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Selling to Today's All-Knowing Customer - 9/25/2012 -

Is social media making your sales team obsolete?

By Greg Ciotti

Maybe it's true that video killed the radio star, but has social media snuck up and killed the salesman behind our backs?

Jim Farley,vice president of global marketing and sales for Ford Motor Company, seems to think that on some level, social mediahas killed salespeople as we know them. Here's what he had to say recently in a Harvard Business Review article:

The role of the salesperson has changed dramatically over the 20-plus years I've been in the industry, and it has reached a tipping point…Technology has changed the process of customer education… Just consider how much a shopper can learn about a product (or brand) on their own, before they even speak to a salesperson. They can find information about a business on the Internet, examine products via video, and even read candid reviews about previous buyers' likes and dislikes.

Farley is pointing out something many marketers already know: The game is different these days because now organizations must be able to sell to customers who potentially know everything about their business. Today, many customers will go to a website, gather feedback from friends and acquaintances through social media, compare fees and prices via an online search, and contact you already incrediblyinformed. In fact, Farley would argue that the social web has hindered even the greatest salespeople in this regard:

In the past, highly skilled salespeople could sell mediocre cars. They served to prop up weak brands. That doesn't happen today.

The fact is, in survey after survey, customers are willing to spend more with organizations that provide excellent customer service. The correlation has remained positive: The more informed customers seem to get, the more emphasis they place on the buying experience.

And consider these statistics on the importance of brand loyalty to your newly informed customers:

The question, then, is this:What additional role must salespeople fill to sell to customers who seemingly know everything (and who aren't afraid to voice their opinion) about the brands they do business with?

In today's world, it seems as though the best salespeople are now a cross between a problem solver and a concierge. A great salesperson needs to deal with this newly informed audience by assisting customers not only in becoming informed about the benefits of your organization or its publications and products, but also on creating a personalized experience that eliminates the headaches of the typical buying process.

Sales people must now act as project managers who can help prevent mistakes and get customers to their desired end goal as smoothly as possible. Similarly, brands need to pay attention to the customer experience both during and after purchases. It's really a shift across all industries in favor of brands with great support, stress-free service, and a sales department that helps customers find what they're actuallylooking for.

So, has social media really made your sales team obsolete? No. Smart marketing and well-written copy are still as important as ever, and customer acquisition is still falling squarely on salespeople and marketers.

What social media (and the social web at large)has done is empowered customers to a degree that we've never seen before, and with this new power,priorities haveshiftedin favor of an incredible customer experience, which has been proven to be something that consumers are willing to pay more for.

When information is abundant and instantly accessible, finding an alternative to what you offer is easier than dealing with any hassles. With salesmen lacking the leverage that they had in years past, amemorableexperienceis one of the few things left that you have complete control over and that you can utilize to create loyal members and customers.

With these kinds of incentives, the idea that "customer service is the new marketing” is no longer a turn-of-phrase with too much hype: It's the reality.

Greg Ciotti is the content strategist at Help Scout, a help desk that makes email easier for teams.


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