Study: B2B marketers see value in social but no sales

Love's Passing

A new study from eMarketing discusses a frustrating dynamic of social media marketing: high perceived value but without sales to substantiate the perception.

This chasm is hardly unique. I think there may be more truth to these results than most people want to believe.


Just as the coffee is for closers, the demographics and size of this study are for subscribers only. What we do know is that it was a survey conducted at least in part of digital marketers in very large firms (SAP, Xerox and Adobe are mentioned).

Here are two of their most pointed observations:

  • “social has become a primary lead generation tactic for B2B marketers”
  • ” B2Bs still haven’t found a proven formula for exactly how social helps close a sale”

Since we don’t know where of who the data comes from, what exactly can we discern from this? I’ll leave that for you to decide, with the caveat that most studies that you see in infographics or online make some aggressive assumptions that render them pointless. In this case we see that the perception of social media (for people using it) is that it is quite valuable for lead generation yet at the same time they can’t substantiate the costs at the point of sale. I think that’s rather important.


When Forrester and IBM came out with provocative studies last year attributing very few sales to social media, a couple of common objections were voiced: “Last touch attribution” and “top-of-the-funnel tactic.”

Last touch attribution is the method of attributing a sale to the last vehicle prior to sale. In all three of the mentioned studies, social media proved abysmal at closing sales, especially when compared to search (organic and paid) and email. Last touch attribution is imprecise, but assigning attribution to different tactics throughout the marketing execution leaves quite a bit open to interpretation. What Forrester, IBM and eMarketer seem to agree on is that social media is rarely the last touch before sale. It may serve an intermediate function, but from these studies it would be speculative.

As for being a “top-of-the-funnel” tactic (meaning sales leads are generated from social, I suspect the extent of that is a misperception. In Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he discusses a perception gap where people believe that 50% of word-of-mouth marketing happens in the digital realm, when it is actually 7%. Frankly, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn aren’t ideal for B2B prospecting. Facebook is too restrictive, Twitter is too underutilized (you could make the same argument for G+) and LinkedIn is probably too restrictive in their paid plans. Of all the vehicles, LinkedIn may be the best – but it’s still illogical to suggest that most prospecting happens in social. It’s hard to fathom how businesses could be so much more available and approachable via social media than typical users.

There is a growing amount of evidence that consumers want two very specific things from brands: discounts and customer service. I’m not sure that I buy into B2B interests being much different from B2C in this regard. Businesses don’t maintain social platforms to be sold to (just as consumers don’t). What this study offers into the greater conversation should be why we have such disparate expectations for social media than we do for other media, and what is social media actually able to accomplish for us?

I’m curious to know how you interpret this.

Illustration Evelyn De Morgan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.


  1. says

    Hmmmm Jim – great post that’s making me think. My first thoughts: as an old Sales Hand I can tell you that the sales person in me KNOWS how to close – give the me the QUALITY leads anyway you can, and I’ll close em. And leads are closed in many ways – in person, on the phone, sometimes via email, and sometimes on social media; it all depends on what you’re selling AND what the customer prefers. The reality is that no TACTIC or channel closes a deal for anyone – it’s all about how the user USES that tactic. And I’m a BIG paid LinkedIn fan thanks to lots of talking with @AJenkins about how to use it effectively. The key, as is true for all sales, is listening first.

  2. jimdougherty says

    Great points, Amy. I think you bring out one of the truisms of writing anything about social media, which is that all situations are hardly the same. The concern with the ineffectiveness of social media to close sales is maybe more properly stated as a difficulty to convert when tactics like search are more effective. It depends on any situation.

    I agree with you about LinkedIn, although when I was doing sales I had to contact more than 35 people in a month and that’s the max number of InMails that you can send with the highest business account. It all depends on the situation, but I agree with you and AJ about the value of LI for these purposes. Thank you for a great comment!

  3. jimdougherty says

    Hi Roxann, sorry for the late response:

    You’ll see that they did the same studies in 2013 but omitted that measurement, likely because they’re selling a social solution now.

    The Forrester study is behind a pay wall. I can’t recall how I was privy to it, but here’s a link:

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