I was out schmoozing with clients the other week. The sun was shining; it was an early start and several bottles of vino later I ended up getting into a heated debate with one of the senior clients about the role and value of social media.

His view was “Show me how it can drive increased leads and sales opportunities and I’ll invest in it”.

I said, “It’s a little more complicated than that, the value isn’t just in trying to drive an immediate sales opportunity but about starting and nurturing relationships…bla, bla, bollocks…”

He looked at me with that ‘agency wa*ker’ kind of stare. I probably deserved it.

Well that was enough fluff from me to put us at loggerheads for the night.

He wanted “immediate returns”. I wanted another glass of wine. Joking aside, I wanted respect for social as a channel that was more than trying to pigeon hole it into an element of the marketing mix alongside telemarketing.

Sorry any telemarketing peeps reading this.

The problem was the fizz and grapes made me tongue-tied and I just kept rambling.

So let me get it off my chest now, while I’m sober.

In my view one of the key values of social media in a B2B environment is that it can start to help your client facing teams and knowledge experts kick-start virtual relationships. It allows you to listen (very important) and learn about explicit client issues and pain points and then gives you the confidence to make a considered and personalised sales engagement.

Social media in this respect is more like corporate hospitality.

Most Sales Director’s would happily spend £5k if an opportunity for their lead sales guy to take 5 hot prospects to Twickenham came along. 3 or 4 hours of quality face time, having fun, soft selling in a non-sales environment – bingo!

So, why is it so hard for people to have more empathy for the value of starting social conversations and engagement?

I agree there is no guarantee that the £5k investment in the corporate hospitality will ever net a commercial return. But deep down you know it’s the right thing to do. Having trust in the lead sales guy to find a way in and deliver something back to the business is all part of the overall sales and marketing process.

More business leaders need to have the same confidence in social media and more importantly in the front line teams and individuals they are asking to represent them in the social world.

In the above example, the rugby at Twickenham could be considered to be the piece of content that created the engagement opportunity; in social media you also need to invest in that engaging piece of content in order to spark a conversation.

Emotional selling, building relationships, nurturing opportunities might all sound a bit fluffy in this touch economic world, but it’s these very relationship building exercises that will land you the next ‘big deal’.

Being brave is something most B2B clients find alien. As one client put it to me 12 months ago “I don’t get paid for taking risks, I get paid for minimising them”.

I nearly cried in my Lamb Bhuna.

Have we all been brainwashed into accepting the path of least resistance as the only path worth following?

Not me.

I’m off for a beer, who wants to join me?