3 Ways Social Media is Revolutionizing the Sales Process

2013.7.5 Men Suits

There are many people like me who are not shoppers – we’re buyers.

When buyers find what they like we buy it – no selling is necessary. This often keeps us loyal to the same vendors and stores for a long time, and certainly explains the success of Amazon Prime for everyday purchases.

However, when buying decisions are heavily influenced by factors such as style, comfort, and fit, then buying necessarily leads to shopping, and that means the counsel of a skilled sales professional is also an influential factor.

If your products and services are sold, rather than bought, then it may be time to consider how social media is dramatically changing  the shopping experience, and therefore, what your business needs to do to adapt its sales process.

Let’s take a look at three.

#1 – It’s Making People Differentiators

Old-school selling was a game of trading secrets. Since everyone was reluctant to show their hand, the process of coming to agreement was agonizingly slow.

In today’s business environment, it’s amusing when a business suggests they have a secret that makes their product better, because if there are product differences (advantages and flaws), they are soon known by everyone.

We all know that most people cannot keep a secret, and digital technologies such as social media make their sharing that much faster and easier. Thus, these days there are no secrets, and implying that there are is incongruent with how people expect to be sold. 

Many buyers today know more than salespeople, because they have abundant access to information resources, including the wisdom of the digitally connected friends. This is why smart businesses treat their buyers as collaborators.  

The true differentiator these days is nearly always people – not products. So, stop selling and start collaborating. It’s one of the ways that social marketing works, and it naturally transcends to the selling process too.

#2 – It’s Making Transparency a Differentiator

While recently shopping for new business suits at a store that was new to me, I was almost, but not quite sold.

What I learned there we discussed at another store where I have been previously happy, but whose prices I was told were substantially higher – and they are. However, the reasons for that were later substantiated.

What impressed me was the salesperson knew his competitors products just as well as his own.

When you pull back the curtain to show it all – good and bad – you earn trust

After discussing product features, I was shared advance information about an upcoming sale, with those prices being still higher than I wanted to pay. However, other factors such as free alterations made a significant difference in my decision.

It’s interesting that I was just about ready to buy at the first store until I learned of the significant cost of alterations, and only at the very last minute. That small detail proved just enough to make me undecided.

Transparency means sharing it all. You may not be able to put a price to everything until your process goes the full distance, but the buyer should generally know what is coming so there are no surprises.

This may be the cardinal rule of selling in this connected environment where the choices are abundant. Compromising trust is like playing with fire.

Now that consumers know nearly as much as the business, they should be treated as equals, as partners.

Engaging buyers is a collaborative process and a means of differentiation, especially when other businesses are not doing so.

#3 – It’s Making Ideas Differentiators

The day of selling products and services is over. These days sales success is about selling ideas that reveal the true desires and fears buyers have – provided they are being honest.

When sales professionals ask good questions, they open doors for sharing ideas that earn the trust of their buyers. Make this part of your sales process.

Refuse to progress to the next step in your sales process until your’ve asked the questions that ensure you are aligned with your potential buyer.

If your price is higher than your competitors, you absolutely have to ask questions that allow you to sell the idea that paying a higher price is smart. Here are some suggestions for doing that.

  1. Discuss hidden variables that contribute to quality, but are often left out to reduce cost
  2. Be sure your buyer understands the risk of failure is often more than the cost of doing it again. It also includes the cost of removing or living with the fallout of the first result
  3. Sell your process for ensuring alignment with your buyer: before, during, and after the sale.
  4. Then encourage your buyer to ask for the process of any other company they are considering before making a final decision

Most small business do not have a reliable sales process, one that is written down, and readily available to everyone – including and especially the customer.

That process is more than a series of steps, it is a tangible structure that brings together the subtleties of people, transparency, and the ideas that align your business with its ideal buyers.

If you want to learn more about building your sales process, check out Chapter 9 of Built-In Social. Now available (and on sale) in audiobook by Audible.

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, helps mainstream small businesses create exceptional customer experiences that accelerate business growth. Get more from Jeff on LinkedInTwitter and Google+.

Jeff is also the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business – (Wiley 2013)

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  1. Sandi Coryell says:

    Right on target Jeff. More than once, I’ve thought I was getting a great deal until the last minute when things like “installation” fees were added on. I didn’t close the deal because it felt like the sales person was trying to pull the wool over my eyes. Their lack of transparency killed the deal

    • Hi Sandi – Yes, it’s amazing how much more sensitive we are to complete transparency – and to be honest, just being honest and straightforward.

      These days when you quote a price, we have an understanding of taxes and maybe shipping – anything else is unexpected and therefore a bad idea.

      Thanks for weighing in on this.

  2. Jeff, I have always thought it boils down to trust. You earn trust by asking the right questions. Your questions, not necessarily your answers, indicate how understanding of the needs of the customer. It is the dialogue that occurs over time that reinforces that trust.

    • Hey Chris – Great point about asking good questions. I had not considered that, but the truth is the right questions reveal both empathy and understanding, which of course built trust.

      My favorite “wrong” question is how much do you have to spend or what is your budget. I’ve always found people will spend what is necessary to get what they want, so better to first focus on building a relationship with them.

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  3. Sales has always been about trust. How many times have you heard, “it’s the relationship.” Why is that? Because you learned through experience to trust (or not to trust) a person, a business, or even a brand. Social media has made it possible to learn about a business prior to having the personal interaction. A recent Forrester survey found potential buyers travel 65% – 90% of the way BEFORE contacting the vendor. This is double-edged with the prevalence of fraud on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp (the latter of which is currently involved in litigation about just that.)

    With regard to price, most businesses are too focused on price – can we blame Wal-Mart for that? – and not enough on experience. One result of the economic recession is consumers want more for their money. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want cheaper, and a lot of research supports this, they want value.

    The bottom line is that brands need to touch potential customers high up in the sales funnel, establish a relationship and provide an experience. If they do that, they’ll have not only a long-term customer, they’ll also have an evangelist for their brand.

    • Steven – Appreciate you sharing these insights on the relationship between buyers and sellers.

      It was just yesterday that I did show up at 8:00 a.m. sharp for the sale with the retailer that had earned my trust from previous transactions, and most recently from my experience with one particular salesperson.

      When I arrived he had already reviewed the new arrival of suits in my size, thereby saving me time. He showed me 5 and I bought two – AND for a much better price than I expected, so I grabbed 3 new shirts and ties to go with them.

      It was a great experience, as well as a nice value. Putting those two together is all any of us needs to do to create (as you say) evangelists.

      While all of this discussion is about selling. You have nailed the one quality makes social media work, because it worked long before we had these digital channels – build relationships that make customers advocates or evangelists for your business!

  4. I grew up in the atmosphere of social selling. Marketing and salespeople are accessible, easy to find, and online.

    By the time I was looking at bigger ticket purchases, the very idea that parts of the sale would be a secret to me came as a surprise! As it is now, I am much happier with marketing that errs on the side of education and transparency. Even if it can cost a little more in the end.