Turning Clicks into Conversations and Business Relationships
How do you make money with this stuff? That's the question I hear from a lot with respect to social media and social networking. And I bet you've heard it plenty of times too - maybe you've asked it a few times yourselves. It's a good question to ask, but the better question to ask may be how to use "this stuff" to create and extend business relationships - because if we can do that we stand a better chance answering that first question.
It Starts With Real Interest in People
We know an increasing number of business relationships are starting online because of enabling technologies like blogs, social networks and smart phones. But these are just tools, like email and traditional phones. It's what we say and how we say it that matters. Even with the current infatuation with everything social, some of the best advice for turning "clicks into conversations" comes from Dale Carnegies's 1937 book How to Win Friends and Influence People.
A great example of what I call Dale Carnegie 2.0 - using social tools to win and influence people - is a recent post by popular marketing/branding expert Valeria Maltoni. She used LinkedIn to ask people a question, and received 93 responses. She read all 93 responses, then created a blog post around those responses - even taking screenshots of several of the responses with links back to their LinkedIn profiles to include in her post. The important thing is that her focus was on listening to people and really understanding what they thought, and then showcasing a few of the best answers on her blog. Yes she used LinkedIn and the Wordpress blog platform to pull these interactions together, but the focus was on listening and caring about what other people had to say. Hers is a much better approach than using Twitter to push out the following tweets:
Both of these folks are using Twitter, but it appears that they are mostly interested in their areas of concern - pushing traffic to their sites and getting answers to questions important to them. Even if they don't mean for it to, it still comes across as such. With tons of things to do, most business people really don't have time to "check us out and see what's going on" unless there's a good reason to. And filling out a survey because "it's very important 4 us" doesn't sound very important to anybody else. Instead of using social tools to create a collaborative atmosphere like Valeria did, these tweets tend to do just the opposite - making it even more difficult to engage in conversations leading to business.
Know Thy Processes...
If you haven't done so before, now's a great time to review current processes. You may be used to doing things a certain way, but do you have to? Maybe things you had to do manually can be automated. Or possibly processes you put in place before need to be updated, or even done away with if your business has moved in a different direction. Whatever the case is, identifying the processes needed to find, catch and keep good customers should be near the top of your to-do lists.
The above diagram of a generic sales process identifying the steps to turn a lead into a closed deal can help with understanding the likelihood and timeframe for expecting cash. You can also identify tasks associated with each stage, and who should perform them. And identifying those tasks associated with processes can help us figure out the best way to handle them.
...Then Automate Them
I know automation doesn't sound all that new, especially when the word can be found in two of the main tenants of traditional CRM - sales force automation and marketing automation. But in many cases, small and mid-sized businesses have overlooked the impact that automating routine processes can have on their efforts to create and strengthen ties to prospects and customers. It takes time and effort to transform good customers into long-term partners and cheerleading fans. But this is hard to accomplish if we're spending too much time "looking for leads in all the wrong places," and trying to ferret out good prospects from a long list of the usual suspects.
Automating lead qualification and response management processes are important to small businesses looking to spend more time building high quality business relationships. Using a service like Swiftpage allows you to do drip marketing to automate the process of providing quality information on a consistent basis. This makes it easier for companies to stay connected to their contacts, and to easily create more efficient ways to generate and nurture leads.
Additionally, finding ways to automate the content creation/distribution process may be just as critical. Quality content drives interest and provides people with a reason to reach out to you. Even automating efforts to analyze our relationship-building activities with services like Google Analytics, Bit.ly and BlogScope can speed up the time to figure if our online efforts are getting us closer to hitting the mark. And these activities should feed into the more formal sales processes, as well as customer service.
Getting connected and staying connected pose two separate but related challenges we face today. Technology is important to helping us relay our messages and strengthening our abilities to connect with large online audiences. And having the right processes identified and automated where possible with technology can improve our abilities to gather information, make better decisions and to be more responsive. But the most important factor to our success building solid business relationships today is still all about people. Customers want to be heard, and want their thoughts to be included in making the products and services they consume better. They need us to understand their challenges and to provide them with quality solutions. This makes it critically important to use social tools to listen more effectively, and create a little less Look-At-Me-Marketing promotional content.
If we're able to use these great tools available with that in mind, we can win and influence people, and create the kind of relationships that can keep us in business for years to come. That should help us answer the question about how to make money using this social stuff.