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Closed: 11 May 2008, 11:59PM PT

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Sales 2.0: Are Collaborative Technologies Helping To Drive Your Sales And Marketing Efforts?

Web 2.0 has spawned a new wave of collaborative online sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia and del.ici.ous which harness the power of groups. Are Web 2.0 tools (personal profiles, rating, tagging, wikis, bookmarking and commenting) being incorporated into your sales process, CRM applications and other applications that your business uses? If yes, how are they being used? Are they making you more efficient?

How should companies be using these technologies? Which tools should they be using to make them more efficient and why?

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11 Insights

 


Based on what kind of business is being run, different collaborative tools can assist.  I don't think that every collaborative tool can provide benefits to every business. For example, service-oriented businesses probably won't get as much from photo tagging services as product-oriented businesses will, but social networking to generate new service leads would likely benefit either business.

The goal of any business effort online must be more than simply getting free ad impression equivalents. I've had thousands and thousands of visitors to my art sites, and yet very few of these generated sales.  However, I have generated a shockingly high percentage of sales conversions from targeted online ads related to specific blogs.  For example, a blog appears discussing artwork similar to my own, and I post a reply that relates the column to my own work with a link.  It's not just an ad, because it provides value to the column.  Ads alone are ignored by most online users now, but valuable content that happens to include a way to purchase the related product are very useful to people and generate a tremendous amount of sales.  The response has to be something valuable, though, because just throwing words together with a link gets ignored as 'yet another robot ad' (and will probably get caught by a spam catcher anyhow).

I would venture that for small product businesses, producing related blog search lists from products would be a very valuable sales and marketing tool.  If I can contribute a particular insight to a blog post that also refers interested parties to my products, I may get a several percentage sales return on hits, for instance 1 sale and 10 new leads out of just 50 hits.  Compare this percentage with maybe 20,000 hits generating maybe 1-2 leads and no sales whatsoever on general ad exposure, and you can see what the difference in sales return can be with intelligently targeted marketing.

Web 2.0 is about the user being in control.  People can allow or deny access to their own information, pull data from a variety of external sources, and soon do analysis of the "between the lines" information from the various feeds they access.

From a sales standpoint, this flips the traditional model  on its head.  Traditionally sales/marketing determined strategic locations where eyeballs would be (tv shows, billboards, magazines/newspapers, websites) and put their splash there.

With Web 2.0, attempting to insert advertisements into various data feeds will only hurt the companies trying to force their message; they will be seen as forcing themselves into the already overwhelming data stream that users are trying to sift through.  Their message won't get across (e.g. popup blockers, ad blockers, spyware detectors, etc.) and they'll be blacklisted from future advertising to that user.

Following on the model of Web 2.0, sales organizations need to find ways to have people PULL their message rather than trying to PUSH it to users.  The end user needs to see direct benefit to pulling down the message.  In addition, savvy sales organizations will then take that user who has pulled their message and enable the end-user themselves to push that same message to their personal social networks.  In other words, sales needs to understand what makes viral marketing efforts work, and leverage technology to get that marketing message across.

So sales/marketing is no longer about randomly finding customers amongst a wide audience, hoping to convert a certain percentage. It is now about starting with specific clientel and networking via that client.

About a year ago, EMC Corporation started to take this whole topic very, very seriously.

We framed the challenge as "social media proficiency", being able to widely use "E2.O" techniques to run a better business.

We've been at it for about 9 months.  The results have been outstanding.  Every large company should be looking at doing something like this, IMHO.

But where we've seen the value (so far) isn't really where you're looking.  Sales, CRM, etc. are largely unaffected by use of E2.0 technologies at this point, at least for us -- and there are some valid reasons why that's the case.  Right now, the primary benefit is coming from connecting knowledge workers together around new challenges or areas of interest.

One could argue that this indirectly impacts the selling process (and it does) but not in a way that you're contemplating.

For more information, I'm writing a personal blog about our experience, to be found here: http://chucksblog.typepad.com/a_journey_in_social_media/

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James Durbin
Sun May 11 2:39pm
That's great news about EMC, Chuck. I think as companies analyze how to use social media, they're getting that internal processes and communication are the easiest to build a campaign around.

It's not that sales and marketing can't be effective - it's that social media tools can replace less efficient means of communication. That would explain the success of your efforts.

In the sales channel, the initiative is largely up to the salesperson. The need for individual, rather than group action, combined with the commissioned nature of sales, makes it harder to have a large, successful company wide campaign aimed at sales.

My company recently created an Enterprise 2.0 sales portal for our technical sales force.  This is an interim step towards opening up the platform to the wider community of pre-sales, sales and marketing professionals within the company.  We have seen considerable success with the introduction of an Enterprise 2.0 portal within our Information Technology group.  A study of best practices of Enterprise 2.0 adoption suggests that more technically oriented individuals are likely to be early adopters of these platforms.  Technically savvy groups of employees establish the foundation of content that other groups will build upon when they come to the platform.


Our Enterprise 2.0 portal aggregates blogs, wikis, social network/discussion forum and “answers” tools.  We are considering opportunities to incorporate ranking (similar to Digg) and social bookmarking (similar to del.icio.us).  We are also very interested, over the long term, for the potential opportunities to use RSS and APIs to incorporate traditional sales, CRM and support systems data into the portal.


