Social media is a lot like selling media: You need to listen first before you do anything else.
I came upon this parallel last week in two separate discussions, and I realized they were both part of a larger theme. Social media is a conversation, but selling media is also a conversation. Both are based on relationships and the relevance, strength, interest and benefit to both parties engaged in the conversation. In social media marketing you have to establish a baseline and listen to the conversation before you interrupt it with your message, and in media sales the same idea can be applied. When you start selling in media, you have to first listen to the person on the other side of the table so you can establish a baseline for their needs and then you can provide the appropriate solution targeted to them.
Sales is the ultimate social relationship, because it's based on the needs of two parties to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. In social media, that mutually beneficial outcome is typically entertaining or in some other way emotional, whereas in media sales the mutually beneficial outcome is one of a fiscal and/or business achievement (if all goes well).
The biggest difference between social media and selling media is that you can use technology to listen in social media, but in selling media it is a 100% human skill: no machine can be programmed and no algorithm can be developed to take the place of individual listening skills. To that end, I wanted to provide some advice for sales people who need to learn how to listen before they start pitchin'.
First thing: Don't let your excitement for your own product get the better of you. Your excitement will shine through, but listen to the challenges of your audience first. Ask them what their goals are, what their past experiences have been, what has worked and what hasn't and what their plans are for the coming six to 12 months. The more information you can gather upfront, the better situation you will be in when it comes time to submit an RFP. The objective for any good salesperson is to secure the business before the RFP is even submitted.
Secondly, don't overlook your competition -- and understand who your competition truly is. When you're in the market selling a product, you need to know who you're selling against, but even more importantly, you need to understand the other options the client may have and is considering. Most of the time salespeople think their competition consists of the specific companies in their category, but in fact their competition will be far broader. For example, if you're a behavioral targeting ad network, your competition may be other behavioral targeting ad networks, but buyers will also compare you to other ad networks with lower cost targeting options. They will also compare you to some higher-cost, premium placements, as well as considering the option of not spending the money at all. Your competition is not just whom you think prospects are choosing among, but strategically, what they should be doing. That translates to you needing to plan more holistically for answering questions that are more strategic and less tactical. To be a good salesperson and to provide a true solution, you need to think strategically, so plan accordingly.
The other advice I can give is that you should sit with your colleagues and anticipate every possible question your clients can ask. Then you can prepare materials in advance that provide support for your responses. By doing so, you can demonstrate a real desire to have thought about the client's business in advance. This tactic makes your targets more interested in working with you, because they feel as though they're not just the number-five stop on a 10-meeting train.
The more I dive into social media and understand the web of relationships that they create, the more I understand that selling media is just like social media. I'm sure you would agree if you think about it as well!