Best Fits for Social Media in the Sales Cycle

Shout at the Devil

The sales organizations of most companies have a similar way of diagramming their sales process. They make these little graphics showing a circle with five or more points along the circle that indicate a customer’s potential interaction with the organization. The points are usually labeled something like this:

  • Prospects
  • Awareness
  • Leads
  • Customers
  • Evangelists (or sometimes, they use this bubble for “support”)

In writing this up, what comes first? Awareness or prospects? (I think this goes in two configurations.) Person (be this B2C or B2B) is unaware of your product or service. You make them aware. They become prospects, which means you identify which of the people who become aware might actually be a good fit for your product. Then prospects who seem genuinely ready to become customers enter the lead process (where a sales person attempts to close the sale successfully). After this, the person becomes a customer/user/member and experiences the product they’ve purchased. And then hopefully, your customer has had such a great time with the product that they’re evangelists who say great things about it. Companies who are less hopeful mark this bubble “support.” Because it’s a circle, the suggestion is that we will constantly make our existing customers aware of new products and sell them these, as well.

These tools we have like blogging and podcasting and video and the use of social platforms are interesting, but to be useful to a sales marketing process, we have to look at where they make the most possible leverage and value.

Awareness

Here’s where I think the most value lies in using social media tools. Because we have these tools that let us listen for potential customers at their point of need (loosely quoted from Radian6 CEO Marcel LeBrun), we can find potential prospects and make them aware. We can use our podcast or our blog or our YouTube videos to build what we hope is meaningful content. We can strike up conversations on Twitter with people who might find our service or product more interesting. Awareness ranks highest in my sense of what these tools let us do.

Think about how you can get past the typical daily newspaper grind. Think about using email marketing, blogging, and basic presence on Twitter and Facebook to build relationships. It’s much better than the old method of broadcasting and the one-dimensional efforts of traditional advertising. There’s a strong opportunity here for any organization seeking to improve awareness of their offerings.

Prospects

My point on social media and prospecting is this: we now volunteer up lots of information via our social networks. If your prospects are online, they’re donating all kinds of information that’s useful in relationship building. If you want to sell something to Jeff Pulver, for instance, you’ll learn quickly that he loves music, that he loves live bands and karaoke, that he takes having fun seriously, that he travels all the time. If you’re a salesperson, you know how to translate this into openings for other conversations. You know how to pursue Jeff where he roams. It’s clear and obvious the value.

Prospecting using social networks and other social media is obvious, but are you doing it?

Leads

So now you’ve put someone into your lead cycle. You’ve decided you are going to close them for a sale (and remember, let’s use “sale” loosely. Maybe you’re “selling them” on donating to your charity, or watching your video channel. The advent of services like Twitter allow you to mind read from afar. If I’m going to hit up Len Devanna from EMC to sponsor a conference of mine, I’m sure as hell going to read his Twitter stream from the last two days and make sure his dog hasn’t gone into the hospital or that he’s not dealing with a budget cut, etc.

It also allows you to gently touch (without selling) your clients so that they keep you top of mind. Don’t talk to @elizabethhannan about that webinar software you need to sell her. Talk to her about her last few brightkite uploads and ask her how her weekend sporting outings were. It has the same effect: a gentle touch in the process of closing a lead.

Customers

As more and more organizations turn to blogging and Twitter for customer service, still others are building communities of use around their products, and promoting product discussions, member sharing forums, and more. A paid-up customer is not the end of the sales cycle, any good salesperson knows. He or she is a trusted part of your next successful sales, or at least, a referral to other potential prospects. These tools are a great way to connect with customers and keep them feeling important.

Evangelists

Social tools that promote sharing are a great way to transform customers into evangelists. Are you Sony Electronics and you’re trying to sell more GPS-enabled camcorders? Send each unit out with a piece of stationary inviting the new owner to sign up to YouTube (or even better, Blip.tv), and encourage them to use a metadata tag on all their submissions that marks them as part of the Sony family.

Nikon did this famously with Flickr, the online photo sharing site, such that any Nikon pictures uploaded showed off the Nikon logo in the metadata in the sidebar, and identified themselves as such.

If you’re not thinking of ways of connecting your products and services to the online share-o-sphere (all these various social networks that encourage interaction and sharing), you’re missing a powerful opportunity.

