Our discussion around word-of-mouth marketing in one of my recent classes morphed into an “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” debate. Following that line it does appear that more and more individuals (and organizations) are beginning to explore ways to take advantage of social networking in the business world. LinkedIn and Spoke Software are examples of various tools for that purpose. At any rate, the emotions were high and I felt the social networking angle was worth exploring.
Here’s what started the rub. Many of my students have noticed that some companies are taking a close look at their rosters, hoping to pick up connected players that may now be available due to changing economic conditions. The following sound-bites were tossed around … perhaps you have also noticed some of these statements in various job postings:
• “Must bring a rolodex of contacts and prospects …”
• “The candidate should possess high level, current relationships and contacts within …”
You don’t have to read between the lines to understand the thought process here … Rolodex equals Rainmaker. When asked which is more important; paring a knowledgeable process-driven sales person with marketing data (relevant customer information) or picking a player who presents a strong rolodex, many hiring managers will say “both.” Yes, they are both desired. And it would make stockholders cheer, to recruit a great sales person who has a network filled with qualified prospects from your targeted industry that are ready to purchase this quarter. But if you had to favor one over the other, which one would you choose if you were serious about maximizing the impact of your team? It’s a very interesting question if you don’t have a great deal of confidence in your marketing data … or sales process.
As you might expect, the social networking points-of-view presented in class came from several different angles and shades of gray. At one extreme it was believed that uncertainty reigns in today’s business environment and that the rolodex can become outdated before the new player finishes reading their new employee manual. In addition, even if their contacts remain current there is no guarantee the new player will close a quick order from one of their loyal fans. After all, their credibility was established under another team’s banner, and as sometimes happens, loyalties have now shifted to the service or support groups who now keep the solution they originally sold up and running. For this group the rolodex statement came across as a desperate plea for a quick bluebird sale. Of course, anyone who has carried a quota knows the bluebird is indeed a rare bird, especially when it comes to complex solution sales.
In competitively challenging times, all companies want to enjoy the value of having new members of the F-500 (or your desired target market) as their newest clients. And most human beings still make buying decisions by doing business with other human beings they know, like, and most importantly, trust. So, the trend toward social networks does make sense.
What’s your take? How do you view (or use?) social networking as a part of your company’s sales process and/or marketing strategy?