We use the platform to share industry news, customer news, technical information, details on internal processes (pricing, ordering, etc.) and tracking schedules and project progress.  These are relatively straightforward uses for the applications that are available on the platform.


The wiki has shown the most utility to this point.  Our company is always challenged to keep processes and product documentation current.  In a Web 1.0 environment an outdated document too often lives on and reduces the credibility and utility of intranet sites.  On the wiki documents are easily updated when new information is available.


There have not been any instances of the bogeymen opponents to Enterprise 2.0 throw out as reasons to not use these platforms: exposure of proprietary customer data, derogatory and discriminatory content, deliberate misinformation.  Each person in the network has behaved in a completely professional manner.  The Legal group was initially very nervous about this platform and the freedom that it offered users.  Now the Legal group is asking for their own version of the platform.


Our project is very new, and we do not have measures of improved efficiency yet. Anecdotal evidence strongly indicates that teams and workgroups that transition some portion of their processes to the Enterprise 2.0 portal see reductions in the volume of status e-mails and reductions in the number and/or time spent in standing meetings.  This suggests to us that some of the lowest-hanging fruit in the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 is the maintenance of situational awareness.


Companies considering Enterprise 2.0 should begin with considering what it is they are trying to do as opposed to thinking of the tool first.  At our company we saw specific problems with our existing processes that we believed we would be able to address with specific web 2.0 tools.  Namely the challenge of maintaining up-to-date information and the amount of time and effort making sure that everyone is “on the same page” about a project.  We believed that a blog platform and a wiki were the best ways to address these issues.  The specific challenges a company or its sales force is facing should dictate their choice of web 2.0 tools.


The “Field of Dreams” model for tool development will not work: they will not come just because you build it.  Introduction of Web 2.0 tools requires considerable training and evangelism, even among communities of early adopters.  The muscle memory of traditional tools is very strong.  It is best to transition teams as opposed to just individuals to the platform.  One of the best ways to encourage use of the platform is for a team or project lead/manager to dictate to their team that certain kinds of documentation and communications will only be accepted via a specific Enterprise 2.0 tool (i.e. “I expect to see weekly project status updates made to the project status wiki page).  This is more command-and-control than most web 2.0 advocates will find comfortable and reflects a reality that does exist even in progressive and adaptive companies.

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James Durbin
Sun May 11 2:45pm
A great response, August. When we first started measuring blogs, some 70% of companies reported they were unhappy with the results. Of course, 80% of them had no clear goals when they started the project, other than, have a blog.

Social Media has to be looked at as a tool, not a destination. It's not that new, and companies are better served figuring out what they want first, and then looking for a tool that helps them achieve that goal.

In my opinion, we weren't served well in the business community by the bloggers who preached transparency and widespread happy feelings for companies that blog. Those benefits aren't true for every company, but that doesn't mean every company shouldn't be looking for ways to improve communication, market research, and collaboration.

It's interesting that Information Technology takes the lead. It might be that they have greater freedom because the corporation understands less of what they do.

Marketing, Corporate Communications, Product Research and Customer Service are all areas ripe of social media payoffs.

From my personal experience with both Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical companies, social networking will still be more of a face-to-face word of mouth experience than a virtual experience on Facebook and LinkedIn.  The regulated nature of the medical industry makes it difficult for any Biotech/Pharmaceutical company to sponsor or encourage online networking.  The exception would be with official medical associations, where physicians would be the authors, rather than patients or other lay public members.

The potential of great social harm from misinformation by the misuse of biotech and prescription drugs greatly outweighs the benefits created by greater physician and patient understanding of disease states and treatment options.  While encouraging more people to keep their blood pressure under control, to watch their cholesterol levels, as well as keep their glucose intake under control would help all of us achieve a longer, more productive life, misinformation - even a little bit- would undermine the slight benefit for an entire population.  As the latest medical journals have shown, benefits from lowering cholesterol in the population has benefits - but they are marginal.  If misinformation causes mistreatment, then the benefits could be overwhelmed with increased side effects in the population.

Scare tactics causing under-use of proven treatments and preventatives are also as damaging as over-use.  Vaccines are the one area where there is direct proof that there is a measurable improvment in quality of life.  Yet, a few poorly conducted meta-analyses have made parents question the wisdom of vaccinating their childern for measles, mumps, whooping cough, and other diseases.  In the 1950's and before, whole schools were cleared out by waves of measles.  German measles caused birth defects in childern of mothers who were infected.

 Physicians have natural social networks.  It is called a referral network.  If a primary care physicain sees a complex patient who may have asthma, or any other challenging disease where there are risks and benefits to treatment, they will refer the patient to a trusted specialist.  When the specialist sends the diagnosis back to the primary care physician, and the patient returns for medical management, the primary care physician will see how the specialist diagnosed and treated the patient.  This word of mouth is much more valuable than the hundreds of millions spent on direct to consumer advertising.

I am a firm believer in social networking.  In the medical field, responsibility of diagnosis, treatment and weighing the risks and benefits to the society as a whole will need to be carefully considered. 

 

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James Durbin
Sun May 11 2:47pm
In the medical field, the trend has been towards closed networks for exactly this reason. Ning has several Doctor Networks where physicians share treatment and information, but they're not open to the general public.

Likewise, pharmaceutical and financial companies use social media tools in marketing and sales and market research, but not public product research. They do make use of data mining in journals and forums. It's not the sexy side of social media, but it's far more effective.

