Building Sales through Social Media Part I – The Need for Shelf Space

By Ken Schmitt, President, TurningPoint Executive Search

Are you driving sales through social media?  Over 15% of TurningPoint’s sales originated from linkedIn in 2010.  How did we do it?

For small business owners and sales professionals, there is nothing more exciting than a phone call from a prospective buyer who has already decided to purchase something from your company. Before you roll your eyes in disbelief, let me just say that I have experienced this on numerous occasions in the last two years.  In 2009, we received a call from a large wealth management firm who was fed up with the recruiters they had been working with and they were ready to hire us instead.  Four months later we completed the search with a record fee!  In 2010, we secured 3 new senior level coaching clients who contacted us directly with the intent to hire us to support them in their job search.

So, what’s our secret?  Simple: an effective social media campaign.  In fact, 15.7% of our sales and nearly 25% of our web traffic originated on one social networking site in 2010.

Ok, so maybe it isn’t “simple” because in all fairness, it took time to build our presence online.  We had to create the right blend of presentation, graphics, keywords, groups and forums.  However, this required more patience than technical know-how.

Many of our colleagues and clients ask us why social media is so important. They are convinced that it is some kind of fad like WebMD or Krispy Kreme that will have its day in the sun, then fade away with little fan fare.  Whether it is the $50b value that has been placed on Facebook, the planned IPO of LinkedIn with it’s 90 million users and multi-billion dollar valuation or Twitter’s 2b tweets/month, I’m here to tell you – social media is here to stay.  Here’s why.

Buying Habits

15 years ago, when it was time to find a new CPA, attorney, recruiter, plumber or hair salon, we relied on 3 primary resources – the yellow pages, tv/print ads and our friends – not necessarily in this order.  Most companies spent their marketing and advertising budgets on radio, print, tv, corporate sponsorships and billboards. Each of these “channels” focused on a specific demographic.  Leveraging these resources allowed companies to secure more “shelf space” – providing maximum visibility in the same way that Coke and Pepsi secure physical shelf space by offering a variety of soft drinks, fruit juices, and bottled water.  These diverse channels helped shape our buying habits by narrowing our choices to a finite number of options within a limited area.  After personally reviewing these options, we might have taken the next step by reaching out to our friends and family for feedback.

Fast forward to today’s buying process which can be summed up in one word: Google (ok, maybe two words if you are using Bing).

While we don’t know the exact makeup of Google’s search algorithm, we do know that over 200 different factors and word pairings comprise the basis for each result.  We also know that consumers’ buying habits are based on a few “new” principles:

The amount of information found online directly affects consumer behavior
Consumers value human reviews more than automated recommendations
Consumers use search engines on a global and local level
(“Analysis of Consumer Behaviour Online”, Petrovic 2010)

When making purchases in today’s market, most of us rely on the internet to shape our opinions of each option before we even pick up the product or try the service.  We check the company’s website, their Facebook page, online reviews, their LinkedIn profile and other online resources that will lend credibility to the products we’re considering. Today’s consumers give more weight than ever to the reviews provided by our online “friends”.  Social media is an integral part of this vetting process and, thus, have become an extension of a company’s “shelf space”.  Higher rankings, better reviews, more “friends”, “fans” and “followers” combined with more search results, brings a greater likelihood of selling a product or service.  As any marketing professional will tell you, relying solely on a corporate website to gain visibility is very limiting.  Therefore, neglecting this new, online “shelf space”, will cause businesses to miss a significant opportunity to engage their customers.

If you still need convincing, consider these statistics:

  1. 46% of US adults participate in a social network
  2. 65% use it to find business information
  3. Average respondent used nearly 6 different resources

(Source: 2009’s Social Media Benchmarking Study, 2,948 respondents)

So How do I Capture these Customers?

The great thing about social media is its ease of use, limited barriers to entry and relatively low cost. With the proper keywords, word tracks, a variety of inbound links, some solid SEO (search engine optimization) and 2-4 hours/week, any business can create a social media campaign that will:

Enhance the company’s visibility
Drive traffic to their website, blog and fan page
Build the company’s position as a domain expert
Increase and improve lead flow

With all of this research at our fingertips, it is imperative that businesses spend time increasing the amount and quality of their online shelf space.  By speaking directly to consumers through a variety of channels and via different mediums, they will enhance their brand and the quality of their leads.

In Part II, we will discuss how to get started.

About the Author:
Ken C. Schmitt is an Executive Recruiter, Career Coach, Expert Resume-Writer and Master networker. He has been coaching and placing mid-senior level professionals for 13 years. Having presented to nearly 1000 professionals and written more than 50 career-related articles, Ken is well positioned to provide valuable information about recruiting and career management. For more career management advice visit-

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