How do you at the same time protect your reputation online and close the deal at the face-to-face meeting?
In the world of B2B sales and marketing these days, it's just as important for an executive or salesperson to have a solid reputation online as it is offline. You need to have all bases covered, from Google Search of your name to your social profiles to word-of-mouth in your industry. There is just too much competition and too much micro-analysis of individual business professionals online for an executive not to be 100 percent wary of her reputation. Further, because there are literally no regulations on customer complaints on the Internet, protecting your reputation needs to be a full-time job. So, how do you at the same time protect your reputation online and close the deal at the face-to-face meeting? Listen in and take notes…
Here is some sample behavior of how a corporate prospect looking to buy a B2B service, depending on her sophistication in using the web, will investigate targeted vendors. More than likely, the first action she will take is to Google the service she is seeking. If an executive, most likely she will ask one of her employees to do that for her. From there, she will (based on my years of experience in B2B sales and social media) review a whole bunch of websites, companies, and people who offer these services. This is especially true in any request-for-proposal (RFP) or bid situation.
Once she has short-listed some companies, she will perform online due diligence. This means she will start to Google executives within the firm and start to review their profiles on social sites like LinkedIn. Once she has that information, she will have prepared a list of questions to send or ask the short-listed companies and their salespeople or executives. At this point, she will reach out to perform "interviews." Even after the interviews are concluded, she will then start to review any and all valuable connections that a vendor may have in their social networks. She may even start to ask those connects about the work behavior of the vendor. This is all done online. Offline the buyer may reach out by phone or in person to any client references of the targeted vendor. As you can see, if a company, its executives, and salespeople of a services business are not completely buttoned up, in terms of their reputation, a competitor can quickly and easily close in on their prospects for new business.
So you first need to make sure your company, its online brand, and the personal online brands of your executives are all protected in terms of their online reputation. Using tools like Google Alerts, Social Mention, Topsy, Sysmosys, Viralheat, and others, you can find out what people are saying about you. You need to monitor these things on a daily basis if you want to make sure you can take action on any potential threats or negative comments to your online brand. Remember that not only the big five - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and Quora - can carry bad news about you, but also the gazillion of "local business review" sites like Yelp, Citysearch, Insider Pages, MerchantCircle, etc. are potential pools of negativity for your brand. Therefore, make sure you have someone within your organization taking the time to set up appropriate and current business profiles on these sites and keeping an eye out for any complaints that may affect your business.
This kind of activity is subsequent to pushing out a positive (corporate and personal) online brand in the first place. When you are building out your brand for social signals to SEO, you want to make sure you have the image and messaging you want to convey on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Youtube, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. This means supporting your online brand in social on a daily basis. This points to the importance of having a clear market position and associated content, including services information, client testimonials, client case studies, blog posts, videos, white papers, and more pushed out in social and relevant sites on a continuous basis.
Your website should be the central conversion point for qualified lead generation. Outliers may be lead-capturing tools on B2B social sites like LinkedIn. Nevertheless, your site needs to be optimized correctly for targeted business-driving keywords. Bios and headshots as well as blog contributions by key executives need to be current and support the company value proposition. In the world of SEO, as all of us SEO geeks know, the off-site reputation is equally, if not more important than the on-site. This means that your online brand, articles about you, and even your logo, when placed on any other website need to be positioned correctly and have credible authorship. And, that these partner sites or backlinks need to have a strong position in Google as well as relevancy to your industry, services, and value proposition. The execution of effective content marketing supporting a positive online brand is crucial to protecting your reputation.
So, now that you have some tools to start developing a positive online brand and doing daily protection, what about closing the deal offline? This is where you need to support all offline networking efforts with the same messaging and brand you have built online. Because the Internet has made global networking so simple, you need to make sure that your global offline reputation is protected. This means that all conversations you have in the real world need to support your elevator pitch that is being distributed on all your social networks.
You have built this strong online reputation now, so your offline presence should support what you are saying about you and what is being said about you online. This is why it's important for you to have some sort of control about your online brand. Make sure you know the sentiment of your online brand and its position in Google for your business-driving keywords. You should be prepared to answer any questions a prospect may have about you and your company on any case studies you have delivered on the web and any associations of which you promote there as well. When it comes to closing the deal at the conference table, if you have keen awareness and activity of your online reputation, you will then be 100 percent confident in simply meeting the business needs of your new client.
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Jasmine Sandler is a veteran in online marketing and CEO and founder of Agent-cy Online Marketing, an online branding agency. She has more than 15 years' experience in helping companies use the Web to develop and grow business. Sandler has provided interactive solutions for such clients as Citibank, ISO, Diamonds International, Doublerock Corporation, Loews Hotels, and CityLights Cruises.
Sandler has expertise in the areas of using LinkedIn to grow business, B2B social media marketing strategy, search marketing strategies for sustainable online visibility, website effectiveness for user engagement, and digital strategies for small businesses. She is a published author of Branding & Sales: The LinkedIn Way.
She is a frequent speaker for The Association of Strategic Marketing, The Association of Ghostwriters, ClickZ Live, Small Business Technology, and New York Business Expo and is a contributing writer for ClickZ.com, The New York Enterprise Report, and LinkedIn Original Content.
Sandler holds a dual MBA in Marketing and Technology from the University of Miami and is a very active supporter of LinkedIn and runs several business owner groups on the site. She was previously director of managed data networking sales at IBM Global Services for seven years.
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