Social networking - online community tools that connect people of similar interests - allows marketing and sales departments to leverage the contacts and customer information of other companies. But social networks are more than a resource to define and expand the customer base; they are tools through which sales teams can work to enhance and complement product lines. Moreover, leveraging CRM with social networks is a powerful strategy to build more contacts and improve the sales process.
Social networking assists in building your company's business community. It is based on the principle of degrees of separation between you and the person or persons who can help you advance your enterprise in the direction best suited to your customer base. Two ways in which social networks can help your sales team are gaining access to a larger customer base and improving customer satisfaction.
It's not what you know, it's who you know. That's even more true for a sales organization. Aside from including the obvious customer database-type information that salespeople use, social networking allows salespeople to interface with other reps in order to access an expanded customer base and fill the needs of those customers. In other words, it's the ultimate referral tool. Networking tools allow searches by industry, by specific interest or by other demographics that are important to your enterprise. Social networking expands the possible number of contacts exponentially, enhancing opportunities for successful selling.
Social networking is also useful for building relationships because it offers an opportunity to reciprocate tips and leads with others. Add in the personal touch of noting important dates such as birthdays, anniversaries, and you have built a true community.
Security may be an issue for some businesses. One of the advantages of networking software is that it can be set up so that the owner of contact information can be anonymous and can keep his or her sources private as long as desired. A social network can be as exclusive of a club as you want it to be.
Sales reps need to establish authenticity and honesty. Advertising only takes you so far. Grassroots opportunities provided by blogs or sites such as LinkedIn and Plaxo give you the opportunity to promote the virtues of your company in a casual, conversational setting, while at the same time mining information about public opinion, new products and the needs of your customer base. Often these sites have experts who can answer technical questions or give instruction to people with less experience. This is a perfect opportunity to bring forth information about your product or service without giving a sales pitch. You can create demand and give credibility to your company's product. Social networking creates buzz — the foundation of a growing enterprise. You can give customers a chance to advocate ways to make a product or service more viable. Information retrieved from customers on networking sites provides better insight than focus groups or surveys to determine the usability and desirability of your business's wares. Innovation becomes a team effort. Social networking can be a mind-meld with your company's target audience.
CRM software already provides Web services, so social networking is an easy next step. Going a step further, specialized software will enable you to create your own network so that you can explore and define relationships, providing a greater level of control than the ready-made sites do. Social networking is an opportunity to mine and influence public opinion.
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