An old adage in corporate America goes like this, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.” Sales Managers and salespeople find themselves in a never ending quest to gain new customers, as well as retain their best ones. Organizational changes, technology adoptions and meetings by the dozen are all enacted around these very tasks. We live in a dynamic society that is rapidly changing each day. Can new technologies and methods of communication help a sales organization better accomplish their goals?
The sales process is stunningly similar now to the process used before electronic media, or even reading and writing. Sellers move a product by meeting a need buyer has. This need can be urgent, or at times whimsical. The seller must find the buyer’s motivation in order to make a deal. Whether the process the sales person uses is strictly regimented and organized, or ad hoc in nature, there are still universal steps that everyone follows. A potential target market is identified. Once that market is identified prospective clients are vetted for potential fit. Once the targets are set, information is exchanged between buyer and seller.After a series of interactions the buyer makes their decision. In many circumstances the buyer has made their mind up before their interaction with the salesperson. In some cases the salesperson can exert a great deal of influence in helping the buyer make up their mind.
Can Social Media Help?
Where does today’s social media fit in the context of the sales process? Is it a useful tool that can help find prospective buyers and shorten the sales cycle? Or is it another passing fad that will soon fade? Can it help strengthen relationships between buyer and seller, or organizations with each other?
Let’s start by taking a look at where social media can be used in the sales process. “With the proliferation of social media, it would seem that technology has the potential to dramatically influence a business or even an industry as technology did in the internet age” (A Review of Social Media and Implications for the Sales Process, Andzulis, J., Panagopoulos, N. G., & Rapp, A., Journal Of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 2012, p. 306).
As discussed earlier two of the most important activities for salespeople are finding new customers and retaining the ones they already have. With the advent of social media and sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, salespeople can identify decision makers or technical users in target organizations more quickly than in the past. Those same salespeople can also learn in minutes what may have taken months regarding those buyer’s social interests, buying preferences, and opinions on competitor’s products. All of this information can be helpful in the relationship building process. “Social media can be used early in the sales process by researching the profile of the ideal target prospect” (Shih 2009).
Armed with this information the seller can now begin to use social media to further entice those targeted prospects to seek out more information regarding their offering. “To accelerate information exchange, salespeople can conduct a live question and answer session on their Facebook page with their customers and prospects. Some of the micro-blogging and social networking services are very useful to get the word out about new developments/posts for quick interaction with customers” (Agnihorti,Kothandaraman,Kashyap and Singh 2012).
This information exchange can strengthen the relationship between buyer and seller as well as build credibility for the salesperson. “Using social media to generate industry or customer specific content and making it accessible to buyers will send a signal to the buyer that a particular salesperson really cares about the buyer’s bottom line goals” (Agnihorti,Kothandaraman,Kashyap and Singh 2012).
Salespeople must exert...