Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Social Media Strategy: A Business Development Perspective

Over a cup of Starbucks with @heycrane this morning, we landed on the subject of discussing different methods that sales and business development gurus can employ on various forms of social media to connect with more people and subsequently, more opportunities to someday sell their stuff.

Sure, not everyone sells products or services. But Just about everyone sells something - ideas, their personal brand, their knowledge and experience, etc.

There are so many platforms and tactics and strategies that will help generate more relationships online. But will business transactions actually happen via social media? Probably not. That was never the intention of web 2.0 IMHO.

This confusion regarding the objectives of the social media universe may be one of the reasons that a fair amount of C-level executives have trouble buying into social networking as a viable alternative to the more traditional approach of "smile and dial" cold calling. In reality, closing business happens in face to face or voice to voice interactions, not online.

C-Levels who are weary of social media applications in business should consider the amount of time and resources that can be saved by having their sales force approach prospects on platforms where the prospects have "opted in" and are receptive to the messages coming their way. Older mediums, like phone and email for example, deliver messages to end users without the garnering their permission. It makes sense then that the mediums that are not in a sense permission-based, would yield lower conversion rates.

You might try this
Here is a snapshot of one approach I use that has allowed me to capitalize on the reach and and available data present on social platforms. Is this the only way to do it? Heck no. But does it help open doorways to relationship selling? Absolutely!

Start on Twitter
Micro blogging in itself delivers speed and efficiency to the basic concepts of networking - actually, I believe that is it one of the MOST effective ways to network. I use the cocktail party analogy. Picture the Twitterverse as an online networking event that is open 24/7 and free for all to attend. You can come and leave the room as you wish, and you have the ability to make your party or circle of conversation as large or as small as you like.

I'm becoming a proponent of the balanced follower vs following dynamic, i.e. an equal ratio of followers to people you follow portrays a certain sense of street credibility. Follow too many people, and you appear desperate or not fully engaged. Follow too few, and you may appear lofty or disinterested in what others have to say.

Either way, Micro blogging in general creates visibility and access to other people with lightning speed. For the sales and business development professional, not everyone you follow will be in a buying cycle at the time you connect with them, but the technology will automate the delivery of their information and may someday alert you to potential opportunities as they become relevant to the user on the other end.

Tip: So many people get caught up on the technology itself, that we sometimes forget the basic rules of networking:

  • Don't be pushy. People will ask you for advice when they need it.
  • Offer to give, give, give and someday you might just receive something back. But don't go in expecting to receive anything.
  • Be legit and honest and ask questions. People will tune you out if push your ideas too hard. Rather, blog about your ideas and then invite the Twitterverse to read if their interested.
  • Be a connector - listen to what people REALLY need and try to connect them with someone who can deliver it to them, even if it's not your product or service.
  • Talk about more than just what your selling. Take down your guard. Show people who you really are. This means talking about more than just work and careers and objectives.
Transitioning the relationship to a profile-based platform
What Twitter does not deliver is very in depth information on the individual. That's done on purpose. Yes, there are limited user profiles available, and reading peoples Tweets can help frame up background and situations, but more relevant background data can be found robust profile-based networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and the barrage of niche networks out there.

How many of you ever collected baseball cards when you were a kid? Platforms with robust profile functions are really the same concept. As on baseball cards, these networks provide the stats. The difference is that these stats provide a valuable lens into who the other user is, their background, their personality and interests, how they communicate with contacts and friends, etc. Social media has made it possible to learn more than just a batting average so make use of the data that's there. What's more? The data comes straight from the user themselves and can be regularly updated. Keeping tabs on RSS feeds makes it painless to keep tabs on all of this intelligence as the new information comes in. TweetDeck helps as well.

All that said, social media professionals will need to make a gut feeling call as to when it is appropriate to suggest connecting on other networks.

Tip: Having dialog with a potential prospect on Twitter? Suggest that you connect with them elsewhere so you can learn more about each other. Ask them what networks they prefer and how they use them. It's likely that if they are on Twitter, they started out on social media on another platform.

Now take it offline

I strongly believe that social media will never replace a handshake. The platforms are merely tools that deliver more efficient ways to gather information and connect people to people.

Tip: The savviest of sellers will recognize when it is time to take the conversations offline and create face-to-face or phone dialog. Social media creates the opportunity to open those doors, but cyberspace will never replace having a cup of coffee and bouncing ideas of a real human being.

So there you have it. This is just one approach to playing the social media game that I've been using.

What are you doing to find success on social media? Are you willing to share it on Chasing Change?

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  1. Nice post Nate! Getting started is by far the hardest part for our clients. --Amy

  2. Great Post! Real thought provoking and on the mark.

  3. Great Post! Real thought provoking and on the mark.

  4. Trying to convince the old school folks of these exact benefits of social media is a big challenge. Nice post!

  5. This is exactly the approach I have been taking. There is a strange balance for me, though between business and personal social networking.
    I keep trying to walk down the middle, but still be interesting to all parties involved.
    Your thoughts?

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Bill brings up a very interesting and relevant point. Is there really a difference between personal social networking and business objective oriented social networking?

    My approach would suggest that it's one in the same. I have both business and personal contacts spanning all my networks of choice.

    However, where I choose to communicate with them depends on THEIR network of choice, and where they have the highest propensity to respond. For some, it's Facebook, others follow Twitter feeds all day long. I would suggest that it depends on the other users' preferences.

    Likewise, I believe friends do business with friends. My good friend @jackwindsor teaches the concept of "Know, Like and Trust" in business development.

    Establishing these three elements - no matter where you do it - always comes before any business happens...


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