The Social Selling Myth
The internet has clearly changed the relationships between salespeople and customers. Your company’s sales professionals used to be the go-to team for questions about products. These days, many of your customers have already consulted numerous sources about you and your wares before they make the first contact with you.
In fact, studies show that they’ve interacted with as many as a dozen websites, social networks, and contacts before they actually connect with a company representative for the first time. They know all about your products’ features and how much they cost. They’ve read about your company and absorbed both the positive and negative comments in user reviews.
So what do they want from you?
Prepare for Questions
First, be glad they’ve made contact. It means they’re interested enough to pursue you as they search for the product or service that will solve a problem, entertain or educate them, or simply improve their personal or professional lives. So it’s your job to tell them how you can achieve this, which adds complexity to your workload. In addition to knowing everything there is to know about your company’s offerings, you have to be prepared to discuss topics like:
- Benefits they can get from your products or services,
- Rationale for your pricing (if it’s higher or lower than the competition’s),
- Unique characteristics of what you’re selling, and,
- Any negative feedback gleaned from the research.
You can head off some of these queries by addressing such issues on your website and blog. But you can’t assume everyone has read those sections.
Further, prospects will often want to make a connection with a living, breathing representative of your business. Your company’s brand, after all, is more than just its logo and color scheme and slogans. You as a salesperson contribute to their perception of the whole operation.
Proponents of a technique referred to as social selling believe that this interaction should begin long before a prospect comes to you with a question. In fact, they believe that your early conversations with them online are the very reason they’ve come to you. They suggest that you put a lot of time and effort into developing customer relationships online (in addition to your other forms of engagement).
For example, they think you should:
- Identify the social networks where you think prospects and customers are most likely to congregate, and concentrate on those.
- Present your “human” side. Chat with people about things other than the products you sell.
- At the same time, work toward positioning yourself as an expert in your field. Go to forums and blogs and other venues where you can contribute to discussions by answering questions and helping others solve problems.
- Learn who the “influencers” are in your field and interact with them.
That’s all good advice. But the next step in social selling is a bit of a stretch. Supporters of this approach believe that you will develop a following through these calculated relationship-building activities. Since you are so friendly and knowledgeable and well-rounded, these prospects you’ve developed will eventually become your customers and buy what you’re selling.
A Delicate Balance
By now, you understand what the problem is with this version of social selling: time. Or rather, the lack of it. Doing what’s suggested here would be a full-time job. A secondary problem is how you are regarded by the individuals and companies that you’re courting. Will they think you’re honestly trying to nurture a relationship? Or will they see you as a salesperson trolling for leads?
It’s good to identify your own corners of the web, sites where you can learn and exchange ideas and become a recognized member of a community. And yes, when it seems appropriate, you might lead people to the pages in your websites that could be of assistance. Not your sales pages unless they specifically ask, but a how-to or FAQ or video demonstration that will help them solve a problem.
But don’t feel pressure to be a “social salesperson.” Let the process of relationship-building be organic and natural as you click around the web. You might put in some extra effort when you find conversation threads that could use your expertise. You may already be doing this because you genuinely want to help. If someone becomes a prospect because of it, good for you.
Finally, don’t neglect your existing, established customers as you court new ones. You’re a known quantity to them now, just as you can be to prospects who don’t know you by letting relationships happen instead of forcing them. Approach the social universe honestly and intelligently. It can be an effective communication medium and a source for leads, but recognize its limitations – and your already too-busy workdays.