Ghosts in the Demand Machine: The Hidden Sales Cycle
By Mike Stiles on Oct 11, 2013
Today we continue chatting with Aberdeen Group’s Trip Kucera on how enterprises are using social to find and do something about online activity that’s happening every minute, and that’s affecting sales every minute.
Spotlight: What are the forces bearing down on organizations right now that are affecting how sales are surfaced and executed?
Trip: Since it’s just a few weeks until Halloween, how about a ghost story? This one’s not about the unrested souls of the dead, but for marketing and sales executives it’s an even scarier tale. Their customers are possessed, haunted by a hidden sales cycle of unseen influence shaping their preferences and priorities. This unseen influence, of course, is the reality of today’s empowered, ultra-informed customer brought about by the frictionless access to content and community. And it’s driving the approach that many organizations take to social media.
Spotlight: And you guys went out and got the numbers that prove it.
Trip: Aberdeen’s social relationship management research shows that the top two pressures shaping social media initiatives are the proliferation of new channels for engagement, which 63% of respondents identified as a top pressure, and the influence of third parties on customers’ decision journeys, which 56% of respondents identified as a top pressure. To put it another way, customers have an increasing number of channels on which to access an increasing supply of information. This is the “hidden” sales cycle.
Spotlight: Hidden doesn’t sound good. How do we un-hide it?
Trip: The objective of social relationship management is essentially to first un-hide this sales cycle by understanding the customers’ decision journey, and then to influence it. There are two primary approaches organizations are taking. The first is to engage the influencers – the tastemakers and pundits – that are shaping the social conversation. This is more achievable in some markets like specialized or highly technical product markets that often rely on a relatively small corps of mavens for information than others, like general consumer or luxury goods markets.
Spotlight: Right, so like it or not, influencers are out there either helping the sale or hurting it, depending on their opinions and experiences. What’s the second approach?
Trip: The second is to become a source of influence through direct engagement with customers, which can happen through both organic “earned” media and paid channels. These approaches can also come together when customer advocates become influencers themselves.
Spotlight: I’m going to guess the better you treat your happy customers, the more effective and active they’re going to be at participating in this hidden sales cycle.
Trip: To this point, Aberdeen data shows that Leaders, the top performers as identified by Aberdeen’s research methodology, are not only more likely to identify both influencers and customer advocates, but to also then engineer engagement through social media marketing programs that include incentives, integration with marketing programs, content, and paid channels.
Spotlight: Bottom line, people are going to be out there talking about your brand, disseminating information and influencing people one way or the other, and the more you can listen to what’s going on and participate in that conversation, the better chance you have of turning this hidden sales cycle to your advantage.
Trip: Yes, losing “control” of your customer might be scary, not that you ever really had it to begin with, but not having a plan for engaging buyers in the hidden sales cycle should be truly frightening.
Photo: kasiakay, stock.xchng