MAD Perspectives Blog

The 4 Bs of B2B Social Media

Peggy Dau - Monday, June 25, 2012

It's all about business for any company engaging in social media. Sometimes we forget that these platforms are a means to an end. That end is revenue. All the effort to win fans, followers, interactions, comments and click-thrus is part of a comprehensive effort to increase visibility, generate leads and sell products.

So, why is social media so important for companies selling products and services to other companies? It's all about the 4 Bs.  

#1 - Business Intelligence:  Social media allows companies to share content and capture data. Various tools and platforms exist to discover, analyze and assess this data. Individuals and companies gain knowledge about the demographics of their customers, affiliated industries, emerging topics, key trends, competitor activities, opinions regarding products and services, and more. Social media provides additional insight that can help companies create and sustain powerful relationships with their customers.

#2 - Business Development: Revenue is the life blood of all companies.  Without it, a company will eventually disappear. Therefore any tools to simplify or accelerate the acquisition of new business, whether from new clients or existing accounts, are welcome. Social networks provide companies with additional channels through which they can identify prospects, learn about companies and individuals. Platforms, like LinkedIn, Plaxo, Branchout or Zerply, can help users figure out how to connect with key decision makers or influencers. Individuals can learn more about them via blogs, tweets, status updates, presentations or videos.  56% of B2B marketers acquire new business partnerships through social media (Social Media Examiner, 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report). Imagine that first meeting with an understanding of what's been top of mind for that individual based on their social commentary!  

#3 - Business Relationships: Once a relationship is developed, it takes effort to maintain it. It's not always possible to enjoy face time with contacts. Social networks provide an alternative method of staying in touch with colleagues, customers and competitors. It's possible to congratulate contacts on promotions or job changes, make introductions for peers seeking new roles and comment on shared content. Here at MAD Perspectives, we reach out to connections on a regular basis, simply to catch up with old business friends.

#4 - Business Conversations: Social networks are all about engagement. They provide a platform to discuss topics of mutual interest, ask & answer questions, collaborate on new ideas, share content and to learn. Entrants into a new markets can learn about local business culture, business priorities and key competitors. 62% of business technology decision makers now read and post comments on blogs (Social Media Examiner, 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report).  Participants can turn casual conversations into long-lasting relationships. However, just as in face-to-face conversations, each party must provide value to the other.

Social media mirrors the business activities of any company. It is simply another channel through which to pursue these actions. As you consider your use of social media, think about the 4 Bs. Perhaps you are using all 4, or maybe you've just started engaging. Either way, be strategic and tactical about how social media can help you connect, collaborate and communicate to achieve your business goals.

What's your perspective?



Who Are You?

Peggy Dau - Thursday, October 20, 2011

There has been a lot of discussion this week at the Web 2.0 Summit, in San Francisco, around identity.  It is a continuation of the debate that started in August when Google+ launched requiring users to use theirreal names – no pseudonyms allowed.  The argument is about associating all that you say on social networks with your real identity.  This is uncomfortable for many of us.  Not that we don’t own what we say, but we may not want it saved in perpetuity in the online world.

I’m wondering about the impact of identity when it comes to corporations.  Earlier this year, we discussed corporate identity with our friends at Taylor O’Brien.  As brands define their identity and take that identity into the social arena, we advise a consistency in how they represent themselves.  The question that is puzzling me now, is if I work for a major corporation, am I Peggy Dau or am I Peggy from Company X?  If I am socializing as a business professional, my employer would argue that I am a representative of the company.  Since they provide me with a paycheck, I would agree.

However, in the social arena, Peggy Dau is a unique individual with profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social places.  I tweet as MADPerspectives, which is my consulting business, because Twitter allows pseudonyms.  But, I could argue that MAD Perspectives is a real name – for my business.  The content I tweet as MADPerspectives, is content related to my business and the industries I serve.  It’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it?!

The challenge for companies is to define their identity and set clear guidelines for how their employees who are representing the company in social networking, understand the voice, culture, image that the brand wants to reflect.  Companies by their very nature are somewhat anonymous.  Sure, we understand what Apple, Coca Cola and Proctor & Gamble stand for, but do we really associate with individual employees?  Do we want to?  Do employees want to be recognized and associated with their employer as the engage in social networking.  For social media mavens, representing their respective companies, this is an opportunity to build their personal brand as they represent the corporate brand.  However, customer support teams may prefer some protection of their identity – not because they don’t provide excellent customer support, but for reasons of safety or career aspirations.

