The shift from transactional selling to social selling has turned business people into something akin to therapists. Today's best sales people need to immerse themselves in their customers' problems and create customized, long-term solutions to these challenges.
It's the difference between asking, "Would you like to super-size your French fries?" and saying, "So, you need French fries. Tell us more about the current lack of fries in your organization. Have you considered Belgian fries? If you had better fries, would you be better positioned to hit your goals?" Customer problems are far more complex these days, which means it's your job to think through the in-depth answers.
To do that, the CIO has to provide the right tools and the CMO and sales team need to make the best use of them. Social selling tools, or "social CRM," can help businesses understand these new and complex problems, and address them (and solve them) even before their customers can properly articulate them. By staying social with customers, you can identify and squash problems before they affect a business -- something for which your customers may never stop thanking you.
Unfortunately, not enough companies make it possible for their employees to talk to each other in this manner, much less talk to customers: A recent study from IABC and Prescient Digital Media notes that 39 percent of companies don't have any social tools on their intranets. On the other hand, research is showing that the benefits of this social interaction are real: An ongoing McKinsey & Company study is clocking such outcomes as increased market share and reduced time to market.
Social tools are a big help in gaining benefits like faster time to market and higher customer satisfaction, but they need to work in concert with each other to have any real impact. Random tweets and off-the-cuff blog posts that are not part of a larger customer relationship strategy will just become noise. Here's a more cohesive, five-step approach to creating an ongoing dialogue with customers and showcasing the good work that you do to ensure satisfaction:
Social CRM building block No. 1: Your social profile. If they haven't done it already, your people need to create your LinkedIn or (in Europe) Xing profiles. This is where they list their industry experience and tell the world why they enjoy selling what you sell. You will be amazed at how often your prospects and customers look at LinkedIn profiles to see who your people are, what they look like, where they went to school, and how long they have been in the industry. They want to know what makes them tick. Why? Because people buy from people.
Social CRM building block No. 2: Your blog. This is where your company expands on the ideas you have been posting to Twitter and LinkedIn. Think of the blog as the online equivalent of giving a keynote speech at an event. You'll profess your position on issues most important to your customers, and see if you can generate any interest (in this case, via comments on blog posts). Posting at least once a week will help your audience get into the habit of turning to your blog for guidance. This is where you should focus more on being conversational than pontifical and let your natural voice that you use with your customers come out. What do you talk about with your prospects every day? Well, write it up.
Social CRM building block No. 3: Dialogue in the forums. If your company doesn't have a corporate forums site, it's easy to start a group in LinkedIn about your company or just your industry. Think of this as the Q&A session that follows your keynote speech. This is where the conversation really starts. Ideally, you and your team will start these conversations with provocative questions like: "Why do we even need XYZ product?" "Why can't anyone seem to solve such-and-such a problem?" Then listen to the answers, and keep the dialogue going. Don't waste everyone's time with "soft" questions -- you need to hear the dirt if you're really going to uncover the customer problems you need to solve. For key members of the sales team, I'd suggest spending at least one hour a day on reading, developing, and responding to such questions.
Social CRM building block No. 4: Twitter -- here's where you start getting the word out about the insightful conversations you're having in the discussion forums, and the thought leadership that appears on your blog. Tweet out the best nuggets from the forums, engage in skirmishes (hopefully, polite ones) among the subject-matter experts, and begin attracting attention for the community you are building. Posting at least once a day will entice your audience to connect and follow your online commentary.
Social CRM building block No. 5: Internal social networks -- this step doesn't involve direct communication with customers, but it does help you disseminate the knowledge you've gained for the rest of our team. And by the "team," I don't just mean sales. When customers aren't happy, it's not just the sales people who should be getting nervous -- it's everyone from the CEO on down. Therefore, when you think about connecting with customers and understanding what makes them tick, you need to think about giving everyone access to these conversations.
The end result of these social CRM building blocks is that you can uncover more effective ways to connect people with problems (those are your customers) to the people with solutions (that's you). It's also the best way to cut through much of the noise surrounding customer needs, and let discussions bubble up about the real challenges that need to get addressed -- and that will drive your business success.