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Is it rude to use Facebook as a lead generation tool?

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I have lost count of the number of times my friends, colleagues, and business partners have made the statement, “Facebook is personal. It is not for B2B! Try LinkedIn.”

And these are guys who work in the B2B space.

I understand their sentiment. Since its inception, Facebook has always been an intimate space reserved for friends and family, or very close professional associates. The types of friends with whom you feel comfortable sharing your life’s novel, including the mandatory cheesy pictures and funny banter.

So the thought of having a marketer or salesperson invade that safe, intimate space and try to “sell something” is met with resistance, anger, and in some cases, disbelief.

It’s the Person, not the Approach

Imagine you have a friend with whom you are connected on Facebook. You have known her for a couple of years. This friend works as the sales manager for a network security company, and you happen to be an IT manager for a company that could use your friend’s services.

One day you are engaged in Facebook Chat. The topic turns to work, and your friend starts discussing one of her recent network security jobs. You recognise that the solutions she offered her new client might benefit your company as well.

Would you hold it against her if – upon noticing your interest – she asked whether it would be a good idea for her to visit your office, and have a chat with your team?

I don’t think you would. At worst you might find it a bit forward, but also interesting. At best you would welcome her help! The relationship you have with this person is strong enough to keep the conversation going, even if that turns into a soft B2B lead generation exercise.

The Problem with Facebook B2B

Facebook is absolutely the right place for B2B social media lead generation, as is LinkedIn or Twitter, if your prospects and business partners are there (and they are).

So the problem is not whether Facebook is the right “place” for B2B. If we accept that the scenario mentioned above is realistic, then the problem is a different one altogether. In fact the problem is two-fold:

  1. How do you persuade your business prospects to accept you onto their Friends list; and
  2. Once there, how do you develop a genuine relationship that resembles the one I described above, and enables you to generate sales leads?

Getting on “the List”

Firstly, how do you “get on the list”, when most Facebook members still cling to the ideal of a personal space with no business interruptions? Facebook purists are almost always reluctant to accept invitations from anyone but their personal friends, and even more so if those asking to connect are marketers and business developers.

In fact, this reluctance to accept non-friend invitations has created a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which marketers and sales professionals don’t even bother in most cases due to their fear of rejection.

The answer to “how do I get on the list?” is simple, yet hard in practice.

You have to find ways of making the act of connecting with you a no-brainer for your prospect. A couple of proven ways include being referred by their friends (i.e. friends you share), or developing a reputation that is so compelling that your prospect clicks “Confirm” on the spot. Naturally, both of these require prolific networking, PR, and hard work over a number of years.

Building a Genuine Relationship

Even if you get lucky and get accepted onto your prospect’s friend list, how do you go about building a wholesome relationship upon which you can base lead generation activity?

Do you have the skills to engage in genuine relationship building with your prospects on Facebook, or are you falling for the trap of adapting your behaviour (or even worse, tip toeing) to avoid coming off as an aggressive salesperson?

Again, the answer to this problem is simple, but hard to achieve in practice.

You have to find ways of connecting with your new Facebook friends on both a personal and professional level. This includes posting interesting content, making the effort to chat, commenting on any of their posts which you find interesting, and sharing pieces of you that give them a glimpse into who you are as a human being.

Also, you have to provide helpful, relevant information, that enriches their Facebook experience on both levels.

Above all, your interest in your prospect must be real and genuine. Connect not because you intend to market your product to them, but because you sincerely want to develop a friendship with them, regardless of outcome.

Otherwise there is no point in even trying – you will be found out sooner or later.

Facebook B2B Lead Generation – Only for the Few

So the above leads me to my conclusion: Facebook is a great place for social media lead generation, but only if you are in that minority of marketers and business developers who can consistently get onto their prospects’ friend lists, and once there, build robust personal and professional relationships that lead to sales lead opportunities over time.

Which means that Facebook is a terrible place for B2B, if one is either (a) a mediocre marketer or business developer; or (b) a believer of those who are.

And because the majority of marketers and business developers are, in fact, mediocre, it is no wonder Facebook is not considered a B2B platform.

The term “self-fulfilling prophecy” makes sense. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Since 2007, Tom Skotidas has worked as head of marketing and business development at First Rate, one of Australia’s leading digital marketing agencies. In just under four years, Tom has helped grow the agency into one of Australia’s dominant players in search and performance marketing. One of the drivers behind Tom’s success in business development lies in his pioneering use of social media to generate sales leads. Today, he teaches the strategies and tactics of social media lead generation to audiences in Australia. More: tomskotidas.com.

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