Whenever I question the use of social media, mainly Twitter and Facebook, when I analyze the B2B buyer decision process, I’m always careful to make an exception of LinkedIn. Much as it gets nowhere near the same degree of media attention and general buzz as Twitter and FB, I don’t doubt its importance. It’s the one social platform that generates widespread acceptance whenever I mention it at any client’s offices. It’s almost unanimously used, it’s respected, and it’s still considered to be a growth platform. But what I’m less convinced about is how it’s being used by buyers.
Move to one side for a minute its role for recruitment – we all get that. And many of the best and most successful salespeople live by it – what’s beginning to be a core strand of ‘inside sales’. I understand the whole prospecting, data mining, validating, social proximity side to LinkedIn. It’s invaluable there.
But I’m talking here about buyers not sellers. How are buyers using it? Are they deciding what products & services they’re interested in, then searching for who they’re connected to from those providers? I don’t think so – I’ve not heard of that anecdotally and it seems a long shot approach anyway.
Are they going to LinkedIn to read the Company Profiles of possible vendors? – Surely not. There are far better places to get that info – like the vendors’ own websites.
Are they searching for peer connections to ask those people directly for their views on particular purchases? Doubtful – that would be broadcasting a lot of potentially commercially sensitive info to people you don’t know directly.
So we must be left with discussions within the LinkedIn groups. This must be where the action is, but as a member of some of these LI groups I find the chances of getting original detailed feedback to questions placed in the groups still a longshot. For every 500 members of any LI Group you’ll get 480 passive watchers and just twenty who post or respond to anyone. I see questions being asked, but little in the way of answers.
Without doubt peer recommendations are some of the most influential referrals a prospective buyer can receive. As a source of influence it’s almost unbeatable. At the low-ticket end of the market just think of the persuasiveness of book reviews on Amazon. But LinkedIn Groups aren’t great as a source of peer recommendations because out of the 5% willing to respond to anyone’s question, the chance of those individuals having purchased the same product or service and going into detail about their experience is unlikely. So maybe the recommendation is just a thumbs up / thumbs down on a particular supplier, most likely based around their customer support. I can see this happening – but it’s pretty broad brush and unfocused. It doesn’t feel an effective approach.
I still don’t think I understand how buyers are really using LinkedIn. And the more I continue being unconvinced, the more I think that when clients tell me about their support for LinkedIn, what they’re really meaning is they know their salespeople like it, so they’re imagining the buyers must be using it too. Buyers clearly are using it – but I haven’t seen any evidence it’s for buying. Have you?