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Plan for the Social Buyer Before It’s Too Late (Source: iMedia)

To say things are changing is an understatement. Morgan Stanley (2010) recently reported in a study that there are now more social network users than email users. An even more profound and sobering fact is that 80% of business buyers today say that they found their vendors as opposed to vendors finding them. If you are a Chief Sales Officer, when was the last time you checked how often your sales teams are making contact with potential buyers? You might be surprise that most often, outbound calls are going directly into voice mail. Don’t worry, you are in good company as 85% of business phone calls go into voice mail and are never returned.

What is happening? For starters, businesses using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking platforms are expected to grow at a rate of 20%-30% this year and even at a greater rate next year (CIO Insight, 2010). The Fortune 500 is jumping on board with nearly 70% actively pursuing social networking as a business benefit for their buyers (McKinsey, 2009). Marketing, as we know it today, will see its’ percent of activities devoted to social marketing increase past 50% over the next two years. What we are seeing is the rising importance of social marketing and social selling. The definitions as well as trajectory of social marketing and social selling are still in a progressive state however to ignore them can put your company in peril.

While the Fortune 500 may have started actively pursuing social networking technologies, we are still left to wonder how actively the Fortune 500 and other businesses are adjusting their views of buyers. These views of buyers ultimately affect the ability to plan. If your views of buyers have gone unchanged over the past few years and are still in the framework of buyers in companies making decisions via meetings internally with sales representatives, then most certainly this needs adjusting. More than likely, these views put your marketing and selling strategies in the framework of being highly dependent upon outbound activities that are intent on finding buyers. And almost by default, leadership’s role is left to constantly exhorting the troops to try harder, to push harder, and to find ways to make contact.

In terms of how an organization conducts strategic planning, it may be time for some revisions on how to plan for acquiring and retaining buyers. If your planning is not taking into account changing behaviors of buyers, then the organization will be in misstep with its buyers. Planning today should include a significant component devoted to understanding your social buyer persona and understanding the implications they may have on your business strategy and structure. There should also be a healthy realization that knowledge of buyers may be not up to date. Insight into the social buyer persona is even more important if your targeted segment happens to be one of those adopting social technologies at a fast rate.

An organization also must take care to putting themselves in a contradictory position. What do I mean? For many organizations, they rely on the sales force’s knowledge of buyers and then plan around that knowledge gleamed from call reports and sales automation systems. However, trending information clearly points to the fact that sales reps are having a hard time making contact with buyers and don’t get involved until much later in the buying cycle. Therefore, if planning is done solely on the input of sales knowledge, then this knowledge is certainly limited for there is a significant non-involvement factor in the buying cycle. I find it a contradiction when I hear an organization claim to know its buyers yet has a heavy reliance on field sales and little inbound and social marketing tactics in place.

In today’s social age, organizations that will put themselves on an evolutionary path that puts them in alignment with their new social buyer persona will have the best chance of succeeding in the future. I’m afraid that the “future” is much nearer then we think at the moment. This will require a shift in how a company goes about planning around its buyers. It starts with a dedicated commitment to understand exactly who their social buyer personas are and devoting strategy planning to this understanding.

For many companies today, it requires a shift in thinking of social networking technologies in terms of something that social buyers do to accepting the realization that it know defines who they are. If an organization doesn’t begin to put planning into place for their defined social buyer personas soon, when they eventually do – it may be too late.

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