Sales 2.0 technologies

Web 2.0 technologies, like blogs, wikis, tagging, etc. are more than just some AJAX and cool, simple apps. The better technology and platforms have begun to take shape and are currently powering Sales 2.0 and making people real money. I'm currently employing some of these technologies and platforms to sell my business: investment research and management.

First and foremost, Sales 2.0 has begun to redefine the traditional sales funnel. Because web technologies are involved, a

certain level of new automation has crept into the sales process. For me and others competing in today's marketplace,

 

Sales 2.0 has done a couple of things

 

 

  1. Increase the circumference of the funnel
  2. shorten cycle times in terms of how long it takes to get through the funnel

     

  3. Increase conversions

 

 

Increasing the Circumference of the Funnel

What I mean by this is that given Web 2.0 technologies, I'm finding that I'm able to get a dramatically greater reach with my marketing efforts, effectively creating wider and more frequent ways to connect with potential clients. From there, given Sales 2.0 tech and platforms, I'm able to push more people through a wider funnel.

casting a wide-r net: Web 2.0 technologies are effectively being used by sales organizations to build brand over a wider reach. Companies like mine are using these technologies to build huge marketing machines in a much softer, gentler, and more precise way: via content. Oodles of it. I work in the financial advisory field and am using my blog to effectively reach folks around the world who are interested in what I have to say. Because my firm is small, I have a relatively shallow reach. I work with blog aggregation firms like SeekingAlpha to ramp up my exposure. SeekingAlpha, due to its content base of hundreds of blogs, has negotiated distribution deals with Yahoo Finance and E*Trade, deals I could never have negotiated on my own. Now, my content shows us exactly in front of the types of people who are my potential clients.

I'm using metrics tools like Google's plug-and-play Analytics to track my efforts and in step, I add more marketing/content gas to those sites providing the best feeders to my core business. Enabling my content with RSS allows me to get my content out there. Sites like RSS hosting/tracking firm, Feedburner, allow me to position my content to become portabilized and allow users to read my content wherever they may be. As I'm building a Sales 2.0 organization, it's more important for me to reach a larger audience as this point than it is to drive direct traffic to my own blog.

reputation building or becoming an expert: these technologies provide companies and individuals to build their own brands in increasingly narrow niches. I run my blog on the WordPress platform. WordPress has developed an app so that my blog posts also show up on Facebook. Not only does this further my reach beyond my blog and any aggregators to whom I'm submitting content, it also gets my content onto Facebook. My existence on Facebook is centered around groups and people who overlap my sphere of influence, specifically investing in Israeli technology companies. By putting this content directly into their news feeds, I'm cotinuing to build my reputation as an expert in public market investing in Israeli companies.

I've just begun to use Twitter to microblog some of my market commentary during the day. As more and more mainstream users adopt twitter-like apps, I am sure that this will compete for other media as a way to build reputation and distribute my expert opinion.

I'm using sites like Vestopia and Stockpickr to increase sales. Both sites allow me to create model portfolios and submit them to a community of like-minded investors. Vestopia tracks real trades I make in my investment account while Stockpickr tracks play money, but both allow me to put my best ideas forward to potential clients. Another step in building my repuation as an expert in my niche.

Previously, as head of business development and sales at SeekingAlpha, LinkedIn was an invaluable tool for opening up deals and closing them. Creating a well-thought out profile was essential when I used the LinkedIn messaging system to target potential partners for content syndication deals. I was able not only to target the appropriate person for the deal, but they were much more likely to respond from an internal LinkedIn message than they were to a cold email or phone call. Why? Because they could see and filter out why I was approaching them. By the time we connected, the relationship was already in context. I closed deals with Dow Jones, Reuters and Etrade from approached made via LinkedIn. Additionally, I participate in LinkedIn's Answers to answer questions posted by my network to show that I know what I'm talking about in my field.

Salesforce.com and other CRM solutions like 37 Signals' Highrise and Zoho are building more than rudimentary APIs for me to hook in other office/business critical solutions that I'm using, like Google AdWords. I'm using Meetup to plan, manage, and communicate with numerous seminars that I'm holding as a way to garner new business.

All these things are providing mechanisms for me to connect with as many warm leads as possible and bring them into a process that I can begin to close a proportion of them.

one-to-one sales: Sales 2.0 technologies essentially allow one to widen the mouth of the traditional sales funnel by creating a cheap and wide-reaching distribution network and given the ability to build brand/reputation along very narrow borders, companies are able to cast their message to the appropriate audience in a way that was never possible previously. The result is that I'm consistently marketing to my existing and future customers.

Sales 2.0 is all about relationship marketing. My future clients are reading my content on my blog, on SeekingAlpha and on Yahoo Finance. The next step in the process is to make the relationship a little more intimate by soliciting an email address. I accomplish this by using a email services company, like Contstant Contact or StreamSend. These service providers provide hosted email services including easy-to-use auto responders. So, when a prospect comes to my website after I've caught their attention on SeekingAlpha, I offer a quick, easy -- and free -- giveaway. A whitepaper. The user inserts his email address in the javascript email capture box I've embedded on my website and they've now entered my sales cycle. They get personalized emails from me with important information regarding markets, picks, etc. All these emails have a call to action to buy my product. I continue to convert my blog traffic to paying subs via this method -- using all Web 2.0 type tools.

making customers into distributors: Sales 2.0, given its integration into the tangle of relationships that is Web 2.0, has some interesting outcomes. Satisfied customers actually become value-added distributors for my business. The more users I have tracking my portfolios on Vestopia or Stockpickr (see above), the more legs my sales and marketing efforts have. In turn, users who track or follow my followers are also exposed to my content. In turn, what's occured, is that my customers or soon-to-be customers reinforce my positioning as an expert in my field and in turn, act as quasi-distributors lending approbation to my efforts.