My Points In Closing

What is the ROI of adding metadata to someone’s YouTube account? Good luck figuring out the math on that. Do you feel in your gut that any time someone has a chance to experience yet another brand impression on your product, it’s a good thing? I do. And I feel that all the above-mentioned ideas are ways (or at least the start of ideas that I expect you to have AFTER the post) on making sense of how to tie social media tools and methods to your sales process.

Building awareness, maintaining good business relationships, communicating thoroughly, listening, and encouraging evangelists are all ways your efforts in social media will pay off sooner rather than later.

But what about you? Have you had some early success with any of this? What are some other examples you’ve seen or have practiced yourself? What’s your take?

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  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuartfoster

    I like the fact that a lot of these augment the current process and allow for social media to best fit into the holes outlined within the sales cycle. While not optimal for success, the clear value that will end up being demonstrated…should more then make up for the firehose to be turned on.

  • Dan Cotton

    Some great food for thought especially in generating some ROI. Thanks for sharing Chris.

  • dhutson

    You do a really nice job of making social media concrete in the context of current “real world” activities. These are great examples that help more traditionally-minded sales and marketing folk see how to integrate SM into processes they're comfortable with. It really helps to demystify this stuff for people just getting their feet wet. Thanks!

  • http://newwineconsumer.com randulo

    Excellent thoughts, as always, CB. There are a bunch of reports coming out for the world of fine wine on the web and the first is by a group called Vintank. I think they did a great job on this study and it could be stretched to fit other vertical markets. I am not connected with Vintank in any way. The free PDF is at http://tr.im/vintank – I am interviewing them live tomorrow as well.

  • http://www.fitnr.com marascio

    Chris,

    I think one of the biggest impacts that social media might have on the process is outside of the circle you've drawn in your article. You've discussed one aspect, how can companies go out and use social media to find customers and then maintain engagement with them, but I also believe there is a role for it to play with customers who come to your business w/o prior engagement with a sales person. Social media, and communities in general, help influence a customer while they are deciding to take that next step. An active community or a broad social presence can help positively influence the customer when they are at a critical decision making point in their decision to buy or not.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    I probably didn't outline as much as I should in the section on listening. I think that listening is where that function sits the best. Might update it for that.

  • http://twitter.com/chris_at_shure Chris Lyons

    You're right — social media are most useful at the front end and back ends of the sales cycle. It's great for making that initial contact with someone who is looking for a product like yours, but doesn't yet know you exist. Or, maybe they know all the players, but you're at the top of the list because you're the only company that replied to an open-ended inquiry on Twitter/Facebook/whatever.

    After the sale, social media are great for maintaining the relationship by feeding news, promos, useful info, etc. or giving customers a way to connect with each other in a user community. And when there's a problem, the casual tone of social media removes some of the stiffness and formality of customer-supplier interaction.

  • http://www.twitter.com/beatesorum Beate

    I believe one of the biggest values of social media in the sales cycle is in the combination of evangelists and awareness. Social media lets you watch your customers and deal with any unsatisfied voices out there in a pro-active way. Thus turning them into satisfied customers who in turn become evangelists and lead to more awareness around your business / product. Also, by creating good arenas in the social media, you provide your biggest fans with the tools to spread your message and brand in effective ways; again creating more awareness, more prospects and so on. And then it's up to yourself to turn that into business:)

  • http://www.radian6.com Marcel LeBrun

    Great points, Chris. Often when companies model these steps, they look at the process from the customer's perspective: what steps do customers typically go through in their decision making. One key question companies can ask is this: at what point in the customers decision making process does your brand typically engage directly with the customer? A lot of companies have their point of first contact when customers are quite far along in their buying process.

    If you listen carefully and also consider how you might add genuine value to people who are at an earlier stage in their decision making, then you can engage and build relationships with customers much sooner.

    Marcel
    @lebrun
    Radian6

  • http://www.acumentics.com Don Bartholomew

    Chris,
    Enjoyed the post. Couple of quick reactions. A 'prospect' not yet aware of you is a 'suspect' not a prospect. It really begin with awareness IMO. The traditional comms model goes from Awareness to Consideration to Preference to Sale to Loyalty. Sometimes Relevance is inserted between Awareness and Consideration, i.e. is this relevant to my needs and do I believe this company can do what they say?.

    Another way to think about this might be to consider how the prospects' information and engagement needs change throughout the cycle. With consideration and preference for example, the prospect may seek comparative information – how is this brand/product better than the alternatives? Forums and review sites might be best to deliver this type of info. Synchronous communication channels might be better at building post-purchase loyalty and evangelism.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    Ah yes, the suspect thing. You're right of course. I didn't know how well used that term was. Figured it was just me.

