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Social selling: Transforming social media content into sales intelligence

25th Jul 2011
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Many of today’s most successful companies are now using social media to understand their customers’ needs and stay one step ahead of the competition, says Andrew Yates. But how does this approach often referred to as social selling or social CRM actually work?

There are roughly 5,000 new pages of information being added to the internet every second of every day. Facebook alone now boasts over 200 million members, and Twitter is currently adding an average of 460,000 new accounts per day, and publishing a billion tweets per week.
Needless to say, it’s difficult for any company to exploit the business potential of this information effectively without organising it and providing some structure around it. Indeed most of it is noise. The good news, however, is that a whole new category of software is making it possible to sift through this content very effectively by intelligently deciphering  what is relevant and then by re-packaging it and making it available at the point it is most useful (maybe just before you call a customer) business people can make best use of it to either sell more products and services or better understand their customer.
To date, most businesses have gained insight on what their clients, prospective clients and competitors are writing, saying and doing by relying on specialist monitoring services, Corporate profiling databases and/or search engine derived alerts. For this approach to be effective they rely on ‘people intensive’ approaches which on a large scale are clearly not sustainable if you want to keep a watchful eye on tens of thousands of customers. Few have figured out how to best harness and filter the vast quantities of user generated content in social media. There are already many tools which harvest the content but transforming this to intelligence someone can immediately apply is still escaping most.
The power of sales intelligence
Consider for a moment how a business user could tap into Twitter with its 150 million net contributors to find a mention of a company, assess whether the sentiment was good or bad, understand the context of the subject matter, and then decide whether this was in some way relevant to their business, product or service? Now consider the volume of activity on Twitter, and multiply that by the number of clients you may want to monitor. Now add a few other social networks into the frame – and the whole blogosphere for that matter– and you can quickly begin to see the challenge.
So how do you find the right information to help your sales team improve its pitch? Or to help your marketing department launch their next product in response to what customers really want? The answer is social CRM.
Today’s customers expect you to know a lot about them, so it’s imperative that sales people are able to leverage the social web to actively listen, engage, and add value to what customers are saying online. However, with so much ‘noise’ out there, the ability to filter the web and social media for this kind of ‘inside’ sales intelligence is essential. With this approach, sales teams (particularly those working in a business-to-business setting) can gain sales intelligence that simply cannot be found elsewhere.
Transforming social media content into sales intelligence
Businesses clearly can’t afford to ignore social media as a source of sales intelligence. After all, this is where your customers are hanging out and expressing real opinions. It’s also where news breaks first and – thanks to the TINY URL – we can now get the gist of the conversation in 140 characters and then be linked to a more detailed view in seconds.
To harness the power of this information, however, it’s critical to make sure that the bulk of the information and comments being shared online can be organised and sorted into key dimensions that are representative of your business, such as your prospects, clients, products, competitors and the kind of industry terminology that is driving the conversation. This can be achieved by building a profile of what you need then using powerful advanced search and filtering technology (in the background) you can effectively filter out the noise.
Then you have to solve the challenge of getting that insight to the person who needs it, when they need it in the format they want it on the device of their choosing.
It’s worth it – few would argue that specific knowledge about a customer will give a sales person a distinct advantage.
Not only will this approach help businesses to track and monitor their key target accounts more systematically, but it will also allow them to align the most recent, relevant social media content to their own sales triggers in order to create highly effective selling events. By harnessing the power of social media in this way, it will be easy for companies to accelerate their sales by tracking their customers and competitors every minute of the day, so that they can be the first to act when something important happens.
Harnessing the power of social selling
When you think about it, the sales process has always been a social activity with strong relationships at its core: that’s why effective networking and the ability to establish rapport with a customer are so important. As the saying goes: it’s not what you know, but who you know.
Although these relationships may have been formed face-to-face in the past, the arrival of social media has marked a new era of what is now known as ‘social selling’, a phenomenon that has increased both the scale and reach of our business relationships. As a result, simply knowing your clients isn’t enough anymore: you also need to know important details about their wants, needs and opinions. In other words, although ‘who you know’ is still important, ‘what you know’ about who you know is even more crucial.
In order obtain this vital information, however, companies need to take an organised approach whereby:
  • They use specialised software to monitor and integrate relevant social media commentary into their CRM system, continually and automatically.
  • They can choose what information they receive, and how and when they receive it.
  • They can filter out any ‘noise’ so that the information they receive is consistently relevant, timely and specific.
  • Salespeople can remain connected to this data through push alerts to both office-based and mobile devices.
  • All of these processes are quick and easy to initiate.
Most businesses are just beginning to scratch the surface of how their salespeople can use the valuable sales intelligence that this kind of data can provide, yet the strategic use of up-to-date customer updates and information – taken from the widest number of social media sites possible – can provide new sales triggers in an instant.
If someone from your company is the first to congratulate a customer on its expansion plans, respond to a dissatisfied tweet, or to contact a newly appointed chief executive, you’ll very quickly begin to see how this kind of information can help to build relationships and stay one step ahead of the competition.

Andrew Yates is CEO of Artesian Solutions.

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