Forrester Research’s Jeremiah Owyang knows what he’s talking about when it comes to social media.

In a recent post, he detailed the five questions companies often ask him about social media.

Robert Scoble, ever perceptive, added a sixth:

How will doing this help my sales?

Unfortunately, that’s about as perceptive as it gets for Scoble as he goes on to demonstrate exactly why social media has not been rapidly embraced by businesses.

For a legitimate salesman, the answer to “how will doing this help my sales?” instinctively generates the following response:

“I’m glad you asked that question. Let me tell you more about how I’ve created value for my other customers.”

In the social media world, however, apparently “this is a question that isn’t answerable” because Scoble the Philosopher believes that:

“…there’s no way to prove that ANYTHING a business does will lead to more sales.

“Even those ‘pay per click’ ads on Google aren’t guaranteed to increase sales.

“Quick, name one thing that’s GUARANTEED to increase sales at any company. Any one that you could come up with I could say “um, no” to if I wanted to.”

Clearly, Scoble doesn’t have a bright future as a salesman and if purveyors of social media “solutions” take the same approach as he does, the business of social media is going to find it difficult to get anywhere.

It’s disingenuous to claim that decision-makers expect some sort of guarantee that their purchases are going to increase sales. There’s not an experienced, competent decision-maker who has such expectations.

Taking the role of decision-maker and at the risk of oversimplifying, there are two ways to sell me on a solution:

  1. Logic. Demonstrate logically how you and your solution are capable of creating value for my business at a cost that is sensibly correlated to the value I believe you and your solution can reasonably generate.
  2. Track record. Give me compelling examples of the ways in which other businesses have used your solution to create value and relate them to my business.

In other words, all I’m asking for is permission to believe. If you can’t give me permission to believe, you’re either not a salesman, you’re selling a solution you don’t believe in or you don’t have a solution worth selling.

Basically, Scoble’s sales pitch for social media translates to:

“You waste lots of money on other things. Waste some on social media.”

It may be true that I waste money on other things but a good salesman knows that pointing this out to me isn’t the path to ensuring that some of it ends up in his pocket.

Make no mistake about it – Scoble is being disingenuous or, if he truly believes any of what he’s written, is being internally dishonest.

The reason businesses aren’t throwing as much money at social media as social media proponents would like is not that these businesses don’t “get it” or that they’re too risk-averse.

The reason is that many have experimented with social media and haven’t received a return that justifies further or greater investment.

And those that haven’t experimented with social media either haven’t been convinced that there’s a good rationale for its application to their businesses or they have heard about the less-than-stellar returns other businesses have experienced.

Unfortunately, Scoble doesn’t want to acknowledge this.

He would prefer to point out that:

“Companies do things that aren’t directly tied to sales all the time.

Of course, sellers of social media solutions can take Scoble’s approach and tell prospective customers that they should purchase their solutions because they waste money on other things, but you don’t need a Wharton MBA to figure out just how successful that is going to be (in fact, you’re probably more capable of accurately predicting the outcome if you don’t have a Wharton MBA).

So here are common sense sales tips that appear to be sorely needed in the world of social media:

  • Be accurate. Don’t misrepresent what you’re selling me. If you’re selling me ¾ carat diamond, don’t tell me you’re selling me 1 carat diamond.
  • Be honest. I know that there’s no such thing as a perfect solution. Tell me what yours does well and what its limitations are. In other words, don’t feed me BS.
  • Manage expectations. Tell me what other customers of your solution have received from its use and give me a realistic idea of what I can expect. In the process, give yourself some room to exceed my expectations.

Like most of the problems with social media, the tepid response the “social media industry” has received from the business community (when measured in dollars – not hype) is based on a disconnect between perception and reality.

Believing that they have something revolutionary, social media consultants and companies tend to oversell what they have but few are smart enough to pull off such overselling.

In other words, they’re running a Honda dealership but trying to pretend it’s a Ferrari dealership.

They can either continue down the path of denial or do one of two things: start selling Hondas or start selling Ferraris.

What’s it going to be, Scoble? Give me some permission to believe.