As anyone who has ever bought or sold something knows, sales is an intrinsically social activity based on mutual trust. Even in the case of commodity products and services, relationships can sometimes even trump price as the deciding factor in purchase decisions. Ultimately, people like doing business with people they like, and refuse to do business with people they don’t trust.
One major result of the democratization of business described in earlier chapters has been unprecedented market competition. In today's business landscape, companies are faced with a greater number of competitors and savvier buyers empowered with information. More than ever, sales reps must strive to maximize the lifetime value of their customer relationships versus maximizing the value of a single transaction.
With fewer unfair structural advantages for reps to count on, timely insights into customer needs and interpersonal communications in the sales process have become requirements for closing the deal. Online social networks are emerging as critical business tools to help facilitate these insights and communications.
Although many of the best salespeople are just natural instinctive relationship builders, certain sales methodologies have been proven in recent years to help the rest of us learn to emulate their success. Customer relationship management, or CRM, attempts to capture the science of sales with software and processes to handle all of a company's interactions with its customers. Sales force automation, in particular, builds in processes like forecasting, territory management, e-mail templates, dashboards, activity management, and deal alerts so that managers have visibility and sales teams can be more productive (see figure below).
Online social networking adds another dimension of possibility to CRM by enriching critical sales practices with contextual information and relationship-building tools.