  • http://outingmyinnergeek.wordpress.com Wendy

    Like a good marketing mix, a good networking mix for sales people of all kinds will include some component of social media. It's a great way to keep up those 'weak' connections you may not be able to keep up with offline.

  • http://wordout.computergeekservices.net jonknight

    Much of what I've read lately (about social media/marketing) focuses on measuring ROI, what metrics to measure and all that. Most of it seemed more concerned with what the company gets out of social marketing than what the customer gets. Your examples above (Sony and Nikon) have a measurable metric (Youtube accounts created and links clicked), but I have to wonder how many folks didn't click links, or already had accounts. There's no way to track those guys. I doubt there is any way to estimate the success of either of those campaigns accurately. I also doubt that either company would agree with me.

    The internet allows nearly instant communication, but ascertaining the success of any social marketing initiative requires more than days, weeks or even months. The recent rapid growth of the twitter service is a great example here. It's a social media tool which relies on social actions to grow (ie, they don't actively recruit new users, but rely on current users to recruit for them). Over the past 2 months twitter has created an astounding number of new accounts. But we read that 60% of those new accounts are abandoned within a month.

    So is twitter's marketing strategy a failure? I think not, but we can't possibly know yet. It may be the next CB radio, as I've seen it described. (Breaker breaker good buddy, the concept of CB never went away – it just became a specialized tool for business communications. Where do you think 'push to talk' came from?) How can we know whether this strategy succeeds?

    We simply have to wait. Most results are not instant. Regardless of how fast the internet really is, fostering social relationships takes time. This is no different from relationships offline.

    Some folks will argue that you must have 'timely' measurements, there are stockholders etc to appease. OK, you need an instant, verifiable way to measure success in social marketing? Try this one:

    Ask yourself this simple question with each interaction – Did I help this person?

  • http://www.twitter.com/beatesorum Beate

    Don,

    Good points you have there. However, I must disagree with you on the first one. To me, a prospect is a customer that fits into your customer profile and thus SHOULD be aware of you. Once you've identified these prospects, the salesjob starts with you making him aware and positive towards you through your chosen means, whether they are the traditional marketing methods or “new” ones.

  • http://ChrisLugo.com Chris Lugo

    Definitely like the post, Chris. Great to see SM explained in terms of the Sales Cycle.

    I agree with Marcel LeBrun.

    When do you normally engage the customer directly? If you can move that initial engagement earlier in life cycle above (with Social Media), then you have a better chance of converting.

    The more engagement points the better. I personally love seeing SMBs utilize these tools in the local community. Gives me a better sense of connection to (and consideration of) those brands.

  • http://www.acumentics.com Don Bartholomew

    Probably a semantics thing. I would call the ones fitting my desired profile but not aware of us a target audience/customer rather than prospect. I can see your point too however.

  • http://www.tommartin.typepad.com tom martin

    Chris,

    Good post. Interesting that in a sales cycle post you didn't talk much about using LinkedIn. Seems like a natural (maybe just in B2B) place to create awareness (answering Questions), prospect (the search is quite powerful) and converse with prospects/clients. And with the ability to link in Slideshare presentations and your blog, can be a decent platform.

    Didn't know if it was an intentional omission or just wasn't top of mind as you wrote.
    @TomMartin

  • michael_browning

    Great post Chris. I work for a B2B firm that serves mid to large employers. We use a hierarchy of effects model to understand where our prospective customers are in their purchase decisions. The model has a few stages that are listed below. We can use social media in different ways for each of the stages. The idea is to say the right things that speak to where that prospective customer is in the buying process:

    Unaware of Product – We use LinkedIn discussion boards and other tools such as articles to make them aware of the product.

    Aware of Product – Once they are aware we try to educate them with our company blog and other educational tools. Search is a big factor in this stage as well.

    Knowledge of Product – At this point we are trying to get them to like our offering, so we try to understand as much about the purchaser as possible from doing research on their profiles in various social networks. Search is a big factor in this stage as well.

    Liking the Product – Once they like our product we use our blog(connected with social media networks) to point out differences between us and the competition.

    Preferring the Product – Once they prefer our product we stay visible to them through LinkedIn, blogs, and other online venues.

