Nice to Meet You!

Are you a social person or a salesperson first?

More often than not, meetings at work are an inefficient use of time. A problem that could be solved by two people in five minutes take eight people for half an hour. Outlook sets meetings in half-hour increments and the conversation degenerates in arguments unrelated to the problem at hand.

There are many books written about that.

What about sales meetings with customers? A substantial part of the life of the salesperson is going from customer to customer, often investing several hours of travel for each hour of face-to-face interaction. That doesn’t sound very efficient, but is it even necessary?

I know what you are thinking: “People buy from people”.

In the discussion that followed the previous “Speak like a Person” article, a couple of you commented that, like marketers, customers also play their deception games.

To get past the mistrust created by the game-playing, we need to personally connect with the customer and build a sense of mutual interest. I ask my friends in sales and they confirm that most customer meetings are not about selling; they are about building a relationship.

Ok, nothing new there either. There are piles of books and papers examining that subject.

Now, if I saw the world exclusively through my rosy social new world lenses, I would argue that if companies become more transparent and authentic, they could establish a trust-based relationship with their customers from the beginning.

A Click Company doesn’t need to get out of the credibility hole because it did not dig it in the first place. It can focus more on delivering business value and less on rebuilding lost trust.

Business is more complex than that, I know. We can envision a future in which vendors and sellers meet frictionless in a perfectly transparent market, but that doesn’t mean it will happen overnight (if ever).

Still, the digital medium is creating an environment that is more conducive to transparency. Let’s look at consumer retailing for a minute. I can go to and compare products in a neutral environment, shop for the lowest price (including vendors other than Amazon), see reviews and recommendation by my peers (including negative ones).

Whether granted or not, I feel a sense of trust and confidence when buying in that environment. I am less inclined to shop elsewhere (because I can see the competition in the same place), I don’t haggle (because there is embedded transparency and competition), I am willing to share more information (because sellers use it to recommending products, not to take unfair advantage of the knowledge).

Can a similar experience be had in B-to-B?

As of early 2010, LinkedIn has about 60 million users, half of that in the US (Source: LinkedIn). Facebook has over 350 million users and 61% are 35 or older (source: Pingdom, based on Google data). Almost all B-to-B decision makers already have a social media footprint.

How can we concretely leverage that footprint to better connect with our customers and accelerate the trust-building process? Here are a few ideas to consider before meeting your next new prospect:

  • Use social channels to interact with your contacts. We are moving from a sender’s discretion to a recipient’s discretion world (the audience chooses when to engage). You can communicate more often without being intrusive and meet less resistance from your customer audience.
  • Don’t use PowerPoint just because. Don’t create artificial excuses to trigger a meeting. If it is a relationship-building meeting, focus on relationship and be transparent with the customer about its purpose. Listen first.
  • As others have suggested, before meeting a contact for the first time, take the time to check their profile on LinkedIn and other sites. Learn about their interest in Photography and the fact that she has a Brown Labrador. Ten minutes of learning about them can save a couple of relationship building meetings in the future.
  • Make your profile in social media richer and proactively share it with your prospects before the first meeting. Show yourself as a person, with interests and passions other than work. Let your human face precede your sales persona. People buy from people, you know?
  • People also follow recommendations from people. Ask existing happy customers to introduce you new prospects in their community. Have you proactively tried to offer the opportunity to talk to an existing customer to a new prospect? We have recognized the power of “customer cases” for a long time, but in sales we have resisted letting customers freely talk to each other. There is more upside than risks and you would be surprised on how willing they are to do it for you.

Try something different in your next meeting and let us know the results.

That is only a start on how Social Computing changes customer relationship management. For more on that, check the research paper by the Altimeter Group on what they is called “Social CRM”, the emergence of a social layer on top of existing CRM  efforts.

This article was originally written for and posted at

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