I listened to a great podcast last week, a conversation between Steve Faktor and Jordan Cooper (probably Not Safe for Work due to gratuitous use of the F word), where they had a long and spot-on discussion of how “normal people” use technology. Or, more accurately, how they don’t use technology.
Cooper recounts a tale of making the journey to Wal-Mart with his girlfriend on Black Thursday to do some Holiday shopping. He saw a person with a shopping cart piled high with DVD movies, at least 100 of them. Priced at $5 each, many of these were fairly new releases, not out-of-print classics or hard-to-find titles. In fact, he said, most of them were available on Netflix right then (Cooper uses Netflix a lot).
What boggled his mind was not that this person was buying all of these DVDs, it was that this shopping cart of physical video disks represented about 5 years worth of a Netflix subscription simply because the shopper didn’t know what Netflix is or how it works.
In fact, there are a lot of people that don’t know. Some of them might be your customers, and they don’t know about your technology.
Important disclaimer: I am not a Netflix customer. While I could, theoretically, stream movies onto my computer I do not want to watch a two-hour movie in my office chair. I don’t have one of the gaming systems that you can use to stream Netflix to the TV in the living room where the couch is, so that isn’t an option. We do have HD cable at home, and a DVR and access to Movies on Demand (many of which are free), so our “Need” for Netflix is low. The point is that I know what it is and how to use it.
What the Heck is Twitter and Why Do I Need It?
Well, the short answer is, “It’s a micro-blogging platform and you probably don’t. At least, not how you might think.” Again, because of technological ignorance, a tool that could be very useful to many in the B2B (and B2C) space doesn’t get utilized. Part of the reason has to do with the technology itself and part of it, to echo Cooper’s sentiment, is that it is too easy to sign up.
Business people hear about Twitter and the amazing success stories that people are claiming so they register an account and then: Twitter recommends that they “Follow” Justin Beiber and Yo-No and Mary J Blige. Right.
The same thing happens with Facebook. The Sales or Marketing rep reads some articles, sets up a Facebook page for their business and then, boom, faced with the same situation: “What the heck do we do with this now?”
This is the Part Where I Want You to Think About Your Customers
Cooper says that if he were designing a social network of some kind he would create the most arduous sign-up process you can imagine. He has a very good reason and it is a brilliant point: make the new user enter all sorts of information (like a Dating Site does…) so that the network can automatically match them up with other appropriate users.
People will pay for things that they believe have value. People will generally take good care of the things that they paid money for. Twitter and Facebook (and the other social sites) are free and only really have value after you have mastered a pretty steep learning curve. And built a community to interact with.
Dating sites have immediate value because 1) you pay to join up front, and 2) you invest some time and energy completing a detailed profile of your likes and dislikes, interests, hobbies, turn-ons and whatever else. You fill in forms that ask you about what you are looking for and Presto, there are your best matches, right there, like magic.
Too bad Twitter and Facebook don’t work like that.
Imagine Your Sales and Customer Service Operations as Social Networks
How do you match up your “new members” (that means customers) with their most appropriate connections?
Do you ask your customers if they have Twitter or Facebook accounts? Does your CRM have a field for that information? What about Likes and Dislikes?
It’s time to stop thinking of social networks as “Marketing” tools and start thinking of them as listening posts for Customer Service. Your Tweets and Status Updates should be the answers to questions that your customers ask.
In this way a problem becomes an opportunity to engage your customers, help them, start a conversation and show that you are listening.
“But this is B2B,” you say, “Businesses don’t use Twitter and Facebook like that. Probably not, that’s true. But the people who work there do. they do use those networks for personal stuff and oftentimes they share work-related information. Or ask questions. Or comments about products, services and the competition. All worthwhile information if you know how to listen for it.
End Users, Suppliers and Your B2B
In the Facebook mockup I posted above you see an interaction between a business and a customer. Wouldn’t you be interested in seeing that conversation if your company supplies XYZ Corp with parts for that widget?What if your biggest competitor makes that gasket? I’m thinking that a Facebook conversation like this one means “Sales Call Opportunity!”
If someone in your supply chain is being talked about wouldn’t you want to know? Who makes those gaskets and why do they frequently leak? Here is an opportunity for you to talk about pricing, reliability and renewing purchase agreements.
Social Media is much, much more than a broadcast or publishing channel. It is also a place to listen for valuable marketplace intelligence.
I realize that this only scratches the surface of the Listening Outpost idea. Leave a comment or question and next week we’ll dig a little deeper into the concept.