Shorten Cycle Time

Automation

I spend most of my time creating content and allow the hooks into various Sales 2.0 platforms to work their magic. Every article I write shows up on my Facebook profile because I've integrated Wordpress and Facebook (see above). My email auto-responders treat every new trial susbcription to my research the same way. A series of personalized, automated messages go out, creating a conversion channel for my readers. RSS feeds are pushed out automatically via Feedburner. Feedburner even has an automated RSS-to-email plugin that allows me to offer email subs to my web content and continue the sales conversation that way as well.

Something worth noting is that many of these apps have taken software and turned it into a hosted, web service. This means I just pay for usage, implementation is really simple, and the service company takes care of updating the service, not me.

Increase Conversions

The Sales 2.0 funnel is inherently more stickier than its predecessors. Potential clients enter my wide-mouth funnel and have access to my research, my blog, my real-time market commentary. It's not hit or miss advertising. Instead, potential clients who don't buy right away continue to hear, see, and feel my messages. They stay connected to me longer and instead of just slipping through the funnel, they hang out for a while. While cycle times are sped up, more conversions actually take place.

Integrating Sales 2.0 apps into existing apps

I think we're still in the early stages of using Sales 2.0 apps and platforms and just beginning to integrate them into existing business critical platforms that we use to conduct business.

In the chart to the right, I've tried to describe the process of integrating these services. As they become more integrated, not only are sales activities more and more automated, the ability to market directly 1-to-1 becomes greater as well.

1st Stage: Sales 2.0 in the Sales Process

We and many like us are currently using Sales 2.0 platforms and most of the time, these are standalone activities. Meaning, while I blog, use email services firms, facebook, twitter, most of these activities are accomplished individually. I blog on Wordpress, send email via StreamSend, and use Facebook and Meetup to get the word out there about my services using content as the marketing message.

The point is that while some of the apps are integrated in a minimal sense (wordpress blog app allows me to blog on wordpress and it shows up on Facebook) , essentially all these activities are distinct from one another.

2nd Stage: Integrating into other sales apps

As APIs get better and easier to work with for small businesses, more and more of these Sales 2.0 technologies mentioned above will get integrated in existing workforce management apps. By this I mean that the division between *new* sales apps (salesforce, email services, meetup) and *old* sales apps (ACT, Outlook, Excel) gets blurred.

3rd Stage: Integration with Company-wide apps

After integration between old and new sales apps takes place, the next step in the Sales 2.0 movement is to integrate these apps into mission-critical business apps like Office, Outlook, Finance/Payroll etc. We currently use ACT as our contact manager, Outlook as an email handler, and an in-house financial app/process. As our software gets better and more tightly integrated. APIs and platform-agnostic hosted services will eventually allow me to tie everything together and manage sales together with all the other functions

Summing Up

Sales 2.0 is not merely Sales 1.0 with some cheap and easy software. It's a game changer. Given cheap and easy to deploy tools, I use content to market myself to millions of potential clients, effectively enlarging the circumference of the traditional sales funnel. Sales 2.0 then allows me to cycle through more leads in shorter times and convert more than I would through traditional, expensive methodologies.

 

 

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James Durbin
Sun May 11 2:54pm
Zack is the perfect example of the individual using Sales 2.0 instead of the company. His relatively shallow reach as a small company gave him the incentive to use social media to create a larger brand for his company.

Compare him to salespeople who work in larger corporations, and Zack comes across as bigger, more authoritative, and more aware. It's like my friend Harry Joiner, the Marketing Headhunter. He owns the site, ManagementRecruiter.com, and shows up right next to MRI, (Management Recruiters International), which has thousands of employees and is a billion dollar business. Online, Harry is the one you're more likely to click to.

Likewise, Zack lists out a very comprehensive strategy of how he build relationships online. This allows him to compete without having the resources of a billion dollar company behind him. As more "Zacks" start taking advantage of social media, the larger companies will have to step up training and evangelism to keep up.

Given the B2B focus of the companies I have worked with where we use such tools, that's the perspective I'll be sharing here.  Facebook remains primarily a social tool more so than a business tool in almost all respects.  Even where there's some business information contained, most of the business activities being conducted there are by the digirati rather than the more general business community at large.  In this respect, LinkedIn in the U.S., has been the dominant platform and for good reason.

LinkedIn has been useful on a number of fronts, including employee recruitment, access to professionals for business development or sales opportunities, learning about prospects' or professionals' background prior to meetings, and to simply keep up the job movements of colleagues who may end up in new positions that are helpful to the organizations I'm involved with.  First off, being able to search for and access any publicly viewable  profile, of which many seem to be, is tremendously useful.  Once one has sufficiently built up their network, the access is pretty amazing.  With over 500 contacts, this opens up virtually any contact I want to reach out to.  From a business development perspective, even where I sometimes need to go through two connections to get to that person I frequently have more than one path to reach them and can try both.  

