Connecting the World

UPDATED: February 3, 2009
PUBLISHED: February 3, 2009

Ever see that old musical comedy, How to
Succeed in Business without Really Trying?
The lyrics to the
opening song include this verse: “How to… select whom to
lunch with; How to… avoid petty friends; How to… begin
making contacts.” In 1961, when the Broadway musical
opened, the concept of online resources for making contacts
wasn’t an option.

Today, however, an increasing number of sales professionals
are discovering the secret to succeeding in business is
in using online resources wisely. Through social networking,
blogs, e-mail newsletters and other online resources, salespeople
can increase and manage leads, gather information
about prospective customers and their needs and, in
general, get in front of prospects more often and in more
engaging ways.

“Effective selling is all about building relationships and
demonstrating to prospects the results they receive when they
purchase from you,” says Barbara Giamanco, CEO of Talent
Builders Inc. in Atlanta. That relationship develops over the
course of multiple interactions, with an average of seven
contacts before a sale is closed, she says.

It’s naïve to believe an initial phone call or in-person
meeting will be timed so a customer is ready to buy at that
exact moment. “That’s why you need to remain in front of
people, providing them with relevant, meaningful information
that delivers real value to them before they’ve made a
purchase,” says Giamanco, who worked at Microsoft leading
and training sales teams and sales executives before establishing
Talent Builders, which offers sales and executive
training and coaching.

Helpful online activities include contributing to blogs,
sending out informational newsletters, participating in
online forums, using social networking tools and conducting
Webinars or Webcasts, she says.

If you have limited time to engage, reading prospective
clients’ blogs and commenting when appropriate can be more
efficient than maintaining your own blog, says Umberto
Milletti, co-founder and CEO of InsideView, a company
based in San Francisco that specializes in on-demand business
search and intelligence applications. “By taking the
time to read and engage—even with a one- to two-sentence
comment—you will show your contact that you care about
what they do and can add additional insight to the subjects
they are focused on. Just be sure to keep any engagement professional
and relevant to your relationship. If you do have the time,
maintaining your own interesting blog can be like creating a
content forum that brings folks together,” he says.

Many sales pros say there’s no substitute for a phone call
or meeting, but there’s no denying the benefits of instant,
borderless access to potential customers, regardless of
the country or time zone they’re in. “Social networking
sites such as LinkedIn have allowed me to make countless
connections with current and past business contacts
from both my present position at Xeikon, as well as my
past life at other companies,” says Michael Ring, vice
president of sales and CMO of North American operations
for Xeikon, a digital printing pioneer. “They offer a
great medium for colleagues to connect with one another
and strengthen their networks across industries.”

Account executive Darcy Knapp, of Network Solutions in
New York, agrees: “Social networking sites are a terrific medium
to reach new, existing and previously lost clients,” and they will
become even more important as the Web becomes the primary
source of information.

When communicating with clients, successful sales pros have to
factor in their own time, as well. “In certain situations, a face-to-face
or phone call is absolutely warranted,” says Scott Testa, professor of
marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “But remember,
time is money, and the more efficient you are with your time, generally,
the more successful you are.” By using online resources such as
social networking, you can differentiate yourself from your competition
and attract potential clients who would be hard to reach without
these alternative methods.

Jim Fowler, CEO and co-founder of Silicon Valley-based Jigsaw, an
online directory of community-contributed business contacts, says he
prefers a combination of contact methods. The “e-mail sandwich”—
an e-mail followed by a phone call and another e-mail—“is a great
way to offer your prospect a choice of ways to respond to you while
also making all the necessary steps of contact,” he says.

Social media permit virtual face-to-face meetings every day, says
David Meerman Scott, a marketing strategist and author of The New
Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Viral
Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly
. “I like to tell
salespeople to think of the Web as a huge city teeming with individuals,
and blogs and other social media information as the sounds
of independent voices,” he says.

By becoming acquainted online through YouTube videos,
Facebook profiles and the like, Scott says a salesperson can become
as recognizable to potential clients as your real estate agent-friend
at the country club who everyone uses because they know him.
“By building a sphere of influence [online] and becoming a trusted
resource, the salesperson will be the go-to person in their area of
expertise,” Scott says.

