Are You Linked In? Selling Meets Social Networking

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In my last blog I gave a very brief overview of the Sales 2.0 (S2.0) conference held in San Francisco. At that conference I presented, along with my partner Jim Dickie, what we consider to be some of the main points of S2.0 and a few examples of firms already journeying down this path. Our definition of Sales 2.0 is:

1. Increased communication and collaboration between sellers and buyers and within selling teams. The Sales 2.0 environment is heavily dependent upon technology (including Web 2.0 offerings) to do everything from routine contact and account management to increasingly sophisticated opportunity management and prospect collaboration.

2. Proactive and visible integration of knowledge and measurement of the buying cycle into the sales cycle.
Does Social networking have a play here? The answer is ABSOLUTELY!

Linked-In is an example of social networking attracting business users. In January, 2005 CSO Insights had a research project and decided to test out the hypothesis that social networking can help connect with people you have never met. Having already subscribed to (but never really used) LinkedIn, we chose to leverage their application. Within LinkedIn we had 54 direct contacts that were part of our network. Since we were looking to interview existing vice presidents of sales, this title was typed into the search engine; we found over 500 current vice presidents of sales within 3 degrees of separation. On the surface this seemed an impressive potential number, but would our contacts actually do introductions?

For a test, 30 sales executives were selected to interview. Using LinkedIn members of our network were asked to facilitate an introduction to these people we had never met. Surprisingly, 29 of these individuals accepted the request and passed it on to their contacts with a personal note of introduction. More surprising, 23 of those targeted executives (including people in Europe and the Far East) accepted our request, and offered to consider helping our research effort.

In follow up, 18 of the 23 participated – a 60% hit rate! A much more favorable result compared to cold calling

So let’s say LinkedIn (connecting with complete strangers) is one end of the social networking continuum. At the other end is a completely different but related situation. Here’s what Charlie Babb, vice president of sales and marketing for Avnet, had to say: “The answer to every single sales challenge we face already exists somewhere in our company. How do we go get it? How do we synthesize it? How do we improve it? How to we get it out to the field? How do we update it?”

Several possibilities have emerged to answer Charlie’s questions. There are now web-based applications that are focused upon sharing tribal/company sales knowledge. These allow individuals to act as content experts, posting their answers to frequently asked questions. The application allows sales reps to enter key words/subjects to search and serves up answers ranked by relevance. The advantage to the rep is the ability to ask a question without having to know whom to ask. The advantage to the person answering is they only have to answer the question once.

One step closer to networking is the ability to identify specific individuals that you feel have good insights and simply directing the system to alert you whenever these individuals post something new. This is really just another form of social networking internal to your own company. You are using the Internet literally as the web you are casting to catch contacts you may have never met but who could hold the answers and views you seek.

Another step closer to the merger of social networking and selling is the new term: web touch selling. In this case the application not only allows you to bring in internal resources real-time, for example a technical product specialist to answer a specific question, but also allows the conversation (on the phone and on screen) to be shared with folks outside your own company—prospects and customers.

Recently I’ve received invitations from business associates to visit their listings on FaceBook. Along with MySpace these are two of the applications people now think of when the term social networking is heard. A major trend impacting sales is the span of three or even four generations within a single sales force. Managing and facilitating communications across these generational gaps may be eased with social networking technologies. While my Boomer compatriots think email is big magic, Instant Messaging and Text Messaging now are estimated to outnumber emails on a daily basis.

A presenter at an analyst conference shared a conversation he had with a younger co-worker. He asked this twenty-something if he used email. The younger worker’s response–and the presenter assured us he detected no sarcasm when the young person said it–was, “Yeah, but only when I’m talking to some old guy.”

Selling has been and will be about communicating with others. Social networking will surely be one of the ways we do this until the next big thing comes along. If you’re going to keep pace and not become “some old guy,” you’ll want to consider adding this to your communications arsenal.

1 COMMENT

  1. Barry

    Great post.

    From one old-guy to another (I think I can say that about us both, even though we are still both brimming-over with vitality in spirit), I couldn’t agree with you more. It is good to see that your repeat of Stanley Milgram’s famous six-degrees experiment in 1967 was such a success.

    Take a look at Duncan Watt’s Small World Project if you are interested in more about the six degrees of separation thinking.

    And take a look at Rob Cross’ excellent paper on Driving Financial Return Through Networks if you are interested in the financial payoff from leveraging social networks within companies.

    Social networks are everywhere. They always have been. It is in our nature as social animals. It is only with the advent of great websites like LinkedIn to expand them and powerful SNA tools like InFlow with which to analyse the connections within them that they have suddenly taken off.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

    Gunning Fog Index: 9

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