    Conviction to Purchase – At this stage we are continuing to feed the customer valuable information to push the purchase decision forward.

    Purchase – Staying connected and relevant is very important during the final two stages. Social networking tools allow us to do this much more efficiently.

    Repurchase – See Above

  • http://www.451marketing.com AJ Gerritson

    Hey Chris,

    Nice job. I tackled some of these items last week on Dan Roble's Blog here: http://www.relationship-economy.com/?p=3980&cpa

    I have always said that it's easier to figure out ROI for social media in terms of B2B lead generation. However, executing these types of campaigns can be difficult for some (e.g. it's not just finding a suspect with need through radian6 and engaging that person.. but more specifically what do you engage them with? Who develops that content? What's the protocol of engagement? Where are they in the buying process? How big is their pain? Are you engaging them through social channels in a strategic fashion – meaning awareness isn't enough, your actions and/or offers of content must be orchestrated in a specific way to produce a desired action or outcome)

    Interesting related point to also mention is the inability of tools like radian6 to monitor areas of LinkedIn that would be most beneficial for B2B lead generation – GROUP discussions.

    @ajgerritson

  • brandonchesnutt

    Awesome post, Chris. SM definitely provides companies with the right tools to engage at multiple stages before, during and after the buying process. I also have to agree that generating awareness is probably the greatest benefit of using social tools, but there are plenty of examples (beyond what you listed) that showcase how integrated SM can complement a company's sales cycle.

  • http://www.docstoc.com Areg Bagdasarian

    chris I agree that the hardest part of social media for business is trying to figure out the ROI on it all. I simply see it as an extension of building relationships that can be taken to the next level. Good analysis though…

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  • http://jratlee.com john ratcliffe-lee

    Listening on a basic level, yes, but as Louis points out – proactive community facilitation is almost paramount. Don Bartholomew below talks about Consideration and Relevance which, I think, are where the social web can provide the most value.

    A good visualization could be a funnel. A person pushes all the noise through this “funnel” and pays close attention to community conversations which impact consideration and TRUST. Lots of brands aren't closely watching this b/c it's very hard to quantify but there are a lot more mitigating, non-linear facts that go into the process. With more information readily available pre-purchase and being spread across the web – it's almost changed this process entirely. Think of David Armano's brand visualizations not too long ago. Facilitation, Community, Consideration, Trust, Value, Relevance…in my opinion, are today's major issuess.

  • http://www.buzzoodle.com/leads Ron McDaniel

    I have to say that I am thrilled to see a reasonable discussion going on here about using social media in a sales mode. There are a lot of purists that would simply say that sales should not be in social media, but that is like saying advertising should not be on TV.

    I hope to see a lot more of these kinds of discussions. Thanks Chris

  • http://www.kaplanmobray.com Kaplan Mobray, Author

    Chris,
    Great points on the impact of social media in the sales cycle. I would add that in addition to enhancing the sales process you can measure ROI from social media in how it extends the shelf life of a product. Companies forecast sales of a product based on a natural product lifecycle (PLC) and then reach a decision point on whether to pump additional resources to reenergize, reintroduce, relaunch or revive a product in its natural cycle of decline. Social media, when used strategically is a cost effective way to create viral buzz that extends trial, increases awareness, brand positioning, and word of mouth testimonials all of which can lead to greater product sales at the point of a products historical decline. The power and ROI of Social Media comes in its ability to deliver unforecasted sales and profits.

  • http://www.baseonegroup.co.uk/beyond John Bottom

    Good stuff, Chris. The problem, as always, is quantifying the effect of all this social media activity, and the most difficult guys to convince are in sales – and it's understandable, since they are driven by short-term successes. Dell claimed they made $1m from Twitter last year, basing it on sales leads gained from Twitter, but surely social media is having a greater net effect in a different way. If you told Dell they could have $10m cash in exchange for a negative social media reputation, they would never take it. One day, it will be quantified, but until then…

  • http://www.hanifinloyalty.com/ billhanifin

    I'm guilty of creating, distributing and hyping the life-cycle marketing graphics and value chains you talk about in the post. It's still a necessary evil and we probably can't delete that slide from our capabilities deck (yet), but I treat it now like the boilerplate that it is and move to more interesting stuff, i.e. creating the links you talk about in the post.

