Direct calling sales techniques are being seen as antiquated and even counter productive to making sales with the rise of social media but for many business to business marketers, cold calling continues to be a top form of selling. Social media has simply made it easier.
The two keys to successful sales calls are background knowledge of your target customer and meaningful follow-ups. LinkedIn is your new first step in research and the ability to share useful information and gifts abounds throughout social media platforms making follow ups and ‘just keeping in touch’ messages incredibly easy.
Combined with any form of marketing tracking and you have a full package of tools at your disposal, completely free.
So here are my top ten ways to research your target customer and keep in touch with them using Social Media.
1. LinkedIn Business Profile
Do they have one? If they do it will most likely connect you to the person who set it up, which isn’t necessarily the person you want to reach. If other employees are using LinkedIn they will have ‘attached’ themselves to the company as an employee so you can start to build up a picture of the company. It is worth doing a search for the company name using the people search as well just in case they have listed themselves as being with the company but not taken the step to connect themselves to the corporate profile.
2. LinkedIn via Google
Advanced search options are available with a premium account within LinkedIn but you can perform advanced searches on the LinkedIn domain using Boolean searches in Google. Boolean searches are simply advanced forms of searching using text characters to better define what you want to find and where. As an example, in the Google search bar enter:
site:linkedin.com +”michael thompson” +”big blue squid”
This will return three results from the LinkedIn website. If you had performed a search for Michael Thompson on the LinkedIn website you would have found over 4500 entries. You would then have to refine your search by company name or location and so on. The text characters used for making advanced searches are known as Boolean operators. A basic list and how to use them can be found here: http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=136861
3. Press Coverage
Learning about your target customer via the press is considerably easier than it used to be. News stories are indexed and stored online for years but it still takes time to dig around the smaller newspapers and news websites, especially if they are very localised. Google News is a good place to start as stories are indexed using an algorithm rather than by human choice so it offers a wide range of stories. Digg.com is a social media news site where people pick up on news stories and articles around the web and ‘digg them’ or highlight them as interesting. The more ‘diggs’ a story gets the high up the page ranking of Digg.com it goes. It’s a good judge of viral news and offers a good search facility. Access to it’s API is also available so if you are a developer or know a programmer you can build your own aggregation of stories, particularly useful for following a specific industry.
4. Talk to employees
Finding an employee via LinkedIn, friending them on Facebook and sending a friendly message to say “I just saw your great holiday photos, hope you had a good time” is about as close to stalking as you want to get, especially in the pursuit of finding out more about their boss. Where it does become very useful is during the sales process of addressing multiple levels of employee and departments. While your product is the most beneficial widget ever and the CEO loves it, if the IT department hates the CEO or lives only to snowboard your product will probably not interest them at all so resistance will rise out of your eyeline until your next meeting when you run into a wall of objections. You or your product development team will know the people required to put your product in place so while it’s key to ‘pitch’ to the decision maker you need to be aware of everyone involved. Generally speaking, anyone below management level doesn’t get taken out to lunch, wine at Christmas or even free pens at the close of a sale. Using LinkedIn again you can approach these individuals with questionnaires and incentives that show you value them, as well as their bosses. Their opinion is important to you and with them onside you might even find they have mentioned you in favourable terms to the powers above them. Starting with LinkedIn keeps your approach on a business level, if they invite you to ‘Friend’ on Facebook then you established a line of communication and most importantly you have access to their interests so now you can start to tailor your approach and corporate gifts to their liking.
5. Talk to Suppliers & Customers
When you’ve identified and connected with the key figures in a company look at the Groups they below to in LinkedIn. Gruops are usually business related so if your target customer is a member of the Fresh Veg Retailers group look at who else is in that group. There will most likely be some suppliers and possibly customers there too. With a little research on their website for locations, products and target markets you will quickly be able to identify related businesses, i.e. suppliers and customers. You can then start to approach these in a similar way to talking to employees. Don’t be afraid to be upfront about your research purposes, quite often people are happy to talk about their buyers and sellers, especially if they have strong opinions.
6. Send a Gift
Gifts are a well known reciprocation but online gifts can easily appear cheap. An Amazon voucher is a simple gift with a direct monetary value but doesn’t show much thought. Show tickets to the same value hold a greater ‘value perception’ than simply a voucher. In the same way, a really interesting book is nicer to unwrap on your birthday than a piece of paper that says £10 Book Voucher. Online gifts don’t have to be purchased though. An introduction or referral, invitation to a networking event outside your customers regular circle or even a highly relevant download can have great impact. Sending someone a ‘bale of hay’ for their Farmville is a nice gift but a valued white paper on related marketing stats that only marketers like yourself subscribe too is much more fitting. Don’t neglect offline gifts though, everyone still loves a pen or cuddly toy to set on their desk.
7. Call to Say Hello
Don’t wait until you want something before you call a contact or you will quickly appear as “needy”. I often come across news stories and articles which I think are relevant to a customer or contact. If they’re not time sensitive I make a note of them for later. Then when it’s time to get in touch again, if for example I haven’t spoken to them in a month, I’ll check my list of ‘useful freebies’ and give them a call. If I know they are a particularly busy person (and who isn’t?) I’ll often precede the call with the useful info via social media. Messages on LinkedIn keep a sense of business to business while links via Facebook are good because the target gets a preview of the link before they open it, saving them more time. I can then follow up with a “did you get my link?” or quite often they will call me to say thanks and hello.
8. Set up an Activity
Facebook is great for highlighting events, especially if you want to invite selected individuals who can then see who else is coming along. Activities don’t have to be expos, week long fishing trips or even out of the office. They can simply be coffee between yourself, your contact and someone beneficial to them, a current supplier or customer. Adding people useful to your contact, to ‘your’ meeting increases the value of the event. Set the time and date, add a photo of a steaming mug of coffee to create a visual link to the event to make it memorable and send out the invites. When you know who can definitely make it you’ll have an opportunity to prepare. If sufficient people can’t make the meeting it’s another opportunity to give them a personal call and say we’ll schedule this for another time, but while I have you on the phone, “how are things?”
9. Display Mutual Sales Material
Without counter space it can be difficult to assist a contact with selling using their promotional material but Facebook Pages, LinkedIn updates and Twitter Tweets are all ways to showcase your contact. A short message mentioning them can be invaluable or asking them to post a link or event on your own Facebook page is a great way to give them additional exposure. If you have a longer standing relationship a logo or link on a Facebook tab called ‘Suppliers’ or ‘Associates’ is added value without taking away from your own landing tab and wall posts. Make sure your Facebook Page ‘likes’ their Facebook Page as well.
10. Joint Press Releases
Launching a press release can be expensive when you factor in photography, image licensing, models, copywriters and distribution. It can also be difficult to get a different angle on your own product, especially outside of your own marketplace. Teaming up can be a way of sharing costs and mixing news stories to overcome these challenges. Using Facebook isn’t new anymore but demonstrating a new way of communication between two named suppliers and customers is potential for a photo of both companies, each promoting their business across markets. Reciprocal logos and links on their respective Facebook Tabs will cement the links when people land on their pages following the new story.
Author: Michael Thompson, Big Blue Squid, email: firstname.lastname@example.org