Social media versus the personal B2B referral

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A recently-released survey by US software company Implisit, (as reported by emarketer, whose tables are replicated here), is very enlightening. Carried out in October 2014 among almost 500 American B2B clients of Implisit, all of whom are using Salesforce CRM, its headline finding is that personal referrals by clients and employees generate the highest conversion rates. On the face of it, this is to be expected, but actually the end results are a close-run thing and social media put up a very good showing, especially when compared with traditional offline media and sales team methods of generating new business.

Converting a lead

B2B Social Media

The first measure used was the most demanding – Lead to Deal. Here, referrals win hands down. Amongst the other methods, the company website still has great value, but is being run very close by social networks. For some reason the survey has picked out LinkedIn separately and it appears to perform badly, but as we shall see this is not the full story and as with all statistics, you have to analyse the findings carefully.

It is at first sight quite surprising to see paid search just beating the internally-generated leads pursued by sales teams, given that they can be expected to have market knowledge and targeted contacts. But as we have reported from other research, at least two-thirds of B2B buyers pre-qualify suppliers online before they ever speak to a salesperson.

The other point that needs to be made is that these are percentages not absolutes – and in numerical terms it is highly unlikely that as many referrals will be generated as website hits or reactions to your company on social media. Therefore digital wins hands down in terms of its overall impact on performance.

Closing an opportunity

B2B Marketing

When one looks at the success rates in turning interest into action, the warmed-up leads obviously score higher. Unsurprisingly, referrals (which by their nature are pre-warmed) win again, but notice that social networks have moved into second place, overtaking websites which convert relatively poorly.

Email campaigns score much higher than their ‘also ran’ position on the first measure. It shows that email can still be effective – people shun cold circulars but they often will engage with information from a known source in which they have shown some interest.

Note also how LinkedIn has moved up from 10th to 6th position – it is a much more targeted business tool than other social networks and it also has great importance in other key areas like staff hiring, corporate image and networking.

What remains true throughout both measures of B2B effectiveness is that traditional techniques are scattergun and wasteful. Note the low conversion rates from these popular avenues of approach –

  • Corporate events
  • Trade shows
  • Buying lists

Long time coming

The time taken to close a B2B sale is often lengthy. On average, the leads referred to in this survey took 84 days to convert into opportunities – 13% of leads made it that far. The star performers at that initial stage were:

  1. Websites 31%
  2. Referrals 25%
  3. Webinars 18%
  4. Social networks 17%
  5. Marketing & advertising 15%
  6. Paid search 14%
  7. Sales generated 14%

Opportunity moved to a deal far faster, averaging 18 days – but only 6% of the cases completed successfully. And as we have seen, websites tend not to fare well on the second leg of the sales process, as is also the case with webinars – clearly many attendees who show initial enthusiasm can often be shown up as mere ‘tyre kickers’.

That is a criticism often leveled against social media visitors. Therefore it is all the more impressive that social should have come out of this research so well.

We at Hannon Digital focus on social networks and show B2B operators how to get the best out of them. We’d love to show you too.