Sales & Marketing

Five Steps to Drive Sales with Social Media

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Your company, like most, is probably looking for ways to increase top-line revenue growth. However, with lengthening sales cycles, smaller budgets, difficulty in gaining access to on-the-go decision makers and turbulent buying processes thanks to organizational change, identifying and closing sales opportunities has become significantly more challenging.

The good news? Social media is democratizing the world of marketing intelligence. Here are five steps to help your sales organization leverage the power of social media to more effectively sell to today’s “Customer 2.0.”

A new breed of customer

Many companies attack these challenges by “turning up the volume” – in other words, making more cold calls and/or running more email campaigns. Not surprisingly, these companies continue to find that prospects don’t respond to generic messages. After all, how often do you respond to an unsolicited, generic voicemail or email?

What these companies are missing is that the sales cycle is rapidly being replaced by the buying cycle. There is a new kind of buyer out there: Customer 2.0. Thanks to the explosion of data on the Internet and easy access to “social conversations about business,” prospects are equipped with x-ray vision into companies, products and people they are considering doing business with.

“… Social media has become massively more important because customers have stopped listening to vendors and analyst/reviewers. Think about that. Most of your marketing and analyst relations and press relations are being trumped by customers talking to customers. – Geoffrey James, BNET

Here is the silver lining: The rise of social media in the business world – including the explosion of corporate blogs, online news publications, B2B social networking and corporate tweeting – appear to have given Customer 2.0 an edge.

But social media has also given sales organizations a breadth of intelligence to engage Customer 2.0 in a targeted and relevant conversation. After all, our best chance of synchronizing the sales cycle with the customer’s buying cycle is to get smarter about their business, while being laser focused on how we can solve their urgent needs and specific challenges.

Five steps for leveraging social meia to connect with Customer 2.0

The question then becomes: Can sales extract the gold nuggets from this ever-growing cloud of business information, and do so quickly and efficiently? Here are five tips for leveraging social media to connect with Customer 2.0.

1. Be prepared

A recent IDC study revealed only one out of six sales professionals were “extremely prepared” for an initial meeting with a customer, while 57 percent were either not prepared or were only somewhat prepared. In other words, less than half of sales people are ready for their meetings and calls. If you are playing to win, are these the reps you want next to you in the proverbial foxhole?

2. Efficiently sort through the growing “information haystack”

The biggest impediment to sales readiness is not a lack of access to information, but an intelligent method of consuming it all to uncover and close the most sales-ready opportunities.

Many sales and marketing organizations often still rely on legacy data providers (D&B, Hoovers, OneSource, Salesgenie, etc.) for their targeting, account planning and research efforts. While these services provide a basic feed of business data, they lack a filtering system to help users identify the most relevant, up-to-date and actionable information – and they completely miss the social Web.

Social media and online news sources can provide the most up-to-date information (compared to any of the legacy information sources), including more than simply what’s in the news – from relevant “insider” commentary, to details that help identify relationships that may be of strategic value in gaining an entry.

There are tens of thousands of business news publications available online, as well as SEC filings, press releases and an array of business information. Contact exchange databases like Jigsaw and NetProspex contain millions of records for decision-makers at companies of all sizes across all verticals. Executives create and maintain social profiles online, containing detailed and up-to-date personal information. Twitter has become a preferred avenue for executives and companies to share their views. The problem: where to start?

When this vast amount of information is analyzed and pieced together it can provide unprecedented insights to form a winning target account or lead qualification strategy. However, researching these new information sources can be extremely time consuming if your sales team does not have an efficient process to look through all of the potentially relevant information sources on the Web. While search engines have the ability to aggregate a lot of information, they will never be able to tailor the custom and tailored results for your sales reps as a true sales intelligence service must.

If the sales team is doing a bulk of this research manually, using disparate data sources to cobble it together themselves, they will miss opportunities and waste a lot of time searching for the needle in the haystack – in an ever-larger haystack. The key is putting in the right infrastructure to discover the relevant pieces to the prospect puzzle from all of these available sources, and make it readily available for sales to act on with ease and efficiency.

3. Access social intelligence in your CRM system

A new breed of “sales intelligence,” aggregated from the thousands of traditional and social data sources, analyzed for accuracy as well as relevance, and delivered at the point of need is the answer to increasing sales effectiveness and efficiencies. CRM platforms like Salesforce.com, Oracle CRM, Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite and SugarCRM have APIs that allow the injection of aggregated prospect intelligence into contact, customer and lead records. Turning CRM from a repository of transactional data on prospect and customer activity into the single, go-to-resource for prospect and customer intelligence delivers significant sales productivity gains.

4. Listen before you talk

Once the right intelligence tools are in place and are easy to consume, we need to remind ourselves that the sales “basics” have not changed. What’s changed are the mediums for execution.

In a prospect-driven buying process, sales reps need to actively listen and develop a conversation with prospects. Now your reps can use social media and social network profiles to “listen” to potential buyers. With the help of timely and relevant social intelligence presented right in your CRM, you can get to know your prospects better and progressively drive them into deeper engagement with your company.

5. Act smart and fast

Ultimately, it’s about how your sales team has to operate going forward to thrive in this new world. Sales will always be a relationship-driven business, but the power of just “who you know” is quickly being trumped by “what you know about who you know.”

The good news is: technology is democratizing access to a wealth of new ways to learn about each other, enabling buyers and seller to engage in more timely, relevant and meaningful conversations. Customer 2.0 is certainly becoming smarter about the companies they are doing business with. It is time for sales and marketing organizations to even out the playing field by becoming smarter about leveraging the social Web to their advantage.

Umberto Milletti is CEO and founder of InsideView.

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