As a Seller, Is Social Media Just Hype or Is There Real Value In It?
by Paul McCord
Recently Nigel Edelshain discussed how important embracing social media will be for sellers of the future. And by future, Nigel wasn't speaking of the distant future; he was referring to the relatively immediate future. His contention is that those sellers who don't embrace social media and learn how to connect with their prospects via these technologies will be left in the cold.
With lots of caveats and admonitions to not neglect the traditional methods of engaging prospects and clients.
Although embracing social media is the rage-if you're not hip on Sales 2.0, you're so 20th century it ain't funny-and the number of social media experts willing to guide you through the jungle of the new medium grows exponentially daily, for most of us the vast majority of our prospects are not going to be found via social media for some time to come. Most of our existing clients and our near prospects won't be engaging us via social media either, at least for the foreseeable future.
This is near sacrilege to many; out and out heresy to a great many more. Just read the White Papers promoted on various companies blogs, listen to the conversations on Twitter and Facebook, read the discussions in the various sales forums and on the various sales blogs. They'll tell you in no uncertain terms that social media is THE force to be reckoned with.
And they have proof. All they have to do is point to all the downloads of the White Papers, all the interactions on the forums and blogs, and all the tweets on Twitter that prove their point. There are so many they must be reaching a huge audience.
And I agree. Many are reaching a huge audience. The social media audience is large. It's you and me and millions upon millions of others. And it's growing every day. It's the audience reading this post on this blog-people who in one form or another use social media.
A large audience, yes. The majority of people? Not even close.
For most of us it isn't where we're going to engage the majority of our prospects.
Over the past couple of weeks I've taken a very informal poll of the people I've spoken to. Didn't matter where they lived or what they did for a living, nor did it matter whether I spoke to them over the phone or in person. Virtually every person I had an opportunity to speak with I asked two questions:
- Do you or your company use social media to engage customers or prospects
- As a buyer (business or individual), do you use social media to connect with or engage salespeople or companies or to research products or services.
Almost 40% of those I asked indicated that their company uses some form of social media to try to connect with customers and prospects (I suspect next year at this time this number will be closing in on 70% or more). Less than 30% said that as buyers they have ever used any form of social media to find or engage a company or salesperson or to research a product or service. (NOTE: This does not mean they didn't use the Internet to research or purchase, it simply means they didn't use blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook, or other forms of 'social media.')
So what does this mean for us sellers and our companies? Do we simply ignore social media until it becomes a more dynamic place to find and engage prospects?
Well, we're back to Nigel's article. As I said, I agree with him. Social media will continue to expand, to develop, to mature. And as it does more and more of our prospects and customers will use it. The few prospects and clients we can engage through social media today will steadily increase over time.
If we want to grow, we'll have to be prepared to engage these prospects on their terms. Just as today we have to find ways to find and engage prospects outside the world of the internet, we'll increasingly have to be able to find and engage them within the world of the internet in the future. If we can't or if we choose not to, we'll find ourselves struggling to find business.
This isn't to say that social media isn't of value today, because it is. However, for most of us it shouldn't be the primary focus of our prospecting and business development strategy since the majority of our business is still going to come from traditional prospecting and marketing strategies.
But just because it isn't our primary focus doesn't mean it shouldn't be a part of our portfolio. The majority of our prospect contacts may not be made through social media, but that doesn't mean that none are. There is business to be developed through social media and as mentioned above, that business will grow over the coming months and years.
Furthermore, social media is in many ways a different animal than what we are used to dealing with. We have to learn how to effectively use it. More basic than how to use it, we have to experiment to learn what to use.
- Do you invest your time in starting and developing a blog?
- Which, if any, forums should you participate in?
- Is Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook worth the time and effort for you?
- What are your alternatives if one of the medias you heavily invest in such as Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube doesn't make it? Where do you go from there?
- Based on your ideal prospect, what social media would they likely use?
Right now we all have the opportunity to learn how to use the new social media platforms. Yes, we can find and engage some prospects, but more importantly, we can prepare for the coming transition as more and more of our prospects and clients begin to utilize these media. We can screw up, figure out successful strategies, and experiment with the various options now while the stakes are relatively low instead of later when the consequences of making mistakes may be far more serious.
And despite some of the hype about social media, it will never fully replace your non-internet based prospecting and marketing. Yes, there are a few who have chosen to eliminate the entire non-internet based world as potential customers by investing their entire business in a virtual world. They are few and far between and success stories are even more difficult to find.
If you haven't ventured into social media, do so. Begin to figure out how you're going to use it as a serious part of your prospecting and marketing strategy. Don't judge it based on traditional sales metrics today as you will probably conclude that it's a waste of time and effort. Instead, rejoice in any new business gained from your efforts and take heart in knowing that you're developing a long-term strategy that will come into its own over time, and that by investing the time and effort today, you'll have a significant competitive advantage over a good deal of your competition as social media becomes an ever increasingly more important tool to find and engage new business.
I think Nigel is too optimistic in his timeframe of social media's impact on sellers, but he is spot on in terms of the ultimate importance of having developed the skills and tools to use it to find and engage prospects. Ignore social media at your own peril, but invest in it too heavily today and you'll also be risking losing significant business by spending too much time chasing too few prospects.
Paul McCord, a leading Business Development Strategist and president of McCord Training, works with companies and sales leaders to help them increase sales and profits by finding and connecting with high quality prospects in ways prospects respect and respond to. An internationally recognized author, speaker, trainer and consultant, Paul's clients range from giants such as Chase, New York Life, Siemens, and GE, to small and mid-size firms, as well as individual sales leaders. He is the author of the popular Sales and Sales Management Blog (http://salesandmanagementblog.com
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