Corporate identity has taken on new meaning in the authentic, transparent and spontaneous social community.  Can a corporation be transparent if it doesn’t reveal the real names of its social networkers?  It is authentic when tweets come from @BronxZoosCobra?  Are “push” marketing tweets from consumer and high tech brands really spontaneous?  In fact, they are an extension of an overall marketing plan to increase brand and product awareness – reinforcing brand identity and consistent messaging, but perhaps losing authenticity.

It’s a new world and our identities are tied to the context in which our networks know us and the perspectives they have of our personal and corporate identities.

What’s your perspective?




Facebook Video Chat - Will You Use It?

Peggy Dau - Thursday, July 07, 2011

Yesterday, Facebook announced the integration of Skype (currently being acquired by Microsoft) for video chat.  What does this mean?  It means that in addition to clicking the chat button to have an instant messaging system with one your friends who is online, you can now elect to have a video chat with that same friend.  Imagine Skype within the framework of Facebook - you have a pop-up window with the talking head of your friend.

This announcement was surrounded with a lot of hype.  Sure Skype gains access to Facebook’s 750 million users.  And Facebook gains access to arguably, the most recognized VoIP platform.  But do Facebook users really want to video chat with their friends?  I performed a quick verbal survey with my friends and they were all a bit quizzical about the need for video chat within Facebook.  Perhaps this is a generational issue.  I’m older than Mark Zuckerberg.

My friends and I use Facebook to stay in touch.  We do not post comments every minute.  We do not expect instantaneous response to any comment.  We share pictures, we comment on items in the news; we ask random (and often ridiculous) questions.  We promote our favorite causes.  We rarely use the existing chat function.  We actually enjoy the random updates and casual means of staying in contact with geographically dispersed friends.  It’s a light touch, not as intentional as an email or a phone call.  We feel “safe” in not actually verbalizing our thoughts, but sharing them in a few short sentences.

I’m a big fan of social networks.  I help companies identify their strategies for using social networks.  As businesses continue to adopt Facebook as another channel for communicating with their customers, I do see how B2C companies can use video chat to enhance their consumer relationships.  Any company focused on customer service, now has another mechanism for connecting to, interacting with and responding to consumer concerns.  Companies can expose their personality even further through the use of a live person, interacting with friends and fans.  I can imagine emerging technology companies who use Facebook as a recruiting platform, testing applicants’ interactive capabilities using video chat. 

Video is memorable.  Video is personal.  Video exposes both the individual and the company.  This additional exposure does not come without risk.  Representatives of the company, who are currently managing their social presence, will have to consider the impact on their policies and guidelines.  Further training may be required verbal communication requires a different set of skills than written communication.  For those firms already concerned about regulatory and compliance issues, video chat is something that will never be turned on.  If companies turn on video chat they will be required ‘walk the talk’ even more consistently then ever before.

What do you think about Facebook’s new video chat capabilities?  How will you use it?  Will you use it at all? 

What’s your perspective?



Are You Mobile When You Are Social?

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Where do you socialize?   At home?  When you're out with friends, family or colleagues.  Do you socialize at the office?  Yes - we all socialize everywhere and the social networks understand this.  While they started as online platforms accessible primarily at home, they are increasingly accessed via mobile devices such as IPads or Smartphones. 

In the B2B world, we've been addicted to voicemail, then email.  In our desire to stay connected (or should I say competitive), is social networking the next business addiction?

I've been reading articles about John Doerr's most recent investment strategy at Kleiner Perkins (the Silicon Valley venture capital firm) focused on
Social-Location-Mobile. It got me thinking about B2B social media and mobility. After all,

- 72% of the workforce is mobile.
- 64% of corporate decision makers are checking email on their mobile device.
- 70% of mobile users say that their cell phone is their primary communication channel.
- 72.5M smartphone users in the U.S.

