How to Improve Your B2B Sales Workflow with Social Media

In my last post I defined social intelligence as a new form of intelligence that delivers a much broader view of the prospect. I discussed how in-context access to this intelligence will significantly boost sales productivity, enabling more successful outreach and engagement with the socially-savvy Customer 2.0. In this post I will provide three tips for implementing intelligence into your sales workflow (more specifically, directly into your CRM) and will elaborate on the effectiveness and applicability of social selling as an integral part of a business’ Social CRM strategy.

Intelligence Tip #1: Listen before you talk
Customers have increasing ownership of the conversation, but Social CRM levels the playing field for businesses by empowering engagement with customers within their preferred channels.

Social selling technologies and methodologies allow sales reps to:

  • Monitor what is being said about and by the customer
  • Analyze the relevant conversations
  • Automatically associate the findings with existing customer records
  • Use these insights to guide customer engagements going forward.

For example, by monitoring the blog posts and/or tweets of a prospect, the sales professional will not only be informed about what matters to the prospect, but also get a glimpse into their personality and style. Rich with insights about the prospect’s urgent business needs and challenges, the sales professional can then engage the customer at the right time with the right message – either via the traditional email/phone channel, or perhaps even with a response to their blog post or tweet. Of course, there is a lot of noise out there and not a lot of time to “listen,” which makes the use of technology, to identify what’s relevant to your sales team, critically important.

Intelligence Tip #2: Find a reason to call
How do you find a good reason to call your prospect? Social CRM allows companies to aggregate both official and unofficial social information about customers and prospects without any effort from or distraction to sales reps. Relevant content from customer communities can be automatically pushed into a CRM platform, enriching static prospect data with social intelligence. Intelligent monitoring of social conversations enable sales organizations to gain visibility into potential sales triggers such as upcoming business expansions, management changes or concerns about existing vendors that would otherwise be not available through more traditional news sources.

If you’re a systems integrator, for instance, you might want to watch target companies for contract awards or planned implementations of products in your market. If you sell litigation support services, you may want to monitor for news related to SEC or FTC legal investigations. Of course, any unofficial chatter about how your prospect isn’t satisfied with a competitor’s product or service will also give a great reason to call to showcase your differentiation!

These insights may be the difference between losing a deal (or not even being aware of it in the first place!) to catching a lead in mid air. This in-context intelligence, presented within the CRM workflow, drives sales productivity and accelerates deal velocity.

Intelligence Tip #3: Power the customer community
Companies have a very difficult time standing on the sideline while others discuss their business (I speak from experience!). However, adding input or marketing propaganda into customer conversations can interrupt the conversation and cause customers not to share their opinions, or maybe even lash out at you for the sales-y pitch. For example, most LinkedIn and Google groups I engage in have a no sales pitch policy that is strictly enforced by the group leaders. And specifically because of this policy, there is a great deal of open dialogue between the members about companies, products, business trends as well as best practices.

Social CRM cultivates business and empowers the customer community by:

  • Allowing customers to openly discuss a product or company – whether this includes problems, compliments or general inquiries prior to purchasing
  • Uniting happy customers so that they can influence, help, and nurture each other
  • Connecting the business with unhappy customers, enabling rapid response to make things right vs. have issues spiral out of control and affect the opinions of the others in the community
  • Providing sentiment analysis on aggregated conversations that take place in the relevant communities – helping companies notice signals of readiness (pdf)
  • Notifying when conversations are hot for engagement, or cold for simply monitoring

What will your company do to easily tap into and make sense of this highly valuable social intelligence to accelerate the sales cycle? How will you leverage new social insights to deepen customer relationships and drive business success? Hopefully these three tips will set you on the right path.

B2B Social Selling Meets CRM

I recently wrote about how intelligence is different, and much more valuable, than data for the B2B sales professional. I described intelligence as going far beyond the basic facts and figures about companies, and creating a broader view of the prospect, which incorporates recent business events, social conversations and social relationships.

In other words, social intelligence.

