We’ve all heard the stories about the big deals closed on the golf course or at the steakhouse, but these tales are starting to belong more in episodes of Mad Men than in today’s business environment. Today’s sales professionals operate less from the fairway and more online and by phone. Indeed, CRM, email, and web conferencing have become the ubiquitous productivity portals for all customer-facing professionals. However, with the efficiencies and cost effectiveness of such virtual work platforms has also come a dramatic reduction in the actual relationship time needed to conduct the inherently interpersonal business of selling.
In the past few years, while sales has mostly ignored the social media revolution, the marketing and customer service functions have led the way in adopting and demonstrating the power of social media in engaging customers, especially as part of the social CRM movement.
What has taken sales so long to catch up, and what now needs to be done?
Learning From Marketing and Customer Service
Leading social CRM expert Paul Greenberg describes the socialization of business activities as “the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.” Indeed, social media builds a two-way street with customers.
Visionary B2C companies like Procter & Gamble (Old Spice), Zappos and Diapers.com have executed effective strategies based on the idea of “delight” through social media, and with great success. B2B companies have learned from these B2C examples and are combining superb customer service with newly created social customer communities, resulting in significant cost savings and revenue increases.
Dr. Natalie Petouhoff — one of the top analysts in the ROI of social media in B2B customer strategies — cites everything from reduced call/email volume and SEO costs to increased customer lifetime value and lead conversion rates. And according to a recent study by Gartner, one-third of leading companies will extend their online community activities over the next two years “as customer awareness and use of social CRM for marketing as a back door to customer service increases.”
Customer service organizations are certainly leading the charge in recognizing the power of social media to give insight and measurement to their work, as well as bring their customer communities together. If social media is such an indomitable force in customer engagement, where is social media in sales?
Hey Guys, Wait Up!
While marketing and customer service have jumped on the social CRM bandwagon, the sales profession has mostly been watching from the sidelines, wondering what to do and how to do it. There are four main reasons for this lag:
- Salespeople are not techno-geeks. They view technology, at best, as an enabler — a tool for getting their job done — rather than something you experiment with on the weekends for the fun of it. Clearly, social media is more approachable and engaging than traditional enterprise applications, but a level of technical skepticism remains.
- Salespeople need to understand what’s in it for them. Good salespeople are highly efficient in their use of time. It’s a benefit of years of being compensated for results. If they don’t understand how something is going to make them more productive and successful, they won’t do it, and no one has done a good job explaining why social media matters for sales. Considering the indication of some reports that sales teams generate upwards of 70% of their own opportunities without the help of the marketing department, the importance of engagement for salespeople cannot be overstated.
- Social media tools have not been integrated into the sales workflow. CRM vendors have so far focused on integrating social media into their service and support offerings, and sales functionality has been mostly left to specialized third-party providers (see options on Salesforce.com’s AppExchange and Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM Marketplace).
- Salespeople rely on their employer for training on new sales processes and tools to support them. If they are not being trained or given a managerial “green light” on social media, they are less apt to explore and implement it on their own. According to a recent study by OgilvyOne, while more than half of sales professionals thought that social media was important to their success, only 9% had been trained on it by their employer. As companies are starting to think about how to best leverage social media, sales training will undoubtedly be near the top of the list.
Selling Has Always Been Social
Despite these reasons for the lag, salespeople are in the business of understanding, relating to and engaging decision makers. Short of an expensive in-person meeting, what could be better than having real-time insight and intelligence into a prospect’s Twitter feed, Facebook profile, or even their music interests on Pandora?
Fortunately, the wave of social customer interaction education is starting to form, with initiatives like the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management’s Social CRM Program and Social Selling University leading the way. Just as early and effective adoption of the web gave competitive advantages to forward-thinking businesses (Amazon, eBay, Cisco) in the 1990s, in this decade, companies that effectively leverage the social media wave to improve their customer-facing business will thrive while those who don’t will stall.
Have you implemented social strategies into your sales force? If so, please let us know in the comments. If not, we’d also love to hear your thoughts, challenges and/or successes as well.