The first question executives ask prior to implementing social media marketing strategies is: How can I measure the return on investment? Joan C. Curtis, chief executive officer of consultancy Total Communications Coaching, offers the simplest possible answer: You don’t have to. In The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media, Curtis (with coauthor Barbara Giamanco) discusses intelligent—and not-so-intelligent—uses of social media. She sat down with Editorial Assistant Juan Martinez to discuss the topic.
CRM magazine: You write that the lines of sales and marketing are becoming blurry. Can you explain how and why?
Joan C. Curtis: One of the people we interviewed for the book termed this phenomenon smarketing. It used to be that marketing teams created brand identity and then salespeople went out, touched leads, and made sales. Now sales teams are part of building brand identity and relationships. Part of the book’s premise is that salespeople are highly skilled in understanding the “know, like, and trust” factors which create relationships, yet they’re left out of that relationship-building process.
CRM: Let’s talk about “relationship selling.”
Curtis: It’s first about the relationship and then about the product. Companies need to step back and listen before they even enter the conversation. If they do that, they find out what customers are talking about—what their needs are, what their pains are. Businesses can learn all that stuff and then slowly enter the conversation and enter with good content and information. People will then start to respect their knowledge. Then who do you think they’ll buy from? Marketers are starting to call it a pull process instead of a push process. Imagine it like threading a needle: Put the thread in and carefully pull it through.
CRM: You praise Barack Obama for his use of social media in the last election. What can salespeople and marketers learn from him?
Curtis: One thing that Obama did that was so powerful, using Facebook and email marketing, is that he connected with a whole bunch of people online and created relationships and got a buzz going. He also went out shaking hands and all the old stuff you do as a politician. The message is: You have to combine the old with the new. If you just toss out all the old stuff, and only take on the new, you won’t succeed. You’ve got to have that blend of both that works best for your products and services. Some will find a smaller use of social media than others. But you can’t not have any of it. I wish Obama would get more active in social media now!
CRM: You talk about the contrarian approach—what’s wrong with it?
Curtis: Michael Port talked about [this] in his book The Contrarian Effect: If it worked before, then do something different. I kind of agree, but not fully. We need to look at our old practices but we don’t need to throw everything away. Salespeople haven’t examined the way they operate for the past hundred years. It’s incredible. That’s got to change. If it seems to work, people keep doing it even though it costs money and isn’t terribly efficient. Think of field selling: People get on planes and they make presentations. That used to work but it doesn’t anymore. People resisted telesales; they thought no one would spend $100,000 without actually meeting someone face-to-face. Well, that was the old way of thinking.
CRM: You dedicate an entire chapter to what’s appropriate and what isn’t on social networks. Can you explain what some of those things are?
Curtis: It’s common-sense behavior when you meet people: You shake hands with them before you hold out your card and launch into your sales pitch. In social media, people are pitching their product without creating relationships. We talk about the way to interact with people on social networks without coming across as too pushy, about how to create a strategy and the slow process of creating relationships: Put out content, listen to what’s going on, find out where customers are. That’s more effective than putting up a fan page on Facebook and immediately starting to sell.
CRM: Other than impatience, what big mistakes have companies made in utilizing social media thus far?
Curtis: Companies aren’t being transparent. This is huge. You have to be able to be open and honest with customers. Companies have been hiding stuff forever. That’s why they have legal departments. If customers say things, you need to respond and be honest…. Transparency is a risk, but it’s more of a risk not to [have it]. Another mistake is: How do you incorporate social into your culture? Bigger businesses delegate social media and just stay out of it. Social media needs to permeate throughout the company, from the top down. You have to have a whole new way of thinking when you adopt it. You can’t just add it on as a stepchild.
CRM: What would you say to companies that are concerned with return on investment (ROI) and whether they should implement social media?
Curtis: There’s a lot of controversy about ROI right now—it’s so hard to measure. But as Andrew Gossen, senior director of social media strategy at Cornell University, said: “I think five years from now the whole ROI question is going to seem naïve. It would seem like asking for the ROI on your telephone service.” What he’s basically saying is that we shouldn’t even be asking this question because it’s so clear that social media is worth it.