What do B2B sales professionals need to boost their productivity? The answer: easy access to this social intelligence within their workflow, at the point of need and at the time they want to engage the prospect in a relevant conversation. In-context access will render social intelligence an empowering tool for sales teams, instead of the distraction that it can easily become.

Social Intelligence: It’s more than just CRM
Naturally, this is where one would expect CRM to come into play because it is intended as the ubiquitous technology infrastructure to facilitate customer-facing interactions. Unfortunately – and to the disappointment of many sales organizations – CRM hasn’t delivered on its promise of significant sales productivity gains, or on its ultimate promise of synchronizing the business process between two key stakeholders (the sales professional and their target buyer). Instead it has remained mostly in the ranks of workflow automation. This makes CRM useful for automating structured processes and reports for management, but not for enabling effective relationship building or customer engagement.

I believe social intelligence, integrated into the CRM workflow, has the opportunity to move CRM beyond its current limited application (and thus adoption) into a highly effective customer engagement platform, and in the process transform selling as we know it.

Social Selling: Enabling Customer 2.0 Engagement
Adopting this new model of social selling is not optional for businesses, rather a requirement if they want to meet the demands of a new breed of informed, socially-engaged customer who has taken control of the conversation. Integrated social intelligence can level the playing field for businesses by making it easy for sales professionals to listen to and participate in the conversion in a timely and relevant manner for successful customer engagements. Put simply, integrated social intelligence is an essential enabler for businesses in the quest to successfully engage Customer 2.0.

Powered in part by new methodology and in part by new technology, the usage of social intelligence by sales organization is one of the three primary use cases of what many are calling Social CRM (the other two being marketing and customer support). While there is much debate about the ultimate definition of this next generation approach to CRM, here are a couple of good ones that support my point:

Of course, the success of a Social CRM strategy for sales requires much more than access to social information about prospects. It requires a fundamentally different selling process. As Wim Rampen states in a post at CustomerThink, “Implementing social tools, and doing absolutely nothing differently than before, would not make it…a Social CRM [or Social Sales] strategy.” We now have access to vast new avenues to gather customer data and insights, but how the data is aggregated, transformed into intelligence and integrated into the sales workflow are the primary factors in determining the success of a sales organization “going social”.

So how exactly is social selling enabling a more successful outreach and engagement with the socially-savvy Customer 2.0? Next week, I will lay out three tips for implementing intelligence into your sales workflow, and will elaborate on the effectiveness and applicability of social selling as an integral part of a business’ Social CRM strategy.

Enabling B2B Social Selling with Social CRM

These days any conversation about CRM probably leads to the mentioning of social CRM. Throughout the past two years, there has been much healthy debate about what social CRM is, how it’s being deployed throughout the enterprise and what makes CRM a social thing. Indeed, this will be a major topic as the CRM Evolution Conference kicks off today in New York City. The definitions line up along the varying uses of this versatile platform. Social CRM actually means a lot of things to a lot of people: community management, customer support through social channels, and social sales and marketing – benefiting both B2C and B2B companies.

While this social evolution of CRM provides fodder for thought-provoking discussions for industry analysts and pundits, for the B2B sales professional specifically, what matters most is on-the-ground usage, and the fact that you now have access to an increasingly more social – and thus more intelligent – selling platform.

A Birdseye View of Social CRM in B2B Sales
Recently, we’ve talked about Customer 2.0 and discussed how the control of a company’s brand has transitioned from corporate marketing departments to customer-to-customer conversations taking place in social media. Customer 2.0 has abundant visibility into the companies they are considering doing business with and is well-informed, and naturally, they expect the sales reps who call upon them with to be the same.

As companies are becoming more aware of their customers’ increased activity in social networks, they are looking to create a virtuous cycle by first listening to the customer, distilling the relevant bits and then using these insights as keys to accelerating their customer engagements going forward. But given social intelligence about customers can be anywhere and everywhere, how can we efficiently monitor the vast social media landscape without adversely impacting sales productivity? How can we easily associate any new social insights we discover with what we already know about our target accounts to try to create that 360° view of the customer? Essentially, how do we enable this new, social selling?

