Changes to the sales process and funnel management are well under way.  Consumers now rule what once was a sales-rep driven process. In the 2009 article “The Consumer  Decision Journey” McKinsey & Company point out that the familiar sales funnel selling has given way to a much more buyer driven process.  You can also find more discussion on this topic in the Harvard Business Review Article “Aligning With The Customer Decision Journey”.  Both are worthwhile reads.

Social CRM

In my earlier post Selling At The Speed of Trust I cover how sales managers should look at this new reality.    Now it’s time to talk more about what to do in your sales organization in response to these changes.    Here’s what most sales managers think the selling process looks like:

Traditional Sales Cycle with Border Corrected

It looks familiar – engage the prospect and drive it to close.  But this doesn’t work as well as it used to !  That’s because the power of social media combined with the level of participation of the average buyer has thrown a monkey wrench into traditional thinking. It’s no wonder that selling initiatives we used to rely on like cold-calling and phone prospecting, have become only marginally effective and have instead been replaced by Social CRM engagement.

Now, the real sales engagement looks like this:

New Sales Cycle with Border

The sales process that you are driving is just part of the prospect’s overall purchase decision picture.   Social media is most of the time a more influential and important source of information than the sales reps !  Why ?  Prospects feel social media is a better place to get pinions and ratings on your product or service than from you or your web site. IBM published  in a study “From Social Media to Social CRM”  showing that most companies miss this point entirely and continue think product information is a key to success – – which it is not !

Checklist for Using Social CRM and Time-to-Trust Prospecting

In the Time-t0-Trust Selling info graphic view of the sales process (above), it’s clear that two new things have to be addressed for effective selling. First, your companies Brand Experience has to be up to the task.    Second, the sales process has to be changed to take into account engaging with prospects at the speed they want to engage.

There are three things to do to modify your sales approach to match the new reality.

1. Use a Time-to-Trust Prospecting Model

Forget about timeline-based selling. I see a lot of sales organizations continuing to measure progress selling milestones against timelines to determine qualification level and funnel position.  With the prospect and buyer in control of the process now, this is no longer an accurate measuring stick.   (See Sales Prospecting at the Speed of Trust). And when the buyer is in control of the process it’s very hard to make them move on your selling schedule since a lot of the information they are looking for does not come from you.

2. Determine Your Prospect’s Level of Social Media Reliance

It’s easy to figure out if your prospect is going to make extensive use of social media.  A quick check of their LinkedIn profile, Google + profile, Facebook page, Klout score, and Twitter posts are an accurate indicator.  The more they are connected and the larger their “social graph” is, the harder it will be to control the sales process in a traditional way.

3. Create a Persistent  Personal Social Media Presence

It should be easy for your prospects and existing customers to get a hold of you 24/7. Why ?  Because in the new social selling, prospects are more apt to engage when they are on the verge of a buy decision and not before.  When they have reached the trust “Pivot Point” they will come to you. The best way to be available is to make sure you have personal profiles on ALL of the social media services, and have links in the profiles so prospects can call you or schedule an appointment with you instantly. Remember, you don’t have to be available instantly.  But providing the means for the prospect to let you know they are interested and want to talk captures and commits their interest – – a key milestone in the selling process.

4. Use Social Media as Part of Your Outreach and Selling

There’s a lot of debate around using social media communications – – messaging, twitter direct, texting etc. – – for selling.   But the fact is that prospects who are social media savvy are starting to ignore e-mail and voice phone calls in favor of social communications. It’s easy to be successful with this.   Think of your social media relationship with a prospect as reaching a Trust threshold.  If you try a social media outreach and get a response, you’ve reached a selling-trust threshold. Not getting a response probably means your prospect is still mining their social graph for information and comments about your products, and you should try again a little later.

Persistence Is The Key

The most important thing to remember is that social networking’s role in selling is still evolving. If you keep in mind that Social Trust level is the pacing item to the sales process, not how long it takes, you’ll start to see some positive results in your close rate.

Suggested Reading:

Brian Solis, The End of Business as Usual

Brian Solis, Engage


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