The explosive growth in the use of social media has dramatically altered the way customers discover and evaluate products. They are no longer dependent on the information provided by the salesperson to make a buying decision. Today, people can get all the information they need about a product by surfing the Internet or by contacting their “friends” on social media. In fact, research shows that about 60% of customers make a decision to buy or not, even before meeting a salesperson.
How can you sell effectively to the highly informed customer? What does it take to engage buyers of the social age? You need to enable your sales staff to harness the full potential of social media. A study conducted by A Sales Guy revealed that 78.4% of sales persons using social media out performed those who weren’t using social media. The study also found out that sales people using social media were 23% more successful in achieving their quotas than their peers who did not use them.
Agreed, social media helps drive sales. But, how can sales staffers use them effectively?
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You need to concentrate your energies on 5 important aspects to help your sales people make the best use of social media. Let us see what they are.
1. Finding “customer watering holes”
This is the first (and arguably, the most important) thing you need to do. Colleen Francis, a sales guru and president of Engage Selling says, “Social media is a smart selling tool only if your clients and prospects are using social media. It’s a huge waste of your time if your clients are spending their time elsewhere.” The message is loud and clear – be where your prospects are most likely to be.
Now comes the big question – how can your sales people find the watering holes in the first place? You need to consider two major aspects when you search.
- Your buyer personas
- Nature of your products
Your target buyer personas are great way to find where your prospective buyers are likely to spend their time on the Internet. For instance, if your target customer is a chemical engineer, there is a good chance that you will find him in groups such as IChemE (Institution of Chemical Engineers).
Coming to the nature of the product, Francis believes that LinkedIn is the ideal platform to connect with potential customers of B2B products and services, while Facebook and Instagram can be very useful in finding B2C buyers.
2. Starting an “intelligent” conversation with the customer
The Internet certainly helps prospects get all the information they need. But, it CANNOT build rapport with customers. This is where the sales rep makes all the difference. And, the first step in building a successful relationship with customers is interacting with them effectively.
Studies by Aberdeen show that good conversations go a long way in engaging customers successfully. Andrew Pressault of Hootsuite Media Inc., a leading provider of social relationship platforms, believes sales reps need to observe what the prospects are talking over social media before entering into a conversation. He says this helps the sales reps begin a relevant and productive conversation.
And, once you start the conversation, the focus needs to be on addressing the needs of the customer and not pitching the sale. Studies show that people are likely to come out of conversations that sound like advertising jingles.
Also, it is very important to use a conversational tone while interacting with prospective buyers on social media.
3. Helping use social media effectively to reach consumers at touch points
Successful companies enable their salespersons to harness the power of social media to reach out to customers at the “right moments” which influence their buying behavior. Ford used social media platforms very effectively to spread the word about their subcompact-car Fiesta, 18 months prior to its launch. The automobile giant launched a social marketing campaign called Fiesta Movement. The company had the movers and shakers of social media share their experiences of using the car on various social networks. Videos of Fiesta were a big hit on YouTube (it is estimated that they generated more than 6.5 million views), and Ford received 50,000 enquiries. When the car finally hit the showrooms in late 2010, nearly 10,000 cars were sold in the first six days.
Social media can also be used to target specific customer segments. Levi Strauss used social media with a high degree of efficacy to promote location-specific sales offers. In one instance, social media interactions with 400 customers resulted in 1,600 people visiting the store. Indeed, a tribute to the viral effect of social media.
4. Facilitating integration of social media tools with existing marketing channels
Proper integration of social media with the existing marketing channels is essential to achieve organizational sales targets. Paul Chaney, author of the best-selling book ‘The Digital Handshake: Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media’ believes social media are not standalone marketing tools, but “force multipliers” which complement existing marketing efforts.
Chaney suggests creating an exclusive Twitter account to respond to customer queries, feedback, and concerns. He also advises organizations to integrate e-mail channels with social media. This can be done by adding social sharing buttons to e-mails, so that people can share campaigns with others. You can also post e-mail campaigns to social media and convert social media followers into e-mail contacts.
Another effective way of integrating social media is promoting live, offline events on social media channels. It is also a good idea to develop a mobile app to provide the necessary information to customers and build brand value. You can also go in for videos to reach out to customers in a big way. Videos take very little time and money and instantly connect with prospects.
5. Using social media to provide information on consumer behavior
Social media are very useful tools to know what customers think and do. Bill Piwonka, former Vice President at Janrain, believes that social media help understand what customers think of your company, and more importantly, provide access to demographics and psychographics that give a “complete” view of your customer. He believes that this data is extremely reliable as it is created first-hand in most cases.
How can you make the prospect share his information with you? You need to use a strategy called “progressive permissioning”. Customers may hesitate to provide all the information you need, when you meet them for the first time. But, as you build a rapport with them and gain their trust, they will be more comfortable in sharing their social data. Piwonka advises companies to begin by asking details such as name, e-mail address, and mother tongue. As they come back to your website, you can capture more information that will help your sales people deliver a better, personalized experience.
Editor’s Note: Post updated 1/11/2017 to correct Bill Piwonka’s affiliation with Janrain.