LinkedIn also offers a premium service called InMail which enables users to subscribe and have the ability to directly communicate with other members.  This is a feature that has found success with recruiters who have an obvious need for this, but could also be leveraged by business development or sales personnel to reduce the transaction cost of reaching the right people inside of organizations that they wish to do business with. 

It's easy to imagine that with LinkedIn opening up their platform, basic integrations from CRM systems will be possible and desirable.  Something as simple as a link from a prospect or client's name in the CRM system directly to the person's corresponding LinkedIn profile would be an invaluable feature.  It's also important to get all of the people within one's organization both connecting to as many of their contacts outside the organization as well as connecting to everyone within their own organization to maximize the ability to reach a broader market with ease.

Incorporating the use of a service like LinkedIn is more of an attitude challenge rather than a technical one.  As people begin to understand the power of these networks they will begin to more quickly see the benefits of being connected. 

I find that the use of social networks is a critical component of a large part of my business. So much so, in fact, that I do a large part of my business entirely on the web.

My business, acidlabs, uses social tools as a core part of the way I deal with clients and peers around the world. Using these tools has afforded me opportunities to become engaged in communities and work that might otherwise never have crossed my radar. In the last year, I’ve presented at a conference in the USA (I live in Australia) and met in real life in excess of 100 new and interesting people I might otherwise never have crossed paths with. Every one of those opportunities was as a direct result of the networking and information and knowledge sharing opportunities opened to me by using social networking tools.

I am a regular user of Twitter (probably one of the most prolific Aussies, actually), I use Facebook to track what my professional communities (and friends) are up to and are talking about, I use LinkedIn for strictly business networking and to ask and answer relevant questions, I use Upcoming to track and note my attendance at various events and I use several other social networks for their specific purposes - Flickr for photos, delicious and Magnolia for bookmarking, TripIt and Dopplr for travel and meeting coordination and BrightKite (a new network) for tracking location and arranging serendipitous connections with colleagues, peers and friends. I also blog and use tools like Google Calendar, BaseCamp for collaborative project management, Highrise for CRM and Google Docs to create and share information that is important to me and my clients.

The ubiquitous availability of these tools makes it very easy for me to carry on my business anywhere, whether or not I have my own notebook PC with me. When working with clients, I frequently recommend many of these tools as ways for their business to step into the world of Web 2.0 and begin working in a more lightweight, efficient way.

Use of thee tools has made my business more efficient, more transportable and more able to work in the bursty way I find more suited to my personality. Many of my peers and colleagues who I collaborate with find the same utility.

 

The explosion of Web 2.0 technologies has not reached the sales department of corporate America. Though social media consultants and Web 2.0 conferences abound, and the possible successes at the corporate level are preached seemingly in every trade publication in the country, the vast number of corporate salespeople are not only not using, but are unaware of the potential of social media in the sales process.

Some of the reason for this is structural - larger companies have established methods of new business development and silos of knowledge where collaboration is discouraged. Part of the reason is inertia. Large companies don't need to be as creative, and thus lack the impetus to try new things. For whatever the reason, the true successes in social media are occurring at the small business level, as owner/entrepreneurs discover that social media yields benefits in terms of marketing, PR, branding and new business development that allows them to compete with their larger, less flexible, and more risk averse counterparts.

I'll cover several areas where these tools are useful, and attempt to give examples of how the specific tools can be used.

I. Online Profile/Branding:

The first and most obvious use of social media is improving one's online profile. This is an extension of the traditional practice of networking. Where once salespeople joined BNI, the local chamber, went to user groups, and tapped their network of friends offline, the explosion of social media tools magnifies the ability of the salesperson to reach friends, colleagues and referrals. One of the ways that salespeople gain credibility is joining organizations that show their commitment to the industry.

This is the essence of social media. Salespeople join LinkedIn, add Facebook profiles, join MySpace and Yahoo groups, join up to Ning social networks in an industry, write and comment on blogs, and add friends in Twitter and Meebo and Plaxo that create an online profile to showcase their commitment to a community. As more people in an industry learn about social media, salespeople gain reputation as people interested in bettering the profession.

Writing intelligent commentary, adding notes to people's profiles, and adding to the conversation brands a salesperson and allows prospects and clients to feel they know the salesperson prior to even the initial call. In my business, I'm surprised at how often a call turns into a sale because the client already feels they know me and what I do. The easiest way to do this is writing a blog, a spectacular way to showcase one's interests and experience as a thought leader. Traditionally this has been done by writing columns, speaking at conferences, and organizing meetings. E-mail newsletters can have some of this effect, but they are single-use publishing events. With a blog, the salesperson controls the publishing, and what they write stays online, giving potential buyers a window into the thoughts and expertise of the salesperson. I personally found this very useful with clients, who read my blog and often debated my thoughts when we met, or picked up the phone to call me instead of waiting on me to call. This is gold for salespeople. A well-written blog in the industry is a way to capture mindshare and set oneself apart from other salespeople who are seen as cold-calling pests.

If a client or a prospect uses a search engine to check up on the salesperson, the blog makes it easy to find them, and allows them to control the content associated with their name. If the client is on Facebook, a Facebook profile allows the client to feel comfortable in pre-assessing the salesperson's bona fides. In every online community, clients and prospects are now looking for information about the salesperson and the sales company that isn't just gathered from a phone call. This information is considered more authentic, as you can't entirely control an online profile, and thus the smart salesperson learns how to "get found" online by spending time where clients and prospects spend time.

