3 Ways to Get More Leads and Sales with Social Networking and Referral Marketing

In my ongoing quest to find ways to introduce some tangible sales benefits to business by introducing Social Media I have found much be pleased about. This is because Social Media and good Salespeople have much in common.

Most good sales people already practice many of the things that Social Media relies on Listening, Relationship Management and Referrals. They also rely heavily on Word of Mouth to build reputation and business.

While Social Media goes a long way towards eliminating Cold Calling it does not totally replace real personal relationship building.

When I worked in Sales Management for Dun and Bradstreet Software (the then biggest business software company in the world)  the single biggest performance indicators used to assess our salespeople was their performance when dealing face to face with a prospect.

Once a year  a sales trainer from the US or UK would accompany every salesperson on a call and asses the key criteria – ability to build rapport, ability to listen for a problem that our products could solve, ability to position our solution and to negotiate access to the power in the organisation in return making the prospect look good.

Failure to deliver would inevitably result in termination.

Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google, in his commencement address to the graduating class of the University of Pennsylvania in May 2009, urged college graduates to step away from the virtual world and make human connections. “Turn off your computer. You’re actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us.”

Even though we can’t replace face to face the right Social Media presence and the right approach to Social Networking can make SalesPeople highly effective.

Joanne Black, No More Cold Calling suggests 3 key areas to focus on

1.Develop a social media strategy: Like a sales plan or a marketing plan, write your social media plan. What is your goal? Who is your audience? What do you want to communicate? Leverage social media as part of your go-to-market strategy. How does your strategy link to your customer’s needs and your business priorities?

2.Establish relationships: Take the time to build your personal connections, pick up the phone and talk to people. Just because you have a name in hand, doesn’t mean you have a relationship.

3.Communicate useful information: Social sites are not for selling. They are for establishing connections, identifying ways to collaborate, and providing value. What tips can you provide? Link to other sites you strongly recommend. Get recognized as the expert and build your web presence. Be a resource.

Great advice that can help Salespeople take Social Media’s value well beyond Conversations, Fans, Blogs, PR, Consumer Driven Feedback, etc   to deliver real tangibles to the bottom line ….  cost-effective sales results!!

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Social Media for Business 101- from Converstion to Contract

Quite often I am involved in discussions and debates about why business will or wont adopt Social Media. Generally these arise because Social media is generally talked about in non hard edge business terms and the focus is on the warm and fuzzy.  People (inc me) talk about numbers and stats, communities ans conversations when business wants to know about customers and sales.

There is an old business adage – Nothing Happens until Someone Sells Something!!

So when I read stories about why business should be using social media I generally draw on my past experience in sales and managing sales to teams to analyse what will turn business on about Social Media.

The first thing that comes to mind is the need for some cultural change and some organisational change for Social Media to thrive in business.  Marketing, PR, Customer Service and Sales need to take down the walls and work as one team to leverage Social Media for real business benefits. Having done that they can focus on getting from conversation to contract.

Recently I sparked a great discussion around this topic on Twitter by asking why would business adopt Social Media if it didn’t deliver direct bottom line benefits ….

My question was –  If businesses join Social Networks to sell ….. but nobody ever joins to buy…. why should business bother.

It was a very useful exercise and unearthed many opinions and in the end I think there was some consensus ti the views I presented. Combining the feedback with our experience in working with a variety of clients … and my direct experience in sales and marketing with companies small and large, local and multinational I have come up with some basics for business:

Tell genuine stories to build awareness & credibility and engage buyers in conversation with a focus on making sales and develop long-term loyalty,that’s what business should reasonably expect from Social Media not warm and fuzzy PR and shout out advertising.

A Social Media Campaign must deliver

Awareness/Perception/Credibility

+ Consideration and genuine interest

+ Willingness to try and buy

+ Loyalty and ongoing alignment

+ Advocacy and “ownership”

Some basic rules

Be What You Say …..  and ….   Say What You Be

Talk about the benefits you bring to people   Not about how good your organisation is

Have others tell your story for you

At the end of the day Social Media is old-fashioned business it’s about building Sales by Listening, Building Credibility, Solving Problems and Word of Mouth Marketing.

The Death of Email (as we know it)

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Some months ago I was predicting the death on Email and Websites with the growth of Social Networks/Media.  But as was pointed out what I was predicting was the death of those tools as we have known them.

I have been using email for over 25 years – prior to the Internet (as we know it) so feel well positioned to comment there.  It was a great tool when it was just on what we now know as an intranet.  I was working for Dun and Bradstreet Software (the then biggest business software company in the world – it was very pre SAP) and the email network was based on our world-wide IBM mainframe based system, so I could communicate directly with anyone in the company anywhere in the world.

