The most important rule may seem counterproductive, but social media has changed the sales relationship.
Five minutes after the earliest social media sites sprang up, numerous people proclaimed themselves gurus, experts in how sales and marketing professionals could use the new communities to increase sales.
So who do you listen to? If you’re a seasoned salesperson, you have expertise within yourself. You just have to learn the mechanics of using these tools and apply what’s worked for you in face-to-face and telephone sales, with one big exception: Customers are now driving the conversation. They’ve learned about you from their social networks.
So you can probably guess what the first mistake is that sales professionals make in courting prospects online:
They cut to the chase way too soon. “M” used to be the most important letter in CRM. Managing your contacts. Now the “R” is in charge. Social selling is about building relationships. You wouldn’t walk up to someone at a professional or social gathering and immediately launch into a sales pitch. So don’t do it on Facebook.
At the same time, don’t make it difficult for prospects to find you and engage. The trick is to spend the bulk of your time interacting with people and helping them, while at the same time quietly acknowledging that you represent a company. Put a link to your website or Facebook page in your signature line. Make your calls to action – those hooks on your website and blog that encourage visitors to do something, like request a free eBook – effective, appealing and prominent.
Another bad practice is the disappearing act. You’re all over the place for a few days, dropping multiple posts and updates on all of your networks. Then, Poof! You’re nowhere to be found for a week. If you can’t commit to a fairly regular schedule, don’t use social media professionally. Build time into your daily calendar to update your sites and answer questions, just like you’d schedule any other appointment or project.
Don’t pass up opportunities to help your audience solve problems. We visit social media sites for many reasons, one of which is to deal with a particular pain point in our lives. Your company’s marketing department probably has materials – white paper, webinars, toolkits, etc. — that educate consumers and businesses on a topic related to what you’re selling. For example, a beauty salon might have content related to hair and nail problem resolution. Repurpose it for your own use.
Some salespeople might be tempted to overshare. Don’t be like the guy (or gal) you seem to always get cornered by at a social event. “Well, enough about me,” he’ll finally say. “What about you? What do you think of me?” Balance your interaction so that you’re letting people see who you are without making them uncomfortable — or just plain boring them.
Since you (or someone on your team) will always be keeping a close eye on comments made in your online communities, be sure that you don’t ignore negative feedback. You don’t have to prostrate yourself in front of someone who’s complaining, but a well-placed apology can be good for your image. Always thank people for their input (unless it’s profane or otherwise offensive to those reading it; it’s absolutely your right to remove such verbiage) and assure them that their concerns will be passed along to the correct department and addressed.
Finally, take advantage of all of the clues flying around you when you’re visiting a social network. Don’t be so concerned about how you’re going to respond to something that you’re not listening carefully enough. Prospects give you verbal and visual clues when you deal with them face-to-face. Since you can’t see them on the web, you need to be twice as vigilant about hearing what they’re saying as you try to determine if there are ways your product or service can help them.
All of that said, remember the instincts and skills and passions that got you into the sales world in the first place. Much of that can translate to the social media community. Your potential customers online already know a great deal about what you’re selling, so use these web-based tools to learn about them, to show them who you are, and – eventually – to make the right, most promising connections.