The buying process has changed—and customer advocacy plays a bigger role in digitally connected sales.
by Jill Rowley,October 2013
Modern sales professionals aren’t actually sellers. They are businesspeople who provide insight to help influence what people buy.
This is because the buying process has changed with the evolution of the Internet and the buyer is well informed long before he or she meets a salesperson. Today’s buyers start their buying decisions by searching for online reviews, watching product demonstrations, reading customer testimonials, and asking people in their social networks for their opinion.
Buyers doing their own “pre-sales” diminishes the traditional role of the salesperson, who used to be the gateway to information about a company’s products. This is no longer the case. Buyers have unlimited access to real-time information about a company and its products, competitors, customers, industry experts, and influencers.
You may be able to look a customer in the eye and tell them you can deliver, but having a customer peer or external opinion vouch for you can make a much more compelling sell.
In this environment, one of the new roles a sales person can play is to cultivate and promote customer and expert advocacy within the sales process. You may be able to look a customer in the eye and tell them you can deliver, but having a customer peer or external opinion vouch for you can make a much more compelling sell. And it’s right that cultivating customer advocacy should live within the sales organization: according to research from the Corporate Executive Board, 53 percent of a customer’s advocacy to your company is a result of their sales experience.
Here are five strategies that sales professionals in any company can use to incorporate customer advocacy into the sales process.
Leverage the power of your people. Your customers, employees, and partners are people buyers trust. Have them be the voice of your brand and your company. Encourage advocacy from customers so they can contribute their positive experience with your company, brand, and products in their social networks. Share the unedited voices and personalities of your employees. Asking your partners to get involved in the conversation as well can be mutually beneficial.
Cultivate future advocates. Sales people own their relationships with customers, partners, third-party thought leaders, and analysts—and these relationships have never been more important. Again, these are the people your buyers trust. So when a sales person initiates a relationship with a potential buyer, they need to replace the term “prospect” with the term “future advocate.” And sales needs to keep this new relationship in mind at every stage in the buyer’s buying process — working to ensure that once the sale closes, the new customer will be a willing proxy for the sales team.
Be aware and responsive. The socially-enabled seller needs to be aware and responsive to customer needs and opinion—both in the sales engagement and in public forums—to build new advocates as part of the sales process. Sales leaders need to listen to direct feedback from their accounts to identify potential pain points and trends before they emerge. This will help the sales team anticipate the needs of the customer and build the kind of goodwill that is the foundation of future advocacy.
Sales people also need to monitor what buyers are saying in social networks to get unfiltered insight into their customers’ experience with the sales organization. And if the feedback is negative—in either direct or indirect interactions—the sales team must respond to the customer’s concern or risk losing the customer as a future advocate (and client).
Use content marketing. Content is a major pillar in a successful social selling framework and can play a role in creating future advocates. Read what your buyers read, and share that content across your social networks to let buyers know they are a part of your conversations. Also, not every interaction with your advocate network needs to be live or face-to-face. Understand the role marketing plays in the buying process and harness your advocates’ opinions and insights in the form of compelling content. Providing this material to future advocates at the right stage of the buying process can be the difference between a failure and a win.
Jill Rowley leads Social Selling Evangelism & Enablement at Oracle.
According to research from the Aberdeen Group Social Selling: Leveraging the Power of User-Generated Content to Optimize Sales Results, sales professionals who use social selling are 50 percent more likely to meet or exceed their sales quotas. Social selling is technology-enabled networking. Use social networks to find, listen, relate, connect, engage, and amplify your buyers and their sphere of influence. There are many resources available to enable you and your sales team to become social sellers. Use them to build your network of sales advocates. The first step is to educate your sales force on the value advocates can play in helping your team hit their quotas.