So whats changed – well now I can communicate with anyone anywhere in the world (if I know their address) but apart from that the basics of email are still pretty much the same.

If you dont believe email (as we know it) and we are about to move to a new and smarter form of email then ask anyone under 20 if they use email.  The answer will almost certainly be NO.

They do but they just dont recognise it ….   They use Facebook, Myspace etc as an all-encompassing communications system with their world and only their world.  A bit like out old mainframe system – if they are in the address book we can reach them if they are nt we cant.

So they use a combination of email with integrated address book and broadcast tools (The Wall in Facebook) and then meet others in Groups.

All pretty sensible really – a close environment that keeps the spammers out ….  that means you can publish all those jokes and funny videos that clog up my email every day in a place where I can come and look if I am interested.

So those Grumpy Old Managers who are banning Facebook while they sit in their offices reading their mates’ joke emails need to take the blinkers off and look at where Social Networking is taking email (as we know it) and understand its potential for their business. Incidentally these were probably the same GOM’s that banned email (until their mates told them they could send great jokes), mobile phones (until their mates told them they could send great jokes using text messages) and spreadsheets (until their accountant told them they were useful!!) when they first became available!!!

Recently I had a colleague ask me to distribute an invite to my contacts about an online seminar he was arranging with Joe Abram (of MySpace fame) to my contacts .  He said so that he could track which of my invitees “attended” I should cc him in on all the emails.

When I told him I would contact most of my colleagues using LinkedIn he was at a loss to come up with an idea to replace his cc plan!!

So what I need now to replace email (as we know it) is LinkedIn with some of the features of FaceBook or perhaps FaceBook without all the crap!!

Tomorrow I will give my thoughts on the death of Websites (as we know them) but in the meantime read Shel Holz latest Blog Deathwatch: Static Destination Websites as this will form the basis of much of my opinion!

I have to agree with Shel its not the death of a tool but perhaps the end of an era.  And st the end of the day its about the content not the tool anyway!

Facing Up to Facebook

facebookWhile I got into Facebook years ago it took me a long time to find the real business benefits of a presence there. Initially I joined a few interest groups, located some friends and generally explored a little and then got bored.

Gradually I had increasing numbers of people want to be my friend, invite me to their weird group or send my some present, ranking or other weird offering.  Soon it overtook me and I just accepted every invite to see where it all took me …. that was predictably nowhere.

I soon had heaps of unopened emails, was a member of all manner of potentially useful groups and linked to endless possible prospects/friends/colleagues etc.

So time to look a little deeper and work out what all the fuss is about. Firstly I rationalised its a bit like the Yellow Pages  and the White Pages combined everyone you need to know is there but they are hard to find and impossible to keep up to date with unless you know what you are looking for.

While many people think it is for kids the demographics tell a very different story.. there are in excess of 200 million active users….. over 50% are 35 plus….. The biggest group being between 35 and 44, while the fastest growing group is 55 plus. There are more than 250,000 people joining each day with 57% being women!!

So it gives you a great chance to reach over 200 million but also to slice and dice them by the demographics that you want to target as well, using its powerful demographic tools.

Generally its use has been on a personal level but on going changes in the past year or so have opened up opportunities for businesses to set up their sites within Facebook.  It is no longer all about communicating with friends and family.

Companies large and small are using it in a variety of creative ways to build their brand image, direct traffic to their website and/or blog, attrcat staff, announce new offerings and events, and generally make available key information about their business to their market. Put simply its where the people you want to talk with are and they are all willing to converse with you if you are of interets to them. Its all about building Word of Mouth Marketing.

So where else can you get a free to use tool that allows you to

Build Brand Awareness

Develop Online Reputations

Recruit Staff

Conduct Research on Competitors

Develop Leads for New Business

and access well over 200 million people…..   No wonder traditional advertising revenue models are being threatened with many free  options that are more effective.

While generally I am a non believer in using advertising to build a brand …. it is just wasting money on reaching out to lots of people who are probably not interested in how creative the ad agency can be or how annoying the cheap do it your self ad can be, and hence your product.

But given the ability to target very well and get the right info to the right people at the right time I would encourage some use of Facebook as an advertising medium. Interesting in addition to the overdone Google Adwords advertising there are a number of new products esp fro Social Networks coming onto the market(eg LocalAdLink) that we may well also recommend in future.

One of the most common perceptions we face  is that people in business are too busy and its not worth their time to find out what Facebook etc can do. When perhaps they should be looking at it as an opportunity to improve some efficiencies in the way they communicate with people they currently do business with or want to do business with, vendors, colleagues, business partners etc.

