Rule #1: It has to be about them.
Rule #2: It has to be about them.
Rule #3: Never break rules 1 and 2.
• Are you a sales professional?
• Are you a sales manager?
Check the appropriate box.
What you are about to read can, and will, change your view of your world of sales and management. This means more money into or out of your pocket.
On a recent Monday, late in the evening, I sent a article I'd written to all of my LinkedIn groups. The content consisted of some research I had done on productivity in the marketplace that was relevant for every business professional in the world. Then I went to bed.
Before my pillow had flattened—in the blink of an eye I was connected with more than 50,000 people! With the click of a button 50,000 human beings from Chicago to New York, Australia to China, India, London, New Zealand, Montreal, Mexico City, and Brazil had a message from me. Little. Old. Me. And I was still sleeping when they got the message.
A message they'd earlier agreed to accept if I sent one.
A message they expected to be relative to their world.
A message intended to help, not hurt.
A message to extend their own knowledge base.
A message with content for which I would have to take sole responsibility.
A message that could result in 50,000 people being offended, insulted, or even worse: bored to death with my message.
A message, in reality, from a stranger (Little. Old. Me) that they'd agreed to consider.
Social networks, when used properly, are the single most influential tool of this century for every human being. You already know this. And that includes sales professionals and sales management, for our discussion purposes.
My own research on sales forces of large and mid-sized companies, as well as that conducted by others in the field, confirms our hunch: More than 70 percent of these sales forces (this includes management) are not utilizing social media to effectively generate the buzz and expertise that builds trust, and recognition—and ultimately, increased sales. What's the primary reason sales professionals—and manager—are not utilizing this tool? No training…yet. Uh-oh.
With the social networks' onslaught over the last seven years, the learning curve is steep, the addition of new networks frantic, and the economy's struggles distracting. People are reluctant to accept the social networks shift: there is high-alert skepticism present in all fields. Finally, three generations of workers are struggling with how best to use this technology or teach it to others. Some of these generations are kicking and screaming their way into this shift.
The following list will help you understand how to get more involved within social networks by understanding one, critical element: It has to be about them. Every discussion you start or contribute, every word you speak, every marketing pitch you make, every link/picture/request/favor/referral you ask for, must have significant value to them or else you lose. You lose credibility, interest, trust, and believability. This means you must:
1. Become proficient in your social networks of choice: Spend the hours required to learn every facet of your chosen social network. I spent more than 20 hours spread over four days immersing myself in LinkedIn to learn how it works—and I'm still learning. If you can't find your way around the sites, you're not fully committed, and you’re wasting your time. Hire a professional for a few hours to teach you.
2. Learn the advanced search features (pay the nominal monthly fees to upgrade your features) to learn how to join groups, associations, and industry groups that make sense. Group involvement is the primary vehicle to build your value, your knowledge, and your connections to the next phase of your marketing efforts.
3. Use your cell phone as a moneymaker tool. It's the "Secret App." Lunch time, breaks between prospecting calls—those three to five minute chunks of time during the day are the time to read comments in your networks. Stay current in small time slots, and use the information in the next meeting to demonstrate you're on top of your game, and to build your credibility.
4. Become the thought leader. Write solo or co-authored articles, or create discussions that are useful and relevant to helping your customers and your customers' clients. Your articles on best practices in their business allow you to become a subject matter expert in your field. You now are adding value and developing credibility. Third-party testimonials will influence trust and credibility when you walk through a prospect’s door.
5. Write about what you know. If you sell industrial cameras, for example, write about "10 tips to taking great pictures of your product." Simple tips, nothing too technical, easy to follow, and easy to read. Make it fun and easy for your readers to "cc" their friends and associates. Add a picture for more interest, and add your contact info at the bottom, such as "Jonathan Grant is a senior sales professional and trained expert in film technology for Grand Canyon Cameras. You can reach him with questions at…"
6. Bring on a co-author to help with the piece, and double your marketing efforts. Just because you say you're not a writer, or are not very good, is no excuse. Find a partner, call your boss or CEO, get the marketing dude down the hall to help you, hire an English teacher down the street to help you for $40 and a Starbucks gift card—invest in this approach and it will pay dividends. Fact: 90 percent of salespeople have never, ever, ever, written anything for any publication related to their industry. You don’t have to be brilliant—you just have to be credible and helpful.
7. Find the Tension Point. Fix it. Capitalize on it. Every situation in life is influenced by tension. Call it anticipation, suspense, anxiety, fear, stress, problems—in the end, it can be filtered into the concept of tension. Too little tension: Boredom sets in, leading to apathy and atrophy. Too much tension: Fear, disease or discomfort causes physical illness, and even crime. The right amount of tension: A great movie is enjoyed; skiing down a mountain is fun; roller coaster rides make us feel alive; rock concerts; a new relationship; a sales contest winner takes all. All these situations have a tension point that causes us to experience a situation as good or bad. Study, refine, and be sure of the tension point that is most critical to your prospects, and move that point to the side of comfort—you will sell more products and services. Every article you write must deliver ways to alleviate the tension point in your reader. This same concept works in communicating ideas, and training your team. Study the tension points in others' lives, ones you can fix with a positive culture, good questions, great products to sell, bright and fair leaders, and a social presence with strong values.