Every leading social network (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, WordPress) has an app for iPhone and Android. Why? Each of these networks recognizes that we, the consumer or business owner, craves connectivity - wherever we are. In fact, as social media and the related social networks have become a pervasive part of our lives, we can now find others near us or invite colleagues to join us at a defined location.

It has been said that while social media allows us to make the connection, mobile apps ensure that we remain connected. From 2009 to 2010, there was a
240% surge in mobile social networking (Comscore MobiLens April 2010). For B2B users, the potential lies in making enterprise apps available for sales personnel. These teams are on the go - that's their job. How could mobile social networking help?

- sales managers stay in contact with their teams
- easy access to fast moving industry news about their customers and competitors
- sales on-demand supply chain updates to fulfill customer demands
- reminders from or updates to CRM systems

There is much buzz around Location Based Services.  In my opinion, it is still unclear how beneficial location based services will be for B2B. Companies have trialed location programs at conferences and exhibitions with mixed results.  With social networks evolving around location (FourSquare) or enabling location (Facebook) users are "checking in" and catching up with friends.  However, most sales people are not comfortable revealing their location due to competitive concerns.

Are you using social networking on the go? I post updates to my personal Facebook, I have 'checked in' occasionally.  For business, I am tied to LinkedIn and login throughout the day to check trending news amongst my contacts and group.  I'll be travelling in the UK for the next two weeks and I will definitely be accessing social media from my smartphone!

What's your perspective?



Keeping Up With the Changing Face of Communication

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last week, I attended an event hosted by Citrix Online.  We all know Citrix through their variety of collaboration tools such as GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar and GoToMyPC.  The theme of this event was the changing face of communication.  In addition to comments from Citrix CEO, Brett Caine, there were keen insights from Aline Wolff, associate professor of management & communications at NYU; TJ Keitt, analyst at Forrester Research; and, Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post.

Some key takeaways:

 

     - The flexible workplace is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.  However, face-to-face meetings have become a luxury.  Telecommuting has become the norm for many mid-size to large companies.  This is, in part, due to improved networking, security and distribution technologies.  it is also due to the mobile nature of today's business world.  Telecommuting does not necessarily mean working at home.  It also means woking on the go.  This requires devices that allow workers to access private and public networks from home, on the train or at the airport.  Thank goodness that those devices and technologies exist, along all aspects of the communications value chain.  They enable secure, reliable access and delivery of content.

    - Technology is helping us build trust and rapport between colleagues and between businesses. Trust is the number one concern for many individuals when selecting a vendor.  Unfortunately, the financial melt-down, CEO misbehavior, federal government partisan stonewalling and high unemployment help create an atmosphere of skepticism and mistrust.  However, the advent and near dominance of social networks as an avenue to personalize business and government, can also foster rapport between geographically disperse colleagues and influence trust.  Companies are sharing more information in a dynamic, ad hoc way.  They are soliciting input from their customers and responding (most of the time) to their questions and concerns.  These networks, and the ease of accessibility to these networks via many devices, cultivate intimacy, personality and yes, trust.  We feel like we have “insider” knowledge of the company and its products.

     -However, this in turns leads to our addiction to the technology.  We are online 24x7.  We are anxious if we cannot access email.  We purchase the latest devices in the form of smart phones, iPads and tablets so that we can tweet, Facebook, read and consume content.  We are setting expectations that we are available and accessible to our companies and our clients all the time.  With this addiction, how do we focus on the things that are really important?  How do we make smart decisions if we are exhausted from consuming so much content?  We crave the data, but can we actually take in so much data that we aren’t capable of making decisions, simply because we think there is more information that will help us with that decision?  Or, because we are distracted by the device and content it provides?

Net, net, communication methods and styles are changing.  The days of tops down marketing have already shifted although big brands still push their story across multiple communication channels.  The difference is that they must listen to their customers to validate that their story is relevant.  We all must be aware of and consider adoption of those technologies that simplify our lives, enable real time communication, streamline access to solution and allow collaboration.  We do need to be cautious about becoming addicted to these technologies, but we cannot hide our heads in the sand, like the proverbial ostrich. 

Are you communicating on the go?  Are you using social networks and mobile devices to "keep up"?  How much time do you spend on business vs. personall communication?   Are you able to put your device down and spend quality time with friends and family?  I'm interested in your thoughts!

