It’s old-school thinking, but I hear it all the time:
“If we can just get our product in front of the right people, it sells itself.” Or “we just need to get our foot in the door!”
To carry out that mission, does the image of a money-motivated, aggressive salesperson jump into your mind? Maybe a salesperson who “has the right contacts?”—codespeak for someone with a shortcut to a decision maker, obviating the need to perform other sales and marketing fundamentals.
What fundamentals am I talking about? Knowing where your company’s voice must heard, and developing strategies to get in the conversations.
Until just a few years ago, we assumed conversations meant face-to-face communication. In a group setting, we needed a few drinks along with great icebreaker patter to help us get into a dialog.
We don’t make those assumptions anymore. With Web 2.0, or Social Media, conversations aren’t just face-to-face. Technology plays a big role, and it means everything to salespeople who can’t afford to wait for an invitation to join in.
For salespeople, why has participation in Social Media conversations become so important? First, through online conversations, people discuss problems well in advance of the salesperson’s first call. In Social Media conversations, as with face-to-face conversations, questions are raised. Insight develops and becomes shared. Social connections are made inside and outside of organizational boundaries. Patterns of influence are established. Issues are aired and ideas are exchanged. What’s different from face-to-face conversations is that in many cases, the discourse is completely open and public! In a metaphorical sense, as a salesperson, at what point would you want to pop a breath mint and sidle up to enter the conversation? If you said “when I’m telemarketing from a prospect list,” you might want to examine how your strategy pits against your social-media savvy competitor, who has participated in the discussion since it was a wee, little thought.
Second, today’s social-media conversations are larger than we ever imagined—called a network effect, according to John Todor, an expert in using Social Media for business strategies. In one example he mentions, “over 50,000 people (sites) have RSS feeds to ezinearticles.com and many of these sites re-post content and are picked up by thousands of others through their RSS feeds.” You’d need to shake hands very fast to make that many contacts at your next business council meeting.
What does this mean? Three things. First, companies must re-think the boundaries of their sales process. Those that have defined the process as beginning before the salesperson’s first call have a healthy advantage over those stuck using the old-school paradigm in which selling begins with the first prospecting call. Second, salespeople—not just Marketing—must adopt technology tools that provide the Internet equivalent of joining a conversation. Reciprocally, Marketing must recognize that the “one-to-many” vs. “one-to-one” delineation of Marketing vs. Sales blurs with Social Media. It’s not heresy for salespeople to initiate and manage one-to-many conversations. Third, Social Media shifts control of conversations outside of selling organizations. Salespeople must learn how to manage when that control is relinquished. They must learn new ways to use Social Media conversations to gain insight and exposure. What change could be more profound for those of us who grew up selling when we owned the information and were constantly coached in better ways to direct discussions?
Building sales and marketing organizations ready for this challenge requires shifting energy away from leading discussions through features and benefits messages to ones in which meaningful questions are asked. Social Media’s power can be fully harnessed when organizations discover how to exploit signals from these conversations for new strategic or tactical directions.
When it comes competing more effectively on today’s sales gridiron, which emerging Social Media technology tools can salespeople take into their own hands and use?
That’s covered in Part II
I am glad that you have picked up on the impact of social media on the sales process. I am looking forward to seeing how you think sales can benefit.
As you suggest, salespeople can become part of the conversation before them make direct contact with potential clients. I would add that, in this case, the conversation should include a lot of listening on the part of the salesperson. Most salespeople know their product and know the pitch well. What they could learn by listening to the online conversation is what the marketplace thinks of the value proposition, their offering and their company. They can learn how they customers about the issues, how they prioritize them and what factors are important to them. Often they will find the features and benefits are not as critical as the ability to implement and gain the marketplace benefits they seek.
The insights I describe above could be used in one of two ways. One, slant the sales pitch to get the deal. This might work in some cases but will probably do damage in the long-run. The second is to use the information to become customer-centric, to actually attempt to address the issues the target market is concern about.
John I. Todor, Ph.D.
Author of Get with it! The Hands-on Guide to Using Web 2.0 in Your Business
Andy, you’re right on about the conversation starting way before sales gets involved. The increase in the amount of online sources means your buyer is more informed and educated than ever before.
