By now, you’ve dipped your foot into social networks or social media in one way or another. Maybe someone pushed you to set up a Facebook page, or you’ve got a Twitter account, but haven’t really figured out how to do much with it. Or maybe you’re quite active on these types of networks, but haven’t really figured out how to translate that into a successful business tool. I believe with all my heart that social media is this great and wonderful place for people to chitchat, but I’m a businessperson. My duty is to help companies understand ways to add revenue (and cut some expenses). With that in mind, no matter how big or small you are, here’s your path to growing your business through what I’ve started calling “the human digital channel.”
To me, the best use of these tools, such as blogs, video, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and the like, are to use them to cultivate visibility with your would-be prospects and to use that to help you acquire more customers. These social business tools are just another means and mode of communication that you can wire into your existing sales cycle. The beauty of it is that these tools are much more useful and interesting than simple emails and phone calls, and they offer more leverage. Let me give you a “serving suggestion.”
Imagine you’re a salesperson (if in fact you aren’t). You’re pushing a product with a long sales cycle, maybe one that requires a lot of time to close. How are you keeping your prospects warm currently? My bet is that you use a mix of face-to-face meetings, phone calls and emails.
On top of those, what if you added in materials like a YouTube video that gives your prospect a walk-through of the product in operation? Why not a quick video testimonial from someone who has implemented the product and feels it was a great buy?
What if you could follow your prospect’s Twitter account and comment meaningfully on his or her updates in between your efforts to promote and sell your product? What if you could find updates and posts from other people that don’t directly sell your product, but that augment the buyer’s experience? (For instance, if you sell real estate, maybe you could find posts that talk about the best places to dine in your city, or the post about the award-winning school system, etc.)
The idea of “cultivating visibility” is to have your social network accounts built and to be getting the attention of people in a way that gives you a “seat at the table” in between sales experiences.
Nurture Existing Customers
One of the most overlooked areas of any sales experience is in nurturing your existing customers. If you’re a small-business owner, you’re worrying more about attracting new prospects, and about executing the meat of your business. If you’re part of a larger organization, you’re likely not set up with incentives to nurture your current customers. And yet this is a powerful area of sales that I feel is often overlooked.
Social networks make it so much easier to do this. Invite your customers to a Facebook group in support of your products and services. Invite them to live video demonstrations via Google+ and their Hangouts feature. Give them suggestions on how to use their products and services in interesting ways. Invite your other customers to participate in peer learning. (Dell computers has done this exceptionally for years, cutting down on tech support costs in the process.)
There are many ways to nurture a customer relationship that cost very little more than time and some careful thinking. It’s worth talking about, especially if yours is the kind of business that does well by word-of-mouth. Getting some video testimonials from these customers after you’ve already made them feel like they belong to a community instead of feeling like they are just someone who bought? Priceless.
How Do You Even Start to Do This?
Some of you might be nodding your head and thinking you’re ready to go. I’m excited if you are. But where do you start using social networks in these ways? Here are some thoughts that might get you going on putting this all together.
Start with goals. If your goal is to acquire more customers via social media, then you’ll want to do more work to fill the wide end of your funnel by educating and informing potential clients and working on augmenting conversion. If your goal is to support your customers after they’ve purchased, then that’s a whole different opportunity. But you have to start with a goal and understand what it is. “Getting more exposure” isn’t a good goal. “Getting 12 more showings a month” is a great goal, because you have a sense of how many showings it takes to get a close.
Measure what matters most. Social media and social networks allow you many “false” measurements. Who cares if you get 10,000 likes on Facebook? My bank doesn’t accept likes as a payment for my mortgage. Measure something that already matters to you. Looking to improve re-sales to customers? Measure that. Want more prospects in the funnel? How do you qualify those now? Just use social media as another way to make a meaningful impact.
Select and configure the right tools. If you show up to a baseball game wearing swim fins, nothing goes well. There are many tools for implementing social business intelligently. Many are free. Some are inexpensive. Others are more costly but are much more robust. Saving money is great, but doing many things manually might be miserable for you. Consult with someone who has experience working with a business like yours to find the right toolset to accomplish your goals and the measurements of those goals.
Wire your new tools and networks to your existing processes. If you typically do leads via phone, email or trade shows, then add some categories for Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and whatever other social networks you’re considering doing business through. My biggest point with this is that these tools are just that. They deserve to be threaded into the culture of your business. (But put some thought into implementing them in a way that’s meaningful to participants on those social networks, which may take a cultural shift on your part!)
Build a resource tree. Who will be doing this work inside your company? What tools do they use? Who do they communicate with if they have to escalate? Have you threaded your legal department into this? If marketing is doing your social media, what do they do with customer service issues? (See how this is a big step?)
Create a content and community plan. Great blog posts and videos don’t just happen. Telling someone “You do social media” doesn’t mean they’ll think through the right information and content to deliver a great lead-generation and customer-acquisition methodology for you. However, that’s what’s needed. Work to build a plan that shows off the customer as the hero instead of your products and services. The more your buyers and community members see themselves in your efforts, the more they’ll want to participate with you and potentially deliver more business to you.
From here, the sky’s the limit. You have to allocate people to this, and don’t use the excuse that your company is too small. I met a two-brother brewery in Maine and they both use social media in between their other duties—and it’s working great for them. You have to allocate some money to this, but not a ton. Most people pay for consulting and then use mostly the free tools. And you have to want to nurture business relationships more than you want raw transactions. If you can do all that, you’ll find gold.