Generating Sales Leads the Social Way

“Whether or not you believe classical methods work, Social Lead Generation does not discard the model; it leverages a new media to change the protocols and methods of communication.” So writes Marcio Saito, blogger at The Click Company Community. He goes on to say that, “Social Media creates interactive channels and allow companies to nurture engaged communities in a way that is scalable. In Social Channels, it is possible to communicate without intruding, to listen to a large number of people and aggregate it effectively, and to personally engage when appropriate.” For me, the two most important points in that sentence for sales people to pay attention too are: “listen” and “engage when appropriate”. 

As you transition some of your sales prospecting and lead generation activities over to the use of social sites, the principle when communicating in the online world is much the same as meeting someone face-to-face. Create opportunities for connection and visibility without direct selling approaches. You want to get your potential buyers engaged in a conversation with you, and you do that at the right time, in the right way, the right place and without talking about yourself. Ask a thought provoking question that engages them and others in dialog. Remember that your sales role is what it has always been: to create a relationship with a prospective buyer that then moves the buying process forward. The social web changes everything and nothing more significantly than the changes in buyer behavior. Now that your prospects have moved to online social communities to acquire information about products and services to meet their needs, you must move there too.

Listening plays a critical role in the online space and can benefit sales professionals in two ways:

  1. Quickly respond to a request to help someone else or respond to a question that captures attention from others in the group. Positive visibility is your success outcome.
  2. Use participation in groups as an opportunity to “listen” to trends in the conversation, which could be something valuable you’d share with your potential clients.

A good rule of thumb when getting started with your online networking efforts is to invest the time to learn the spoken and unspoken rules of each community that you join. Always begin by joining groups where your potential buyer is most likely to participate. Observe how people communicate with each other in the group before diving in.

The social web provides sales professionals fantastic opportunities to build emotional equity with within groups and with potential buyers before actually engaging in a 1-1 sales dialog with anyone. As you gain experience working in the online space, creating new business relationships will begin to happen naturally. You won’t even worry if you are engaging at the right time, because you will know that you are. That’s lead generation at its best.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither is your online sales presence and reputation. Generating leads using social tools like LinkedIn makes the lead generation process easier and faster than it used to be, and you need to resist the temptation to expect an immediate sale the moment you jump online. Your success depends on having a purpose, plan, persistence, participation and above all – patience! And, that’s pretty much what’s required of sales success anyway, whether your lead generation efforts are happening online or off.

How to Fix 6 Dysfunctional Social Sales Behaviors

Utilizing the appropriate social media to tools to improve sales performance represents an investment of time, and depending on the types of tools that you are using, money.

A common myth is that social media doesn’t actually work; in terms of driving the sales process forward. It does, IF, you have an open mind, you know what you are doing while participating online and you are very clear about the results you want to achieve.

That’s the rub. Too many sales people get started with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo or any other social tool because someone else invited them or suggested that they should. Maybe that happened to you. Or, one of your bosses heard social media was cool, so they told you to get going. So, you dutifully went and signed up. You probably then said to yourself, “OK, I’m here. Now what?”

To make the most of your investment in the social sales space, here are 6 behaviors to avoid if you want to achieve sales success.