What’s your perspective?



The Social Web - Empowering Customers

Peggy Dau - Monday, October 04, 2010

Last week, Nigel Fenwick, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester spoke in a joint Forrester/ NewsGator webinar.  The topic was Boosting IT Productivity with Social Technologies.  However, Nigel validated several thoughts that had been bouncing around in my brain. He speaks about the influence and shifts in mobile devices, social technologies, pervasive video and cloud computing.  Each of these converge to enable a more intelligent and influential customer, the empowered customer. I have been thinking about the shift from a focus on customer satisfaction to customer experience and how this has changed, dramatically, with the usage of social platforms.  While I often talk to clients about employee empowerment to use and leverage social technologies, I had not thought about the flip side – that of empowered customers.

Thanks to the social web, customers have access to more information than ever.  It is not just information developed and distributed by various corporate marketing teams.  It is information from individual employees, customers, business partners, competitors, supply chain vendors and anyone else who may interact with that company, its products or employees.  The online customer support forums of the early millennium have evolved to include live online discussions (by text or VoIP) with support staff and interactive chats with fellow customers.  If we are not satisfied with the support we receive, we tweet or Facebook immediately – and usually get some kind of attention from the company’s support team.

Thanks to the social web, prospective buyers can research, investigate and analyze products, services, reputations, ethics, roadmaps and competitors.  They come to you, the vendor providing their product or service of choice, armed with intelligent questions.  They are ready to make decision, but have perspectives based on the information that have gathered and interpreted.  These perspectives will influence their discussion with you (and others!) regarding features, functionality, delivery and pricing.

Thanks to the social web, your company and its employees can also be empowered. Your employees can access the same information as your customers.  As mentioned by Nigel in the aforementioned webinar, they use social technologies to get ideas for their job, to research key topics, to collaborate externally to solve a problem.  Your company may say that they already provide them with the tools to collaborate and investigate.  If they do, this is great, but are they using the tools and the platforms that your customers are accessing?  Can you as an employee gather the same kind of insights so that you can understand the customer’s perspective? Tthe ability for employees to understand a customer's motivation can only help them represent the company to its greatest advantage.

Companies used to control the message.  Subsequently the need for employees to participate and monitor online activities was limited to specific initiatives (i.e., customer support).  However, the social web has changed how information is shared.  It is still shared on websites, but customers are seeking authentic insights and finding them via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn Groups, Slide Share, and Scribd.  If your company is just getting started with social technologies, empower your employees to learn in the same fashion as your already empowered customers.

What’s your perspective?



HP, Culture Shock & Social Networks

Peggy Dau - Monday, August 09, 2010

Last week I began a discussion about the impact of corporate culture on a company’s level of comfort with social media.  While I was thinking about this week’s continuation of this discussion, the CEO of my former employer, HP, resigned due to allegations of misconduct.   This news hit the social airwaves like tsunami last Friday. I enjoyed a 24 year career of Hewlett-Packard Company, which means I was lucky enough to have learned from the founders, Bill and Dave, what it means to be open, ethical, moral and to do business with integrity.   One of the key elements of HP’s Standards of Business Conduct is to “think about how your decision or behavior would look in a press article”.  This is a good foundation for us to consider when we think about how a company’s culture and organizational model impact the company’s use of social media.

HP’s culture and what became known as the “HP Way” focused on innovation, integrity and collaboration.   This culture was a natural match for social media.  The predecessor to today’s social networks was “MBWA" or management by walking around.  In HP, this meant an ability to learn from others in your office.  Employees would mix and mingle and share experiences.  Many careers grew through discovery and learning from peers.   HP’s founders would have been cautious about protecting HP’s Intellectual Property but they would have loved the ability to crowd source innovative concepts. However, over the past decade or so, the culture at HP changed.  This was a result of both external and internal forces.

External forces include the internet and the rampant availability of information.  They also include the increased demands from the financial services sector for all companies to provide and meet quarterly estimates.  This kind of instant gratification will change the way any company works.  Internal forces took the shape of CEOs and managers hired to lead change (defined in many diverse ways) but who each also had personal agendas.  In all cases the “HP Way” was deemed out dated and the collaboration of old gave way to siloed, hierarchical organizations with formerly empowered employees fearful of making even the smallest mistake.  Could Mark Hurd's HP, with a culture of cost containment, hierarchical decision making and limited employee empowerment, succeed in social media?

