Companies that use a sales force to win new business leverage a variety of tactics to attract and nurture prospects. Social media is fast becoming a key platform to help salespeople connect with and engage potential customers online.
While some organizations are structured to allow outside sales reps to use whatever resources they have to do their job, many companies require adherence to certain corporate standards. Prospective customers that interact with content on a Facebook fan page run by an enterprising sales rep that later visits the official company fan page may get confused if information and appearance are not congruent with the brand.
The job of most salespeople is to build trust, confidence, and help prospective customers understand how the brand's solutions can solve the customer's problems. When salespeople, from manufacturing reps to real estate agents, function as sources of credible and useful information, it can be a very valuable asset for increasing sales, reducing sales cycles, increasing order frequency, and order profitability.
If ambitious and proactive field sales reps set up blogs and Facebook accounts before the brand has decided its official strategy, companies should consider how to work with and empower their sales teams as social media ambassadors.
Salespeople are already maintaining contact with prospects and customers through other communication channels like email, phone, snail mail, and newsletters. Why not social networks too? Here are a few ideas on tactics that salespeople or teams should consider:
Build a Social Home Base
To build social credibility and a network, a hub-and-spoke model works great for salespeople. The hub could be a blog, YouTube, or Facebook fan page and serve as a repository of useful content and media that tells the stories prospects want to hear. As I am prone to say, "Facts tell and stories sell," so it's important that social content is published, aggregated, and curated in a way that leverages storytelling in order to appeal to customer interests.
Besides content, the hub should also include calls to action, offers, and invitations to engage on a more business level. The home base of a social content hub can also leverage SEO with content and attract both social shares and links that send visitors and search engine traffic.
Listen for Leads
As more consumers and B2B buyers participate on the social web during the consideration and purchase phases of the buying cycle, salespeople can monitor social channels for comments and conversations that indicate sales nurturing and engagement opportunities. A good example is IBM's "Listening for Leads" program, which has uncovered millions of dollars in sales by monitoring social media sites for keywords that indicate prospects with questions.
Basic tools such as Search.Twitter.com or a social search aggregator like SocialMention.com can reveal interaction opportunities. Ideally, a robust social media monitoring tool would be used that includes advanced filtering options to reduce spam and target specific social networks. When social listening is refined, it can be very useful for uncovering opportunities at the prospect's moment of need.
Make and Bake Social Content
Most sales reps, account executives, and business development people that I know are pretty busy, so efficiency with social media and content is important. With an understanding of relevant search keywords and social topics that matter to their prospects, salespeople can create a social content plan to guide their efforts.
However, continuously creating new content isn't practical for most salespeople, so repurposing and curating is essential.
As an example, salespeople might maintain their own blogs with weekly posts, but they might also share portions or customized versions of their blog posts with other industry blogs, online publications, and industry newsletters. Salespeople could compile blog posts into other media formats like ebooks or SlideShare presentations, or they could be used within corporate content marketing materials.
One way for salespeople to become a "go-to destination" for information on a particular topic is to aggregate or curate news from different sources on the web to a topically specific hub. Industry news sites, newsletters, and Google Alerts can be set up for topics of interest to collect news and add commentary to it. The same curation tactic can be used to create a newsletter. With practice, the process of scanning headlines and putting together a weekly news roundup can be done in only a few minutes a day, resulting in one content-rich blog post per week.
To Be Great, You Must Participate
To be social is to interact, and as salespeople read industry news to aggregate or use in their own blog posts, they'll find opportunities to comment on news stories and blogs. Topics of interest can also be found on social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and others.
Asking and answering questions and sharing useful resources on social networks helps salespeople communicate personal characteristics and thought leadership.
Social listening, content, and engagement can seem like very time-consuming tasks, but many salespeople who are the most productive with lead generation through social media make a consistent effort to participate on a frequent basis. They'll set up a recurring reminder in Outlook to spend 15 minutes each morning to ask and answer questions, and collect, aggregate, and share useful links. Spreading that kind of social media activity over several days using a consistent amount of time makes the task of content, interaction, and social prospecting reasonable and productive.
Collective Wisdom for the Win
While salespeople are given guidelines and resources, corporate sales and marketing management can track the most effective uses of social media and create best practices for the benefit of all. Continuously improved processes, new social tool evaluations, and tactics evolution can improve sales force social media effectiveness and overall ability to create value and engage prospects.
Companies can also provide sales teams with templates, process, and training, plus regular internal networking opportunities to share best practices in order to help overall company sales force social media efforts succeed.
If prospects are spending time on social channels and respond well to nurturing and engagement efforts, there's no question that salespeople should indeed use social media.
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Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in helping companies grow online business and community with an "Optimize and Socialize" approach to content marketing. Odden has consulted for hundreds of B2B clients over the past 14 years including: McKesson, Marketo, PRWeb, and StrongMail. He's been cited by The Economist, BtoB Magazine, and Advertising Age for his online marketing expertise and publishes one of the most popular marketing blogs on the web: Online Marketing Blog, ranked the No. 1 content marketing blog three times by Junta42. Odden speaks on the intersection of search and content marketing, PR, and social media at conferences internationally and is the author of "Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing."
March 19, 2014