This is not just the latest and greatest social media platforms - this includes forums, user groups, listservs, and other, less "sexy" applications. The principle remains the same, and for a growing number of clients, the referral rate of new business is 100% from from their online interactions.

ROI: Warm Leads and Better Conversion of Leads.

II. New Business Development And Lead Generation:

A second area that social media is effectively transforming is new business development. Most people are familiar with business lists, Hoover's and internal company databases. Just as clients are looking to gather information on salespeople, we are using the tools to gather information on our prospects.  That information in the database is by its very nature stale, and is often generated by a third party. Using social media, salespeople can gather in-depth, up-to-date, targeted demographic and contact information that is pre-filtered by the clients themselves. If a buyer or hiring manager or decision maker wants to get found, the most current contact information is the information they entered in a social network.

LinkedIn is the perfect example of this. Using my network of over 1400 connections, I can contact every Fortune 1000 company in the country through a warm lead, an advantage not easily replicated even for those with large rolodex across the country. If a manager leaves a company, their contact information goes cold. On LinkedIn, or any of the other networks, the information changes with the move. What this means is that you no longer lose contacts when they leave companies, and have the best opportunity to know when to contact them about new business. Facebook gives personal information about the decision maker, and Ning social networks let you get a sense of what's important to an executive. That insight can then be used to pitch other executives.

Using simple data mining tools or online monitoring packages, a salesperson has the ability to create and manage business lists on their own of current information. I currently use two such tools that can generate new lists of current titles in an industry and geographic region from the web, blogs, or social networks in less than 5 minutes. And that list? It's more comprehensive and more accurate than the leads we used to buy.

ROI: Lead Generation, Flexibility, Building a long-term, self-cleansing online rolodex.

Getting Found In An SEO World:

In 2005, 70% of recruiters admitted to using Google to search the background of a candidate before extending a job offer. What's amazing about that figure is how few of those recruiters realized that candidates were searching them before agreeing to work with that recruiter. Today's internet-savvy customers know enough to type a name into Google before dates, business deals, or letting someone babysit their kids. They're also learning to do this with salespeople.

This area is closely related to the online profile, but it's important enough to address individually. In addition to making sure your name has a strong online presence, it's important that your company (and ideally a salesperson) rank highly in organic search terms related to your business. PPC campaigns are good for selling products, and organic search rankings help direct customers to the right information about the enterprise, but the Search Engine Optimization is rapidly becoming a two-pronged strategy of architecture and social media. An SEO consultant today recognizes that social media gives him/her the best tools to create the important anchor-text heavy linking that is so vital for high rankings. Using a variety of platforms, social media serves the dual purpose of SEO and traffic building, and thus the salesperson who regularly engages in social media will find themselves showing up in Seach Engine Results pages for terms related to their industry.

A coordinated approach is best - but each Web 2.0 software seeks to improve their SEO rankings, and thus using the profiles from several dozen sites and actively engaging in them increases your SEO. The easiest example of this is the LinkedIn profile. If you have no other information online, your name often will return the LinkedIn profile as the first result. Smart salespeople can use this to their advantage.

An example is my recruiting site, http://socialmediaheadhunter.com. I purchased the site in February, launched it in April, and inside of one month, I was the number one search on Google for "social media headhunter." That's nice, but I'm also the 2nd-10th result on Google from nine other sites talking about SocialMediaHeadhunter.com. I dominate those rankings, and results 2-10 provide third party corroboration of my experience and skillset. Each individual salesperson can mimic this strategy, but early adopters with the right domains will have the best results.

ROI: Lead Conversion, Warm Leads

Competitive Intelligence:

I often use the phrase, "reserve brain" to explain how the blogosphere has helped me sell consulting and marketing services. I'm a prolific online reader, and with my RSS reader, I can surf through hundreds of blogs in numorous industries looking for best practices, economic reports, sales tips, and local market knowledge in the time it would take to read the business section of my local paper. The information I read is not always 100% accurate, but it is self-correcting in that comments and other articles, and the reputation of the writer can be debated and updated in real-time.

That makes me smarter than other salespeople. I have an army of bloggers and social media types reporting on the information in their lives, and social media helps filter the important stuff to the top.

This intelligence is a vital part of any salesperson's day. Being connected and seemingly with a finger on the pulse of the market, a salesperson becomes a trusted resource to clients. If they trust you to serve as an information conduit, they'll purchase your product or service as well.

Taking a look at blogs again, the need to create content often requires a salesperson to look at how their organization does business. Writing your message gives you practice crafting your pitch, and the introspection often leads you to improve your business. Competitive intelligence on what the market is doing is important, but knowing your strengths and weaknesses is often more important to your quarterly results. Tagging, which is the use of creating remote categories, is an effective way to organize the information you come across. Sites like del.icio.us and technorati allow you to organize your information, but it also allows savvy salespeople to take advantage of the filter done by experts in their field. Tags can also be used to publish information, as people who use tags to search (an advanced search engine operation at sites like Technorati.com) come to your site based on the tag you choose instead of the content.

ROI: Internal business process improvements and market intelligence.

