In the business to business (B2B) space the buying and selling relationship has changed.
The disconnect has been accelerated by access to information via the Internet. We trust our referral network and contacts in our social ecosystems more than the sales professionals who represent the products and services we buy. Those of us in the sales engineering role, as I was, have had to change our process. Developing social business relationships through social media as well as traditional channels can accelerate the process and we need to consider SocialCRM solutions to help sales professional manage this.
Lets consider Harley Davidson.
Thirty years ago, when I first came to Wisconsin as a young sales engineer for a bearing company, I called on Harley Davidson. I enjoyed being a resource of information for the Engineering department, negotiated a variety of contracts with purchasing, worked with the manufacturing team on problems with products, and tested new designs with the R&D team. I spent at least 4-8 hours each week working and socializing with a variety of employees.
This time allowed me to get to know them. I could appreciate the internal dynamics of the people, politics and business. It also made it fun and successful for both sides. The evangelism from everyone – engineers to the machine operators – in their support of the product was electric. And no doubt about it, they were fun to be with on a personal level as well.
In fact it was due to that very personal relationship, that I was able to help solve a problem. A product defect literally shut down the production line at the Capitol Drive plant in Milwaukee. I was 9 months pregnant(and my due date) but still managed to deal with a problem on the manufacturing floor. I helped test product to OK enough to keep them going for the next two days. You don’t do that for just anyone!
Today, the buying-selling cycle is vastly different. Access to information allows the “company” to do their own research for information and sourcing from companies far and wide. Referrals and recommendations come from contacts on the Internet are trusted more than the sales engineers (like me) that visit them in person. I am using social media as a “social business relationship” development and networking tool. Used strategically, with a plan and business goal in mind, both outside and inside sales professionals can make their time more effective as well.
I am not alone. A recent survey by OneSource shows that sales professional indicate that a mix of social media and traditional information are the most effective in qualifying and prioritizing leads.
Listen, analyze and engage
In today’s companies there are 5-8 people involved in every purchase. You may not meet them all during your sales visit or ever. Nonetheless, the ability to understand the business, social and political connections within an organization is important. Managing your connections on social sites with a business focus is admittedly difficult from a time management standpoint. There are new tools that are being developed to help.
Just like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems manage business relationships, SocialCRM solutions manage the relationships outside the firewall in the social space. It could be as simple as a spread sheet or as complicated as a traditional CRM like SalesForce.com. I have been using Xeesm for the past year and recently started using the Xeesm Edge (SocialCRM) solution. Xeesm is one of the leading tools that provides ability to manage the social side of the equation in terms of listening and engagement. I also just recently started to evaluate Gist from a due diligence perspective. Watch for a future post on the comparison.
How do you start social engagement?
We need to consider social engagement one person at a time. If I were to apply Xeesm today in a social business relationship with Harley Davidson, my efforts might look something like this this. Build a Flight (basically a group in Xeesm), add the names of possible contacts within Harley Davidson I find in my social spaces. This is where I will manage and track my touch points and contacts as I move from stranger, to connection, to opportunity, to proposal and ultimately to a sale. Over a two week period of time, my activities might look like this
Day 1 – review all social sites that Harley Davidson as a company is present in. Review all employees I can find in social spaces who are currently employed. Evaluate my connection depth.
Day 2 – Listen/Read several posts by individual people and on corporate blog
Day 3 – Chime in the conversation
Day 4 – Comment on relevant blogs, forums, groups
Day 5 – Ask or answer a group questions
Day 6 – Make a introduction to someone
Day 7 – Suggest an interesting site or post
Day 8 – Invite key contact to my own group
Day 9 – Have a conversation over the phone
Day 10- Bring others to the conversation
The important thing to remember is to care but not sell. Be social first and the selling comes at the end.
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