Today, there’s more pressure than ever to shorten our sales cycles and show measurable results to our boss. There’s an imperative to consume, analyze and utilize more data about leads and prospects than ever before. And on top of that, we’re now selling to a smarter and more active prospect — call him Customer 2.0 — who uses the web to learn nearly everything about our companies, our products, and our competitors before ever engaging with us. [tweetmeme source= “insideview” only_single=false]
When customers do engage, it’s increasingly more social; a report earlier this year from Forrester Research found that more than four in five U.S. adults who are online also participate socially. An April report by Edison Research found that 7% of Americans (17 million people) actively use Twitter and 41% (about 99 million) maintain a Facebook profile. Additionally, more than half of active Twitter users follow a company, brand or product.
As it specifically applies to sales, now more than ever our work is about relationship building and facilitating a buying decision through social selling. But the Catch-22 is balancing our need to achieve these more meaningful relationships without sacrificing sales productivity. For B2B sales professionals, the bar has risen significantly. Thankfully, the tools and methods have kept pace.
Your marketing shop or CRM will give you a name, but that’s it. Now it’s up to you to determine if it’s the right person at the right company and if it’s the right time for outreach — a constantly changing set of conditions -– and do all of this in the least amount of time possible. You don’t want to waste precious hours better spent on more in-depth research if your lead moved out of your assignment range a month ago.
Search Google Maps to correctly address territory issues — a task made even easier on the sales professional’s favorite device thanks to a recent Google Maps upgrade for BlackBerry that adds voice search. After confirming location, check out the company size and industry on free sites like LinkedIn Company Profiles or the BusinessWeek Business Directory to see if they fall within your segment. You can even follow entire companies on LinkedIn.
Acquisitions or scale-backs happen often, and taking these steps will ensure you’re talking to someone within your revenue and size parameters. Once the company is verified, it’s time to drill down to the individual. Do an advanced search on LinkedIn or Jigsaw to ensure your lead has an appropriate role and level of decision-making authority.
In other words, confirm the ever-changing basics before you spend valuable time on outreach. If you don’t, you will squander precious time for you and your prospect, and even risk a tongue-lashing in a public forum (like negative tweets or derisive blog posts) that could do even more damage. Also, knowing just as much about your lead as they know about you sets you up for better engagement and productivity down the line.
The next step is following your leads, literally, to gather more contextual information. This intelligence-gathering and social following matters tremendously to your eventual outreach, especially in determining the important when and how.
With sites like Twitter and Foursquare, it’s easy and, for the most part, completely open. For example, if you sell Cloud-based automated back-up systems and you see a prospect tweet about their work systems crashing, wouldn’t that be the perfect time to reach out with your pitch? You’ve already confirmed the person is the decision maker and within the appropriate industry sector as outlined above. So, what better way to get a read on your prospect’s latest news, interests, and pet peeves than following them in real-time?
Just as important is following real-time news related to your prospect. Set up Google Alerts that point you to trigger events and blog posts about your lead, their company and the industry space. If you offer event and food services, it might be good to know that the expo center site your sales prospect just signed on to operate doesn’t historically turn a profit. That would bode well for your “lean and efficient” concession services (or on the other hand, such intelligence could help you avoid chasing a dead-end deal for years down the line).
Put these customized feeds spanning individual and industry-wide insight to work automatically, and you won’t have to hunt and peck every time you’re doing outreach.
People are more than prospects — they’re people! They have likes and dislikes, and you need to leverage social media to engage meaningfully. Even an engaged prospect who says “no” is logically more productive than one who isn’t, because of the simple fact that the engagement leaves open doors for the future.
Use two of the biggest social sites to your advantage by joining relevant LinkedIn and Facebook Groups. The feeds in both will show you the worthwhile conversations taking place right now, including what your lead has to say on the matter. These groups also offer tons of topics, articles and events your prospect cares about — and thus, that you should care about. It also opens the door for identifying new prospects with similar interests and professional focal points.
Your options for engagement are only limited by your efforts: From a light Twitter @reply, to a Facebook “Like,” to a formal set of e-mails prompted by a timely and relevant tidbit from a LinkedIn discussion. In the expo center example above, it might be the perfect time to start a sales sequence related to your event concessions services highlighting current customers and performance. Someone with a new event operations project under his belt could be looking for a subcontractor, and this way you can be top-of-mind.
Sales productivity hinges on having complete information in an ever-changing data environment, as well conducting fast research and efficient outreach in a fractious landscape. Social media is key to ensuring that you’re talking to the right sales lead at the right time — from verification to engagement — with the best information always at your fingertips.
Are you already executing social selling? We’d love to hear what is working and what new successes and challenges you’re experiencing. If you haven’t “bitten the bullet,” we’re equally as eager to hear why. Let us know in the comments!