An integral part of the sales process is getting to know your prospects and establishing relationships—and it turns out that social media can help you accomplish this quickly and easily.
“Social media allows salespeople to see what prospects are saying about their brand and competitors,” says Janet Fouts, a social media coach and chief executive of Tatu Digital Media, an online marketing agency. “You can really get to know his or her needs through social listening. It’s a great way to research a market and initiate conversation leading to a sale.”
Jennifer Fong, a direct sales social media expert, agrees. “Not only can it help you generate new leads, but it allows you to build deeper relationships with existing clients that drives them to purchase again and again,” she adds.
Colleen Francis, a sales expert and president of Engage Selling, says that she has seen salespeople pursue leads using social media and end up with sales of between $30,000 and $250,000. “The biggest sales have come from salespeople using Twitter to find opportunities and LinkedIn to find the names of the true buyers inside organizations.”
Facebook and blog platforms have proven to be essential for salespeople, as well.
“One salesperson I know sells digital scrapbooking software and supplies,” Fong says. “She connects with her customers on Facebook and through a blog where she shares project ideas and digital photo advice. She publicizes both in person and in virtual scrapbooking Facebook events. She offers an e-newsletter through her blog, and it offers more project ideas. As a result, her existing customers always come back to her for supplies to do the projects she shares, and they also remember her when doing other scrapbook projects. They share her posts with their friends through social networks , leading to still more new customers for her. She has built a thriving business with both new customers and reordering customers as a result of her online contact with them.”
So how can you use social media to make sales?
Step No. 1: Determine the best way to connect with prospects
Francis says that before joining a social network to make sales, you must know your client base. “Social media is a smart selling tool only if your clients and prospects are using social media. It’s a huge waste of your time if your clients are spending their time elsewhere.”
But if you learn they are indeed using popular sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you need to determine which space is best for connecting and interacting with them.
“Facebook is one of the best arenas for business to consumer sales,” Francis says.
But Fong says with the recent change to Facebook’s algorithm, brands without an advertising budget won’t get much visibility. “It’s also important for brands to consider tools like Instagram and Pinterest along with their Facebook strategy to increase visibility and sales. Several of my clients are getting great results from Instagram. But like any site, you can’t simply post products. It’s all about engaging with the community, presenting products in fun and interesting ways, and offering a collection of images and posts that appeal to the lifestyle of your end-user.”
LinkedIn is the appropriate platform for sales of business-to-business products or services, Francis says. “LinkedIn is a more professional networking environment, so this is the right place to connect with people at big corporations that might be interested in your product or service.”
You can employ Twitter for all kinds of sales, Francis says. “The primary use should be listening, not broadcasting. Use what you hear as leverage to pick up the phone and call. Listen for problems that can be solved.”
Francis says you needn’t limit yourself to the three big social networking sites. Blogs, live chats and comment sections on websites are also great places to generate leads. “You can really find prospects any place online where a relevant conversation is happening.”
Fong agrees. “Salespeople have been successful in blogging about issues related to the problems their products solve and participating in online forums where these topics are discussed. Meeting someone at their point of need with a solution, a salesperson can then create a lead who is interested in learning more about a product or service.”
Lesson learned: You need to find out where your market is having conversations, and then go there, Fouts says.
Step No. 2: Join a community and create a persona
“It starts by spending some time with the tool you plan to use,” Fong says. “Build up a personal account, have conversations, and become acquainted with the norms and expectations of the community.”
Without misrepresenting yourself, create a persona that’s likeable and trustworthy within that community, Fouts says. “If I think you’re a jerk when I see you on a social media site, I’m not going to do business with you,” she says. “If you comment a lot to get people to go to your site, I’m not going to listen to you. You can’t abuse or misuse social media.”
Show your network that you’re an amiable, trustworthy resource.
Step No. 3: Connect
Friend, follow or connect with individuals with profiles that match your clients’. How do you do this?
Conduct a search on each social networking website or use a resource like socialmention.com to find people who are talking about your industry or using related keywords, Fouts says. Then comment on their posts, retweet them, answer a question or share something they say. By contributing to their conversation you add value to their network, she says. “Then it becomes natural for you to follow them and for them to follow you back.”
Once you connect, don’t immediately bombard them with pitches. Instead, read their profiles, get to know them and identify their needs.
Fong says when you’re ready to approach someone directly, do it privately.
“A pre-scheduled call is often a great tool, but even a private message or e-mail can be a first step where you specifically reference what you’ve learned about that person through your interactions [on social media]. Then you don’t feel like a pushy salesperson but rather a friend with a specific solution.”
Step No. 4: Build relationships
“The most important thing salespeople need to know is that they need to develop relationships more than they need to develop leads, because good relationships will turn into leads,” Fouts says. “People share a lot of information, and if you monitor and listen to what they are saying, you will eventually be able to engage in a meaningful conversation with them.”
Once you develop a relationship, you can tell the prospect how your product or service might be something they want or need.
Step No. 5: Engage in a conversation
“If you just write them a message with a pitch and a link to your website, they will be uninterested,” Fouts says. “If you say, ‘Here are some solutions to your problem, maybe my product or service can help,’ they will know you care about them. If you really listen to what they are saying on social media, you can open doors and start a conversation without having to make a cold call.”
Other ways to do this: Create a Facebook group related to your product or service and invite prospects to join. Then, send targeted messages to members who are active within the group, Francis suggests.
Join the groups that your clients are members of on LinkedIn, as well, she says. Engage in conversation there by answering questions that are asked and showcasing your expertise at problem solving in a specific area.
Twitter also offers opportunities to initiate dialogues. “Although Twitter should be used as a listening tool, you can still engage in a conversation on the site,” Francis says. “Listen to your prospects’ tweets and use them as trigger points to start a conversation on a business development call,” she says. “Look for trends in their tweets. Are they launching new products? Buying new companies? Expanding to a new market? If any of those announcements could be a trigger for something you sell, call your prospect and mention that you saw the tweet. Ask them how it’s affecting their business and see if they would be interested in starting a conversation about how you can help.”
If you share good content with your social networks, it can spread easily, increasing your visibility with new leads, Fong says. “A salesperson can also give better service when paying attention to customers online.