How Social Media Influences Your Sales Cycle

"People buy from people they trust and they trust people they like." (Garrison Wynn), which means that sales are driven through personal connections. Therefore, a company's social media efforts support sales by driving authentic interactions with your audience that lead to an increase in the intent to buy and, ultimately, more sales in shorter periods of time. Today's consumers research products online, check reviews and decide based on blog posts and opinions from their peers and others who have used the products. While social consumers often use their network for validation, they sometimes discover new options with specific features to meet their needs. This leads to interaction with the business and the start of sales process.

You can influence the sales cycle through social media interaction and engagement by:

-          Getting referrals through personal networks 
-          Becoming a trusted adviser through Q&A forums and industry blogs
-          Participating in discussions of interest groups on LinkedIn
-          Publishing blog posts with valuable content to reinforce your branding

Marketers are embracing social media platforms to engage thematic groups and communities as the traditional "push" strategy of marketing evolves into "pull." From a study commissioned by Constant Contact, Kevin Casey notes in Facebook facts for SMBs that fans beget more fans. He reveals 56% are more likely to recommend a business of which they are a Facebook fan. Also, popularity produces sales—a whopping 51% are more likely to buy after becoming a fan. Therefore, it is important to know your target audience, understand the specific social media platforms and publish content that resonates with them to establish yours as a brand of trust and authority.

According to The Future of Selling by Ogilvy and Mather, 65% of the most successful salespeople believe social media is an integral part of their sales success. "Social selling" is growing as a method of building credibility and trust in a "relationship selling" matrix. Internet-savvy customers today create their own buying journeys that include many steps with no seller involvement. Customers may not necessarily start at step one. Plus, large part of the action takes place after the sales when the customer experiences the brand and shares his opinions with family and friends.

SMBs can use social media marketing effectively by following some simple steps:

Seek the attention of potential social customers: Use various social media platforms to target interest groups and promote your products. Use social media tools as a means to map specific interest groups and communities, identify centers of influence and engagement points, and, ultimately, engage in thematic groups/communities to gain the attention of potential buyers. The tools could include Facebook contests, pinning product shots and interesting brochures on Pinterest, initiating discussions around the products in LinkedIn groups and tweeting about sales promotions and campaigns on certain days.

  • Increase interest levels: Once potential buyers show their interest, provide useful and informative content in the form of blog posts, white papers and case studies that educate the potential consumers in their decision-making process. SMBs can also use this opportunity to showcase their position of trust among existing customers by sharing client testimonials.
  • Fast-track decision making: Supply store locations, offer instant chatting for detailed product information, share side-by-side comparisons to competing products, etc., and you can address buyers' questions quickly and speed up their decisions. An even more compelling tactic is to have independent testing of products by recognized authorities or third parties and publish the results in industry blogs and in SlideShare presentations on LinkedIn and YouTube.
  • Maintain the post-sales connection: Marketing does not end with the sales of the product; it goes far beyond that. Initiate discussions with users to get their reviews and opinions about the products, feedback on the brand and experiences during the sales process. A free-flowing interaction between clients and sellers in the form of product reviews and feedback establishes the brand as one that is open and views customer satisfaction as a critical measure of success. The only effort that SMB marketers need to do is to provide interesting platforms and discussion topics.

Are you using social media to propagate your brand and establish your customers as brand ambassadors to influence and build your sales funnel? If so, please share your experience.

If you have not yet explored using social media to impact the sales cycle, then it's time to tap into the potential: expose your products to a wider audience, use social networks to influence decisions, move prospects through the funnel and help them become customers faster.


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