Leveraging Your Virtual Salesforce


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As a follow-on to my recent post about the major impact that social media and the Internet has had on everyday life and business, I wanted to delve deeper into the topic of sales. Sales is the bread and butter of any organization. Whether you sell directly or through channels, understanding how sales happen (e.g., who influences purchasing decisions, what process buyers go through to make a decision, etc.) is critical for the success of any business. The advent of the Internet and social media has made the decision making process change almost completely. Whether medical, relationship based, career oriented, what to buy, when to wear it, etc. – many people go to the web to help them make these decisions. If there is a topic, guaranteed – there is a community, a blogger, a reviewer, an out-spoken buyer for it.

While the concept of word-of-mouth marketing has been around pretty much forever -the web and social media has taken it one step further. Everyday there are people, who don’t work for your company and who don’t get any benefit from recommending your products out there doing just that. Acting as an extension of your salesforce, your ecommerce site and your marketing programs.

As a test, I decided I’d spend less than 2 minutes trying to get advice on what to buy my kids for the holidays in social media. In about 10 seconds (as long as it took me to search Twitter and on Google) – I found hundreds of recommendations – here are two examples:

buyforholidays 300x58 Leveraging Your Virtual SalesforceThis one I found on Twitter. Good recommendation. This person has over 180 followers and seemed to dish out everything from her personal shopping preferences to funny stories about her kids.

buyforholidays2 300x130 Leveraging Your Virtual SalesforceThis one was in the comments section of a popular online news media outlet who wrote a story about where to shop and what to buy. This person gave a raving endorsement of this online auction site – I clicked through – pretty cool stuff!

There is a virtual salesforce of consumers out there everyday and they could be helping you sell your products – so how do you tap in? Below are some tips on leveraging your virtual salesforce. Through our work with our customers (large enterprises who sell to consumers) – these make up many of the best practices that we’ve seen.

1) Listen to Them! If you want to understand who your virtual salesforce is (or could be) you’ve got to start by listening. Track and monitor discussions online. See where the discussions are happening. If they are positive, negative, neutral. How people are talking about your product, what are they saying? What are they emphasizing? What triggers a purchase? How do they talk about your competitor’s products? Are there sites where your product could be mentioned but it is not (sites where other similar products are mentioned)? Do people talk about your product category on Twitter? If yes, what is the profile of people who do? You get the picture….understand where, how, when, and why your current and potential virtual salesforce sells.

2) Find the Influencers: Any good listening process and application (like Attensity 360 :-) ) will enable you to not only see where the conversations are taking place and what people are saying – but they will allow you to find out who the leaders of the discussions are. Who has the most followers? Who started the most threads? Who has the highest “reliability” or “quality” rating in a user forum? Which post has the most stars, threads, re-tweets, etc. and who posted it?

3) Create Advocates: Yes, you can impact who your advocates are -both directly and indirectly. Let’s start with directly. Some of the best social media marketing examples start-out with a company either providing their product or a way to access their product inexpensively to people to encourage their advocacy. Send a group of customers (maybe influencers, editors, enthusiasts, bloggers) your product and ask them to “tell everyone what they think – the good and the bad.” Directly engage influencers with products and even pre-product ideas to get their feedback and bring them into the fold. Give them early access to products, news, insights to get them to get excited and to tell everyone else how exciting whatever it is can be! Indirectly engage them by providing content and reaching out to the broader community where they are talking about your products. Get involved, meet them, start a relationship with these advocates.

4) Give them a Forum, A Community: While you will find out quickly through listening that your influencers and advocates are located all over social media and Internet sites – many companies have also created company, product, or topic specific communities to engage customers and advocates. By providing a place where product information, ideas, even coupons and information about deals can be found and by openly asking your customers for feedback, ideas and advice – you will find that you will attract people to join your community and not only create a place where consumers learn about your products to help them make a buy decision, but you will also create great content, create influencers and advocates of your own. And if you actively monitor, participate, and analyze the discussions on your and outside communities you will have the insights you need to improve your products and relevantly contribute to the conversation.

5) Take-part in popular social activities: Some companies really have this down – they tweet every deal they have, create campaign specific Facebook activities, drive buyers to their sites, their stores and their products/services through #cybermonday or #ff (follow friday) or through Groupon, Homerun or some other deal aggregator. Yes, these are part and parcel of “social media marketing” – but these activities contribute to sales directly. And you can measure them immediately. And as most of these approaches are viral in nature so they inherently create more advocates and more sales buzz….

So what have you done to create and nurture your virtual salesforce? Are you tapping in?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Michelle deHaaff
Michelle leads marketing at Medallia, the leader in SaaS Customer Experience Management and has over 18 years of experience in marketing, branding, product management and strategic partnering in Silicon Valley. Michelle came to Medallia from Attensity where as Vice President of Marketing and Products she led the transformation of the brand and the products to be the leader in Social Analytics and Engagement. Michelle also led Marketing at AdSpace Networks, was a GM of Products at Blue Martini Software and worked at Ernst & Young as a CRM practice manager.


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