Banbury Howard

Social media – the new face of business development?

The whirlwind rise of social media has left few people untouched – whether you have shied away from staying in contact or stalking old acquaintances on Facebook, tweeting and retweeting those interesting tidbits, or using LinkedIn to network your way to that all important sale or new job.

There can be no doubt that for B2C marketing, the power of social media is astronomical, but can we harness its power to replace the role of the traditional business development manager in reaching out and closing those B2B deals?

This is not an uncommon question, and crosses most every industry.

And our answer? Yes…but no!

Yes, social media is an awesome asset in our arsenal of business development tools. We can use it to reach out to an unimaginable audience – not just on our doorstep, but globally. In the right circumstances and at the right time, you could conceivably make a contact in Japan, launching your business into the Asian markets without even trying.

And yes, if used well, and in the right circumstances, it can even negate the need for any face to face contact – especially useful once you have reached that global market. At least to start with…

…which leads us to the no – the business development manager and their book of business cards cannot be replaced. And for many reasons.

For instance, take that contact in Japan. You have successfully sold X to them based on your online relationship and the limited information that they have gleaned from your conversations and your website. But they are blissfully unaware that you also offer Y. They could even be looking elsewhere for it as your sale is going through. The fairly stinted, unnatural conversation that you have had online, has not led to that topic.

And let’s not forget that people react well to personal contact – friendships, even in business, have an effect on our personal happiness and general wellbeing. So the relationships that are built face to face also build loyalty, to you and to your company.

Then there is the fact that while the number of people who have social media accounts is large* many use it really quite sparingly, flirting with each tool, but not maximising on its potential. So while we can reach out to diverse markets, and while we can also be very targeted, with online networking we are still missing large swathes of our potential audience, simply because their attention may be somewhere else at that moment.

So business developers can breathe easily knowing that they will not be chained to their desk, destined to a life of online communications. The Oxford English dictionary defines networking as ‘interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’. This tells us that online networking should not even be in competition with face to face networking. Rather they complement each other in fulfilling that definition – sharing information, positioning ourselves, creating a platform for successful business transactions.

*Linked In figures on 3 November 2011 are more than 135 million members in over 200 countries and territories, Facebook figures on 1 December 2011 are more than 800 million active users, and Twitter quotes 100 million users on 2 December 2011.