    I tried another take on making sense of social media strategy here <ahref=”http://blog.hanifinloyalty.com/2009/05/08/a-major-league-approach-to-social-media-strategy.html”>Major League Approach to Social Media Strategy

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  • http://determined2.com Goals / Resolutions

    Very interesting article on social media sales cycle. Maintaining good customer relationship should be the priority of making connections. Keeping the customer happy, is far more important then aiming at the sales approach. Once a good relationship is established and they know they can trust you, then the sales will come. Launched a “new” social value network at http://determined2.com Interactivity that promotes successful pursuit of life goals.

  • http://determined2.com Determined2.com

    Very good post on Social Media sales cycle. I truly believe if you establish a good relationship with customers, they will be more likely to be interested in what you have to offer. Building bridges in social network, builds social media contacts. At http://determined2.com Interactivity that promotes successful pursuit of life goals. Achieving your goals through sharing experiences and different techniques used to help in the aide of meeting successful goals. Building trusting relationships.

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  • http://www.bettercloser.com Nicholas Martini @martini280

    Chris- Great Post. I agree with a lot of this. Listening is The Key with Social Media and building that into your sales process. Also it's important to be real when using social media tools, we have increased our traffic significally with many of these tools by not just pushing our stuff out there by spamming everyone with content but mixing it into what we are hearing.

  • http://www.zachheller.com Zach Heller

    Chris, love the topic of this post. I think this is an ongoing conversation and I am excited to see what companies continue to do with social media. So far I think the most prevalent of the areas that you mention has to be in awareness building. A lot of small businesses have started to see the value in Twitter and YouTube, as well as some other social channels, to get the word out about their brand or new products. But this could change as the media grows and becomes more and more popular.

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  • http://asalesguy.com Keenan

    Chris,

    Well said, well laid out, for a Marketing Cycle. I think your suggestions are spot on.

    However, In the above you've defined a marketing cycle not a sales cycles. Your sales process is more marketing than it is sales as it omits the opportunity pursuit and the close.

    Marketing is the stick in the selling process. Marketing creates prospects, increases awareness, and generates leads. Sales is the sharp end of the stick. Sales takes those leads and turns them into customers. The sale is the interactive, personal engagement between the sales person (team) and the buyer (company). The sales process is the steps and effort required to convert the lead to a deal or customer.

    1-Prospects -Marketing
    2-Awareness – Marketing
    3-Leads – Marketing
    4-Customers -Sales/Marketing
    5-Evangelist – Marketing/Product

    A true sales process is in between 3 and 4 with opportunity pursuit, and the close.

    Check out my post in response to yours. I've added my thoughts as “A sales guy”. http://asalesguy.com/2009/05/12/social-media-ar

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  • http://asalesguy.com Keenan

    Chris,

    I posted part II of my response to this post today, outlining how to use social media in the opportunity pursuit stage and the close stage. http://asalesguy.com/2009/05/13/social-media-ar

    Sales and marketing are complex processes with multiple facets. Managing them takes talent, and skill. Posts like this are helpful in assisting people through the process!

  • http://www.netwitsthinktank.com frank barry

    I'm not in sales per se, but the fact of the matter is anyone in a company that touches a customer is a sales person in some way.

    I'm in services … so when I look at that list I gravitate to Awareness, Customers and Evangelists.

    Social Media, in some cases, helps me connect with my customers on another level. It doesn't replace in-person/phone/email, but it adds a layer and it demonstrates to customers that I'm (and my company) are up on the latest tech. tools, trends, etc … When customers see that I'm active, using the tools, sharing, helping and giving to them (and others) they feel good about doing business with us.

    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  • http://marketingaspects.blogspot.com/ Tony Cimorelli

    Chris,

    I was forwarded your post from a collegue. I think you opinions are exceelent and valid. I was trying to determine where social media platforms best fit into the process and your article helps validate my conculsion.

    In a B2B environment, this quote from your blog captured my attention………… T”hese tools we have like blogging and podcasting and video and the use of social platforms are interesting, but to be useful to a sales marketing process, we have to look at where they make the most possible leverage and value.”

    And from my perspective they help expand the “awareness” and “evangelist” phases.

    Thanks for the article… I'll be following go forward.

    marketing team can do a much better job of benefiting

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  • http://www.hamiltonwallace.com/ Hamilton Wallace

    One of the best attempts–maybe the only!–to look at how social media overlays the sales cycle. Thanks. I've seen how social media fits in the awareness and prospect phases, but am intrigued by your take on how it fits in the later stages.

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