Social media and the salesperson

salespersonWhen looking at all of the content around social media being published to the blogosphere everyday I can’t help but notice that much of it is centered around the organization or company.  What should the company do to increase involvement in social media? What role does the marketing department of a company play in leading social media efforts? The questions asked in this space seem endless and more will continue to be asked.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life involved in the sales profession, primarily on smaller sales teams without the backing of a marketing department.  In most cases the sales teams I’ve been involved with have acted like a team and worked together well, however, at the end of the day it is the efforts and smarts of the individual salesperson that is going to dictate their paycheck.  My more recent experience is with a larger sales team, first as an account executive and now as the team’s sales trainer. It is also my first experience having the support of a marketing department.  This experience got me thinking about how and when the individual salesperson should with engage the prospect, customer and client, whether there is the support of a marketing department or not.

In a perfect world there would be a synchronized set of events between sales and marketing in which marketing attracted inbound prospects that sales follows up on.  Both sales and marketing would use social media tools to help foster a stronger connection with the customer throughout the entire sales cycle. I’ve only seen a few examples of a system working in harmony like this.  What happens in most cases if a company is utilizing social media, it is typically the marketing department utilizing those tools.  Generated leads are then distributed to individual salespeople to move the sales process forward.  I see two potential inconsistencies happening at this point.

First, the connection with the prospect initiated through social media is lost because the salesperson isn’t engaging the prospect in that way.  Most salespeople leave this role to the marketing department and as a result, even though the prospect has shown a propensity to communicate through social media tools, the sales person is likely to not take full advantage of the relationship.

This brings up a more basic question – should a salesperson brand themselves outside of company sponsored marketing efforts?  If so, what does this look like?  Paul McCord recently posted his opinion on his blog and I agree with him to an extent.  Paul suggested that if a salesperson pays for their own marketing, they should take top billing over the company on marketing pieces.   The idea of personal branding for the salesperson is on the right track. However, I believe it would be a waste of time for the salesperson to spend time using traditional marketing methods mentioned in this post (i.e. – ad, the flier, the brochure, etc).

The salesperson would be much better off to engage the customer through some non-interruption based method such as social media or opt-in permission based marketing.  The salesperson has an opportunity to create real differentiation from their competitor by making a connection with the customer through the exchange of information and ideas that will be helpful to their customer, rather than trying to interrupt them with a message they think their customer wants to hear.

For those salespeople without the support of a marketing department, social media tools could be a great differentiator in attracting more qualified prospects and fostering a higher quality relationship.

The second challenge this situation creates centers around the fact that an inbound generated lead is likely to be more familiar with the company at the first point of salesperson contact.  This requires that the salesperson understand where the prospect is at in the sales process. In my experience, salespeople don’t spend enough time doing this and as a result try to present a solution before really having a solid understanding of the customer’s problem.  In addition, is the style of interaction by the salesperson congruent with the prospect’s desired way of doing business?  For example, an inbound generated lead is likely to be turned off very quickly by a high pressure sales person.

What do you think? Should the salesperson be proactive about engaging the customer through social media?

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