The Sales 2.0 Conference this last week drove home excellent points for sales reps and managers alike about utilizing social media in the selling process. One of the data points discussed was from CSO Insights recent study how 92% of sales teams have raised quotas in 2011. One of the ways reps can meet the challenge is to better utilize the available data in social media sites to develop and maintain more active opportunities.

It's interesting most companies use social media as part of their overall marketing strategy with Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc. But sales organizations often utilize (or not) social media quite differently as an internal resource. Some sales teams are still struggling to find contacts in accounts or don't know how to leverage free data out on the web to help them access and understand their prospects.

It is even still frowned upon in some sales teams to spend time on social media sites researching prospects. The thing to realize is social media has a multi-faceted application, both business and personal, and if sales organizations don't know the value for B2B, the positive impact can be hidden. Also, unless a rep understands what they are looking for, they can spend time looking in the wrong places. Some companies have invested in sales intelligence sites such as InsideView which is a great investment for teams to have access to all relevant information on social media sites, the web, and available sales intelligence on companies/prospects.

Two areas contribute to success in researching prospects:

  1. Understanding HOW to use social media sites for B2B research
  2. Knowing what information lives in which sites.

Here is a starter model any B2B rep can use

Look up prospects on LinkedIn before you call them for the first time. You will learn something about their role, their history, their "brand." You may have contacts and groups in common and discover you aren't so out of their circle of contacts as you may have thought.

Also look up the company profile on LinkedIn, understand their offers and how they communicate to the world. You don't have to read everything you find, just get a feel for who they are. It also helps reps understand what is important to organizations. For example, if they have a "green" initiative, how can you speak to that? Like an individual profile, it is also a centralized point of info for other things such as press releases.

It is also important to know what not to research that may be a time waster. No need to spend large amounts of time finding your prospects' personal interests on Facebook, view photo galleries, personal tweets, or anything that has no bearing on your interaction. Doing that much of a deep dive takes time that impacts productivity. Most people monitor their privacy settings and don't make everything available, but more isn't better in terms of research.

Your prospects will appreciate you have done your research and it will help you mold your discussion to the right topics.

If companies see the value in leveraging social media for prospect information and build a best practice for using it, they will definitely achieve positive impact on their pipeline and productivity!

Happy Selling!