This is where social CRM comes in and is essentially the business’ response to meet these emerging requirements of Customer 2.0. Social CRM can be defined as the connection of the social data about customers, wherever it may be, with existing customer records in a CRM system, to arm companies with new forms of customer intelligence. It is the evolution of CRM from a repository of static customer data to include dynamic social intelligence. Social CRM enables social selling by engaging the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment.

Enabling Social Selling
As our lives are socialized, so, too, have the business processes and platforms we use daily. Whether it’s through native deployments such as the recent salesforce.com Chatter, which allows real-time collaboration with coworkers, or through the myriad CRM applications being developed for monitoring, measuring, filtering,or using social activity in a CRM-relevant way (think social sales intelligence on your prospects from LinkedIn and Facebook, or measuring a swell in customer complaints on Twitter), CRM has been pushed across the social line.

So how exactly does social CRM enable social selling? Not surprisingly, it starts with monitoring the social conversation, wherever it may be happening. By listening before talking, sales organizations can gain new perspectives and insights into the customer that are otherwise not available through more traditional news sources. Armed with these new insights, sales people can engage their prospects in more timely and relevant conversations about how they can address their urgent business needs – and even find out about opportunities they weren’t aware of before.

However, social CRM has to cross two hurdles to deliver upon its promise of more successful engagement with Customer 2.0. First, given the preponderance of social activity, it needs to tackle the quantity versus quality problem by filtering out the noise. Then, it needs to make these golden nuggets readily usable by presenting the relevant social intelligence alongside the rest of the customer data within the CRM framework. By powering sales teams with relevant intelligence, directly within their workflow, and enabling them to engage the customers at a deep and personal level, social CRM make social selling a reality.

So, the 4 key steps to how social CRM enables social selling can be summarized as:

  1. Monitor the social conversions
  2. Filter out the noise to hone in on what’s relevant
  3. Map these relevant insights to existing customer records within CRM
  4. Provide value by engaging customer at the right time with the right message

Remember that the “social” in social CRM does not refer to social media – it is about social engagement to gain the trust of Customer 2.0 to build a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. On the sales-usage front of CRM, that is, after all, what social selling is all about!

Have you experienced any brush with social selling or social CRM? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories.

5 Steps for Selling to B2B Customer 2.0

We introduced you recently to Customer 2.0, the savvy, vocal and socially engaged buyer who favors online communications to discuss products, trends and personal issues with both peers and businesses–across multiple social channels. Sales teams and professionals are experiencing a new era of customer engagement – one with abundant visibility into the professional and personal lives of their prospects. There has been no better time for B2B sales professionals to join in the conversation and engage with prospects.

The inevitability of Customer 2.0 means that sales professionals must adapt their sales processes as rapidly and as often as the modern customer adapts and familiarizes with the online social setting.

Here are five simple steps you can put into place now, for near and long-term success in selling to Customer 2.0.

1. Determine your target audience
One of the key steps in social selling is realizing you have access to a lot more personalized data about your prospects than ever before. B2B sales professionals traditionally have had less luxury identifying potential customers via large demographic trends (as compared with B2C sales). Now, B2B sales professionals across all industries must shift from a shotgun approach to a rifle shot approach, focusing on the individual, segmenting prospects based on unique customer needs and interests. Leveraging social information emerges as the key to successfully building a customized and personalized database of your customers.

Action: Simple methods of identifying your target customers include searching social networks for keywords, demographics and interests that apply to individuals and companies most likely to use your product. Some of these new intelligence sources include LinkedIn groups, Twitter lists, Facebook profiles and blog “tag clouds.”

2. Identify their preferred social networks
Consider this the modern way of determining whether telemarketing, direct mail, print advertising or cold-calling is the proper fit. You might be thinking, “Most of these are things that marketing is in charge of doing.” And you’d be right. One key change happening is that all sales professionals are having to act more and more like marketers – and you’re on the front lines.

Online networks have a lower the cost-per-contact compared to these traditional methods, since time becomes the primary investment rather than marketing program dollars. Technologies are available to help expedite this process and identify your prospects’ social networks. But whether your process is automated or manual, locating where they communicate will streamline the process of gathering information and maintaining the most up-to-date prospect intelligence for your sales team.