Buyers no longer have to wait to have sales meetings or presentations to get a better understanding of what solutions are out there. And many times, they may not even be looking for a specific solution to a problem but instead come across a solution as part of their daily search of the blogosphere looking to get smarter about what they do.
With all these different sources of information available, it’s critical to be where your customer goes to find information.
Social media sites are a great place to start providing prospects with the info their looking for and starting virtual conversations. The key, as you and John pointed out, is loosing the sales pitch and giving them what they want.
Andy and Lee,
The underpinnings of this conversation have major league implications. Sales and marketing (especially sales) have traditionally garnered a very large part of a companies go-to-market budget. But now we have customers who decide when to buy, evaluate what to buy online and only approach companies when they are ready to buy. At this stage they don’t need a traditional salesperson, they need a customization and implementation specialist who can fit the product to the customer’s business or expectations. Even at this stage, they will be able to learn from the shared experience of peers who preceded them do this path.
John I. Todor, Ph.D.
Author of Get with it! The Hands-on Guide to Using Web 2.0 in Your Business.
John, well said. 10 years ago the Internet leveled the playing field for small businesses by allowing them to compete with the big ones. Social media and user-generated content is leveling the playing field for the buyer and putting them in control.
Very apt discussion.Social media makes sense from the perspective of both the ‘Selling Concept’ as well as the ‘Marketing Concept’. As in the case of the former, customers need to be coaxed to buy the products and the latter where organisations gauge consumer sentiment and move forward accordingly.
Social media is a good tool to track prospects through social networking sites and highlight product benefits. The negative implication obviously lies in this being a short term solution.To work on that, salespeople can team up and form online communities which can also help reduce post purchase dissonance or doubts and at the same time help the organisational customer centric strategies by allowing a peep into the consumer mind through analysis of the member conversations.
My view on the right social media tool for the job is an organisational blog.There are too many shiny new web 2.0 objects,and social networking sites can help form groups faster(so a good short term approach) but i still think that a blog may make more sense.
1.A blog post will optimise better on search engines.
2.Will equally serve the purpose of a community
3.Ownership of an employee contribution on the organisational blog lies with the organisation.
4.Blog audiences appear to be more focussed(my perception-no factual base, though)- so discussions will be more meaningful
5.The blog can serve as a virtual brand communication tool and Selected salespeople can join hands and benefit from each other’s posts and consumer comments.
6.Maybe the organisation can provide a link to all consumer evangelists blogging about the organisational products and hence try to reign in the consumer generated media to some degree.
Somewhere this appears a more subtle, more relationship marketing way of getting a customer…doesn’t it?
Let me pick-up on one of your comments – “blog audience appear to be more focused.” I agree and the ability to focus or to identify valued source of insight and information is one of the powerful aspects of Web 2.0. Potential customers search for relevant information and in so doing indicate their interest and a level of engagement in the issue or challenges the product can serve.
Sales organization can attract relevant customers by putting out content they value. Here’s and example. A coaching client of mine lines up real estate investment deals for clients, including mortgages and partnerships. He has been writing articles that provide insight and perspective on current market conditions. He tries to provide a balanced view that helps potential decide if this is a good time to invest or not. Since he has been doing this (a few months and a few articles) he has been contacted by a number of high-caliber customers who want to work with him. He built credibility.
In one case he placed an article in an article directory which was reprinted in several vertical market newsletters. The editors thought it provide relevent information to their subscribers. This gave my guy visbility and credibility with a whole new audience that was in the hundreds of thousand. The key here was his articles were keyword searchable by newsletter editors.
My point is that blogs can be valuable because they are searchable and almost instantaneously indexed but there are numerous other strategies that will build visibility and credibility with a highly receptive pool of potential customers.
John I. Todor, Ph.D.
Author of Get with it! The Hands-on Guide to Using Web 2.0 in Your Business
Andy, instead of “sell something” I think you could have substituted most any other phrase about business activities, involving marketing, customer service, etc.
It’s hard to argue with massive numbers of people “socializing” on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. But, argue I will, anyway.
