Few issues in our industry elicit stronger opinions than the subject of social networking. Facebook, for example, is the social network you either love to hate or hate that you love. Twitter evokes even stronger emotions; it’s often regarded as more toy than tool and “one more needless distraction.”
The problem with most of our industry is this: We continually view social media through the lens of marketing and advertising only. This outbound, sales-driven approach blinds us to the fact that we’ve turned something quite simple into something very complicated. At the risk of being painfully obvious, social media is not a sales tool – it’s a communications tool. The irony? Understand the importance of this distinction and you’ll find yourself selling, directly, on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. How? By listening to your clients.
You need to visit the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles of your clients. Pay attention to what they are posting. Observe where they hang out online and go there to learn. Stop obsessing so much about your own pages and places and go where the business is. Commenting on a client’s profile can be far more advantageous for you than posting on yours. Why do this? Listening to your customers is one of the immutable sales laws, and social media makes it very easy to sit up and pay attention. You won’t be connecting with them in a contrived, pushy, sales sort of way, but rather in a very natural, conversational tone – the kind the best consultative salespeople employ every day. Listening (asking the right questions, being genuinely interested in your customers’ challenges) will lead to opportunities. And at the right moment, you’ll find your fingers flying across the keyboard, responding with a solution that results in a sale.
At the 2010 ASI Power Summit I attended in November, a gentleman complained, “I just don’t have the time to do Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.” My reply: You need to change your mindset, and change it now. Some clients prefer to communicate to you through those channels. If you ignore them, you are essentially ignoring a client seeking your services and solutions. You’re turning away business and you don’t even know it. You don’t have to like Facebook. (Most of us don’t like e-mail.) Social media is going to continue to grow as a preferred method of communication for some of your buyers. In fact, it’s going to grow as a preferred channel for many more of your buyers in the near future.
An example of how poorly we have misunderstood social media as communication is the current supplier/ distributor relationship. There are a few vendors (surprisingly very few) in the industry that have reached out to me via my preferred methods of communication in social media. The suppliers that have reached out to me through my preferred methods and attempted to add value to our relationship (generally because they listened first) remain top-of-mind with me. Meanwhile, the other suppliers are spending thousands on direct mail and catalogs, which is fast becoming the industry slush pile.
After two years of speaking on the subject of social media, I’ve come to this strong conviction: A fundamental, cataclysmic change is taking place in the market as I type this. These omnipresent screens that now fill our lives with information (cell phones, laptops, desktop computers, iPads and Kindles) are the new electronic gatekeepers. They are stiff-arming most of your antiquated, interruption-based, old-school sales tactics (catalogs, direct mail and cold calls) and keeping you from connecting with a client. Communication is now completely controlled by the customer. If they don’t want you in, you won’t get in, and if you don’t appreciate how they prefer to communicate, you might never get in. Even if your buyers aren’t using these devices now, you can bet the up-and-coming ones are. Entering the conversation now will prepare you for this generational, transitional shift in what will be common business communication three years from now.
Shed your peddler’s pack and your preconceived ideas on social media (real-time media, social networking, or whatever you prefer to call it) and remember what it is like to merely have a human conversation and solve a problem. We all desire to become consultants and trusted advisers, and we know it all begins with listening. The technology will change, but the good news for most of us is this: The principles remain the same.