Action: If the prospect is socially active on more than one network, they will likely include multiple links on their LinkedIn profile that will direct you to the platforms they prefer, including personal Twitter feeds, company profiles and even personal blogs.

3. Listen!
This is the most important component of selling to Customer 2.0. Put simply, what are they talking about? Your prospects are not just VPs of business development or directors of supply chain management – they are parents, siblings, sports fans and friends. Selling to Customer 2.0 requires learning about their personalities and preferences outside of their day job.

Unfortunately information is abundant and tracking the activity of dozens of leads is tedious. Hence, you need to leverage 2.0 technologies and processes to more efficiently stay abreast of Customer 2.0. Dennis McDonald noted, “When salespeople can pick and choose what information they want to see and subscribe to, they can use Web 2.0 tools to select the information that makes the most sense to them and the tasks at hand.”

Action: Consider implementing a technology that facilitates social media listening. Companies with social CRM capabilities can easily follow prospects on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

4. Monitor conversations, updates, complaints, preferences and shared relationships
While listening is an essential step to gaining personal insights about your prospects, keeping record of their business-related updates and discussions is what’s ultimately valuable for making the sale. Do they advocate a product or regularly discuss a specific topic? Look for clues about their company, personal transition, travel schedules and more. How is the state of their company compared to where it was a few months ago? Have they recently released funding news, new products, partnership or new hires? Alternatively, has their company made cut backs, received negative publicity or showed additional signs of financial instability?

Action: Sales intelligence technologies are an integral part of streamlining and organizing this data. Sales professionals and teams that find the most efficient way to monitor, track and update information about their prospects will ultimately find this organization of information (some of which can be accessed through automated technologies) to be the catalyst for driving more sales in less time.

5. Engage
As Jason Sadler from IWearYourShirt.comnoted, “Don’t mass email companies. Take the time to contact them individually, say something about their company or mention something you’ve seen them in.” In other words, spamming a department alias is likely to disappoint, but reaching out to individuals with personalized insight will likely result in a conversation.

Don’t forget that most B2B prospects and customers are not yet as socially engaged as B2C customers, so the sales person needs to be more proactive in engaging prospects on blogs, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn groups and other social conversation platforms.

Action: Engagement has evolved from cold calling as the only option, to bite-sized and frequent back and forth discussions between social peers that lead to trust (a sales asset) and familiarity. Keep this in mind as you determine how you plan to introduce yourself and your product. Be brief, reference the information you’ve gathered from their social networks and be confident knowing that you have more information about their business needs than the majority of sales professional pitching similar products and services.

B2B Social Media and the Customer Service Funnel

Many B2B companies understand the idea of the sales funnel and track their leads using a CRM system like Salesforce.com or a module integrated into their ERP system, but they are not using the same organized process to handle customer service. According to a May 2009 study, only 40% of companies stated that their employees have the tools to handle customer service. With the explosion of the use of social media for customer service in 2009, the landscape for B2B customer service has become more complicated, and needs structure that can account for a variety of incoming inquiries.

The original sales funnel features four segments as customers move through the funnel: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. While not a perfect model for the sales process, it made some sense, and has even be updated to the more practical segments of Leads, Visitors, Prospect, Customer. We can apply a similar model to the customer service process, except as potential customers more through the sales funnel, their numbers are reduced through qualification of one type or another. The customer service funnel metaphor is not about reducing the numbers, but about making sure all parts of a potentially disparate process wind up in the same place.

Incident
A business customer using your product or service discovers a problem, or a potential customer doing their research before a purchase has a question about it. Before the advent of social media channels and the acceptance of tweeting a problem, sometimes out of frustration, a customer would write a letter or call a customer service phone number. The toll-free phone call, or a call to an account manager, is still the most likely customer action to address a problem or ask a question, however, many customers are announcing these online. This may be addition to contacting the company, but sometimes the online request is the only option chosen.