Market Research:

We often talk about social media, but many of the Web 1.0 technologies provide information that we can monitor for great effect. Primarily we're talking about listservs, forums, and e-mail newsletter sign-ups, but smart Web 2.0 tools utilize new interfaces to monitor those sites. An example is Relevant Mind, which provides in-depth information on forums. Forums are great because they are often closed networks of highly engaged consumers giving fantastic market research into why they like and dislike products. Using technologies like this, CRM companies can provide a steady diet of market research to salespeople within the application. Companies like Vurv (who my RSS reader just told me was purchased by Taleo), were incorporating blog and newsite feeds into their Applicant Tracking Software. Many of the smaller CRM firms have RSS capability, but it's a very simple version where they're trying to get salespeople used to using the application, and the RSS feeds are a way of getting you to stay in the CRM application instead of going outside it.

Some CRM's are adding social networks and wikis to their offerings, but since the technology is pretty much free, it's not very successful. Simply having such a network isn't proof of it being used correctly. The perfect example is the client who built a $100,000 internal blog network to replace their intranet. The problem is no one contributes. Of course, no one was reading/contributing to the intranet either.

What can be done is collaboration, as companies like Pfizer make use of wikis and tags to monitor what other divisions are doing inside the corporation. This is a major initiative for companies that deal in information, as it allows groups working on the same problem in different regions to collaborate, or at least make a decision on who is working on what.

ROI:Improved Internal Collaboration, Improved Market Knowledge

Conclusion:

Some companies are using Web 2.0 technologies effectively, and while I can't share confidential client information, the examples of I have are still outliers. Individuals are driving the change, which makes sense as social media is simply the process of people sharing information with their friends and colleagues without an editorial power. Widespread adoption is simply not the case in any company I've spoken to or read about, but this is expected to change as the workforce begins to see the personal advantages in being connected.

CRM softwares can build in applications that enhance personal profiles, contribute to SEO rankings, and provide an industry filter for the salespeople. Drag and drop technologies that make it simple to share information to and from the database and the external Web 2.0 software would help. But technology is only a small part of the answer. Training, education, and curiousity can power a salesperson's social media efforts. The technology only counts as an enabler.  Ultimately, the success of the software depends on the users themselves.   

 

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Joseph Hunkins
Tue May 20 9:24pm
This is a superb insight. Collaborative environments offer free and extremely powerful tools that are currently underutilized by all but a handful of salespeople.

To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate? 

Most of the collaborative technologies have only just begun to appear as potential key parts of the online (and offline) business landscape.  I think it is important that businesses recognize the potential importance of these technologies - from blogging to social networking to tagging.  Most of these have great *potential* power to drive sales and networking across the board in business.  That said, I have only seen very limited *practical* results in my own internet experiences and cases I have studied which generally involve online publishing businesses - ironically the ones you'd think would have the greatest positive results from social networking and collaborative tools. 

The big challenges we have faced in travel publishing - both with printed travel magazines and online travel and technology information - is that only a very small percentage of readers appear to have an interest in *participating* in the discussion by leaving comments or submitting material or reviewing businesses.   Internally we have faced the same challenges, where even emailing and instant messaging have not always been embraced as fully as they should be to facilitate internal communications and interaction.   I believe that human habits are hard to break, and that these challenges will be overcome as the current generation, steeped in online activity and computer familiarity, takes control of the wheels.

While reviews of businesses and blog comments are solicited on our travel and history website the number of readers offering input is on the order of 1/10,000 readers.   Even when participation has been aggressively pursued at websites and blogs with email lists of some 50,000 readers we had only had a handful of active responses both in travel and technology sectors.  This was especially odd given that many readers were in positions where part of their job was to promote their own startups or larger enterprise internet companies.   Simply sending in a short article or requesting a review post would have resulted in a large amount of exposure, yet we had a limited response.  I think these latter problems may represent the problems with "social network fatigue" many are starting to experience as the number of collaborative venues very dramatically exceeds the number of things even a full time, technologically savvy professional can track. 

Yet despite these challenges online social networking and collaborative approaches have just begun, their deployment costs are low and getting lower, and their potential is far too great for businesses to overlook these opportunities. 

How should companies be using these technologies?

Marketing is no longer a one-way exercise, rather companies need to recognize that consumers of everything from computers to information to snack foods are open to the idea of a conversation with the business.   More importantly those consumers are likely to already be actively engaged in social networking such as Facebook, Myspace, or even Twitter.  As Robert Scoble and Shel Israel noted in their book about business blogging "Naked Conversations", businesses who stay out of the ongoing conversations do so at their own peril.    It's important to have engagement in the social networking sphere both for proactive marketing purposes but also for defense of a brand under attack.   Without familiarity and a social presence companies can be slammed and abused with little means to defend themselves. 

Internally the benefits may be more immediate.   LinkedIn is a powerful research and recruiting tool and it's capabilities are expanding every day.    At the Silicon Valley Mashup Camp earlier this year an application was showcased that mashed LinkedIn, Salesforce, and mapping to allow salespeople to more effectively manage their sales calls in terms of time as well as relationships.    For example more direct relationships (as measured by LinkedIns "degrees of separation" listing, could be optimized since they'd probably be more likely to result in a sale.  (I can dig up the contacts for that application at your request).

