Integrating Social Media with the Sales Cycle

originally posted on Concept Hub

The health of an organization is directly impacted by cash flow. We have all experienced this first-hand through the past years of this recession. Many organizations are now starting to look at social media as a low cost way to accomplish some business goals. But your social media efforts should not just be measured by the dollars that are flowing out of our door, but also by the dollars flowing into the doors.

I have over a decade of experience in B2B sales. What every person involved with sales knows is that there are various stages within the sales cycle. When you are creating your social media plan, the first step is to identify what part of the sales cycle your organization should focus on that will make an immediate positive impact.

Do you need to increase your number of prospects or leads?

In the “old days” the sales person would start by making prospects aware of their products or services through cold calls. These efforts were supported by raising public awareness of the brand through strategic marketing and PR efforts. In the social media world this can be done through active participation in online conversations. Some ways include interacting on Twitter with prospects, answer questions on Linkedin, or attract prospects to your Facebook Fan page where you share valuable information and solutions (not sales pitches or your own personal pats on the back).

Perhaps you have a pipeline full of leads that need to be nurtured.

I relate this stage to a sales meeting.  The goal is to get as much information as possible. This is the “listening” stage. We listen to what our prospects are saying in various online communities. What are their concerns or their goals? How are their needs currently being met? What are they satisfied with or dissatisfied with? What are the strengths or weaknesses of your competitors? How is your brand being perceived by the online community?

Once you understand your prospects, who they are and what they need or want, you can then begin building a relationships; and sales, especially B2B sales, are all about relationships.

The next stage would be to close the deal or make the sale. However this can only happen if you are connecting with the decision makers. This is also something that in most cases will only happen after some “in real life” interactions. However if you have actively listened and did your research online you will know what people care about ensuring your solutions will be relevant to their needs. You will be able to successfully request a referral to the decision maker if needed, and you will be able to connect with your prospects on a personal level which is where trust is built.

Once you have provided your new clients with a phenomenal experience, they will want to tell all of their peers about you, right?

This is the stage where social media can be the most powerful. You can package your message and distribute it via RSS, through web widgets, through video on sites such as YouTube or through PowerPoint Decks on sites like SlideShare. However, I have seen many organizations jump right to this stage without first building a base of advocates that would be happy to share their content and they wonder why these efforts are not working. In sales, you can not skip the steps. You have to nurture your relationships.

But what is the key ingredient to create raving fans?

Ask any Mac user, and they will tell you it is not only exceptional products that provide an exception experience, but it is also the organization’s focus on service.

If you are not where your customers are looking help related to your services, you are not provided exceptional customer service. It is not enough to manage where your brand is being mentioned, you also need to look for key words related to services you offer and problems you solve. The more expanded your search is the more you will be able to provide exceptional service to your current customers as well as your future customers, and the more you can learn about what your customers need.

Organizations have historically been able to measure the effectiveness of a sales person by evaluating their sales cycle as well as predict future sales. This also is an area where cash flow can be controlled. Need more cash? Fill the pipeline. The various social media activities are very similar to the activities that go into filling and maintaining a sales pipelines, the difference is social media activities can be more targeted, more measurable, and much more meaningful.