Have you noticed that, at the end of many TV ads, the company trying to sell us something no longer plugs its website? Instead, they want us to connect with them on social media channels. “Find us on Twitter”, they shout. “Like Us On Facebook”. “Oh, and by the way, we have a website…”

The speed of change in customer buying habits has surprised even the largest companies – initiated by the availability of affordable, “always-on” broadband wireless internet, and fast-tracked by the growth and social acceptance of mobile devices. The way that customers choose and buy stuff has changed more significantly that perhaps at any time since the Industrial Revolution.

So, if customers are using online communities to discuss, recommend, review, comment and engage with brands (as well as each other), surely it makes sense for organizations to have virtual presence in places that their customers are, increasingly, expecting them to be?

Not so long ago companies confined their social media activities around marketing, perhaps venturing out as far as pre-sales, and maybe customer services. Today it’s becoming clear that the opportunities that social media present to organizations looking to grow (or even just maintain) relevance in the minds of their customers needs to be rolled-out to more corporate cost-centers – if not all of them. And that includes Sales.

Carefully implemented and properly managed, leveraging the reach of that social media offers brings tremendous benefits to a sales organization. Communication efforts and friction is substantially reduced, visibility is increased, and you get to hear the truth about what your prospects think about your competitors – as well as what they think of you. If social media is changing the buying process, then you can bet it’s changing the selling process too.

Here are some key line differentiators as to how social changes  – and continues to change – the entire customer acquisition process:

Image: In Social Media. ©2012 KEXINO, social media sales.

  • Self-Sufficiency. Customers are finding out and discussing your product or service in places where your organization has no control over the information that’s presented. From blogs, to forums, to Twitter/Facebook/Google+/Whatever, these conversations are happening whether you’re there or not. Customers are forming opinions and making decisions well before they’ve entered your sales funnel. Your company needs to be present (and active) wherever these conversations are being made. Not to make sales pitches (please!), but to redress inaccuracies, answer questions and disseminate pertinent and meaningful content that is viewed as being helpful.
  • Group Thinking. Customers are not asking your sales team for help and advice during their buying processes. Instead they’re reaching out to their online community because they have a closer, more trusted relationship with them than they do with you. They probably know as much about your value offering  – and probably far more about your competition – then you do. As a collective, prospective customers have a handle on your brand  that’s built from real-world experience. But it’s also built from conjecture, supposition, gossip, disinformation and downright lies. Social tools ease the distribution and dissemination of information.
  • Transparency. Whether we’re talking fit-for-purpose, pricing, customer service, or the color of the CEO’s new Mercedes – social media has leveled the information playing field. Sales processes and tactics have to evolve when everyone knows what the other guy is charging.
  • Win Trust Before Winning The Sale. The sales process looks different to how it was a few years ago. Today, it’s often broken down into a number of small steps up the ladder, perhaps with the very first (and smallest) step given to the customer without cost. The so-called “Freemium” model is designed to entice a percentage of customers to upgrade to the paid version of something that’s otherwise available to use for free.
  • The Changing Role Of The Decision Maker. In a B2B environment, it used to be that a line manager made recommendations to the C-Suite executive, who’d ultimately make the final purchase decision. Today the process is often much more horizontal. The users who’ll ultimately work with the purchase can tap the knowledge of their peers – to find out about pros and cons, pricing, customer service experiences or whatever – and make recommendations accordingly. It’s no longer enough to schmooze the “decision maker”.

Like it or not, social media is changing the way that customers think about your company and its products, as well as those from your competitors. Companies can no longer rely on tired, outmoded (and increasingly irrelevant) sales tactics that are based customer behavioral assumptions from more than fifty years ago.

The customer is now in control. How is your company responding?

 

Author Bio:

Gee Ranasinha is CEO of KEXINO, a marketing services and value communications company working with startups, solopreneurs and SMEs.  Based in Strasbourg, France, KEXINO works with organizations in North America, Europe and Australasia to develop marketing, sales, communication and awareness programs that help businesses do more business. Find out more at kexino.com