Is sales the next frontier for social media?

Twitter is established as a powerful new channel for marketing communications and customer care, but could sales be next for the 140-character treatment? And what does this mean for this most personal of business functions?

For most brands social media is a combination of outbound marketing communications activities – competitions, special offers and sponsorship tie-ins – and inbound customer enquiries and complaints.

But recently we have noticed a trend towards consumers using social media to initiate a sales process, creating a whole new challenge for businesses on social media.

Consider this conversation between Benjamin Smith and BankWest, where the consumer explicitly asks the brand to sell its services, from ATMs to the call centre:


At least in this case, it seems that the BankWest is the only bank in contention and the business is theirs to lose. The following example goes a step further with the consumer, @dRoy, engaging multiple banks with the same tweet:

Brands might recognise this process from their dealings with their marketing agencies – it is akin to a request for proposal (RFP). But they won’t recognise their role. In this case they are the pitcher, and the consumer is the powerful decision maker.

What makes the process really interesting and unique to Twitter is the public nature of the dialogue. Not only can each bank see which other banks are under consideration, but also they can see their competitors’ responses. It is similar to a public auction, with the consumer playing the auctioneer. In the above example all the banks try to take the conversation back into the private realm, where they are more comfortable, by requesting direct messages for more details. It will be interesting to see whether consumers resist this in the future. There is a clear advantage for the consumer in keeping it public, as they can play each brand off against the others. Twitter users are already used to interacting in public, but are brands?

It is still early days for this emerging trend, and most of the interaction we see on Twitter is still marketing communications and customer care related, but if it continues what will it mean for brands? They are facing two challenges: how to apply sales techniques to the idiosyncratic Twitter channel and how to introduce sales skills into social media teams.

The most obvious idiosyncrasy of Twitter is its brevity. How can salespeople pitch complicated banking products in 140 characters? Linked to this is the impersonality of Twitter – it is difficult to build a rapport without the emotional clues communicated in a face-to-face or phone conversation. Finally the public nature of Twitter mean the salesperson cannot focus solely on their prospective-customer, he or she must keep one eye on their competitors’ pitch.

The second challenge for brands as sales goes social is introducing sales skills into social media teams. Most social media teams evolved out of the marketing department and are still wrestling with the challenge of integrating with the contact centre to better handle customer care enquiries. To introduce another specialist skill, sales, into this mix will add further complexity particularly when targets and incentives need to be applied.

Consumers have begun to redefine the sales process, to their advantage, using social media. It will be the brands that can respond to this challenge quickly and master the new sales channel which will win the next generation of customers.


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Matt Travers
BY Matt Travers ON 9 April 2013
Matt Travers is the founder of service quality comparison site ServiceRage, which uses social media feedback to rank Australian companies. He has more than 15 years experience on both the client and agency sides of digital marketing in Australia and the Europe.