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Social media and its impact on the sales process

Social media has contributed to the democratisation of information and, armed with this information, customers are demanding different things from sales people and companies.

People are tuning into online communities, blogs, forums, and social networks to gather information and make buying decisions.

In the B2B (business to business) space buyer behaviours are changing too. The buyer is either a purchasing agent or decision maker and they are armed with far better information well before they interact with a sales person. This will demand a different relationship.

If sales people see their role as only being ‘educational’ they will be unable to match the requirements and expectations of customers. People are getting tired of the old sales model of ‘shut up and listen’, especially if the information they are getting is patronising, know-it-all, we’re the best, readily available on the web and in some cases incorrect or outdated.

It is important that sales people recognise that customers are likely to be as informed about the product as they are (or at least believe they are). Customers are influenced beyond the boundaries of traditional businesses and long held relationships. We, the sales person, are unlikely to be the first person the customer will go to, even with established relationships. The long held tradition of key account management where every person of influence in a customer account is mapped on a ‘blue sheet’ and armies of account teams are marched to surround the customer is no more. Customers now are surrounded by social media.

Customers are using social media to build up independent knowledge, and compare and contrast information and opinions. This knowledge gives the customer power, and that power fundamentally changes the dynamics of the sales relationship.

The web has also opened up communication channels which has changed the landscape forever. The old model is magnified; where in the past consumers used to tell five others if they were happy with an experience and 11 or more if they were unhappy, they can now communicate, positive or negative, in real-time with other consumers on a massive scale.

B2B customers are demanding a different relationship. They want to interact with a sales person that legitimately questions, challenges ideas and innovations, and can clearly articulate how they will work to bring value beyond the product.

Rather than go and talk to buyers alone, sales people and businesses need to go to the social networks to listen to, observe and interact with customers to help find a footing and take note of the consumer voice.

Social Sales also demand that the sales team work in collaboration with the marketing group to help seed the right information about their offerings into their markets and networks where their customers look to for information and to exchange ideas. Customers want to see your work in action and get feedback from the sources they trust.

The Social Sales world also requires sales people to put aside their reluctance and adopt new technology. Social Sales is the dawn of the new salesperson that doesn’t shy away from using information and systems to their advantage. The Social Salesperson makes the most of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems interlinking CRM functionality to connect with social media, marketing, campaigns, networks, etc. to track the threads of customer conversations, opinions and ideas. CRM can no longer be ignored or treated as a telephone directory by sales people and businesses.

The responsibility for Social Sales doesn’t just reside with the sales team either, it needs to go all the way along the whole sales chain and beyond. We need to use CRM and social media tools to make strategic calls – the CEO, CFO, COO, and CIO will be asking ‘Tell me what you see behind the numbers’. This request is referring to the patterns of information, customer comments, buying decisions, influences, customer experiences, emotions, and feedback that will influence what we make, how we interact with our markets and much more.

Leaders, sales teams, and businesses need to invest time, resources, and money to learn how to interact in these emerging social spaces. Why? Because the traditional channels to the customer such as email marketing, trade shows, and face-to-face meetings are less effective.

In some cases you may not even be interacting with the customer directly but with their ‘recommendation network’. The real challenge for sales is to identify and engage with these networks. Social Sales involves different skills, leadership, and a culture that values a collaborative model of free knowledge exchange.

Social Sales is changing selling fundamentally – so are you and your business ready?

Thanks to Mark Parker and Charni Cargill for their collaboration on this piece.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

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Sue Barrett

Sue Barrett

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, coach, and founder of Barrett, specialists in assisting businesspeople and businesses build high performing and profitable sales teams.

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