MAD Perspectives Blog

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 Sales and Social Networking

Peggy Dau - Monday, March 08, 2010

The art of selling has evolved over the years, but the basic premise is unchanged.  A company has a product or service that it sells to its customers.  The product is sold directly or via a channel such as a retailer, reseller or the internet.  The goal for both the direct or indirect channel is to get to the key decision makers or influencers for the entity buying the product.  Once they have identified this decision maker, they want to provide them with the facts about their product that differentiate it from its competitors, fulfill the needs of the customer, and address extemporaneous goals. How has social networking helped or hindered the sales process?

The past 10 years have seen the internet accepted as both a sales channel and an information portal.  For the sake of this discussion, we are not going to focus on sales via the internet.  We will focus on the traditional sales model of a sales person calling upon an established set of accounts.  Many sales people that I have spoken with are aware of social media, but mostly from the consumer perspective.  Their initial thought is that social media is Twitter and that all it is a random set of meaningless thoughts. They may be on LinkedIn, but they are uncertain as to its benefits other than as a "virtual Rolodex".   Given that sites like Twitter,Facebook or YouTube did evolve from a individuals point of view rather than a business perspective, it is understandable that sales personnel may have some concerns.

In addition to some healthy scepticism, there is also a cultural issue.  Many successful sales people are successful because they have built strong relationships with their customers.  They have wined and dined, played golf or attended sporting events.  They have built business based social relationships. they feel that social media is not personal due to the lack of face to face interaction.  However, the new breed of sales will include those very individuals around whom these social platforms were built.  These millenials are familiar with the tools and understand the potential.  As many sales people have adapted to CRM (customer relationship management) software and updated order processing and order management systems  they will now figure out how, where and why to use social media.

Shaking hands by mr.curtispope.

Here are a few thoughts:

1.  Listen to what your existing and potential customers are saying online.

It is extremely likely that your clients are online.  They are exploring websites, industry forums, blogs, customer support pages and social networking sites to learn more about the vendors they work with.  As a sales person, you can gain insight into their pet peeves, challenges and concerns by "listening" to what they are saying online.  Using tools such as Google Alerts, you can define keywords around topics such as your company and its products plus the names of your current or prospective clients.  You will be able to see, at least at a high level, what content your client is placing online as it relates to your company.

In addition you can perform searches is Twitter and Facebook, again using keywords, to see what they are talking about.  If you want to get more sophisticated, there are subscription based tools from Radian6, TelligentVisible Technologies and others.  Once you have these tools set up, the time investment to scan the news becomes a habit rather than a huge time commitment.  Remember, 20 years ago email was not present in the corporate sector and now our email in boxes are packed while voicemail has reduced.

BTW, you can also listen for information about your competitors!

2. Find key decision makers and influencers

Many of us are familiar with a rolodex, business contact, or CRM systems.  We collect business cards from our client, at networking events or trade shows.  We follow up on those with whom we had compelling conversations and we hold onto the rest of these cards.  The goal is to have a suite of contacts with whom we can pursue business. 

In addition, sales people often have primary contacts within a business that are in purchasing, IT or marketing, but they may not be the key decision makers.  they may not even be influencers.    Most sales people will leverage their primary contacts to increase their visibility within the account, with the goal to gain access to these decision makers.  Of course, if you can get inside the head of these decision makers you can shorten the sales cycle and win more business.  Social networks can help with this process.  Using LinkedIn as an example and remembering the theory of six degrees of separation, your LinkedIn contacts may be connected to that key decision maker you desire to meet.  An introduction from a business colleague who can speak to your experience and reputation, from a trusted contact, can go a long way to easing that first conversation.  In fact, LinkedIn can give you a little insight into their background and what makes them tick.

3. Educate your customers

Part of the sales process always includes providing updated information about your company and its products.  With increasing focus on managing travel expenses, sales people can become frustrated by not being able to be in front of their customers as often as they like.  An alternative mechanism to sharing information with clients is to use podcast and webcasts to provide information.  They enable the company to share information to broad audience in a cost effective manner, while enabling potential customers to interact and ask questions during the presentation.  In addition, in many cases, the information is available for a limited period in an on-demand manner, allowing customers to access the information as their schedules permit.

If this solution is deemed too impersonal, then think about the incredible advances in video conferencing.  At the low end their are simple, free (yet not secure) tools such as Skype.  On the high end their are video conference environments such as Cisco Telepresence or HP Halo that visually connect participants in virtual conference rooms using advance camera, lighting and networking technologies.

In addition, invite your customers to join LinkedIn groups, company blogs, RSS feeds, etc.,  that may be sponsored by your company.  The goal - make it easy for your customers to get the information they need!

4. Customer Service

It is often the case that once the product or service is sold, that the sales person moves onto the next opportunity.  This is understandable.  However, in today's world where social networking is so prevalent, it is important to keep your customer's happy.  An unhappy customer will tell 10 colleagues about a bad experience, while only telling 3 colleagues about a positive experience.  Sales people need to stay in touch with customer service.  If your company has a customer service forum, check in to see if your customers are participating and at what level.  Are they satisfied?  Are they facing a challenge? 

Happy customers are loyal customers and will recommend you to others.  Customer retention has become an increasing focus for many companies as their products and services become commoditized.  Your customers want to feel as if they have a voice.  Enabling them to participate in customer support forums, rewarding them for solution suggestions, listening and responding to their questions is all part of the extended sales process.

It's a new world for sales people.  They are faced with a broader view of their customer, but that's a two way street.  Their customers have access to far more information about vendors than ever before.  Social networking and digital media solutions can augment the sales process and facilitate access, education and support.  Make these tools are part of your daily habit!

I want to thank Chris Brogan and Joseph Jaffe for their insights on these topics.  Information in their blogs helped me solidify my thoughts.

What's your perspective?