Don’t Bother Me With Social Media–I Have to Sell Something! (Part II)


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Can salespeople gain measurable business value from social media?

Reactions to Part I were mixed:

The skeptical:
“. . . we need real benefits, not hype,”
“We’re drowning in a Web2.0 sea of useless drivel.”

The visionary:
“Social media’s emergence today parallels the emergence of mass printing and mass literacy back in the early 1800’s . . .”

I wanted to find out which is correct. What I learned is that the jury is still out. In the meantime, it’s worth examining how companies have innovated using social media to solve some familiar, perennial sales problems.

1. Objection handling. In March, Mei Lin Fung wrote about how Dell used social media in You Can Learn From “Dell Hell.” Dell Did when she examined why customer sentiment about Dell became negative. She writes, “What we arrived at was that what had changed was outside, not inside, the company.”

According to the article, “Dell’s approach paid off. Dell weathered the storm because Michael Dell has been personally involved in Dell’s efforts to listen to its customers. One of those moves was to create a dedicated corporate blogger . . . (who) speaks to people ‘honestly and directly.'” She described how the blogger admitted the company’s problems, and gave the company a “human voice.” The blogger “gave (the) customer respect and “got respect in return.”

2. Generating leads. Andy McCann of software company Radian6 shared a success story. When his client monitored online discussions about their company’s brand, they found 400 separate online conversations. But when they monitored their competitor’s brands, they found a huge opportunity: there were 4,100 conversations! Where do you think his client’s sales force went for new leads? Directly to the people that were talking about the competition! Not surprisingly, Andy uses online conversations for his own lead generation. As he tells it “I’ve never had to look up a lead at this company.”

3. Transferring knowledge. Salespeople crave proven techniques, but forums for sharing information can be prohibitively expensive for companies to build. Some salespeople use social media not only to share ideas, but to find out whether others have found those ideas effective. It’s similar for books, as Andy McCann shared. He searches online for subjects of interest and finds out who has written a book about the topic. Then through social networks, blogs, and reviews, he learns not only who has read the book, but who has found it influential, and why. Such precision has enabled him to glean valuable insight while investing little precious time.

4. Differentiating from the competition. Almost every company faces product commoditization as a strategic issue. Lee Erickson of Erickson Barnett described how her clients have blended social media and brand marketing to communicate a message to customers that very few companies have been successful duplicating: “We’re listening to you every day.” Blogs and other online resources enable her clients to do that. The assumption is that the trust created through listening is more correlated with customer loyalty than other attributes that often require much larger investments. So far, Erickson’s bets have paid off. Listening to customers through social media has spun off into other important differentiators, including reducing time to market for new products, and enabling the sales force to initiate discussions about the most relevant issues.

5. Monitoring the competition. In the past, many salespeople used readily-available competitor product specifications and compared “feeds and speeds.” But the value of that information was limited, at best. Spec sheets (as they were called) contain the manufacturer’s own data. And that information still didn’t uncover the answer to the far more valuable questions: How do customers like using [product X]? and What don’t they like about [product X]? That was then. This is now: Using Google Alerts and other tools, salespeople regularly mine blogs and product reviews to find out the answers to these questions. The result: salespeople have unprecedented power to position strengths against competitive weaknesses.

6. Finding the right people to call on. Developing a community of advocates and influential people within a client organization continues to challenge salespeople. But today, social networking tools such as LinkedIn have become so widely adopted among salespeople that many simply can’t perform their job without it. CRM software developers such as and SalesCentric are keenly aware of this fact, and integrate to LinkedIn to tap the power of these already-built social networks.

Are these tools just more Management by Magazine flashes in the pan–or are the benefits significant and sustainable? How will managers know? Will traditional sales productivity measurements such as sales cycle time and conversion ratio be valuable for assessing the effectiveness of social media? Or do new selling models require redefining selling itself, and by extension, will they dictate new ways to measure productivity?

Those questions need to be considered as companies develop strategies and build sales models to achieve them.


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