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​The Buyer’s Digital Journey

Social Media

Open your inbox and count how many times you’ve received an email like the following: “Hey Jane Doe, I’m just following up to see if you received my last email.” Or I’m “touching base” or “checking in.” Doesn’t it seem like many digital salespeople follow this same impersonal sequence?:

  1. Cold email pitching product/service
  2. Follow-up email checking to see if you received the first email
  3. “I’m reaching out for the last time to see if you’re interested.”

Why is this happening—and at a seemingly accelerated rate? Volume. More emails yield more activity, and activity is the first metric by which salespeople are judged. The sales funnel, if you’re following this formula, is:

  1. Activity
  2. Opportunities (prospects)
  3. Sales (clients)

Digital salespeople rarely, if ever, initially meet their potential clients in-person or synchronously (phone, video call, instant messaging). And because these digital salespeople have very large sales territories, they can afford to turn off 90-plus percent of their recipients with their spam emails. Email is basically free and can be sent to a near-unlimited audience instantaneously. To hit their sales goals, digital salespeople can burn through an extraordinary volume of emails to discover those who will say “yes.”

If you’re like me, and most others in business development, you need to build relationships to grow your practice. The people with whom you’d like to do business are those you may see at the Chamber of Commerce meetings, annual industry conferences, or on the golf course. 

But because you don’t have an almost infinite base of potential clients to spam with templated emails, like our friends the digital salespeople, trying the “spray and pray” model they use simply won’t work. You’ll sow more anger than goodwill by using their tactics. 

Is there an elegant and effective way to use the power of online media to nurture your potential clients? Yes, and here’s a process to follow for each of the three steps of that journey:

  1. Initiate
  2. Help
  3. Nurture

1. Initiate—Cross the Chasm and Get the Meeting

Definition: There’s a monstrous difference between “I’ve never heard of you or your firm in my life,” and “Your name rings a bell.” When you’re initiating the first step of business development, it’s important that you position yourself and what you do in the minds of your prospects. The expression “Your reputation precedes you” is not just applicable to dramatic conversations in the movies. It’s a way you can avoid starting from zero, if you will, when you first communicate with someone new.

Action Step: Use the power of social media to share your thought leadership pieces in a virtual, on-demand environment. Build a library of content that digitizes your best ideas and propagate them online. Here’s a great question to ask yourself: “What is something I know that helps potential clients, but is currently only available if they talk to me?” Answering this question will help you decide what you need to build as content, be it written pieces or video. Extract the knowledge from your head and put it on (virtual) paper. 

Bonus: Instead of hoping the right people see you content, use digital ads—especially LinkedIn —to ensure that the right people see you. LinkedIn ads can target geographic territories, certain job titles, or even specific companies to help you cross the chasm quickly. Add confidence to your business development efforts by backing yourself with brand-building digital campaigns.

Read more commentary by Spencer X Smith here

2. Help—Evolve from First Meeting to Determining Viability

Definition: One of the best sales managers I ever had told me, “You can have feel-good coffee meetings all day long, but you’ll go broke doing it.” What did he mean? When you meet someone for the first time in a business context (unless you’re selling timeshares), it’s a very low-pressure environment. There’s a lot of getting-to-know-you conversation, and a feeling of novelty permeates the entire conversation. The business-related talk does occur, however, and it’s important to do that part right.

Action Step: During the first meeting, it’s crucial to ask the right business questions and look for two key points: a problem and a willingness to fix that problem. When you send your follow-up message after that meeting (often via email), reinforce how what you do can fix the problem she or he is experiencing. 

Bonus: The first communication following an initial meeting will codify first impressions in your prospect’s mind. Instead of simply saying, “Great meeting you, etc.” make sure that you mention some personal aspects from your conversation to help him or her know that you were listening. 

3. Nurture—Position Yourself as a Resource Instead of a Pest

Definition: An oft-repeated phrase in sales is, “The fortune is in the follow-up.” I was responsible for a mid-eight-figure annual sales number per year, and 100% agree with this adage. Maintaining top-of-mind awareness with your potential clients is critical, but how do you position yourself favorably in those minds? 

Action Step: Give yourself reasons to confidently follow up through adding value. Strike the subject lines we mentioned before (“following up,” “touching base,” “checking in”) from your vocabulary. Instead, customize your communication to potential clients. How? Be objectively helpful. Do your prospects often have pricing-related questions? Send them an educational article, video or calculator to help them make a better buying decision. Think to yourself, “If I were in my potential client’s shoes, would this help me, and am I glad I’m receiving this?”

Bonus: Personalize your follow-up communication with your clients with video or other graphic-driven content. If much of the work that you do is technical in nature—and what professional services aren’t?—get a leg up on the competition by recording brief personalized videos for your potential clients to help them understand difficult concepts. Or craft a quick graphic or whiteboard drawing to explain the moving pieces in a way that words alone cannot. 

When it comes to growing your client base through online media, don’t let the behavior of the bad actors (the digital salespeople) dissuade you. If you follow this three-step formula of brand-building, purposeful follow-up, and value-add nurturing, you’ll experience a growth in your practice not possible without these tactics. Will you take advantage of the leverage they offer?

Spencer X Smith is the founder of AmpliPhi Social Media Strategies. He’s a former 401(k) wholesaler, and now teaches financial services professionals how to use social media for business development. This column originally appeared in the Spring issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.