more traditional methods. If used wisely and with understanding, social media channels represent one of the most effective and measureable lead generation mechanisms now known to business. And the good news is that this golden ticket is in the hands of the marketing and PR teams.
Most marketers are now convinced of the need to provide compelling and engaging content that educates or entertains, rather than mere slogans and marketing messages. This will vary enormously depending on the nature of the organisation – but this content should be powerful enough to attract a targeted audience, helping to draw in and build a community of interested parties around a particular product, solution or service.
But many organisations are still at this stage of the journey and are unaware as to how to take the next steps. They may need specialist guidance to take their social media use to the next level. But because the rewards can be so significant, engaging this help is certainly worth the investment. 
The next step now is not just to capture these targets, but also to separate the genuine leads from the passing interest. There are various ways to do this, but one of the most popular is to make a virtual deal with your audience; we will give you something of value, if in exchange you provide us with your details.
For a consumer-facing business this may involve offering a discount or entering the names into a competition. The “prize” for B2B customers is usually access to otherwise restricted information in the form of a white paper, market statistics or other high quality information. There is now the opportunity to gather valuable intelligence about these targets; for example monitoring other social media activity and downloads. It is only after this that the target audience can be narrowed down again, identifying genuine sales leads. 
Marketing can then pass these on to the sales department confident in the knowledge that they are good quality leads that can be contacted and converted into real customers.
Of course, this could cause even more controversy between sales and marketing. If sales figures remain static, it could reveal some skills shortcomings. For example, are the disappointing figures due to the fact that the sales team spends their time visiting existing clients rather than making new business calls?
 However, this is a worst case scenario and one that can be turned round by addressing the problems. In most cases, sales teams will appreciate the constructive and practical help and the result could be a significant uplift in business.
We recently used these methods to help one particular B2B client engage and capture more than 100 qualified target organisations and more than 300 qualified individual targets. As the size of an average deal for this client is in excess of £1 million, the value of these methods is clear. Even based on a low prospect to conversion rate of one in a 100, the client looks set to profit from its social media investment. In reality, the conversion rate is higher. 
If a marketing department can deliver this tangible and quantifiable service it can stand up to any accusation levelled by sales. There’s no greater validation or justification than a direct input to sales success – and now the power is in the marketers’ hands for a change.

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