Sales Killing Social MediaMost people probably do not consider sales a social event. Even more so, many social media marketing purists would tell you that social media is not about sales. But this could not be more inaccurate. Today’s customer is a social being. In fact, human beings have always been social and anyone who loses track of that develops a huge disconnect with their marketplace. A contemporary sales organizations, and even individual sales people, are being forced to rethink how they actually sell. It’s not who you know but who knows you in today’s hyper-connected marketplace. Understanding the roles social media and social networking play in this new dynamic, is paramount to your future success.

Buying is changing

In the era of Facebook, Google, Twitter and peer review sites like Yelp, buyers have as more control over the flow of information than the salespeople do. Customer 2.0 now has access to unlimited information about your company, your products, and those of your competitors. Consequently, Customer 2.0 will all but ignore your marketing message, and instead turn to the people they know and to their peer networks to educate themselves, diagnose their news, evaluate vendors, and make a buying decision. Buyers have more information than ever before and may have developed that knowledge before the salesperson enters the picture.

Consider the recent Forrester research that showed that 91% of B2B IT buyers are now involved in social media — at least as “spectators”. That means if you are in IT sales, over 90% of your buyers are on social media. Can you afford to ignore 90% of your marketplace? Because most likely they are taking notice of your presence there, or lack thereof. More importantly, they are noting your competitors’ presence and the information posted by their peers.

Not just for the purists

While those who have entered the social media sphere with the hard sell or get rich quick schemes have been promptly shunned and the monetary gain, particularly of late, is becoming less and less. I come into social media marketing from a Sales background, but with a twist. For me it’s not necessarily about growing community and having a big love fest or about the hard sell. For me it’s more about generating top of mind awareness with my target audience and being their first call when they are ready to buy. So by many accounts, I am one of *those people* who are “ruining” social media. The point I would make to those purist who make their money from affiliate marketing initiatives and consulting retainers, is that from the moment we enter the conversation or community, we are 100% transparent. We share valuable free information such as: How You Can Use Twitter To Find Sales, How to Generate Leads with LinkedIn, and How to Create a High Converting Facebook Fan Page, that our prospects are searching for to help them solves their problems. From there, if the consumer needs further assistance, they are able to engage in a deeper conversation at their request. There is no bait and switch, there are no hidden motives. Just two parties having an honest conversation, and isn’t that what social media is all about?

Social Sales and Customer 2.0

During the last five years, the notion of social sales has changed dramatically with the adoption of Web 2.0 and social media. For starters, social media has greatly increased the scale and reach of the people with whom we maintain some degree of one-to-one contact and people we don’t know but whom we see as “people like me”, or in the case of B2B, “companies like mine”. Web 2.0 technologies have also changed the way in which we collaborate online, with most B2B buying decisions starting, progressing, and often even closing online without any face-to-face meetings.

The game change is significant for salespeople because they can no longer rely on just a good personality and goodwill to get the deal done. They need the entire company to hop to it—and deliver a consistent and personally excellent experience. And this must be the case throughout not just the transactions, but all interactions, regardless of whether it’s an in-person visit, a website visit, an email marketing campaign, or a mobile text message. It doesn’t matter.

Most sales people have not caught up with their customers’ use of social media and Web 2.0. Research just published by OgilvyOne shows that 61% of sales professionals state they believed that the selling process is changing faster than their own organizations are adapting to it.

While sales remains a relationship-driven business, the power of “who you know” is trumped by “what you know about who you know.” The new social customer is demanding relevance from sales people, expecting them to know about them, their companies, and their needs before engaging. This has heightened the need for comprehensive sales intelligence that brings together both traditional data and social media. It is imperative that sales professionals leverage the social web to actively listen, engage, and add value to the customer conversation. Your customer expects you to know at least as much about them as they do/know about you.

So instead of thinking about how sales is killing social media, I would argue that today’s young social networkers are tomorrow’s salespeople. They have learned to leverage social media and will continue to rely on this way of communicating throughout their careers. It’s this new salesperson and sales organizations that realizes that the collective value that social networking provides as “social capital” is almost as important as the intellectual capital of the company.