What is a Lead? Social Media as a Business Strategy #leadgen2013
Empowered customers often use social media as a way to research products and services, and companies like SAP are now hard at work figuring out those customers' digital signals, and attempting to track down possible leads in strategic ways.

Customers Find it from You or from Someone Else

Sales team driven businesses usually employ some version of a sales funnel or pipeline, and these models are quickly becoming irrelevant due to social media, Todd Wilms, SAP head of social strategy, said at the Lead Generation 2013 conference.

"Organizations need to move from a sell model, to one where they are helping customers buy," Wilms said.

The idea of a sales pipeline is changing, Wilms said, and there's no real set path customers take along the way to making a purchase. Customers will do their own research, and they will figure out as much as they can about a product or service before they even go into a store or talk with a sales rep.

Social media is doing even more to help enable that kind of customer behavior, and companies like SAP are making a concerted effort to gather information on customer traits in this rapidly growing channel. Interacting with customers via social media involves different rules than traditional channels, however, and that makes navigating it even trickier.

As an enterprise company, SAP is in a pretty unique position to really delve into social selling, what it calls social business. It turns out the company's social business strategy is more about aligning company goals with its social presence than it is with making hard returns on its investment there. 

No organizations really have gotten this exactly right, Adriel Sanchez, SAP VP of demand generation in northern and southern Latin America said at the conference. That's why organizations need to be strategic about social business, he said, and why it's important not to think of social as just another tactic.

What is a Lead? Social Media as a Business Strategy #leadgen2013
Social media should complement, not replace, existing lead nurturing channels.

Listen, Seed + Engage

Because buyers are entering the sales funnel at different stages, and because nurturing is happening outside of traditional systems, social can be used to augment existing strategies, Sanchez said. 

"It's important companies don't stop doing the things they've been doing," he said, "but social can help those tactics along."

It starts with listening for the things people aren't saying directly, Sanchez said. SAP might look for social keywords like 'I need a recommendation,' 'I want to,' or 'too slow,' for example, as ways to see if someone might be a good lead candidate.

Having this kind of customer insight can tell an organization what kind of content might be used to nurture them. It could be used as a way to guide content strategy. The next step is to seed conversations with topics that are in line with the company's goals, a tricky notion within social media. People are generally less tolerant of marketing on social media sites, so there has to be added context there for customer facing teams, Sanchez said.

For engagement, one thing SAP has been testing out are Tweet chats. These are Twitter meet ups where customers and prospects are brought together in an informal setting to discuss a particular topic. Additionally, companies that have contact centers or inside sales teams should make sure to include those folks in the social business program, Sanchez said.

Those are exactly the kinds of people who should be dealing with inbound traffic when it comes to social media, he said.