Surviving in business by developing social business relationships

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In the business to business (B2B) space the buying and selling relationship has changed.

When was the last time you sat down with your clients and socialized?

The disconnect has been accelerated by access to information via the Internet. We trust our referral network and contacts in our social ecosystems more than the sales professionals who represent the products and services we buy. Those of us in the sales engineering role, as I was, have had to change our process. Developing social business relationships through social media as well as traditional channels can accelerate the process and we need to consider SocialCRM solutions to help sales professional manage this.

Lets consider Harley Davidson.

Thirty years ago, when I first came to Wisconsin as a young sales engineer for a bearing company, I called on Harley Davidson. I enjoyed being a resource of information for the Engineering department, negotiated a variety of contracts with purchasing, worked with the manufacturing team on problems with products, and tested new designs with the R&D team. I spent at least 4-8 hours each week working and socializing with a variety of employees.

This time allowed me to get to know them. I could appreciate the internal dynamics of the people, politics and business. It also made it fun and successful for both sides. The evangelism from everyone – engineers to the machine operators – in their support of the product was electric. And no doubt about it, they were fun to be with on a personal level as well.

In fact it was due to that very personal relationship, that I was able to help solve a problem. A product defect literally shut down the production line at the Capitol Drive plant in Milwaukee. I was 9 months pregnant(and my due date) but still managed to deal with a problem on the manufacturing floor. I helped test product to OK enough to keep them going for the next two days. You don’t do that for just anyone!

Social Selling

Today, the buying-selling cycle is vastly different. Access to information allows the “company” to do their own research for information and sourcing from companies far and wide. Referrals and recommendations come from contacts on the Internet are trusted more than the sales engineers (like me) that visit them in person. I am using social media as a “social business relationship” development and networking tool. Used strategically, with a plan and business goal in mind, both outside and inside sales professionals can make their time more effective as well.

I am not alone. A recent survey by OneSource shows that sales professional indicate that a mix of social media and traditional information are the most effective in qualifying and prioritizing leads.

Listen, analyze and engage

In today’s companies there are 5-8 people involved in every purchase. You may not meet them all during your sales visit or ever. Nonetheless, the ability to understand the business, social and political connections within an organization is important. Managing your connections on social sites with a business focus is admittedly difficult from a time management standpoint. There are new tools that are being developed to help.

Just like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems manage business relationships, SocialCRM solutions manage the relationships outside the firewall in the social space. It could be as simple as a spread sheet or as complicated as a traditional CRM like SalesForce.com. I have been using Xeesm for the past year and recently started using the Xeesm Edge (SocialCRM) solution. Xeesm is one of the leading tools that provides ability to manage the social side of the equation in terms of listening and engagement. I also just recently started to evaluate Gist from a due diligence perspective. Watch for a future post on the comparison.

How do you start social engagement?

We need to consider social engagement one person at a time. If I were to apply Xeesm today in a social business relationship with Harley Davidson, my efforts might look something like this this. Build a Flight (basically a group in Xeesm), add the names of possible contacts within Harley Davidson I find in my social spaces. This is where I will manage and track my touch points and contacts as I move from stranger, to connection, to opportunity, to proposal and ultimately to a sale. Over a two week period of time, my activities might look like this

Day 1 – review all social sites that Harley Davidson as a company is present in. Review all employees I can find in social spaces who are currently employed. Evaluate my connection depth.
Day 2 – Listen/Read several posts by individual people and on corporate blog
Day 3 – Chime in the conversation
Day 4 – Comment on relevant blogs, forums, groups
Day 5 – Ask or answer a group questions
Day 6 – Make a introduction to someone
Day 7 – Suggest an interesting site or post
Day 8 – Invite key contact to my own group
Day 9 – Have a conversation over the phone
Day 10- Bring others to the conversation

The important thing to remember is to care but not sell. Be social first and the selling comes at the end.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Wendy Soucie
Wendy Soucie provides clients a unique perspective on social business strategy across an organization. Wendy applies and follows specific social media strategy and methodologies for assessments, network growth, contribution, participation and execution. She is a certified social media strategist, Social Media Academy (Palo Alto, CA). She is an accomplished trainer and keynote personality speaker.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Wendy,

    interesting article demonstrating how the new customer relationship process would work. Looking at your activities, I just wonder, what would be the time required to make those activities happen, specially in the long run. I could see a business modeling approach using those activities in combination with the other activities of the same person and the other activities of this organization around that person trying to sell their products or services.
    Once this is understood, it will be possible to assign those activities, together with the products onto the customers-to all of those customers including the ones you try to focus on, on top to the customers you really make business with and generate revenues. But over the long run, some of those potentially new customers- you’re running your flights on-they might too become a real buying customer.
    If you would provide me with your assessment of your activities in estimated minutes – a range from to – would be fine. Then I would take this and combine it with a randomly made business model. Therefore, if you would also provide me with some details of this organization you might have in mind. E.g. numbers of people, numbers of customers, numbers of activities, the numbers of the products, maybe a very small description. To make this model really becoming something valuable, an additional assessment of the traditional sales effort needs to be included, which then allows to compare both business models.

    Looking forward hearing from you

    Kind regards
    Hans

    Hans-Gerlach Woudboer
    http://xeesm.com/HansGerlachWoudboer/
    ( Various ways to connect )

  2. Hans-Gerlach

    You bring up a valid point in building a model. Assigning time to the activities both suggested and actual. I may need to talk to you offline to be sure I provide the right estimates broken down the right way. This would make for an interesting follow up post or white paper to actually build this model. What happens in actual practice?

    I am sure there are a few other Xeesm users who could provide more data for the model as well.

    A skype call perhaps? We have our Xeesm’s for connection points.

    Wendy

  3. Well, this is the idea around sCRM, both in terms of internal and external relationships and collaboration. It’s not just an extra channel on a CRM tool; it’s a whole different strategic approach.

    Your point at the end about caring rather than selling is crucial. The rules of engagement come from the social arena, as opposed to the business one. You wouldn’t walk into a bar and start cold-selling, so it’s important that people don’t take that approach to the social web. As you correctly pointed, out commenting on other blogs and offering relevant information and advice (not necessarily linked with your own company) is the way to engage, build trust and become an authority in your market. Then, when you have a product or service to offer, people are much more receptive. What’s more, if they’ve actually vested their time and opinions into collaboration on it, they far more likely to be engaged, or even evangelical about it.

  4. Thanks Matt for the comments. You have it straight on socializing before selling. Teaching how to be “social” seems to be the new training lately in the b2b space at least.

    Wendy

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