It was the year 2003. I was working as an HR manager at a steel galvanizing plant and had to fill a position of a Sales manager. I had to find the candidate who had excellent communication skills, loved challenges, was eager to learn and was hungry for success. I decided to hire a person I knew was perfect for the job… I decided to hire myself. I knew nothing about sales at this point, but when you are 23 such insignificant detail can hardly stop you. My first ever sales pitch must have been good enough,the CEO of the company decided to give me a chance. Despite zero experience in Sales, I became Top Seller in less than 3 months.
The reason why I’m telling you this story is a piece of unexpected, yet extremely solid advice that my boss gave me at that moment. He told me: “Olesija, if you want to be successful in sales Treat your customers like your perfect date.” At that time I just loved dating and somehow intuitively applied something that seemed to work also in sales. It wasn’t until many years later, that I realized that what made it work were 3 things that help to build long-term relationships (be it a date or a customer): genuine interest in people, listening & giving generously.
The world has changed a lot since then. And along with the world, it seems that Sales have also changed a lot. The corporate world is in the midst of an important transformation: it is witnessing a significant change in the way business gets done. It is impossible to ignore the rise of social media and the impact it is having on the companies: the implications for business are profound. While this shift certainly means new challenges or issues to think through, it also opens companies to overwhelming possibilities.
Social media is the most powerful networking opportunity ever created. Think of it as a virtual conference coffee break, which is open 24/7. And you also know exactly who is who. So getting into this room with all this potential „leads“ might get you bit overwhelmed. If only they knew what an amazing product I have to offer to them. Imagine that I would climb on top of the coffee table in the hall and shout — I have this amazing training you just absolutely must have? Do you think anyone would actually buy from me? Wouldn’t think so. And yet, when companies & professionals start on social media, they do exactly that. They see social media as a place for their direct ads or press releases in the best case. And most of the time they would be genuinely surprised, that nobody cares. And nobody buys. And as they start to figure out why it is not working and what to do about it, sooner or later they come across a term that some would refer to as overhyped buzzword- Social Selling. There are numerous ways to describe and explain the essence of Social Selling but what it is really about is building relationships.
We tend to talk a lot about B2B versus B2C- the differences and similarities, but what we often tend to forget, that it is really about Human 2 Human (H2H). It always has been this way. People never bought anything from companies. They bought from people behind those companies. They bought from people with whom they had genuine personal relationships. And those relationships were built on a golf course, over dinners and conference afterparties. Social Media just gives you broader access to people you might otherwise never meet. Social Media gives you opportunities to build and sustain relationships. But the essence is still the same.
I believe that the most to the point comparison is still (and perhaps even more than ever) the same as my former boss gave me- if you want to be successful in sales- treat your customer like your perfect date. If you want to understand what Social Selling is and most importantly be successful in it think about it in the way you would think about dating.
SO how is Social Selling like dating? One of the most important decisions we make in our life is when we try to find a person we want to spend the rest of our life with. Finding the right person is important in any relationship- be it a romantic commitment or a business partner. Our customers are looking for a long-term committed relationship with companies who are interested in their future success.
The process of Social Selling is at its core very similar to the process of finding Mr/Mrs. Right — Getting to know each other, falling in love, gaining trust and keeping the trust (and passion) and living happily ever after- keeping trust & passion. In Social selling terms with would describe the very same process as building awareness, evaluation, purchase, retaining the customers &making your customers your raving fans.
Placing ads all over the place and trying to sell the moment you come across the potential customer is the same as making a marriage proposal on a first date. Would you say yes? Social Selling, just like Dating, is a time-consuming (though potentially very rewarding) process, so one has to understand that the same way that the first date will not (in 99.9 % cases) result in marriage proposal, the same way your first interaction with someone on social media will not lead to an immediate sale.
So how do you get to this blissful happily ever after where customers are your raving fans and biggest advocates? First you have to Know who you perfect date or your target audience is. And once you know who it is, you would know where you could find them, meet them and start/join the conversation. Anthony Spargo, Director Public Affairs GE & Communications GE Capital, Australia and New Zealand explains it right to the point- “it’s really about understanding customers and prospective customers, and knowing how and where to engage with them in an authentic and productive way.” Your goal at this stage is to let your customers know that you are there when they need your help. Or go beyond that and offer genuine help even before he knows to ask for it. Speed dating can be fun and full of potential, but building relationship will demand much more of you and this is the essence of Social Selling. Great things take time and it is particularly true about building relationships.
As with dating building relationship is about getting to know your prospect. And getting to know each other involves 2-way communication- having something interesting to say and listening to what other person has to say. To be interesting, you have to be interested. In Social Selling, you do this by following influencers, potential prospects, tracking the keywords that relate to your topic and joining the conversation at the right time in the right way.
IBM has developed a system for this process which they call intelligent listening and they say this is one of the most important ( if not the most important) factor that they attribute their success to. “If we didn’t do this kind of social listening, we wouldn’t know about a lot of these opportunities until it was too late to get considered. “Social media let us engage earlier with our clients — hopefully, earlier than our competition. “
The cornerstone of every great relationship is in a very fine balance of giving and taking. In Social Selling you have to be a very generous giver. And the gift is the content you provide to your customer. It has to be engaging, innovative, educational, entertaining, but most importantly it has to be helpful. Engaging content is never about what you do and how you do it, it is about why you do what you do and how this will change the life of your customer and help him be more successful.
So you met your date, you got to know him- what’s next? YOU have to find the way to their hearts. At the core of every successful relationship are awesome experiences you have shared together, the ones that create great stories you would be telling your grandchildren. And the best way to do build and sustain a with real people- your customers is also through stories. People don’t remember features, facts, and numbers. But they do remember great stories. And they also remember how you made them feel.
Storytelling is the ultimate tool of persuasion. Brands, as well as individuals who tell stories –emotional and genuine stories- connect with their customers in far deeper level than their competitors. So what your story would be? And how would you make your customers fall in love?