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I’ve been selling for decades, and have never seen such a drought of leads as I have in the last year. A company I used to work for had a staff of Business Development reps whose only job was to generate leads for the sales folks like me. These folks spent forty hours a week sending e-mails, making cold and warm calls, and generating lists and lists, and lists.
These were experienced folks. They used targeted, personalized e-mails, researched companies and contacts using their LinkedIn and Facebook pages, and customized their messages to be relevant to the prospects’ backgrounds and companies’ initiatives. Yet, after six months, I had received ZERO leads.
If you’re in sales, I suspect you’re experiencing something very much like this. And I’m not expecting it to get any better without changing our approach. Companies have invested millions in sales force automation, CRM tools, marketing automation software, sales acceleration apps, and more. But the problem only gets worse. We don’t seem to be able to technology our way out of it. What’s causing this? What can we do about it? I believe the answer to both questions is the same. Social Business.
Much has been written about this, so you likely know that customers today are doing their homework on social media. Before they ever speak with a sales rep they have created their short list based on what they have learned about the available solutions. And they have learned plenty! They know your strengths and your weaknesses. They know your pricing and your licensing model. They know how good your support is and what people think of your professional services. And they know how easy, or difficult you are as an organization to work with. And all of this flows to them via social media.
While most companies have woken up to this reality by now, many haven’t got their heads around how to leverage social to their advantage. Many firms hire a couple of young kids who grew up using social media and majored in marketing, give them desks in the marketing department and conclude that the problem is now solved.
But the solution is much larger, much more organic than that. The goal here isn’t just to make sure customers and prospects know who you are and what you do. The goal is to establish credibility. You need to prove you are worthy to do business with them. You need to give them helpful information and insightful ideas. You need to demonstrate some thought leadership. You need them to see and hear from your happy customers. You need them to hear about how easy you are as a company to work with. You need them to hear that you are responsive when things go wrong. You need them to hear that your product is easy to use and works as advertised. And a bunch of other stuff that I’m sure I’m leaving out. Are the two kids in marketing equipped to do all this? Nope.
So what is at the root of all this? Two things: your CUSTOMERS and your EMPLOYEES.
Your customers are the ones influencing your prospects most heavily. If your customers are not happy, that is why your phone has stopped ringing. It’s not a secret any more. We’re all naked now thanks to Social Business. Addressing this challenge will require the whole company. It’s time to make the customer priority ONE, and not just in a marketing sort of way.
It’s for real this time. Your existing customers will determine your ability to sell to future customers, because more than ever before, they are talking to each other about you and your competitors. What do you think they are saying about you? I hope it’s good, because no matter how much you try to convince them otherwise, your word just doesn’t carry the same weight as your worst customer’s.
That means tech support, professional services, product management, quality assurance, sales, pre-sales, and virtually every other department needs to be measured on one metric: Customer Satisfaction. Without it, you should turn out the lights, lock the door and go home. You need another place to work.
Your employees house the collective know-how of your organization, and must begin to funnel what they know into digestible bite-sized nuggets into appropriate social media channels. That is, you need to provide value before your prospects become customers. And that value is likely nestled in the heads of folks walking your halls every day. If these folks have been at their jobs (even including similar roles in other firms) for five years or more, they likely know a good deal more about how to get good results than your prospects do.
These folks have great stories to tell! This is true for sales people, technical folks, consultants, product development people, and especially executives. And they all need to start actively contributing to your company’s brand and identity, on line. No time for traditional success stories or case studies which take months or years to get written and approved by all parties. Use lighter, faster snippets and examples that don’t even name specific companies, but are based on real successes and sound advice.
Collectively these folks represent a massive amount of experience which is enormously valuable to your prospects. You need to harness what they know and use it to demonstrate value. Show them you know your stuff. Collectively you will define your brand. Establish an identity as a smart, easy to work with firm that helps your customers solve important business problems. But it needs to be done generously and socially, and it needs to flow, in large part, from your customers and employees alike. This isn’t Marketing’s fault.
Don’t get me wrong, Social Business will not make your phone ring off the hook overnight. This takes time to mobilize and get up and running. And once it’s off the ground you must keep it at a sustained cruising altitude with ongoing content, information, stories and insights. But if you do, the phone will ring. It will ring without you reaching out to them first with ten e-mails. And they will be serious prospects who have done their homework, built a short list, have a budget and a timeframe, and have decided you may be one of the few with the right stuff to overcome their challenges.
Time to get serious about creating happy customers and leveraging Social Business to make sure your prospects know about them and demonstrate why they’re happy they chose you.
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