Sales force-driven organizations are wising up to using social media to build relationships with customers. Businesses are investing in sales enablement software like Salesforce.com, iCentera and Jive that have social-related functions internally to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing and some even have ways to manage social contacts.
Sales as Content
Sales organizations are all a-twitter about content marketing, certain the answer to closing sales is in a steady flow of just the right white papers or video talking heads. All that is right-minded in my book. The sales process, especially in B2B, starts earlier and earlier with business leaders investigating their problem online before they may have even formed the words to describe the problem exactly. Companies like IBM with their Expert Network and use of LinkedIn are building presence and thought leadership online that tries to anticipate the business leader’s pain before it’s diagnosed.
Sales as Service
Thinking about content as sales “bait” is one thing (and a little insulting to the customer, I might add). Thinking about sales as a continuing service to customers and prospects is different. Instead of simply ramping up on valuable content, sales organizations who want to get into the sales cycle earlier and even build strong relationships with prospects well before closing would do better to think like IDEO.
One of the most well-known product design firms in the world, IDEO is expert at getting to the root of customer problems whether they be rooted in usability, service, or some anthropological insight. They’re good at making life easier for customers. True, their solutions tend to be in the product and experiential like designing the Community Pharmacy for Walgreens. Beneath the actual solutions lie a relentless curiosity about behavior and behavior change, “We identify new ways to serve and support people by uncovering latent needs, behaviors, and desires.”
If a sales organization spent their energy on understanding their customer’s actual experience and behavior and then sought to deliver services that made their lives a little easier, they might end up with a great strategy for building enduring relationships. Inevitably it would actually point to creating content that is helpful to customers/prospects/influencers. So, right back to that content marketing model we are all working on just within the context of delivering service.
It might also cause the sales organization to create tools and applications that make it easier to make a smart business decision. Pull out your iPhone. Mine is full of consumer-facing examples of new customer services from my airlines, Delta; my aspirational travel agent, Jetsetter; even my car insurance provider, Geico. IDEO would think holistically (design thinking) about the buyer’s experience and how we might overcome barriers, friction points, and emotional moats. That is a refreshing way to state the goals of social selling.
Do: I am all for quick hits and big solutions. I would suggest committing to a content strategy based upon delivering the most useful content possible to your customer’s decision-making process. What reports, white papers, customer testimonials would help them make a good decision? Simply putting on the buyer’s hat vs. your own seller’s hat can drive you to create more useful content. Meanwhile, try a process where you think more creatively about delivering useful services to help the selling/buying process. You can hire a consultant. You can interview customers. You can trigger some effective brainstorming to explore new service territories.
- IDEO Method Cards – this pack of cards introduces you to a variety of ways to apply a design approach to business problems. Flip through. Find 3 that sound promising and just try them.
- Patterns - a useful blog from IDEO on design thinking and application
Timing: By 2nd Q it will be key to be executing on a content marketing strategy that embeds social components. By 4thQ, it would be terrific to have a utility or buyer service in place being used and tested.
(thanks to madupiyadasa for the pic)