Interestingly, the answer is yes.  Consistent with its current command and control model, HP has a well defined, publically available, blogging policy.  They even have a digital media council, which includes representatives from all business units, that sets the policy for how HP will participate in social networks.  Any employee that will represent the company on a social network must take the requisite training.  So, HP empowers its employees with guidelines of expected behavior.  Is that really empowerment? I check on various HP blogs from time to time and follow several twitter feeds.  I find them interesting but cautious.  I think that HP could use social media as more than another PR channel.  I believe this is indicative of the internal culture.  That said, HP is number 22 on the NetPropex Social Index, which measures the social network activity of the largest U.S. corporations across a variety of social platforms.  Imagine what HP's score would be if the former culture of openness and collaboration was prevalent.

As a former HP employee and current HP shareholder, I hope HP’s next CEO balances innovation and operational excellence.  I hope they remember that their 300,000+ employees are the company’s biggest asset.  I hope they empower them to connect, communicate and collaborate, using social media, with their peers both inside and outside the company to create and innovate market changing solutions.

What’s your perspective?



Company Culture and Adoption of Social Networking

Peggy Dau - Monday, August 02, 2010

You’re thinking about social media.  You’re convinced you need to have a plan to add social media to your existing marketing and/or communication strategy.  You’re thinking, well, we’ll just tiptoe into this effort, participate in a few social networks and see what happens.  There is nothing wrong with this plan, except you should think about  your corporate culture.  Of course, there are other details you also need to consider, but for the sake of this conversation, let’s focus on corporate culture.

Does your culture inhibit executive or employee adoption of social networking tools?  Do employees feel empowered to publically communicate on behalf of the company?  Do executives understand the openness of social conversations?

I’ve had comments to several of my blogs related to B2B social media, emphasizing the importance of culture.  So, I’ve done some thinking on this and refreshed my memory as to the different types of corporate cultures (it’s been a long time since those undergrad and MBA courses on organizational theory).  Culture is a combination of shared values, attitudes, assumptions, beliefs and behaviors.  Culture is grounded in the assumptions about how people interact.

A successful social media strategy is best achieved when there is a corporate culture that balances tops down direction with bottoms up initiative with external (customer) facing communication.  However, existing corporate cultures can inhibit this balance and subsequently the success of a social media strategy.  Which of these cultures best reflects your company?

Adaptive – just like it sounds, this company tries new processes, solutions, business models to see what works best.  This company is usually very externally focused and will adopt solutions that help them communicate effectively and efficiently.  This culture will easily adapt to social networks for business use.

Inert – this type of company is very internally focused and struggles to deal with new ideas.  In technology parlance, they are a laggard when it comes to adopting new technology.  This culture will be one of the last companies to adopt social networking.

Networked – this is a sociable company, but employees exhibit little company loyalty.  This company may lag a bit in adopting new ideas solely due to high employee turnover.  Once this company has decided to use social networks, employees will take advantage of it and it may foster employee retention.

Mercenary - this culture is ruthless and highly competitive.  If the new solution doesn’t fulfill the goal to win, it is not considered.  Without a strong ROI argument, this kind of company will not leverage social networks at the business level.

Fragmented – this company is a loose alliance of independent workers (i.e., law firm).  If a solution can be easily adopted by these workers and help them achieve their goals, it’s a winner, but it is unlikely that all workers will utilize the solution at the same level.

I’ll be writing more about company cultures and organizational dynamics as it relates to B2B social networks over the next few weeks.  Do these cultures resonate with you?  What kind of culture does your company exhibit? 

What’s your perspective?



Tips for Incorporating Online Video into Your Communications Strategy

Peggy Dau - Monday, July 19, 2010

I recently read an IDC Whitepaper about the 360º Approach to Video.  I've written about companies using a 360º approach to define marketing strategies  and was definitely interested in IDC's opinion on video.  I consider video one of many tools that any company can use to connect and communicate with customers, partner or employees.  Video is memorable and is used for executive communications, customer education, employee training, product demos, customer testimonials and more.  Video is personal and can be consumed live or on-demand in the form of streaming media, webinar or teleconference.