Awareness
Your company may have dedicated resources to creating an inbound call center to handle both sales leads and customer service calls. If you company is smaller, or your customers have relationships with their account manager, the calls flow in that direction, never making it to the call center. And who in your organization is managing Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or industry online forums and monitoring social web mentions? Maybe marketing, communications, or even an outside firm.

The most important part of the process happens right here. You have to have a central tracking repository that links these events to the customer and no matter where the awareness happens, it needs to be entered into this system. While a CRM system is ideal for tracking these sort of cases, not all members of your social media team have access, and small companies may not be able to invest in these levels of solutions. At a minimum, enter the incident into customer notes in your database with a list of next steps and who is responsible for those steps.

Acknowledgment
In traditional customer service communications, there is no need for acknowledgment. There is no need to discuss written letters anymore for B2B customer service, and the acknowledgment of a phone call is to receive the information from the customer and respond with an answer or a time frame to respond with the answer. But on the social web where someone tosses a complaint or question out, the acknowledgment serves two purposes. The first is to let the customer know your company heard the cry for help. These tweets in the night are becoming more common. The second reason is so other people see your company has responded. Even if the response is requesting the customer follow you back so you send them a direct message, the public response is an important part of the process.

Resolution
The goal of any customer service program is to resolve customer issues, while not expending too many resources in the process. Many call center operations focus on reduction in call times rather than customer satisfaction. The public nature of customer service on the social web changes the nature of the customer relationship. A full resolution of customer issues needs to move higher up in the customer service process. The reach of an unhappy customer is now greater than ever. Some of these customer interactions become more costly as marketing staff and account managers get involved, so a clearly defined process and system for handing these back to customer service is important, as cost tracking is still relevant. After resolution of these issues where social media played a role, keep a record of successes for future presentation to management of the benefits of social media.

What are some changes you have seen in customer service not that social media opens up the company to public issues.

Facebook Changes Privacy Policies, Impacts B2B Marketing

Yesterday when logging in to Facebook, users were greeted with a box stating that their privacy settings were going to be updated.
facebook-b2b-privacy
The first paragraph is directed towards users and implies that Facebook is making things easier to manage with both a reduced set of controls and the ability to control individual posts and updates. But it is really the second paragraph that revels their true motives and is the part that helps B2B companies.

At the same time, we are helping everyone find and connect with each other by keeping some information – like your name and profile picture – publicly available.

As a user continues to click through the screens, Facebook provides its recommendations for how these settings should be configured. These recommendations encourage you to make family and relationships, work and education and all status updates and posts public and available to everyone. Does this make it easier for your friends and family to find you on Facebook? Sure it does. But it makes it much easier for B2B companies to find their customers, prospects, vendors and partners.

facebook-b2b-privacy2

Facebook is trying to manage both sides of their equation and serve their users who create profiles and provide Facebook with its huge valuation by constantly updating their status and checking their wall several times a day. The value of this data is what Facebook is counting on for their next phase of monetization and growth. The way that your B2B company can leverage that data is part of that plan. The success of B2B companies using social media is to connect people to each other to strengthen existing relationships and to forge new ones.

How does a company go about finding their existing connections on Facebook?
Currently searching for users on Facebook is very limited because many people’s privacy settings prevent information being shown to those that are not their friends. Facebook is encouraging users to allow access to more information, but isn’t really touting the benefits of this openness. The benefits are to B2B companies who can now more easily prospect on Facebook. Just because this data now may be available doesn’t mean that people want to be pitched on Facebook. You still need to find common ground and engage with prospects in the hopes that they will respond.

As more and more Facebook users make their status updates public, this information will be searchable both within Facebook and outside of it. In their continuing quest to improve search by incorporating more real time updates, Google announced earlier this week that they plan to index Facebook’s status updates in the same way they are leveraging Twitter’s real time updates.

Facebook Changed Your CRM System
With its move to open more data to the public, Facebook set the tone for the next generation of business data collection and analysis. We have talked before on Social Media B2B about the future of CRM systems and how they will get more social. Facebook helped this prediction become a reality. Along with YouTube and Flickr, Facebook is one of the largest resources for user generated content and, more importantly, the content is directly tied to people, not fake user names or closed accounts. Soon you will be integrating Facebook data into personal profiles in your CRM system and creating systems to analyze broad industry issues to help make important business decisions.

