Social Media’s Impact on Product and Service Selection- and Why Personal Interaction is Still Important

Social media is not a trend of the present; it’s the future of business. No one is debating that fact. But that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice good, old-fashioned personal interaction with your prospects and customers. Think of the social and personal as complementary to one another, creating a more complete package.

It’s no secret to anyone in business that social media is here to stay. Whether in business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) environments, social media is an integral part of the sales cycle.  That’s right, social media is not just about building brand awareness. More and more purchasing decisions are being made as a direct result of companies’ activities online.

Case in point: here are some highlights from a LinkedIn-commissioned study by Forrester Consulting and Research Now:

  • 73% of IT decision makers have engaged with a vendor on a social network
  • 3 out of 5 say that social media influences their purchasing decisions
  • 58% make these purchasing decisions because they trust their peers on social media

According to Michael Weir, Head of Category Development for the Technology Industry at LinkedIn, “It’s no surprise that [IT decision makers] are heavy users of social networks. In fact, 85% have used at least one social network for business purposes.  What’s surprising is that 73% have engaged with an IT vendor on a social network – underscoring the value of the channel for IT marketers.  Even more revealing is the fact that social media is now a critical source of influence across the entire decision making process, not just during the initial research phase.” (Salesforce)

And according to another study, this one by JPL Integrated Communications, 54% of B2B buyers said they “followed group discussions, conversations or threads to learn more about their purchase.” But the respondents clarified by indicating that they “avoid direct contact with vendors over social media. They want objectively credible information, not a sales pitch.”

So where should one’s social media emphasis lie? It should be two-fold.

1. Post relevant, industry- or product-related case studies, reports or general information; in other words, content is king.

Potential purchasers should be able to engage with your brand via social networks without feeling like they’re being sold. You know that feeling you get when you walk onto a car dealership lot? You can see the sales guys jump up and trip over one another to get to you. Then they follow you around, hovering, when all you want to do is just look? That. You don’t want that.  Potential customers should feel free to browse what you have to offer, talk to others who have already purchased from you and come to conclusions without you breathing down their necks.

2. Constant monitoring

You should have at least one person continually monitoring your social media accounts, if not a team of people. And not just to update. You want to interact with your followers. Interact, not sell! (See number one.) If someone posts on your company’s Facebook page, there should be a timely and friendly response. One of the worst social media blunders is to have stagnant accounts where customers’ and potential customers’ comments and concerns go unnoticed. Because that’s poor customer service, plain and simple.

But more to the point: Your social media presence should not trump traditional, personal interaction. It should complement it.

While more and more purchasing decisions are in fact being made online, your customers and prospects should have a real-live person, in-person or over the phone, to discuss their particular needs.  This is especially true in some B2B scenarios, where complex engineering or technical situations are critical.

For instance, an engineer designing an aircraft engine isn’t going to spec in your part simply because he interacts with your company online. He should have a good feel (read: brand awareness) for your company, and hopefully have been given all of the technical information he may have needed, but at the end of the day, he’s going to want to speak with an actual person, probably R&D and sales, to get to the meat of his product needs. The same is true for a vast array of highly technical, engineering-based industries.

That’s where the good, old-fashioned personal interaction is always going to be needed. Whether you have the sales force to cover your prospects and customers, or you turn to highly-trained telemarketers to help move your targets through the sales cycle, personal contact is key to ensuring a successful outcome for all involved. 

Social Selling

There should be no distinct line between your company’s social media activities and sales activities. Instead, imagine a seam, where both parts are sewn together to make your unique brand. Even B2B enterprises can benefit from social selling– the use of social media for listening, customer engagement and internal collaboration- culminating with personal interaction.

The good news for sales organizations is that social selling isn’t a clean break from traditional selling; it’s an evolutionary step forward. Social sellers do not have to abandon email, phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Instead, their time on these traditional channels becomes far more productive when supported by deliberate use of social media. Social selling eliminates some of the most wasteful parts of the traditional sales process (like cold-calling) and enhances the activities that good salespeople already do to create wins and drive revenue. (Social Selling in B2B Sales)

Also, consider this from Lori Wizdo at Forrester Research, regarding today’s B2B marketing (and while you’re reading it, notice how today’s marketing and sales professionals are more closely aligned than ever!):

Engaging, throughout the customer’s buying cycle, requires completely different thinking.  B2B marketers must nurture prospects for months or years before they turn into sales opportunities, so it is critical to know how you are connecting with each buyer at each interim stage that buyer goes through.

When prospective customers interact with companies they expect more — more personal, more relevant and more timely communications. Marketers need to constantly and automatically evolve their programs based on how their buyers react to their marketing messages.  Behavioral marketing is no longer an option — it’s table stakes.

Stop thinking about campaigns and start thinking engagement.  Marketers who continue to build campaigns, and make offers, around products and product features will be perceived as “tone deaf” to the multichannel customer. Customers will engage with marketers who meet their needs – their changing needs – for different information and options during the buying journey. Marketers who continue to “go to customer” with product-centric campaigns and offers risk becoming irrelevant.  (Forrester)

The bottom line:

Social media has created a more empowered customer who knows more about your company than you think. Closing the sale, however, still comes down to personal contact.

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