ALNEY: Social intelligence deserves seat at business-development table

alney-duncan-sig.jpgBusiness development—the mission of cultivating new business opportunities and partnerships—is no easy task. Whether you’re working to gain partnerships and alliances, or to sell a product or service, business development is the means to move your product or service into the hands of customers.

Yet the world of sales and business development has changed drastically in the last couple of decades because of the extraordinary amount of information we have at our fingertips. It’s easy to learn about a prospect before you even talk to him or her. Before consumers and businesses buy your product or service, you’ve likely had multiple touch points with them, whether via social media, an advertisement, or a number of other avenues. So why is business development, for the most part, still so focused on the selling party saying, “Here’s what you need to know about us.”? Shouldn’t we be leveraging available information and access to prospects to get smarter about building business relationships?

When organizations tap into the social web to gain information about their audience, and leverage social channels to engage with prospects, it becomes easier to present a trustworthy, knowledge-based solution (not just sell products). Yet getting in front of customers, even through social channels, is challenging. One study found that, even though 43 percent of digital marketers say social media is one of their most effective tactics, 49 percent call it one of the most difficult.

More than 15 years ago, I founded Firebelly marketing with a mission to help brands gain greater market awareness. We were around before most digital channels, and all social channels, even existed. Fortunately, Firebelly matured in parallel with the rise of social media, and our team has since worked with hundreds of companies to build brands and move products and services into the hands of consumers. Local Indiana brands Upland Brewery and Noble Roman’s, as well as national brands like Fiji Water and Qdoba, leverage social intelligence to reach their audience.

No matter the shape or size of your business, you can use social media marketing and social intelligence to gain traction in business development and grow awareness for your business. Here are three strategies to implement today:

• Understand who influences your buyer. Studies show both consumer and business-to-business purchases are influenced by social content. It’s vital to understand who influences your buyers. Who are the people driving, sharing and talking about your industry? In my experience, the impact of social content skyrockets when information about your brand is shared by the people your buyers trust. It’s equally important to understand where your customers are going to get their information, and which social channels they engage with.

• Leverage social media in the sales process. Forbes reported on a study that found 74 percent of salespeople who beat their quota by 10 percent or more say they have an excellent understanding of how to use social media for prospecting, nurturing relationships and closing deals. In fact, salespeople who leveraged social media were six times as likely to exceed their quota than peers with rudimentary or no social media skills. Knowledge is power.

• Bring social intelligence to business meetings. Social intelligence, in the realm of psychology, is defined as “the capability to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments.” When applied to the business world, social intelligence, in a nutshell, means really understanding who your buyers are connected with and what influences them to make a purchase. Social intelligence can be applied by understanding what major trends are influencing your prospects, or why they’re turning to a competitor. Start by personally leveraging social media channels and following influencers across your industry to keep a pulse on what’s happening.

Smarter deals have a higher close rate. At Firebelly, we drink our own Kool-Aid, so to speak, and rely on social intelligence and social media channels to address the gaps and needs of our customers. This strategy has moved the needle for our business, leading to triple-digit growth from 2015 to 2016 and continued momentum this year.

The quick rise in digital innovation means businesses have a wealth of information about their buyers and prospects at their fingertips. If you take an intelligent approach to reaching customers by leveraging the appropriate channels and influencers, it quickly becomes a competitive advantage. Reaching your audience through social channels pays rich dividends to those willing to invest.•

Alney is chief social strategist and CEO of Firebelly Marketing.

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