Why would any sales rep make the decision to be invisible to customers and prospects? To intentionally block a company from learning of you and your capabilities? Are you waiting for your company to provide training for you? Have you adapted the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach depicted above toward your online presence and your use of social tools?
I was asking myself these questions after completing a review of a technology sales company and their current competitive positioning. They wanted my opinion as to which areas of their sales strategy and tactics need to have a new focus. The organization is made of up nearly 100 outbound technology sales reps and their management team. Collectively, they are responsible for approximately 500 million in annual sales across North America.
Having weathered the turmoil over the past two years in reasonable shape, they are expecting 2011 to begin the uptick that we have all been hoping for. They are hoping that there is enough pent-up demand for their products that sales revenue will start coming in more quickly than in the past, and their sales cycle will shorten from that experienced in the past.
What I realized after digging into this project was that they were likely to fall short of their goal of shortening their sales cycle and increasing sales through new client acquisition, primarily for one glaring reason – The reps have virtually no presence online.
Here are some of the statistics from 66 of the sales reps in the study:
- Average # of LinkedIn connections per Sales Rep: 92.6
- Average # of LinkedIn connections per Sales Manager/leader: 307
- Average # of LinkedIn recommendations per Sales Rep: .86 (less than 1 per rep)
- Average # of Groups on LinkedIn: .6 (less than 1 per rep)
- Largest # of LinkedIn connections: 832
- Total # of Employees from this Company on LinkedIn: 165
- # of Twitter users: 11
- # of Blogs (suitable for business audience): 0
This is a seasoned sales team with several years of experience individually. They have been around the block and the industry. How do you compare?
My observation: They are invisible to a majority of their prospects.
The social web is not a fad. It is not going away, but rather has fundamentally changed, and will continue to change the way business is done. That includes Business to Business direct selling. By not acknowledging these changes, and continuing to use excuses for not actively participating in this social web, you are becoming less relevant and less visible to your prospects and customers.
These were some of the “reasons” offered for the lack of involvement by this team:
“I don’t want my competition to know what I am doing.”
“I am too busy to spend time on this stuff.”
” I value my privacy and don’t want to expose it online.”
” I don’t have anything to offer.”
” I have established customers, so it doesn’t matter.”
” I don’t know how to do it.”
Any of these sound familiar to you? Hopefully not, but the odds are that many of you reading this are using the same reasoning. You are making a big mistake.
Your customers are online, and they are active on the social sites. They are asking questions, sharing experiences and making recommendations. They are seeking help and knowledge. They are seeking providers for their needs. And they are not going to find you.
Your competition is visible, they are engaged and they are benefiting from your lack of involvement. They are answering questions that your customers are asking on Twitter or LinkedIn Groups. They are reading blogs that are providing the latest solutions and changes in their industry. They are following and interacting with each other on Q&A sites like Quora.com and Focus.com. They are garnering recommendations and sharing openly for others to see. They are building relationships and booking revenue while you are on the sideline. They are building their reputation as an expert in their field. They are building relationships. Why is that not driving you crazy?
If you want to shorten your sales cycle and improve your sales results, you need to put your excuses aside and get in the game. Your current success will be short-lived as your relationships run their course. Your current buyer will eventually go away and their replacement will not have any idea who you are.
Buyers are searching and reviewing your LinkedIn Profile every day. Look at your statistics on your LinkedIn home page-right hand side. It will tell you how many people have visited your profile. What are they seeing when they stop by? Based on the results referenced above, they will see someone with few connections, no recommendations, no interest or activity in their industry or yours, no photo and no real reason to buy from you. Especially if they are connected to others who are using these tools for what they are capable of – to help them buy what they need and not listen to a dozen sales pitches every day.
Example: If you are selling to healthcare, why are you not a member of the HIMSS Group on LinkedIn? This group enjoys a membership of almost 38,000 members, all interested in healthcare. (Hint: there is a group of almost 300 that belong to a sub-group titled HIMSS Senior IT Executives.) Here is a question that has been posed within this group in the last week:
“At HIMSS Orlando, I’m curious if HC providers are trending more toward accepting cloud storage for medical imaging?”
If you are a provider of this solution to healthcare, wouldn’t you want to weigh in with your thoughts on this?
If you want to take off your invisibility cloak, now is the time to engage. Invest in your future earning power now, before you become permanently erased from your industry.
David Brock wrote a thought provoking piece a few days ago about Sales People blogging ( he thinks it is a bad idea) and Koka Sexton, from The InsideView Blog responded with his own thoughts and a different perspective. It is worth the time to read both posts.
Am I off base? Am I blinded by my involvement in these services and in using these tools myself? Would you want to be competing against some of these sales reps? What do you think?
There is another aspect of social media that is of value to sales people…using it as a source for identifying trigger events. Dow Jones sales reps are uniquely adept at this. I have seen them key off a news release and call a CEO/CMO with a laser-guided message about how they could help. It has generated results. The rules for on-line communities apply for sales reps – listen first and over time begin to contribute. That’s a good way to put the toe in the water and see some results which spurs more commitment.
At our firm, we just launched our blog and everyone one of us is contributing posts. We made a company-wide commitment to drive our brand and build our individual credibility by posting our project insights.