So check out Facebook as an adjunct to or in fact possibly a replacement for newsletters, direct mail and the other more traditional forms of communicatiing in future. This seems particularly pertinent at the moment with Neilsen reporting in March 2009 that 40% of compnaies are cutting direct mail budgets, 35% cutting newspaper ad spending and 28% cutting out magazine spending to focus on more interactive forms of media.

Companies that have embraced Facebook and the like find they are communicating more often with vendors, clients, prospects, clients, colleagues and people in general. This is helping them understand market needs, build trust and develop stronger business links.

Why not get started – Join up its Free.

Create your personal profile

Build your contact list

Post a message on your wall

Keep your status up to date

Join some relevant groups and participate in conversations

Build up your list of friends

Create your Business Fan Page

Checkout the Marketplace and list your products/services/features for free

Give it a go it may well be worth the effort.

More Listening …. Less talking …..

When I was manging sales teams and being subject to receiving much sales training, I was very aware that a good sales person has to be a very good active listener and less concerned with the sound of their own voice.

One of the trainers always said God gave you two ears and one mouth he must have been telling you something.

So whilst most people thing a good seller has the gift of the gab that is definitely not the case. They must be listening for problems to which they have a solution and then be able to position that solution in the context of solving the problem/s and nothing more.

Most inexperienced / unsuccessful sellers tend to over sell by focusing on features they want talk about rather than the required benefits they bring to solve problems.

So when I am asked what are the tangible benefits that I see from Social Media I refer back to this basic principle and say that Social Media has the power to do what a good seller does by nature but to a much larger market. Rather than develop Word-of-Mouth one person at a time, if used properly it can do this en masse.

So the keys to Social Media Marketing are providing the tools to listen, share, participate and understand and this can be done quickly to many. While now, as with the unsuccessful peddler of products, there should be less emphasis on talking, selling, marketing and advertising. These are all time consuming and resource hungry activities that also move people towards you slowly and cautiously.

Social Media can develop all the right attention quickly if used properly while the traditional approaches to advertising, marketing and selling are much slower and much less convincing.

Its all about storytelling and explaining to engage, converse and ultimately convert. The art of the explainer, teacher, story teller is a real key. The ability to explain complex topics simply and quickly in a world where we are drowning in irrelevant information is a real art. Common Craft and their simple videos are but one great example of this simplistic approach that is needed these days.

Among the simple and easy to use tools that can help you to Listen are Google News/Alerts/Reader, Blogs, and the Twitter Search features and supplementary tools. Twitter in many ways is a better Search Engine than Google, because it looks real time at what is being said about a topic to return instant and up to the minute results.

For sharing there is RSS, Facebook, LinkedIn Groups and of course Twitter.

While to speed up the process and cross boundaries when sharing info there are many tools. I use Ping.fm to instantly update my “what am I doing/interested in/got to say/want to know about in Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn etc. I do so instantly with one message using Ping.fm. And I can add a link in a Twitter style message by shortening the link using TinyUrl or other similar tools.

So we can practice professional salespersonship these days in bulk by smart use of Social Media and get fast results.

They want me…. on the Mckinsey Online Executive Panel?

We invite you to join McKinsey’s Online Executive Panel, through which The McKinsey Quarterly asks selected executives their views on top business trends, including the economic crisis, and on topics relevant to their functional area of expertise.

online-communityWhen I received this invite I was indeed surprised and flattered…  But as I read on I worked out what they wanted was just another member for their community.

Maybe I am not special after all.

Seth Godin calls them Tribes but everyone wants a community to help, promote, support their brand.

A community mediated by technology and aiming to produce some productive outcomes.

Then I read an article by Menaka Gopinath who provided a further insight into what McKinsey wanted of me – they wanted to engage me in in their business decisions by participating in polls etc.   They want me to feel important to say the least.

Then Jeremiah Owyang in his Web Strategist blog challenged me to look at all this from another angle Future of PR – Agencies Represent Communities – Not Brands.  I wonder what Eric will think of this when I seek his opinion.

I learned from Menaka about how companies like Mercedes Benz (better tell Eric the Europeans are onto Social Networks for business) seeking to engage the consumer voice via exclusive member only communities.

They want to engage you in the brand even more than Twitter, Facebook, Blogs etc can .  They want you right on the inside.

But as Jeremiah asks are we moving towards a complete reversal where Communities represented by PR Agencies actually drive and develop new products even new brands.

A fascinating evolution.  Love to hear what you think?

Should I join the McKinsey Panel?

I am off now to read the 50 plus opions posted on Jeremiah’s blog to see what his community thinks about all this, before I have a coffee with Eric.

Photo by D’Arcy Norman