I have a big problem with social media. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And, mostly, good old fashioned email.
Let me put those sentiments another way. I have a problem with the way business people knowingly or unknowingly delude themselves into thinking that social media and email are really sufficing as the sort of “relationship ice breakers” that are necessary to secure any sizable piece of business these days.
By way of explanation, I should explain that I own a professional services company which offers website design and internet marketing services. I’m also currently our principal salesperson. Our clients understand that our services are not inexpensive and they also realize that hiring someone like us means the beginning of an ongoing relationship with a business partner they’ll be interacting closely with for the foreseeable future. So, by its very nature, selling our services usually requires establishing a measure of engagement and trust.
Which brings me to why I’m ranting and why I have so much unresolved animosity towards my Outlook email.
The problem with all manner of digital communications — whether we’re talking Facebook, Twitter, messages exchanged on LinkedIn or email — is that they are easy. In the old days, it used to be that you knew you had someone’s genuine buying interest if they let you call them on the phone and then accepted a lunch invitation. These days it’s possible to exchange 8 emails, send out 10 Tweets and post 5 or 6 Facebook updates in just a few minutes.
Without ever leaving your desk.
The implicit irony of social media is that it makes it easier for a salesperson or marketer to come within earshot of a potential client and promises engagement. Often, though, it only delivers the sort of passing, superficial flirtation that will never make an enduring business relationship.
Call it the social media One Night Stand, if you will.
The very ease and detachment from human intimacy which are part and parcel of most digital communications are also those elements which can lead you down an endless chain of emails and Tweets that take you nowhere (but do get you there quickly.)
I can illustrate what I mean by this phenomena with a quick example of a recent marketing interaction I had…
A couple of months ago, I found myself needing to re-energize my sales cycle. I was, frankly, in the very beginning of lead generation and was reaching out to folks left and right via direct research and email outreach. Basically, I was pouring over the websites of potential clients or partners and, if I found a promising email, I’d drop that person a line…
One of the businesswomen who responded to my emails was the principal of a local PR & Marketing firm who works in one of our industry verticals. Essentially, she responded to my unsolicited direct email with an email back which read “Great to learn of you and your work… I’ve passed your information on to ‘Shelly’ in our office, who will reach out to you to schedule a time for you to drop by…”
A few days went by and I did, indeed, hear back from ‘Shelly.’ She again evinced interest in seeing examples of our work and expressed how nice it would be if I dropped by their office sometime. She even went so far as to inquire about my availability for the following week. I wrote her back with some times.
That’s when things started getting weird. After suggesting a couple of different times in that first response, I didn’t hear back from her. I sent one more email which likewise was not responded to. I could tell the initial “theoretical” enthusiasm her firm had expressed in getting to know us was just that: theoretical. In one last ditch effort to force closure, I sent a final email letting ‘Shelly’ know that I was going to be in her town and very close to her office at a given place and time and would it be alright for me to stop by? Finally, I did receive one message back from ‘Shelly’ letting me know that she was unavailable at that time but that ‘at some point in the future’ she’d be reaching out to me to schedule a mutually convenient time to meet. I’m still waiting.
I could repeat variants of this story — shallow interactions which went nowhere — which started elsewhere in the digital landscape. Some on LinkedIn. A couple on Facebook. Even one from Twitter. But the lesson to be learned remains the same: social media or direct email might be a great way to get on a prospect’s radar. But be wary of spending too much time using any of these tools and thinking that the sort of shallow engagement they usually offer is likely to get you to the threshold you’ll need to cross to actually win a bunch of business. For that, you’ll probably need a few phone calls. Or maybe — even — an old fashioned business lunch.
You can skip the three martinis though — that really has become passe.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and may not reflect the views of Webaholic.
David Hitt is the owner of Splat, Inc., a Philadelphia internet marketing and website design firm. He blogs regularly at Splat’s blog, Sitegeist. Connect with David on Twitter.