  • Failure to begin with a social sales strategy. Yes, I know, planning is sometimes about the last thing you want to sit down to think about, but it’s critical if you expect to see an ROI. Failing to plan how you will use social tools is a recipe for failing altogether. If you don’t have a plan, how can you measure success? Would you really hit the highways expecting to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles without a map? Sure, you would probably end up there eventually (well, maybe not), but doesn’t it make a lot more sense to first determine where you are headed? Of course it does. Same thing with social media.
    • Solution: Sales executives should schedule a social media planning session with their teams. Make sure that everyone on the team has the same understanding of what and why you are participating online. Discuss how you will measure and track results. Following that initial planning, discuss progress, lessons learned and share best practices during regular team meetings. This will help to keep everyone on track.
  • Lack of buy-in from top management. Many sales executives (and their bosses) are, unfortunately, still living in yesterday’s business world. They either see social media as a passing fad or a threat to their view of how the sales process works. Fear of what they do not understand keeps them rooted in outdated approaches to acquiring new customers and serving the ones that they already have.
    • Solution: Education. And, I don’t mean a Twitter training class. Bring in outside help to properly educate your management teams on the business value and benefits to using social media. Recently, Dell announced that they’d sold an estimated $6.5 million in products and services using Twitter. LinkedIn has 70 million+ users with 66% of them listed as “key decision makers”. Are your sales people in front of them?
  • Lack of adequate training. Sales managers often assume that understanding and learning how to use social media tools is easy as learning email. Not so. Most of the tools themselves are fairly easy to figure out, but do your sales people understand how to create dashboards to “link” their various social sites, instead of having to visit them individually? Your sales team members probably understand how to invite colleagues to join them on LinkedIn, but do they know how to create dynamic lead generation lists that they can use for their prospecting efforts? Inadequate training is guaranteed to deliver lackluster results. Make the investment. It’s worth it.
    • Solution: Provide the team with webinar training, classroom sessions, accountability telecalls and team coaching. The tendency is to go cheap, but the investment in proper usage training on the front end will give you a huge leg up in achieving your objectives. You may need to bring in outside help, and it would be a good idea to hire someone who has extensive sales and technology background. Anyone can teach your sales people to click on buttons, but I’m pretty sure you need them to understand more than that.
  • Expecting immediate results. This, very unrealistic, expectation will bite your sales people in the backside fast. Using social networking to further your sales efforts takes time. By the way, this isn’t all that different from traditional offline selling. The likelihood that one of your sales people meets that next million dollar customer at the one networking meeting they just attended is pretty slim. Not to mention that sales people often attend meetings that probably will NEVER produce a sales result.
    • Solution: Keep your focus on the bigger picture. More than ever, a sale is about building a relationship with someone that advances the sale forward. The more expensive your product or service, the longer the sales cycle is. You already know this, so why insist that if you use social media it must deliver a result today? Here’s the good news though. Using social sales tools effectively will SHRINK the sales cycle, because your sales people will be reaching the right decision makers faster without driving all over town. Isn’t that what every sales organization wants…to close sales faster?
  • Sales people are supposed to sell not hang out on Facebook.
    • Solution: Change your ‘tude. If your attitude is that your sales people are just “hanging out” then you either never helped them create their plan for being there, or you believe that this social media stuff is just dribble. Here’s the thing. If your ideal customer isn’t likely to be on Facebook then, of course, your sales people shouldn’t be spending time there. But, what if your perfect client does participate on Facebook? Shouldn’t your sales people be engaged where their buyer is likely to be? The answer is easy – yes! It is time to accept that integrating social tools into your sales process not only makes sense, but is critical.
  • No time. This is a common complaint. The reason that people get hung up on the time thing is that they consider the use of social media an “add-on” to an already packed day. The reality is that there is wasted time on the calendar of every sales person in your organization. Meetings with non-decision makers. Networking events that fall flat. Chasing down leads that are poorly qualified.
    • Solution: Put all your sales people through a time tracking exercise. Have them track every activity on a daily basis for one week. Each activity should note the length of time it took to complete. At the end of one week, I think you will be surprised by the results. If, at that point, your sales people haven’t found at least 30 minutes a day of wasted time that they can instead use for online networking – it would be a first. But, just in case it ends up being true for your sales team, please drop me a note. I’ll need to award you a prize to celebrateJ.

NextGen Sales: Understanding Social Selling

There is fair amount of buzz about a concept called “social selling” (often used synonymously with Sales 2.0, a term coined and trademarked by Nigel Edelshain). Certainly some people will argue that sales, particularly B2B sales, has always depended on a sales reps ability to build a relationship with their potential buyer, which could be viewed as a social activity. Since successful selling has always revolved around relationships – who you know – it isn’t surprising that sales people focused on networking, establishing as many connections as they could, and leveraging existing relationships to close sales opportunities. Networks were generally cultivated through face-to-face business meetings, attendance at industry conferences, business association meetings, or through social and business clubs.

Along with the adoption of Web 2.0 and social media, comes a dramatic change in the notion of social sales. The first huge change for sales to get their head around is that social media has significantly increased the scale and reach of our relationship networks. Using tools like LinkedIn, Gist, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, the number of people that we maintain some degree of one-to-one contact and connect with via peer networks and groups has dramatically increased in the past few years. But something even more important has happened with respect to how sales are transacted these days. With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, the buying process has changed. Most B2B buying decisions now start; move forward and very often are closed online without a single face-to-face meeting.

Social Sales and Customer 2.0

This new technology enabled sales trend is sometimes thought to be merely the adoption of social media and online collaboration tools by sales organizations. Adopting social tools is simply one facet of the equation, because below the surface of this trend is a bigger, more fundamental change that has occurred in customer behavior and their buying process. Far too many sales organizations continue to employ sales strategies that worked for Customer 1.0. But now, Customer 2.0 has access to unlimited information about you personally, your company, your products, and those of your competitors.

Whether you like it or not, Customer 2.0 can and will ignore your marketing messages, because they prefer to rely on people that they know and trust and their peer networks to educate themselves, keep on top of news and trends, evaluate vendors independently, and make buying decisions. Conversations occurring on social sites have become more influential to the buying decision than your traditional sales and marketing tactics. Customers are controlling the conversation; they form their opinions about working with you without your involvement. Although you may be resisting, it is time to accept that this is the new reality of social selling.

What You Know About Who You Know

A better educated and more connected customer is driving the social selling process. The savvy social sales person recognizes and embraces the opportunity that this presents. Sales will always remain a relationship-driven business. Social sales people understand and leverage the power of “what you know about who you know.”

Remember that the new social customer demands a new approach from sales organizations. The need for comprehensive, real time data is imperative to sales professionals who must leverage the social web to actively listen, add value to the customer conversation and create sales relationships in new ways. Tools like Gist (integrates with Outlook) provides sales professionals with a way to quickly aggregate and view real time information about people in their network or people that they follow.

Your customer – customer 2.0 - expects your sales team to know at least as much about them as they already know about you. Do they?