Making the sale before you’ve met the client – why your social presence matters.

I’ve been daydreaming about replacing my home theatre speakers, since our ageing amplifier died. The sleek, silver Sony box was impressive in its day but that was over 18 years ago. Now we’ve got all the wireless and internet connected things, I’m spoilt for choice. I’ve done some online research but I’m not a detailed, melancholic personality type. An instore demonstration of the Bose and Sonos systems has me convinced that Sonos is the way to go. But I’m still unsure about handing over that amount of money right now for some nicer sounds. Ultimately, my purchasing transaction is likely to be handled by someone in a retail store – hopefully someone who treats us better than the last guy we dealt with.

There are two lessons to come out of this story. The second (that I won’t cover here) is how to treat your prospective customer with respect. The first lesson starts before I’ve even stepped foot in the door and that’s related to your online presence.

The Internet changed our pre-buying behaviour.

It’s no secret that shoppers research purchases online. Without any stats, I’d guess that the bigger the price tag, the more online research they do. Brands may think that their challenge is to have a nice website, with some 5 star product reviews and great SEO. That might have worked 5 years ago.

Today, I’m also checking out your social media channels. I want to know if you are engaging with your customer base or are simply posting any discount deals. I want to see how your twitter account responds to support requests. In short, I want to know the personality of your brand, because that indicates to me what you think of your customers. Are they are community of fans with shared interests, or are they purely an income source? You might think that your brand lives all the corporate values of a great customer experience, but if your social presence doesn’t show it then how am I supposed to differentiate you from any other brand?

Searching for services is an even bigger deal, especially when they are business to business (B2B) services. You used to look at a website, make a call or send an email, then get in a meeting room with a potential vendor. If the website was particularly “vanilla” (eg list of bullet points), then the soul I was meeting had to get me to know, like and trust them if I was to ever engage with their company. If more than one business offers the same service, buyers look for differentiators. Often, price is that differentiator, because you’ve given us nothing else to make you stand out.

The internet and social media gives you an amazing, low cost platform for letting your people stand out. It opens up the opportunity for your team to become known as experts, liked for their engagement and trusted as a source of truth. Great online content, whether it’s blogs or tweets or facebook posts or all of the above, build your brand’s personality and kill the awkwardness of a first time in person meeting. Your prospective buyers will break down that “know, like and trust” barrier before they even call you.

So why aren’t more businesses using it?

Sounds simple. In reality, a tiny percentage of businesses are making the most of this social selling approach. If creating content sounds too hard and too time consuming, here are some tips:

Connect to your own trusted sources – You don’t have to write every post from scratch. In this world of information overload, people will appreciate seeing the up-to-date snippets that you have shared of retweeted. Find your trusted content sources, skim read email daily updates or your own twitter feed and share the top things that you think are relevant to your audience. IF you have a little more time (or spare characters) add your opinion of write up something as a blog post. Whether you’re into healthcare, IoT, retail or startups, plug into the news sources of what’s happening in your industry or area of interest.

Jump into the conversation – Some of the best connections I’ve made have been through showing an interest in what someone else has posted. When LinkedIn shows you that a connection has commented on something, add your own thoughts too if that’s relevant. Share content from LinkedIn Pulse and add why you thought it was relevant or your personal experience on the topic. Search facebook and twitter for public posts and hashtags and engage with people talking about your interests. Don’t try and fake this – the goal is to add value, show a different perspective or ask a deeper question. This is not about fake small talk at a social event, it’s about being an interesting person.

Show people where you communicate – Build a list of your online presence and include it in your communication platforms. Have your twitter name on your LinkedIn profile. Add your Instagram account to your Twitter profile. And add all of your public profiles to your email signature.

Be recognisable – A professional headshot photo is really worth investing in. If your team will be representing your brand, get a photographer into the office for a session. Use the same photo on twitter, your blog posts and on LinkedIn. Humans connect to faces and build memorability with people they’ve seen. When someone see you at an event and feels like they know you from somewhere, it could even be from your online picture. It makes you recognisable and more approachable. At some events I even make a point of wearing the same blue top that’s in my profile picture.

Remember, the goal is not to play a social media game to increase your Klout score.

Instead, you have a chance to show the world what you think about your industry, what gets your excited about your job and why you can be trusted. If you have a great social presence, you’ll make it easier for prospective customers to get to know you – and you’ll make some amazing industry contacts in the process … all for a pretty low investment.

By breaking the ice online by showing your personality and passion, you’re already part-way through making the sale before you customer walks through your door.

P.S This is not paid advice from a social media consultant. I’ve shared this because it has worked in my own business and opened up some amazing opportunities – and it’s honestly not that hard to do, even when you are a small business.

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