The IDC whitepaper, which is sponsored by Online Video Platfrom vendor Kyte, primarily highlight features of privately funded Kyte.  However, it also touches on some relevants shifts in the market place:

1. Websites have become more interactive.  The days of one-way communication are gone and customers or consumers have an expecation for enticing, visually appealing, interactive sites.

2.  Video is everywhere.  This means video is on your website, on YouTube or Vimeo channels, on Facebook,on mobile devices and many other locations or devices.

3.  Content comes from many sources.  While companies produce a lot of their own content (i.e., executive communications, product training, ads, customer testimonials, etc.), they also invite customers to submit their own user-generated content

If you are thinking about how to incorporate video into your communications strategy.  Consider the following tips:

1.  PurposeWhat are you communicating with the video?  Are you educating, informing, inviting, or sharing?  These are all different types of stories and each story may be best told using different styles.  For example, if your video is to share your quarterly financial status, this is likely a professionally produced event with a well structured script.  However, if your are sharing information about an upcoming event or new product, you might decide that authenticity and personality are more important.  While you still have a script the style of the video may be more casual.  Alternatively, you may invite customers to share their experiences at an event or training.  They thoughts could be capture live and in person or via video uploads to a defined site.  If you define your goals for using video, it will make it easier to make decisions about what kind of content to create. Tip:  Align purpose and video style.

2.  CustomerWhere and how will your customers consume your video?  Are they in an office, at home or on the go?  Will they access content using their PC or a mobile device?  What operating system, browser, video player or video codecs will these devices use?  Is there an expection for live or social network interaction?  Understanding the answers to these questions, will help define the requirements for any online video solutions that you consider.  Tip:  Undertanding your target audience and their communication needs will drive business and technical requirements.

2. InfrastructureHow will you handle video content?  Will you produce and manage your video assets on an in-house system or will you leverage an online service?  In either case, consider its features and functionalities (i.e., codecs supported, bitrates, end user interface, ease of use, server requirements, metadata model, social/community features, digital rights management, analytics and reporting, etc.) related to your goals.  In addition, consider how it will integrate with other enterprise applications, impact on corporate network, level of expertise required and support models.  Tip:  Align infrastructure requirements to your goals to identify the relevant solution.

Content is valuable.  Video is memorable.  Create a valuable and memorable online video strategy thinking about who your customers are, where they are and how will you need to be able to share video content with them.  For a list of leading online video platform vendors check out:  www.streamingmedia.com, www.onlinevideo.net ir www.vidcompare.com

How are you using video to communicate your story? 

What's your perspective?



Sales and Social Networking

Peggy Dau - Monday, March 08, 2010

The art of selling has evolved over the years, but the basic premise is unchanged.  A company has a product or service that it sells to its customers.  The product is sold directly or via a channel such as a retailer, reseller or the internet.  The goal for both the direct or indirect channel is to get to the key decision makers or influencers for the entity buying the product.  Once they have identified this decision maker, they want to provide them with the facts about their product that differentiate it from its competitors, fulfill the needs of the customer, and address extemporaneous goals. How has social networking helped or hindered the sales process?

The past 10 years have seen the internet accepted as both a sales channel and an information portal.  For the sake of this discussion, we are not going to focus on sales via the internet.  We will focus on the traditional sales model of a sales person calling upon an established set of accounts.  Many sales people that I have spoken with are aware of social media, but mostly from the consumer perspective.  Their initial thought is that social media is Twitter and that all it is a random set of meaningless thoughts. They may be on LinkedIn, but they are uncertain as to its benefits other than as a "virtual Rolodex".   Given that sites like Twitter,Facebook or YouTube did evolve from a individuals point of view rather than a business perspective, it is understandable that sales personnel may have some concerns.

In addition to some healthy scepticism, there is also a cultural issue.  Many successful sales people are successful because they have built strong relationships with their customers.  They have wined and dined, played golf or attended sporting events.  They have built business based social relationships. they feel that social media is not personal due to the lack of face to face interaction.  However, the new breed of sales will include those very individuals around whom these social platforms were built.  These millenials are familiar with the tools and understand the potential.  As many sales people have adapted to CRM (customer relationship management) software and updated order processing and order management systems  they will now figure out how, where and why to use social media.

