September 13, 2012

Has Social Media Finally Killed the Salesman?

Has Social Media Finally Killed the Salesman?

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, VP of Global Marketing & Sales for Ford Motors seems to think that on some level, social media has killed the sales person as we know him (or her).

Here's what he had to say [via HBR]:

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.

This has forced salespeople to find a new role.

All of my fellow marketers should put away their torches and pitchforks however, because Mr. Farley's advice is far from as blasphemous as it seems.

What he means to say is what many social media marketers have known all-along: the game is different these days because now businesses must be able to sell to customers who potentially know "everything" about their business.

Gone are the days where a car salesman could have a customer come in and be in total control of informing them about the product. Today, many customers will go to a website like Edmunds or TrueCar, gather feedback from their friends and acquaintances through social media, compare local prices via a Google search, and come in incredibly informed on what they're about to buy.

Farley would even argue that the social web has hindered even the greatest salesman 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.

This sort of shift in the role of the typical salesman has had a farther reaching impact than just in the business of selling cars, however.

Brands today have to deal with customer feedback (both good and bad) and just how much emphasis customers are now placing on the "experience" in their purchasing decisions.

Last year, 9 in 10 American consumers said they were willing to spend more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service (a 10% bump from 2010).

The correlation has remained positive: the more informed customers seem to get, the more emphasis they place on the buying experience.

What's a salesman to do?

How to Sell to Customers Who Know Everything

Consider these statistics on the importance of brand loyalty to this newly informed customer:

  • 78% of customers have bailed on an intended transaction because of a poor experience [source]
  • In 2011, 86% of consumers quit doing business with a company due to a poor transaction or service experience (vs. 59% in 2007) [source]
  • On Twitter, over 80% of customer service related tweets are negative or critical of the brand in question, a large majority of customers expect a reply in less than an hour (unfortunately, most companies are failing to deliver) [source]

The question then is this: what additional role must salespeople fill in order 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 "problem solvers and concierges."

A great salesperson needs to deal with this newly informed audience by assisting customers not only in becoming informed about the benefits of the product, but also on creating a personalized experience that eliminates the headaches of the typical buying process.

With customers coming into your "store" (websites obviously included), the goals of sales people must now include the ability to 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.

With 81% of those companies who place a strong emphasis on the customer experience outperforming their competitors (Amazon is leading the charge), it's really a shift across all industries in favor of brands with great support, stress-free service, and a sales department that helps them find what they're actually looking for.

So, Has the Social Web Really Killed the Salesman?

I can answer this without a single doubt in my mind: no.

This is something that I think few would disagree with. Smart marketing and well-written copy are still as important as ever:

Customer acquisition is still going to fall squarely in the responsibilities of salesman 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 have shifted in 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. Getting a customer into your "shop" isn't enough, and with salesman lacking the leverage that they had in years past, a memorable experience is one of the few things left that you have complete control over that you can utilize to create loyal customers.

With these kind 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.

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Written by Gregory Ciotti Greg ciotti

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