Connecting Your World: Expand Your Network with Online Resources
Eglash, Joanne, Success
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.
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"-- and 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 Malta 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 You Tube 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 network a question. Users can choose to follow the Twitter updates 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 find 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 Linkedln 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 Linkedln 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 Linkedln, 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 exponentially."
RELATED ARTICLE: An Online Toolbox
E-mail newsletter--Keep clients up-to-date and post relevant articles on topics that appeal to their needs or interests.
Podcasting--Record an audio series, coupled with a short e-mail text, to send to those who sign up for your mailing list. You can also use podcasts to embed marketing messages about products or services.
Online card service--Build relationships and use the service for professional business interactions, such as thank-you cards.
Virtual introductions--Use social networking sites to make virtual introductions, i.e., connecting individuals who you feel could help one another.
BlogTalkRadio--Create your own radio show with no equipment other than an Internet connection and a phone. Listeners can call in to ask questions and can subscribe via RSS or download the shows as podcasts. The social networking aspect allows you to keep track of listeners for potential sales.
YouTube--Consider creating short videos of informative tips to use as marketing vehicles or to send product and service information to a potential client.
Linkedln, Facebook and Twitter--Proactively network by connecting with new people on social networking sites Facebook and Linkedln. Also, introduce people who can help each other in some way by paying attention to needs and signals from those in your network. Use Twitter, a microblogging tool that combines social networking with text messaging, to inform clients about your newest projects and stay in touch regularly. Answer questions on these sites to help boost your standing as an expert.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Connecting Your World: Expand Your Network with Online Resources. Contributors: Eglash, Joanne - Author. Magazine title: Success. Publication date: March 2009. Page number: 66+. © 2009 Success Magazine. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.