IBM has had some success using internal their internal wiki and blog tools combined with tagging to make it easier for workers to collaborate and find those with expertise in various areas.    The tagging allows searches to span across IBM's large enterprise to seek experts that would otherwise be hard to find using simple cataloging of job titles.   I think this example represents one of the most promising tools for enterprise use of collaborative technologies - harnessing the power of the group to define and categorize expertise (or the lack of it!), making this critical function flow seamlessly and inexpensively from other parts of the normal work flow.    As workers go about their business they can communicate with and tag others in ways that can be followed by future people solving or addressing the same issues or problems. 

Which tools should companies be using?

The short answer is that companies should be experimenting with collaboration in all forms, initially investing only limited time and resources in any given tool and then scaling up in areas where they see favorable results.  Blogging,  blog comments, and a blog-centric company community have become a cornerstone of social media best practices for both large and small companies.

This week three major players in the social space announced increased openness with respect to personal profiles, friend data, and other networking information.   Facebook's "Facebook Connect", Google's "Friend Connect", and Myspace's  data portability initiative all promise better integration of collaborative tools with websites and with each other.  Detailed implementations remain to be seen but this is clearly a great development in the social networking space that should make is easier for companies to actively engage people online across many platforms and websites. 

Specifically companies should be experimenting with tagging, bookmarking, and commenting as well as wikis and other content development tools, though it is too early to expect much in the way of clearly measurable business results and for that reason budgets should be developed to experiment cheaply and then scale up successful items as needed. 

Certainly a company wiki, Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter presence are starting points for a social media strategy.  All are simple to set up and potentially very powerful.  Feedburner, Twitterfeed and Friendfeed are excellent applications that allow cross posting  of content at other social network environments, and it is important to make sure important content (such as a blog post announcing a new product) quickly and automatically finds its way into all parts of the companies social exposure.   

Another advantage of using many tools and working to manage a large online social networking and online collaborative footprint is that these internet points of presence are some of the strongest types of acceptable "search optimization" for the online presence of a company.    Google assigns "authority" to websites based in part on their internal and external linking structures, and generally the more links from different sites the higher the authority Google will assign.  A robust social networking company environment provides a lot of opportunities for "white hat" search optimization that is generally viewed favorably by Google, resulting in higher ranks for various search queries. 

In summary,  the intersection of the internet with collaborative tools and massive social networking brings new opportunities and challenges to businesses.   Luckily the cost to experiment is small and the potential benefits are great, so companies of all sizes should embrace these technologies so they can better embrace their ... customers.   

 

 

 

Web 2.0 tools are essential, but misunderstood. Their main purpose is to connect people to specific pieces of information — and sometimes, to other people — so they weren't necessarily designed with business applications in mind. The most obvious use would be promoting new information and interacting with customres. But here's a few more ways companies can use these technologies to become more efficient.
  • In one business venture, we created and promoted a MySpace profile as a marketing experiment. We ended up with 1,000 MySpace "friends" who received the "bulletins" we'd send out with site updates. It was very useful to have a "direct line" to our most-loyal supporters, which gave us a real "instant response" capability. But the other advantage was what I'll call serendipity. Through "friend of friend" referrals, we ended up making a lot of new contacts. Not all of them were useful, but some of them ended up bringing new leads and information — and in ways that we couldn't anticipate. It was time-consuming, and the results were hard to measure. But ultimately we decided it was a good way to keep the lines of communication open.

  • I even saw one site that created their own personal Wiki to share customer support tips with their user base. This seemed like an efficient way to get up-to-date information out to the public — though you had to wonder if it was comprehensive enough to be useful.

  • Wikipedia itself frowns on self-promotion or even a "conflict of interest". But it's always within the spirit of the Wiki community to add relevant pointers to timely and useful information. (Don't abuse this; inserting a link will not increase your Google PageRank.) In fact, you might consider observing "the prime directive" — avoid interfering with the Wikipedia community as a way to observe how public perceptions are incubating. Ultimately an incomplete Wikipedia entry provides useful clues about where to improve public perceptions.

  • Remember, Wikipedia is just one of many web communities. Don't overlook the value of a Google Blog Search, sorted by date, to find the most recent posts and comments about your field or company. (Google isn't the only site providing this service; Technorati also offers an excellent blog searching tool). It's worth doing a companion search on Google News, since it's not always clear where Google draws the line between blogs and news sites. Google also lets you receive alerts when new content appears matching your specified keywords — and you can even subscribe to these alerts as an RSS feed.

    And don't forget to look at it from the other side. If you have your own blog, make sure that Google (and Technorati) are crawling your site for fresh posts — and that your posts are properly tagged.

  • But you don't always have to wait for the bloggers to start the conversation. It's reasonable to reach out to opinion leaders. They'll often be flattered to receive a personal contact — and by forming a good relationship, you might even affect the tone of their coverage. In any case, it establishes another route where authoritative information can be injected into the online discussion. This is especially useful if a damaging rumor starts to spread.

  • Facebook has already identified groups that share interests — and they're easy to locate using Facebook's search tool. It's always important to handle social networking tools carefully, but when users are identified as sharing an interest, it's within bounds to invite them into your own Facebook group, or point them to other sources of information which are genuinely relevant to their own interests.

Respect the communities that exist online, and try to work with them, offering communication that's genuinely useful. Again, many web 2.0 tools were designed to help small groups find very specific information.

So if the information they're looking for is about your company — make sure they can find it!

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