I was recently interviewed by Liz Glagowski of 1to1media.com regarding social media and sales.
Here is a link to the interview, but I have also included the text below as the site requests that you register to view it (which readers may not want to do here)…
Will Social Media Be the End of the Cold Call?
As social media’s adoption continues to grow in the consumer market, B2B companies are also now incorporating Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, wikis, and other collaboration tools into their business.
Social media tools for business started primarily in the marketing department for promotions and customer communications. Then companies like Comcast, Dell, and others began to use social media as a customer service tool, with positive results. The next logical step is to extend social media tools into the sales organization.
A recent study of more than 1,500 consumers by market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies found that 51 percent of Facebook fans and 67 percent of Twitter followers are more likely to buy the brands they follow or are a fan of. “While social media is not the magic bullet that some pundits claim it to be, it is an extremely important and relatively low cost touchpoint that has a direct impact on sales and positive word of mouth,” says Josh Mendelsohn, vice president at Chadwick Martin Bailey.
As consumers adopt social media in their personal lives, their expectations extend to their professional lives as well. Many expect a salesperson to deliver a relevant message by doing some research to understand their wants and needs before calling. And much of that information lives on social media sites.
The current state of social media within the sales organization, however, is generally one of cautious optimism, with very limited implementation. For sales professionals, social media usually means one of four things:
1. A place to build a trust-based relationship with prospects and clients
2. A collaborative platform for internal sharing
3. Something marketing does
4. A distraction from getting real work done
“Many companies perceive social networks as ‘distractions’ or activities that take away from a sales force’s ability to sell,” says Carson McKee, owner of social media consulting company Direct Contact. “Many sales leaders think social media is about ‘friends’ and does not hold much value for business. But this is changing quickly…especially among companies whose industries are technology-based. These are places where the market is; sellers need to be there too.”
Social media is quickly becoming a business platform. A new Altimeter Group research report, Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management, highlights 18 use cases for social CRM. Three of them pertain specifically to sales: social sales insights, rapid social sales response, and proactive social lead generation. According to authors Ray Wang and Jeremiah Owyang, these efforts involve ranking social media platforms based on their influence with sales prospects; targeting sales efforts based on potential sales triggers with helpful conversation; and using the peer-to-peer advantages of social media tools to reach customers and potential customers who would like to be educated by the organization or its ambassadors.
Sites like LinkedIn and Ning, designed specifically for the business community, are perfect places for sales professionals to make connections, join networks, share their insight, and learn from others about what business challenges need solving.
“The benefit of using social media for sales is that it’s practically free mind reading,” says Chris Brogan, social media strategist and coauthor of Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. “Prospects talk about their day, about what’s on their mind, about what matters to them inside and outside of work. If you’re a salesperson who can’t use that information, what’s your value?
“The challenge to using social media for sales is that not everyone wants to mix their social tools with their business interests,” he adds. “Salespeople have to tread gently, work from the relationship paradigm, and remember to be human and two-way.”
Collaboration, not just fans
One sales expert thinks of social media in a different way. John Aiello, CEO of Savo, says sales professionals should use social media as internal collaboration tools to bring together sales with subject matter experts at relevant points in the sales cycle. “The term social media implies the concept of Facebook, Twitter, and others,” he says. “I think it’s about socially enabling the organization to make sure its best resources are being presented in every single selling conversation.” This means sharing information throughout the organization. Savo’s tools, along with others such as salesforce.com’s Chatter and Google Wave, are helping to put that concept into practice. “In the future, I think you will see CRM systems operating more like social networking sites do,” adds McKee of Direct Contact.
Brogan agrees. “I think learning how to wire the social tools much deeper into organizational execution is what will really change the game,” he says.
What the experts also agree on is that there is no one right or wrong way to approach social media strategy. “I believe that companies should evaluate and determine what kind of social media presence they want to have — what are the goals and what are the platforms they will use? This is important from an organizational strategy… Ideally, sales efforts would fit into this over-arching strategy,” McKee says.
The bottom line: What’s the ROI?
Social media’s benefits as a sales tool are numerous, but so are the challenges. The biggest challenge to the sales function is that it hasn’t been proven a revenue generator, and salespeople don’t want to waste time on fruitless efforts. “I don’t see tons of companies doing it, but I see that they’re picking it up,” says Brogan. “Small businesses are getting there faster. Enterprises are still wondering how to tip toe into the water.”
Most sales success stories currently come as a by-product of successful social media marketing initiatives. For example, Forrester Research recently published a case study about financial services company USAA, which posted customer ratings and reviews on its site. Requests for auto loan quotes jumped from 28 percent to 30 percent after the company launched the social tool, and led to 15,978 additional products and policies sold across its five main product lines in the first year. Other companies have seen higher website conversion rates and purchases from inbound marketing and brand-building activities done through social media, as well.
“Every large company is exploring social strategy to go where customers already are,” says Al Falcione, senior director of product marketing at salesforce.com. “We’re in the early adoption part of the cycle. Companies are listening to what customers are saying in real-time and joining the conversation.”
Brogan echoes the importance of just listening. “I think listening tools are the first and most important part of it all.”
McKee goes one step further, recommending all sales professionals join LinkedIn to start, and then operationalize a social media strategy. “No matter who you are or what you sell, you need to be on LinkedIn at the very least,” he says. “Adding a social media business development strategy to your sales process is not important — I believe it is essential.”