Business communication involves more than just sales, but sales is the lifeblood of business, so it deserves a bit of special attention.
You may have read that cold calling is dead. That’s what headlines will tell you on many sites across the web. You probably also heard that cold calling is still strong and delivering revenue. It’s not as simple as that. Both are partially true.
That reality is that some aspects of cold calling are as dead as the dial tone. At the same time, connecting with people over the phone is more powerful than ever as a tool with many applications in business communication.
Social selling vs. the cold call
There may be no symbols as starkly contrasted in the press as the new “social selling” brand of inbound sales strategies and the traditional “cold calling” brand of hard sales techniques.
What growing companies really need is to put aside either/or thinking for a customized blend of these approaches, with ample experimentation to find out what works.
Let’s start out with a brief definition of what social selling really means.
Although social networks are at the foundation of this strategy, the true emphasis is on attracting inbound interest and personal referrals. Instead of trying to maximize the number of new people contacted, social sellers are trying to maximize trust with their connections.
Don’t think of this as a passive strategy.
Social sellers who post the best revenues are those who perform daily tasks such as:
- Searching for important industry news to share
- Promoting company blogs within their own personal networks
- Researching leads on LinkedIn
- Introducing themselves to leads who have shown an interest
- Evaluating metrics on blogs with the most likes, shares, comments, etc.
- Expanding their professional networks
- Improving their personal branding
The end goal of business communication
As you can see, the basics of cold calling are still there, buried inside tasks like introductions to leads and expanding networks. The main difference is that the goal of cold calling is to contact as many people as quickly as possible while social selling is all about building trust and letting networking effects spread the word.
Trust is more important than speed today due to the way that access to information has changed. It isn’t a numbers game in the same way. You still want to maximize your efforts, but you’re growing a network rather than burning through a list. You don’t want to alienate people who could be customers, influencers, or connections.
The buyer wins
Access to information has changed the power dynamic between seller and buyer. In the old world, sales was the keeper of information. They told people what an item was, what problems it solved and how much it cost. Cold calling was about speed because you had to contact potential buyers before the competition reached them.
The internet swept away that world.
Now potential customers do most of the research themselves. They can see everything online instantly, looking into all the competitors on their own schedule, comparing specs and shopping for prices.
Forrester estimated that on average buyers are 57% of the way to making a purchase decision before they contact sales. There is an important caveat, though: This stat is just an aggregate average. The actual importance of the sales person as a source of information varies greatly from industry to industry, region to region.
The takeaway: Know your customer’s habits and don’t make decisions based on general averages.
Knowing what your customer knows will help you position yourself more thoughtfully, and to deliver meaningful information that can enrich their journey. Here’s another statistic you need to know but be careful about applying: 74% of consumers turn to social networks for advice before they make a purchase.That doesn’t mean taking old style sales onto a social platform will work. It points again to the significance of trust and networks.
It’s very important to have a presence on social media, but cold call style selling will play as intrusive there.
Initally, it’s not about conversions but conversations.
Social selling and cold calling are the same in that they turn strangers into contacts and contacts into connections. It changes the conversation from why they should buy a particular item, to how they can fix things in their lives that are seriously annoying.
In the old world of cold calling, it made sense to get off the phone as soon as possible if the person on the other end didn’t have purchase authority or wasn’t in the market. In social selling, those are indications that they may be ready to make a purchase in the future or exert influence over the person who can.
Social selling is seeding while cold calling is reaping.
Here are four actions you can take today to weave them together.
1. Set aside time for pre-call research
Respect the time of the person you are calling or connecting with. Business communications should be short and productive. To make sure they are, become a detective. Social sellers take some time every day or once a week to gather a list of names for new prospects who liked/ shared/ made comments on company blogs or industry stories related to the company’s value proposition. Then they spend a few minutes per person researching the last news and upcoming changes in the industry.
Many prospects will be in the same or similar industries, so the time spent pays off many times over. The results of this investigation can open up lines of dialog and spike conversion rates. Best sources of info: Company “About us” pages, Twitter hashtags on industry terms, LinkedIn groups.
2. Listen more than you talk
Unlike the cold calls of the past, social introductions are not about closing. The phone can be one tool to connect after someone has shown interest. The point is to practice active listening. Listen for something you can do that will make their life easier. Establish your credibility and build trust.
You may end the conversation with a promise to send them a whitepaper, a link to a free service or an introduction to someone in your network. In the old cold calling world, gatekeepers were merely obstacles to leap over. In the new world of social selling, gatekeepers become connections to cultivate. Think about how to help the gatekeeper win, and you’ve won an important ally.
3. Expand the connection beyond the original channel
Real people exist in more than one network. As part of your pre-call research, you should find out what other networks they are on – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. Bring up topics that you found on a different networks as an entry to connecting with them there as well.
The more you connect, the stronger the trust you build. Don’t be in a hurry to toss aside someone who isn’t your ideal customer, either. Networks aren’t fixed. They are constantly shifting as people change their positions. You can always warm up or cool down a connection, but it’s hard to reconnect once you’ve severed ties.
4. Schedule your sales pitches
Because of the new social nature of selling, catching someone unaware isn’t very effective. When you do capture attention, you want to build trust. A phone call can help establish your credibility and build your brand.
Voice communication conveys sincerity, helps establish context, and creates social bonds. This makes it the ideal medium for sales. Studies have shown that empathy becomes possible during voice communication in a way that just can’t happen in a text or chat. Powerful chemical reactions occur in the brain when we speak to one another, making us vulnerable but also powerful.
Since voice communication is so powerful, use it wisely. Don’t surprise someone with a sales call out of the blue, but get permission to call. Ideally, you should have them call you, giving them the lead. Schedule a time to meet so you can be sure to have their attention—and their consent. The phone is an effective tool that is most useful when the buyer is empowered by it. Use data rather than emotional appeals, and have a conversation rather than delivering a scripted message.
At the same time, remember that a phone call is another channel, and that the content you deliver should have value, be meaningful, accurate and relevant.
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