While these are all examples of successful business-led social media campaigns, not too many companies appear to have a coherent strategy to monetize their social media presence. This leads to skepticism on whether social media is a viable business channel – or indeed, if businesses should even use social media to sell. I believe brands that embrace social media in a genuine and responsive way can build a very powerful channel that can decrease acquisition costs and increase sales productivity, while improving overall customer satisfaction at the same time.
In particular, the emergence of social media provides an ideal opportunity for brands that traditionally rely on expensive field sales reps, such as banking and insurance, to reduce their acquisition costs. Using a lower-cost Inside Salesforce to filter out the suspects from the prospects early in the sales cycles, brands can substantially reduce the average time needed for the field team to close deals. With the right compensation structure and an optimized allocation of resources, significant cost savings can be realized through improved productivity at critical points in the sales ecosystem: leads generation, leads qualification, and closure.
Leads Generation: Web 2.0 allows brands to embrace prospects early
Over the past decade, consumers have become a lot more sophisticated thanks to easy access to information on the Internet. Unlike in the past, today’s consumers are no longer beholden to sellers to provide information about a product/service. With the proliferation of Web 2.0, many of today’s consumers are pro-actively using the Internet to conduct research on the things that they are interested in and exchanging information with fellow buyers through various social media platforms, even if they continue to purchase offline. This represents tremendous opportunities for brands to use social media to raise brand awareness and to reach out to potential customers early in their purchase cycles. At a time when Facebook has already overtaken Google as the most popular site on the Internet, this means a larger share of voice and a greater influence on consumers’ purchase intent. As such, executed properly, social media can be a sizable source of new leads for these brands.
Leads Qualification: matching demand and supply efficiently
Social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter allows prospective customers to interact with a brand in a transparent and non-obligatory manner. Prospects can also interact with the company representatives and other customers without feeling intruded on or experience any pressure to buy. This forces brands to produce relevant content to engage prospects, helping them to make more informed purchase decisions in the process. Although this is a departure from the traditional sales tactics and may even result in a certain level of leakage, such an inherent lead qualification process will produce higher quality leads when passed down to the more expensive field sales reps. Furthermore, the goodwill accumulated in this manner will help generate more brand recognition and will eventually propel even more prospects to consider the products/services offered by these brands. One such example is the fast-growing and hugely successful Zappos, the US-based online shoe retailer whose Inside Sales team regularly answers odd-ball questions, such as the telephone numbers of nearby pizza joints.
Closure: maximizing sales productivity
Through proper filtering, social media will produce better quality leads that can then be passed on to the field sales reps for closure. This is because, after rounds of interaction and consideration, a prospective customer naturally has a much higher propensity to buy by the time he or she agrees to schedule a meeting with a field sales rep. The result is of course, a much quicker closure by the field sales rep. Inside Sales can provide individual field sales reps with the social media interactions that have already taken place to research and better understand the needs of potential customers prior to meeting up. The additional information will help the sales reps to provide needs-based consultation, rather having to resort to hard sales pushes. The net impact is greater efficiency in closing deals, a rise in overall sales productivity – and a happier customer who has actually been listened to.
For any social media sales strategy to be successful, however, the compensation structure must be properly aligned to elicit and reward the most desired behavior. For instance, it makes sense to provide a “low-base, high-variable” compensation package that is skewed towards rewarding the field sales reps based on the number of deals closed. On the other hand, the Inside Salesreps responsible for leads qualification probably require a compensation structure that has a heavier component on fixed income, supplemented by additional incentives that could include: the number of deals closed by the field team, the size of the deals closed, customer satisfaction level, or any other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as defined in the sales strategy.
Combining good sales management practices with the power of social media allow companies big and small to stand a chance to realize significant cost savings, through optimizing sales productivity at the leads generation, leads qualification and closure stages of the sales cycle. In addition to driving sales, progressive brands that also embrace social media for customer service will ultimately create more values for themselves through better brand recognition, higher customer satisfaction and engagement level, and eventually, larger profit.
Chuang Shin Wee is a product marketing manager at Standard Chartered Bank. He is passionate about using technology to drive business innovations. He recently built Singapore’s most followed banking channel on Twitter in 6 weeks, and organized an online recruitment drive, “World’s Coolest Intern” that attracted 1,194 applications from over 60 cities.
Keith Timimi is Chairman of digital agency Qais Consulting, that supported Shin Wee in the planning and execution of their social media strategy. Keith has spent the last 15 years developing digital strategies for leading brands across Asia and Europe.
The opinions expressed here are their own.
An original article by Keith Timimi, Chairman of VML Qais, for Economy Watch