8. What else do you do with these written pieces? Make copies, what else. Print copies to carry with you to prospects, customers, trade shows, association meetings, family reunions, hockey games, your kids' soccer games and clarinet recitals. Demonstrate your expertise on paper. Our society is celebrity-happy, and authors are celebrities. Put copies on your company Website and on your cell phone to show at a moment’s notice.
9. Submit these same articles to industry publications, newsletters, Web-based article centers such as www.ezinearticles.com for free, and let the Internet find you and spread the word.
10. Holding teams accountable for their engagement in this kind of change is tough. Not everybody's foot will fit in the glass slipper. Change is perceived as risky by some people. They'll fight change. They'll claw and scratch not to change. You won't be loved by all, but you will succeed. Don't force people, simply mandate their effort. If they don't see the value and aren't willing to change—they'll leave before you have to dismiss them. This economy requires tough decisions and demands retaining only the best and willing performers.
11. Join social network groups in your social network sites that your customers join. Who cares about the groups your competitors join? Let them sit there. Join groups your customers' clients and vendors join. Join associations related to your industry to find new ways to add value for your clients and learn what they're dealing with in the market—trends, technology, etc. These groups are where you can start discussions, post your tips articles, and generate help forums for your industry. Hint of the day: Don't invite people in your industry who create conflict or use your ideas against you. Be selective. Remember the beginning of the article: Fifty thousand people in two minutes.
12. Contribute your thoughts to other discussions carefully. Answer everything with the intent of adding solutions, supporting others, or clarifying information. Don't be afraid to disagree and offer insights, but do it tactfully, and with respect. Remember: Whatever you put online can haunt you. One word: Tiger.
13. Share your expertise openly. Here's the key to revenue generation down the road: Create an environment that sets you apart as the expert, yet ensures customers still require your presence or company's product or service to fully benefit. Reality is that even if you give away great ideas, your customers still don't have the time, resources, or expertise to do what you do. They become better informed from your ideas, and this creates trust. Trust sells.
14. Stop thinking "relationship-selling." This term has been the default response for every salesperson since Adam bought the apple at a Farm Stand. You and I don't have time to develop a "relationship" in today's marketplace. And just what does "a relationship" really mean? Relationships are built on trust—not going fishing or to a ballgame. Trust is built faster with facts, documentation, testimonials, proof with pictures, and tied to the deeper emotional benefits the customer will gain. If you say your selling philosophy is relationship-based, you are behind the learning curve.
15. Find ways to create video content to promote your business. Your value proposition or competitive advantage isn't always that different, but your video can show different ways your products or services are used—fun ways, loud ways, that will stick in the prospect's mind longer or set you apart. Here's a link to show you how we can’t resist the urge to click a link.
16. What to share in your groups? Business books, business videos, training programs, new product knowledge, and easy links to places for learning, use only appropriate humor (no sarcasm, as it doesn't translate well across all cultures). Find ways to share at least every 30 days—though not every week.
17. Ask opinions on anything other than for your own purposes. Seek opinions privately from those you know well. Strangers don't care and won't give accurate feedback.
18. Watch those in your group very carefully. As you develop more conversation and learn more about them, you'll know better when the time is right to present your products or services. Watch who they connect with, what they read, what they comment on, what associations they join, and follow their shadows.
19. If you're a sales manager, you can do all the above and more. Watch your groups for other savvy sales professionals who know how to utilize social networks to demonstrate their expertise. This is your talent show to watch for superstars to recruit as needed.
20. Join leadership groups and other thought leaders on executive issues, management training topics, as well as groups working for social causes worth contributing your time. These groups broaden your scope of influence and put you in the sights of high-level professionals for all the right reasons.
21. Hire a sales training professional to train your sales and marketing teams on social media marketing techniques, how to write effectively for publication, as well as how to use data and research in sales presentations to build trust faster. The investment will pay back one hundred fold in sales revenue, reduce sales turnover, and improve morale. Training sessions also allow you to witness who stands out in the group. These are your advocates for leading change, and your future managers.
22. Spend time without an electronic leash. Leave your laptop and phone in the car. Brainstorm time, quiet time, daydreaming—it's crucial to generating creative ideas and allowing new learning to be processed. A chair, paper and pen for 15 minutes once a day is vital, and pays big dividends.
23. Review your Website. Is your site fun, current, easy to use and easy to find? Do you have video content that encourages viewers to stay on your site longer and even refer others to it? Video is the hottest tool for digital marketing, and if you don’t have it, you are a dinosaur.
Russell Riendeau, Ph.D., is the founder of East Wing Group, Inc., an executive search firm. He is also an author and a keynote speaker on leadership and sales training using social media and behavioral science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.