Make sure your employees understand the implications of these privacy changes. Plan for ways this newly opened firehouse of information could help solidify business relationships and influence organizational decision making.

Do you think Facebook has other motives behind these changes?

Video: Social Media CRM – Connecting Your Sales Force To The Social Web

Mike Schneider recently presented about Social CRM at the recent Social Media Business Forum Event in Durham, NC. At the event Jeff did an interview with Mike about Social CRM and its impact on B2B companies. We heard from many of you that you would like to see Mike actual presentation. Here it is!

Below is video of Mike’s presentation. The first minute the camera is getting set up, but after that it is on a tripod.

Mike has spent his career solving problems using technology with a focus on marketing and analytics. He is currently Vice President Director of Contributions (an analytics and emerging technology group) at Allen & Gerritsen. Follow him on Twitter twitter.com/SchneiderMike.

Video: @SchneiderMike Explains Social CRM in a B2B Context

While Mike Schneider was in North Carolina speaking at the Social Media Business Forum speaking about Social CRM, he took a few minutes to explain Social CRM to me. He describes is as encouraging a buyer-led conversation around your products and services, and providing a place, or community, for those conversations to happen.

Mike has spent his career solving problems using technology with a focus on marketing and analytics. He is currently Vice President Director of Contributions (an analytics and emerging technology group) at Allen & Gerritsen. Follow him on Twitter twitter.com/SchneiderMike.

Salesforce Gets More Social, What Does This Mean For The Future Of Social CRM?

Salesforce.com the maker of the popular web-based CRM system recently announced the support and integration of Twitter into its platform via its Force.com App exchange. Salesforce previously had already supported integration with Facebook and is moving fast to integrate with data from the social web. What does this announcement mean for the future of social CRM?

Social CRM currently is a moving target and really the term “social CRM” does not properly address the business issues and implications of the situation, but like the term “social media” it had to be adopted for conversation purposes. When it comes to CRM software many issues are becoming hot topics. When we talk about social CRM, I believe we are really talking about the next generation of CRM software, but more importantly the next generation of sales and engagement.

The correct CRM system should amplify the skills of great sales people. The problem with today’s CRM solutions, stems from the wide variety of vendors and custom developed systems. Many companies have invested a great deal of time and money developing their own proprietary CRM system. The issue with this is scale.

Any CRM system of the future needs to be able to:

1. Be accessed from any computer or mobile device
2. Needs to integrate with real-time data provided through online platforms, for which Facebook and Twitter are only the beginning.
3. Must facilitate online, phone or in-person engagement from within the platform.
4. Needs to be backed with support to manage and update databases to help ensure the most accurate information

Cloud storage and computing can help address some of these problems, but the greater issue is that businesses need to be focused on the future needs of their CRM system. The data provide by any CRM system truly makes an impact when it provides relevance between a customer and a business. To ignore important sources of relevant data and to not scale a system for future use, means running the risk of losing touch with customers.

The CRM + Social Media Problem

“Relationships” is the one word we all hear when talking to B2B sales driven organizations. To the sales team and executives relationships are critical to closing a sale. For this reason most companies use some type of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. CRM software allows organizations to have dynamic records of their customers complete with contact information, business information, notes, etc. CRM data is priceless to many companies, but as the social web develops incorporating user generated content is critical to improving customer relationships.

Social media as moved past a marketing and communications function to become a function important to all aspects of business. I have long thought that integrating data from the social web into CRM systems will be a key opportunity for improving B2B relationships and sales. With the increase in popularity of real-time social applications like Twitter and FriendFeed the issue takes even greater importance. This social data will begin to change the design and features of CRM software and the demand for customized real-time information will become a “need” not a “want” for B2B sales forces.

Though this issue is often under discussed, I want to give create to Chris Brogan and the team at Radian6 for putting together a Rockstars of Social CRM event and then sharing the video on the web for all of us to learn from. The video is below and contains some great information on social CRM, you may want to skip the first minute or two if you already know about Radian6 and their SalesForce.com integration.