Roy Chitwood Article    

While technology today is more sophisticated than ever, selling remains the same - you've got to find people to sell and sell the people you find. For sales people who are already using cold calling, email and newsletters as part of their marketing efforts, increasing their presence on social media can help generate leads, improve contact with existing customers and break the ice with new prospects.   Prospecting is a cornerstone of selling, yet it's also one of the biggest challenges salespeople face.

Many sales people dislike it, making it their lowest priority, while others avoid it altogether.   Simply put: If you can't prospect, you can't sell. Making this connection with people is vital to sales success.

If you don't have any prospects, you aren't going to have any customers.   The first rule of prospecting is figuring out where your potential customers are. Since nearly everyone today can be found on some form of social networking, it's logical for sales people to establish a presence there. Social media can greatly improve a salesperson's odds of making a sale by connecting her with a large number of people she might not otherwise have reached.  

Not a replacement  

Connecting with prospects on a social network doesn't mean that salespeople can abandon all other prospecting activities, however. A salesperson's social network may contain a small handful of viable prospects - and a deluge of "suspects," unqualified leads that will never result in a sale. Reliance on a Facebook post or a tweet to take the place of more proven prospecting practices such as cold calling is a recipe for disaster. This is why it's critical that salespeople continue all of their current prospecting activities.  

The use of social media, in all its various forms, is a powerful tool to add to the salesperson's arsenal, but it requires many such tools to build a solid, lasting sale.   The great thing about social media is that it fits so well within an effective sales methodology. In the Track Selling System, it works with the first step: Approach, where the salesperson introduces himself, gets to know the prospect and establishes rapport.   Creating a presence on sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook provides an opportunity for salespeople to introduce themselves to prospects and is a good way to help them build excitement about their product or service. There's also an opportunity for salespeople to interact with their prospects and current customers and for those individuals to interact with each other.

This can be a boon for salespeople, since the more they get people talking, the more they'll learn about what they need.   Relationships on a social network should be handled with professionalism. People buy from people they like, so it's important to be as likable as possible.   It's unrealistic, however, for a salesperson to expect that using social media will guarantee sales. At its core, social media is a venue for building relationships.   "I tell clients to think of Twitter and other forms of social media as a cocktail party," says Angela Daffron of Daffron Marketing. "You don't use a hard sell approach at a cocktail party. You talk and get to know people while allowing them to get to know you. You give back by LISTENING!"  

The time crunch  

Many busy salespeople feel they don't have time to use social media. Smart salespeople, however, can take advantage of social media by becoming informed and using their time efficiently.   With a bit of research, a salesperson can educate himself about relevant keywords to include in posts so they will pop up on search engines. Well-placed keywords in a single post can drive traffic from multiple search engines right to the salesperson's blog or website. Salespeople who focus on topics that are important to their prospects will get more mileage out of their posts because readers are more likely to share that content.  

Salespeople should understand that while their community is always looking for fresh ideas, it isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel. Repurposing content from their blog or current newsletter, for example, is a great way to create solid, well-written posts while not having to do much more than copying and pasting.   "Salespeople who are the most productive with lead generation through social media make a consistent effort to participate on a frequent basis," says Lee Odden in "How Should Salespeople use Social Media?" "They'll set up a recurring reminder in Outlook to spend 15 minutes each morning to ask and answer questions and collect, aggregate and share useful links." Odden suggests that spending a consistent amount of time on social media activity over a period of several days makes the task of prospecting reasonable and productive.  

Be an expert  

Prospects may dislike the hard sell, but they love a knowledgeable expert. Social media offers the opportunity for salespeople to position themselves as thought leaders sharing useful and credible information with their network. Whether the salesperson shares brief nuggets of expert advice on Twitter or photos, graphics and other food for thought on Facebook, internet communities crave helpful, timely information.   Expert information doesn't always have to come from the salesperson. Using a tool like Google Alerts will bring information on topics that interest prospects right to the salesperson's inbox.

This keeps a wealth of information coming in and makes it easy to share links to articles and blogs.   Because most social media offer limited opportunity to relay in-depth information, a salesperson may want to establish a blog on his (or his company's) website and provide a link to it. That way he has room to share more lengthy information, and he can include a link in a short post to drive traffic directly to his website.   Social media can help with the most crucial step of the sales process - the approach. It can make prospecting easier and help salespeople build relationships with individuals they might never have otherwise reached. While it can never replace the tried-and-true tools of a solid prospecting practice, the use of social media can help sales people establish themselves as experts, share helpful information with clients and prospects and build relationships that can lead to greater sales success.    

Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.