Let’s take LinkedIn, which is the most business oriented networking site around. Yet, when I talk to people who “use” LinkedIn, I’ve never found anyone (other than industry pundits promoting social media) who received any value from LinkedIn. We keep collecting contacts but so far as I’m concerned, it’s a waste of time, because I have real work to do.
Yes, it’s great to have an online profile so others can vet you online. But isn’t the point of “social networking” to, um, network? If social media is to become a viable business strategy, we need real benefits, not hype. I’m wondering if the 20 somethings playing on Facebook now will find a better use for their time when they have more work to do.
Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
Blog: Unconventional Wisdom
In response to John’s comments–
I think you’re right. Ultimately, the reason why online social networking has gained any traction at all is that whether utilized or not (and Bob seems to think that social networking goes largely unused), the idea is to build a sense of credibility–and have a potential link to people who are credible.
We’re drowning in a Web 2.0 deluge of useless drivel. If we’re all experts, then why the hell aren’t all of us running multi-million dollar corporations? It’s the trusted people–the real experts–that drive social networking media. Social networking exists because fundamentally we believe that we are either building our own credibility, or we can eventually have access to someone else who is when the time comes.
And THAT credibility is the true value of the endeavor.
Bob: I understand how you might question the value of social media. It’s true that if you give enough people a computer or PDA along with an Internet connection, you are going to get unfiltered junk in cyberspace. And there are plenty of people happily willing to spend time reading it.
But imagine–actually, don’t imagine–remember the last time you were in a public place and overheard a discussion that was valuable or interesting to you. You probably stopped reading for a moment to listen more intently. These valuable conversations are what social media, or Web 2.0, enables us to tap–except they’re on the Web. And there is enormous business value to be gained in the process–including learning opinions, sentiments, preferences, questions, and grass-roots insight. Granted, not all conversations are valuable or interesting, but free software tools enable us to do some neat things that we can’t do while listening to a fellow passenger’s conversation at the departure gate.
1) Target which conversations are likely to be the most interesting or valuable to us, and exclude those that aren’t.
2) Listen to many conversations–not just one at a time.
3) Capture the information in digital form for sharing and analysis.
4) Enter the conversation with our own questions, thoughts and ideas.
Social Media isn’t just Facebook. It’s hundreds of thousands of conversations that collectively represent social trends and aspirations. Depending on where you look and how you look, it either leads to insight, or it’s junk–which is both a challenge and an opportunity for marketers and salespeople.
This is the best discussion I have read online about social media and what is means for CRM
Great article Andrew –
Talking about Think….. as Andrew says, the opportunity for value creation comes scanning potentially millions of conversations and trying to derive trends, in order to be early to the game in riding an emerging wave.
An early example of this is de Tocqueville synthesizing ideas that started in the French revolution and writing “Democracy in America”
For example…. I am in the online book club http://www.GoodReads.com and a friend’s invitation got me to write a review of a recently published biography of de Tocqueville….
“Fascinating to read about de Tocqueville’s life, and how his experience of the French revolution shaped his insights on the future of Democracy in America.
What emerged for me is that he almost could have written this book without ever visiting America – the ideas were already in his head. What he saw in his visit (to study prisons and learn from them) served as a catalyst to find instantiations in regular human activity, giving him deeper understanding of his insights and allowing him to describe his abstract notions in more concrete terms.”
Writing this allowed me to see the connection to Social Media …. de Tocqueville in “Democracy in America” wrote about the difference between Europe and America
We are living in a time of radical transformation just as he was then.
Traditional command and control (European monarchies) were challenged by emerging grass roots participation in civic society (American Democracy)
His insight was that it was the “gathering” of Americans in social groups that saw themselves as responsible for improving their lives and work, that made the American revolution possible where the French revolution had failed.
This discussion which Andrew has triggered highlights the transition that is starting to happen between “selling because I want to sell it to you” and “buying because I want to buy it”…..
How does this relate?
“Monarchy because I (Monarch & my aristocratic friends) want to rule”
“Democracy because I (citizen of the planet) want to live my life to the fullest potential”
Social Media’s emergence today parallels the emergence of mass printing and mass literacy back in the early 1800’s, bringing mass access to the Internet and learning how to use the new tools for association and networking.
We are just at the beginning…
Mei Lin Fung
Blog: Professionals Earn Customer Trust