These days we all use some form of social networking. How delightful to go onto LinkedIn and find colleagues from Europe who might have interest in a program with me for when I travel across the pond – colleagues that know me well enough through my various online profiles to be eager to dialogue with me, discover ways to partner, or just chat about places to stay. And the use and quality of Skype has made it all as simple and cheap as calling a friend in a different city.
With automatic trust built in -- we're sort of family once we are connected -- our conversations seem to flow smoothly: We've used Facebook, the net, and Twitter to discover who the other is, have determined whether and how we want to connect, what we can offer each other, and how to prepare. An off-handed comment about the person's upcoming wedding, or a congratulatory mention of the person's new business venture compounds the trust.
Gone are the days of cold calling, running around the country to network, and speaking at events for free just to collect business cards. I bet some folks out there don't even remember when those were the only ways to get leads, other than the phone book.
So why aren't we closing more?
Not only are we not closing more, but we're closing less.
What is going on?
What's going on is that our relationships, communication, trust, and friendliness are not helping others reach the sorts of decisions necessary to close a deal.
Change, systems, and buy-in
Before we look at what's happening, let's change the discussion for a moment to look at what needs to happen for any purchase to occur.
In order for someone to buy something other than a small personal item, there are several steps that must take place to get the necessary buy-in to move forward. The appropriate buy-in must be acquired from the right people and groups; the rules must be changed to allow for a new set of givens -- vendors and business partners must agree, and job descriptions must match up with the new jobs.
We tend to forget that all purchases are change management problems. And, because a problem is not an isolated event and has been maintained by the people, policies, rules, and politics of the existent environment, there are systemic things that touch the solution that would be affected if a new solution were to enter.
So a new piece of software would seriously affect users, techies, internal consultants, and trainers; training for one group would affect all of the people who touch that group.
And systems prefer to maintain the status quo, even if it means maintaining failure. After all, it has been good enough until now, and everything has bought-in to maintaining it as it is. In fact, our buyers would rather maintain their status quo regardless of what it is costing them, and regardless of the efficacy of our solution; no matter how much they will save with a new solution, it costs more overall to bring in something new.
Remember: If the buyers felt pain, or were ready to change, they would have done so already.
So until -- or unless -- the status quo will accept the addition of something new, and has the capability to manage in such a way that an addition will not create too much unregulated disruption, it will do nothing.
What it takes to close a deal
Currently, our relationships through social networking haven't included the agenda to help the other recognize and manage the different sorts of buy-in necessary to change. But that doesn't mean we can't include that.
I was at a client site recently listening in on a sales call with a prospect who my client had been chatting with for months. It was a lovely call. Laughter, in-jokes, obvious rapport. They were introduced on LinkedIn and tweeted each other daily. Yet, nothing was going anywhere. I wrote a note in front of him, which he repeated:
"We've been chatting for a while now. And the more I get to know you, the more I see the possibility of our working together somehow. What would you need to know about my solution to know if it would fit, and if your colleagues would be willing to consider adding something new to what they are already doing so well?"
The conversation shifted. The man was happy to answer:
"We're starting to go through the process of an M&A, and won't be able to take on anything new for about a year. Can we revisit this in 6 months? At that time there will be new people on board (I might even be gone!), and I don't know what the hierarchy will be, but we can discuss it."
There could be no buy in, no decision team, and most likely no purchase. Does that make you want to continue being "friends" or end the "friendship"? Do you want to ask for a referral? How much time do you want to spend being friendly vs. closing a sale? And how will you know when/if it's time to pull the plug, or ask the hard questions?
We're in a new era. There are no rules -- we're making them up as we go along. So ask yourself:
- What do you want to get out of social media?
- How will you know that one person over another is a prospect?
- At what point is connecting enough, or do you want to connect only with potential prospects or partners?
The capability is in front of us. The choice is ours as to what we want to do with it. We just have to remember that being friendly, evoking trusting relationships, and having hundreds or thousands of friends doesn't make you a better seller.
What would you need to learn differently to add a new skill set to what you're doing online, to help you help your "friends" make their best decisions?
Sharon Drew Morgen is a sales consultant and the thought leader behind Buying Facilitation.
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