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 naive 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 Linkedln 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 Darey 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. …