As a sales professional, you already know what ails you and your colleagues or team – not enough leads, poor quality leads, people not returning your calls or responding to your e-mails, difficulty getting appointments,customer fixated on price as the key differentiator, stalled deals, losing to 'no decision' - and so on. Pick any stage of your sales pipeline and there will be a problem that needs solving.
Some people (mostly those with 'guru' somewhere in their job description) would have you believe that social media is the answer to all your problems.
This is utter nonsense, of course, particularly in a B2B setting. That's not to say that social media tools don't have a part to play but they should be integrated with your existing tools, not used to the exclusion of everything else.
In the journey through the classic sales pipeline, you would use a variety of ways to inform the prospective customer about your offering. Initial contact could be via the time-honoured cold call, originally a knock on the door but evolving into the telephone call, fax and then e-mail.
Slightly more sophisticated methods to raise awareness include the mailshot (with or without brochure), the website and the exhibition.
As the prospect proceeds through their buying journey, you will want face-to-face discussions and to provide presentations and demonstrations, along with white papers and case studies. You may also be able to generate a return-on-investment calculation to back up your claims.
The problem with all of this is that it is very narrowly focused on YOU and what YOUR STUFF does. I'm sorry to break this to you but it's not enough.
As well as being bombarded constantly with information, today's customer is much more focused on THEIR PROBLEM and whether or not you are qualified to SOLVE IT. Telling them you can by talking about you just won't do.
So where does social media fit into the equation?
While I hesitate to use the over-used term 'thought leadership', social media can be used to build credibility and to engage with prospects on a one-to-one basis. Isn't that what salespeople do best?
For example, if you have been selling into the same market for any length of time, you have expertise you don't even know you have. You just think of it as doing your job but it's so much more than that. Every day you are dealing with challenges that might be unique for the person in front of you but you've seen them time and time before.
You could take that market knowledge and turn it into a blog post or series of posts highlighting the issues and how to address them. Show your prospective customers how they could be doing things differently or introduce them to concepts they don't know about (but you do.) However, don't explicitly push your product. Just describe the problem and how it can be solved.
Create a series of tweets pointing back to this blog post, using the issue as the hook.
Put an update on your company's LinkedIn page pointing to the blog post and get all of your sales people to share an update on their personal LinkedIn feed.
During all of this, you haven't once promoted your product but you have indicated that you have expertise in solving the particular problem or problems you've written about. The way to stand out from all of today's noise is to be different from most other salespeople and organisations who make it obvious that they are only interested in hawking their products, not in helping customers.
By Neil Fletcher, Director Arrosam Ltd, sales and marketing consultancy focused on working with clients in the Science, Engineering and Technology sectors.