A well-developed sales pipeline is a key component of any well managed sales management system. When properly utilized, the tool is an invaluable resource in measuring the number of quality leads in the system, the true number and dollar value of prospects versus suspects, the number of proposals submitted, the number of verbal commitments and the number and dollar value of signed deals. It is extremely useful in evaluating the effectiveness of individual sales reps and of the sales team as a whole.
As the utility of social media becomes well understood, skilled practitioners of sales management systems are beginning to take advantage of its value. Social media can play a key role in every facet of sales pipeline management.
Individuals and companies that are active social media participants are likely to generate leads, some anonymous, from individuals who visit your web site, participate in a LinkedIn group, respond to a question on LinkedIn or who follow your tweets. The key is to set a plan in motion to provide quality thought leadership on a consistent basis, to make useful white papers and other material available “free of charge” and to create a process of generating and identifying quality sales leads.
Turning Suspects into Prospects
As suspects appear, this should trigger a well-defined process to convert these suspects into prospects. This must be done with skill and finesse and not in a crass direct sales approach. With a minimal amount of work, you can find the individual’s twitter address and LinkedIn groups. This will tell you the individual’s interests and point of view on specific issues. You can follow the person’s discussions with others and get a sense of buying intent and motives.
Armed with this information, you can engage the suspect in a dialogue on the topic of mutual interest and steer the conversation in a meaningful direction or back off if there does not appear to be a fit between the needs of the individual and your service offerings. Qualified prospects can then be targeted with a multi-media strategy.
Keep in mind that before the advent of social media, there was no way to “flush out” and identify these potential prospects. Effective management of these opportunities can help build a more robust sales pipeline. Failing to employ social media in the sales process leaves your company vulnerable to competitors that are savvier in this area.
Sales Opportunity Management
When a lead is qualified, social media can then be effectively employed to move the lead through the sales pipeline. To take the prospect across the “finish line”, there is a need to strengthen your personal and business relationship with him or her. This can be done in several ways. It is important to look for signs of “sales readiness” of “sales anxiousness”. Some people come online and need help immediately. In the transportation industry, you see customers that have freight to move immediately. This demands quick action. To enhance the odds of success, there is value in alerting other members of your team and in trying to arrange a face-to-face visit with the prospect.
Once you establish some level of rapport, one method of relationship building is to invite them to join your LinkedIn network. For many, but not all people, this sends a message that you are welcoming them into your inner circle of colleagues. If you run your own LinkedIn group, you can send them an invitation to join this as well.
Build Customer Engagement and Loyalty
Those of us who have been in sales a long time know that the time of the first/second purchase decision is a critical one. The prospect has crossed the line and become a customer. The individual will be comparing your company against the one that he or she just left. A few mishaps can send the customer running back to his former vendor.
Therefore customer engagement becomes very important, particularly at this stage. Certainly it is essential to monitor your new customer’s comments on social media. Does he or she give any hint of satisfaction or disappointment? Careful nurturing on a personal and social media basis can help take these relationships to a new level. As satisfaction turns to loyalty, this can be affirmed by obtaining a LinkedIn recommendation (which may leave the customer vulnerable to competitor poaching). Over time, if the business relationship becomes a personal relationship, he or she may warrant an invitation to become your “friend” on Facebook.
The use of Social Media in sales pipeline management is still a “work in progress”. However, the potential is very apparent. Laggards run the risk of leaving excellent sales opportunities available to their competitors that are more advanced in social media utilization.