He recommends using Twitter for sales success. He says
that people use Twitter to keep their “followers” (people who
subscribe to their Twitter feeds) updated about their lives.
For instance, you might tweet about a business lunch or
the project you’re engrossed in, or you might ask your
a question. Users can choose to follow the Twitter
of anyone they want to hear from: colleagues,
clients or prospects.

To attract the attention of potential clients, “participate
by following others and responding to them, just like
you should do in the blogosphere,” Scott says. “Like other
types of social networking, you don’t use this service
as an advertising channel to talk up your products and
services. Instead, you use Twitter to build a network
of influence.”

In addition to helping develop relationships, online
resources can generate a multitude of leads. “What blogging
and online networking do is feed the very top of my sales funnel
with lots of prospects who want to speak with me and who already
know that I can help them,” says Peter Caputa, partner manager
of HubSpot in Cambridge, Mass., who specializes in Internet
marketing. “The more time and effort I put into producing more and
more leads, the easier it is for me to fi nd prospects who are perfect
fits and who are ready to buy.”

Caputa says he’s often contacted by potential clients he’s never
met. “It’s often someone who has been reading my blog, following
me on LinkedIn or Twitter or someone who was referred to me by
someone I interact with online.”

Entrepreneur, author and speaker Jorge Olson says such online
resources can help a salesperson add a few hundred leads to their
database every month. After reading a few articles or case studies
by the salesperson, these potential customers tend to qualify themselves
by pursuing more information from the salesperson if they’re
interested. After that initial qualification, “you’ll have leads that
consider you an authority on the subject,” Olson says.

If you think you’re too busy for social networking, you’re missing
the social Web’s “incredible potential to improve your sales pipeline
and opportunities,” Milletti says. But before requesting connections
with others on LinkedIn and other social media, make sure your
own profile is robust and up-to-date, he says. He also recommends
that you first “gather recommendations, join relevant groups, and
ensure all information is complete.” Then make your outreach in a
smart way. More friend-oriented networks are subject to more scrutiny,
so be smart about crossing any social/professional lines.

With regard to e-mailing newsletters and other materials to
clients and potential clients, remember the golden rule, Milletti
says. “Meaningful e-mail outreach can do wonders, but blast e-mails
with little relevancy can have the opposite effect. If you have longer
pieces of content, just include the first paragraph with a ‘Read More’
link to your Web site. You want to stay in touch with your clients,
customers and prospects, but you don’t want to clog their inbox.
The golden rule is important to remember when creating e-mail
messaging campaigns,” he says.

Internet tools are also helpful in educating potential customers
about a product, service or solution. “A potential customer who
doesn’t feel comfortable with the solution we’re offering will not
buy,” Ring says. “Whether the team and I use our presence in the
blogosphere to discuss our solutions or we choose to send e-mail
newsletters to inform our customers of new printers that have
just been unveiled, it all serves the ultimate purpose of communicating
our value proposition. This can be implemented across the
board, no matter what the industry or product is that companies
are selling. Providing that extra bit of information really eases the
minds of customers.”

Online resources also are valuable to the salesperson in gathering
information about a prospect. “Using Facebook, Google, reading
blogs and online resumes via LinkedIn, a salesperson comes to the
pitch armed with much more information than ever before,” Fowler
says. Connecting with a potential client through a shared alumni
affiliation, sports team or hometown can help with results, he says.

Another simple tool to keep abreast of developments with prospects:
Google Alerts. “You put in the parameters of a search, such
as a company or person’s name, and whenever something new is
found on these searches, it is automatically updated,” Testa says.
“You don’t have to manually search for them.”

Online resources can make short work of many aspects of selling,
increase productivity and efficiency and help savvy sales pros gain
an edge on their competition. The Internet helps them get in front
of clients around the world and around the clock. Is it a secret for
succeeding in business “without really trying”? Not exactly. “Online
networking is like any prospecting activity,” Caputa says. “It
requires time and effort and realistic expectations. It has taken me
several years to build up my blog readership and develop a strong
online network. However, it gets easier and easier over time.”

Account executive Knapp says salespeople who don’t take
advantage of the tools available and increase their online presence
are missing out. “Step up and get out there before your competitor
does!” she says. “Get that new prospect and turn them into your
next client. With a little effort on the Web, you will grow your business