Social Networking: The New Age of Prospecting

With cold calling on the decline, promo firms are opting for a more social approach.

Let’s face it: no one loves getting a cold call. Yet, after referrals, cold-calling has historically been the second most popular method of generating new sales in the promo products business. Well, things have changed.

For the first time, in 2016, social networking surpassed cold-calling on the list – 28% of distributors say sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are winning deals. About 27%, meanwhile, say cold-calling is one of the top ways they gain sales.

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“It can feel antiquated to receive a cold call from someone,” says Bryan Robison, VP at GOA Merchandising (asi/208838). Instead, he says, “connection is huge. Without that, it is much harder to do business.”

GOA uses Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to market to new clients. The social media team there uses hashtags – like #promotionalmarketing, #businesslogo and #tshirts – to pull people to its site. Of course, following hashtags is a great way for business owners to find out what’s being discussed by the masses, as well.

“Social media is essential for listening to what your prospects are talking about and striking up a conversation,” says Janet Fouts, CEO of Tatu Digital Media. “Think of it as a way to warm leads up and lose the cold calls.”

Jennifer Fong, CEO of Jen Fong Media, agrees. She says it’s important to use social as a stepping-stone to lead to more conventional methods of sales. “Social media is where you meet and connect, with the goal of moving into more traditional means of communication once you begin exploring a business relationship,” Fong says.

When someone is showing signs of being ready to buy, Fong suggests offering “to message privately or get on a call. Move that off of social and into a place where the consumer will be more comfortable moving into a transaction phase of the sales process.” As you integrate social into your selling plan, both Fong and Fouts say it’s key to keep interactions about the other person, not about you or your company. “Start by listening,” Fouts says. “Be open to discussion and fielding complaints as a way to show your humanity and compassion for the issues of the prospect. Never be self-centered. Social media is about them, not you.”

Fong believes one of the best ways to do this is to keep business and personal social media profiles separate. Use a personal presence to engage with people, connect and interact, then shift to the business-focused networks to do any selling. “Never spam your friends,” Fong says. “Treat your friends’ personal social media profiles as a place to connect, but not sell. Never do your sales pitch using personal social media accounts.”

Instead, Fong suggests following the 80/20 rule: talk about your personal life 80% of the time, and your business as it relates to you 20% of the time. “It could be how happy you are to be able to help a client, something great someone said about working with you that made you happy, how excited you are about the new products, that kind of thing,” Fong says. “But then invite people who want to know more to join you on a business presence, whether that’s a page, a group – somewhere people have opted in for specific business messages.”

It’s important to use the appropriate social media network for the message you’re tying to send. GOA, for example, uses Instagram to share product and process images; Twitter to broadcast information about sales, new merchandise and relevant news; and Facebook to do a mix of everything. Fong and Fouts say LinkedIn has benefits, too – specifically when trying to connect with B2B clients and larger businesses. But ultimately, you want to go where the customer you want goes.

“The key is to identify the type of client that you would like to reach, and then discover where they are online,” Fong says.

Back at GOA, the company is in the process of revamping its social media outlets to take its feeds to a more constructive place than just showing off what’s available. Robison realizes not every company in the promo industry has the time or resources to consistently tweak and upgrade social media efforts. His advice? Get a little help. “There are some great companies out there that specialize in helping firms utilize social media in the most beneficial way,” he says.