Shaking hands by mr.curtispope.

Here are a few thoughts:

1.  Listen to what your existing and potential customers are saying online.

It is extremely likely that your clients are online.  They are exploring websites, industry forums, blogs, customer support pages and social networking sites to learn more about the vendors they work with.  As a sales person, you can gain insight into their pet peeves, challenges and concerns by "listening" to what they are saying online.  Using tools such as Google Alerts, you can define keywords around topics such as your company and its products plus the names of your current or prospective clients.  You will be able to see, at least at a high level, what content your client is placing online as it relates to your company.

In addition you can perform searches is Twitter and Facebook, again using keywords, to see what they are talking about.  If you want to get more sophisticated, there are subscription based tools from Radian6, TelligentVisible Technologies and others.  Once you have these tools set up, the time investment to scan the news becomes a habit rather than a huge time commitment.  Remember, 20 years ago email was not present in the corporate sector and now our email in boxes are packed while voicemail has reduced.

BTW, you can also listen for information about your competitors!

2. Find key decision makers and influencers

Many of us are familiar with a rolodex, business contact, or CRM systems.  We collect business cards from our client, at networking events or trade shows.  We follow up on those with whom we had compelling conversations and we hold onto the rest of these cards.  The goal is to have a suite of contacts with whom we can pursue business. 

In addition, sales people often have primary contacts within a business that are in purchasing, IT or marketing, but they may not be the key decision makers.  they may not even be influencers.    Most sales people will leverage their primary contacts to increase their visibility within the account, with the goal to gain access to these decision makers.  Of course, if you can get inside the head of these decision makers you can shorten the sales cycle and win more business.  Social networks can help with this process.  Using LinkedIn as an example and remembering the theory of six degrees of separation, your LinkedIn contacts may be connected to that key decision maker you desire to meet.  An introduction from a business colleague who can speak to your experience and reputation, from a trusted contact, can go a long way to easing that first conversation.  In fact, LinkedIn can give you a little insight into their background and what makes them tick.

3. Educate your customers

Part of the sales process always includes providing updated information about your company and its products.  With increasing focus on managing travel expenses, sales people can become frustrated by not being able to be in front of their customers as often as they like.  An alternative mechanism to sharing information with clients is to use podcast and webcasts to provide information.  They enable the company to share information to broad audience in a cost effective manner, while enabling potential customers to interact and ask questions during the presentation.  In addition, in many cases, the information is available for a limited period in an on-demand manner, allowing customers to access the information as their schedules permit.

If this solution is deemed too impersonal, then think about the incredible advances in video conferencing.  At the low end their are simple, free (yet not secure) tools such as Skype.  On the high end their are video conference environments such as Cisco Telepresence or HP Halo that visually connect participants in virtual conference rooms using advance camera, lighting and networking technologies.

In addition, invite your customers to join LinkedIn groups, company blogs, RSS feeds, etc.,  that may be sponsored by your company.  The goal - make it easy for your customers to get the information they need!

4. Customer Service

It is often the case that once the product or service is sold, that the sales person moves onto the next opportunity.  This is understandable.  However, in today's world where social networking is so prevalent, it is important to keep your customer's happy.  An unhappy customer will tell 10 colleagues about a bad experience, while only telling 3 colleagues about a positive experience.  Sales people need to stay in touch with customer service.  If your company has a customer service forum, check in to see if your customers are participating and at what level.  Are they satisfied?  Are they facing a challenge? 

Happy customers are loyal customers and will recommend you to others.  Customer retention has become an increasing focus for many companies as their products and services become commoditized.  Your customers want to feel as if they have a voice.  Enabling them to participate in customer support forums, rewarding them for solution suggestions, listening and responding to their questions is all part of the extended sales process.

It's a new world for sales people.  They are faced with a broader view of their customer, but that's a two way street.  Their customers have access to far more information about vendors than ever before.  Social networking and digital media solutions can augment the sales process and facilitate access, education and support.  Make these tools are part of your daily habit!

I want to thank Chris Brogan and Joseph Jaffe for their insights on these topics.  Information in their blogs helped me solidify my thoughts.

What's your perspective?