Can businesses sell with social?

As I keep saying, there are as many ways to use social media for your business as there are businesses. The best way to use it, of course, will be based on the behavior of your business and on the behavior of your customers.

It will not be based so much on the advice of social media experts – unless they’re strongly advocating you to look hard at yourself and the people who buy from you before making any decisions. Those people may know what they’re talking about.

There are other experts out there as well. Take author and founder of Social Media Explorer Jason Falls, who has a new book called “No Bulls#!t Social Media.” (An aside: do female cows find the term “bulls#!t” sexist?—the editor.) He’s interviewed by Michael Stelzner here in a discussion that purports to dispel social media myths.

There are exactly two myths tackled in their take-down. First is the clearly spurious notion that you can’t measure social media ROI (better dispelled by people like Kathy Herrmann and presentations like this). Anyone who still believes this is just grasping for an excuse not to explore how social media and social CRM can help their businesses.

But first, Falls comes out swinging against “social media purists,” who are somehow convincing people to use social media for just the touchy-feely parts of customer relationship building and are never getting to the selling part of the relationships. Who these purists are is difficult to ascertain – they aren’t people in the social CRM pundit-ocracy, surely, since the activities they describe are directly connected to sales.

However, I have heard cautions about some of the things Falls advocates, like not being afraid to include a selling message in a Facebook post. He gives a great example that runs counter to those blanket warnings; it’s about the sale of a remote car starter from a person in a small town to a customer in the same town that that seller already knew.

Or maybe it’s not a great example. The buyer and seller already had a relationship – they’d friended each other. The seller was a small businessman and already knew his customer base well, according to Falls. In this case, suggesting a remote car starter on a frosty winter day is hardly a semi-anonymous act of selling – it’s a call to action directed at people with whom a relationship is already well-established. It’s anything but a cold call.

The trick here is to ensure you have authenticity on your side. I don’t think Jason is dramatically off-base in what he says here – you should certainly take advantage of your relationships with customers to make sales, and if you can do it with a Twitter message or a Facebook post, then mission accomplished.

However, i think some nuance is lacking. You need the relationship foundation to be solidly built in order for a social media pitch to work. Without past positive contact, a call to action in social media looks and feels like a sales pitch – and is an inhibitor of building that foundation that’s so critical to a long relationship with the customer.

How do you walk that tightrope? Well, now we’re back to the start of this post. The approach you take to steering a course between the extremes – social hobbyist and social hard-seller – depends on the behavior of your business and on the behavior of your customers, and more strongly on the latter, since they’re the ones who will pass judgment on the effectiveness of your approach. It will require careful writing and proper targeting, but it can succeed – if you’ve already laid the foundation for success.

With 17 years as a technology and business under his belt, Chris Bucholtz took over the role of editor in chief of the CRM Outsiders blog in 2011. He first focused on customer relationship management as the editor of InsideCRM, then moved to Forecasting Clouds in 2009 to continue honing his views on how the discipline of CRM can impact the entire business. Before developing into a CRM influencer, Chris covered a variety of technology-related topics. He was the editor of Semiconductor Manufacturing Magazine, senior editor of technology for VAR Business, senior editor at HP World and intelligence and software editor for Telephony. After a six-year stint in the U.S. Navy, his start in journalism came as a rock columnist for BAM Magazine. In addition to his business and technology writing, Chris has written three books on World War II aviation. An avid scale modeller, Chris and his wife live in Alameda, California.