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On Feb. 3rd,  Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO of OgilvyOne facilitated a WebEx featuring a panel of thought leaders who shared their knowledge and experiences in using social media to create powerful sales strategies. In part one (below), Brian shares some amazing research about the changes social media has made to the sales cycle. In part two, we hear from the panel. You can listen to the entire WebEx here.

Today we have some research and insights on how the whole area of buying and selling are changing. We’re going to talk about digital body language, the new form where you can observe, interpret, and respond to the buying signals that your customers and prospects are selling.

We will talk about how to use social media to sell, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn. How can you actually use social media not just to engage, but to actually get down and sell? Our terrific panel will be sharing some of their own experiences and some case histories of people using social media effectively to sell in the marketplace.

In the fall of 2010, OgilvyOne wanted to know how selling was changing as the world went digital. We worked with a number of our top clients, IBM, American Express, and others that we work with, and we did two things. We did a qualitative panel. We pulled together this extraordinary group of people who were in the top end of the marketing and sales field. We talked to people at IBM, for example, who’ve woken up every morning for the last 20 years with $1 billion plus sales quota. We talked to Tony Hsieh, who is the CEO and cofounder of Zappos, a phenomenal ecommerce retail company.

We talked to people who do home shopping and so on, a bunch of selling experts from around the world. Then we did another piece which was we did quantitative research. We spoke to 1,007 sales professionals in four markets, people from the United States, in the UK, and Brazil and China, and we just asked them a series of questions about how they saw the world of selling and marketing changing. These are people who are sales professionals earning their keep every day, quota carrying people, who really need to make sure they’ve got the very sharpest tools.

Here are a couple of top line findings:

The most profound change that people are seeing in the whole arena of buying and selling is how the customer has become king, in that the previous world, previous models of selling, the seller had much more power going into the buying and selling relationship, and that has absolutely profoundly changed. It’s not just in the consumer businesses. It’s in B2B as well. It’s not just a phenomenon in the United States or the Western market, but it’s definitely, definitely true around the world.

In four markets, the USA, UK, Brazil, and Chin, the percentage of sales professionals who agree that the whole sales field will be radically different within a five year period finds well over 70 percent of people agreeing that there are profound changes afoot for the salesperson as they approach their job.

The fundamental shift is that buyers aren’t relying on salespeople for information before making a purchase. When we would walk into a consumer electronics store, you know, three to five years ago, we were very much sort of the victim of the seller, if you will. They controlled all of the specs, the product ratings. They were definitely in control of that situation, and sales professionals acknowledge now that the buyer is dramatically empowered.

Today, the seller doesn’t really know where the buyer is in their journey, so they can be walking in with tremendous amount of knowledge about specs, third party references and ratings, and so this is a very fundamental difference. The seller is no longer the sole source of critical information.

While there’s an acknowledgement that buyers have a lot of information, there’s also a pretty strong feeling that customers are getting that information, but it’s not necessarily the right kind. This is a worry for a lot of sellers who walk into a selling situation: the customer seems to know a lot, they certainly feel they know a tremendous amount, but they may be quite misinformed, not necessarily better informed. The sources that they’re using from something as basic as Wikipedia to a blog to third party references and so forth. So while the consumer is more informed, they may not be better informed.

This next point was a surprise to us at the intensity of it: do sales professionals believe that social media is important in their success as a salesperson? This included Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. Virtually half of the people believe it’s important.

It was quite interesting to see that US at 27 percent and UK at 33 percent, not super important, but emerging in the market, but Brazil and China, those markets are really getting it, and they are using social media very extensively in how they tackle their selling job.

This is a very interesting moment in time for salespeople.

The other thing that came through really, really strongly is that salespeople, they know the world is changing, they feel that social media is important, but they’re not getting much help. The level of agreement is that the buying process is changing faster than sales organizations are responding. It was a bit surprising to learn how many sales professionals feel that their own companies are afraid of their employees using social media.

This is as basic as many companies blocking Facebook; people in the legal departments and policy-setting departments of companies are actively discouraging people. Do not use social media. You can’t control all the information. This is a very interesting moment in time for salespeople. The world is changing. Buyers are going to social media to get information. They know it’s important, but their own companies are often reticent to give them full access to it.

Sales people plea, help me with social media!

There’s a real plea coming from the sales people of the world: I wish my company offered more help in using social media. We’re seeing a change in the marketplace. Many of us have grown up with the sales funnel, whether you’re on the sales side of the marketing side, and it begins at the top with awareness and goes down to action and so forth.

When we did our research, we were actually trying to find where the funnel ever came from, and it was invented in 1898 by the great St. Elmo Lewis, who was one of the founders of the advertising community.

So many of us have grown up with it, but there are a number of problems with it. Number one, it’s a seller-driven process. You sort of drop people in the top and through the magic of your own efforts and gravity, they magically fall out the bottom. When you look at the world where the consumer is digitally empowered and you look at the world where consumers have so much control, it really does not seem as relevant.

The power of the individual consumer is amplified dramatically.

When we talked to our panel of experts around the world, there was a very, very broad feeling that the funnel needs to be reinterpreted for the empowered digital world. It’s more of a customer-driven journey, where they may experience some trigger events that get them to start thinking about the category. Buyers do lots of research which is very independent and driven by them. They have a shopping and purchase pattern which can zig and zag around.

There’s a big recognition that the customer journeys don’t stop at purchase. The old funnel stopped after you made a first sale. There was recognition that after people have made their first purchase, as they use and experience the product and category, there’s tremendous new selling opportunities there.

At final stage, is where we are seeing this huge impact of the sharing stage. So after the buyer has had an experience with a brand or product, whether they love it or hate it, it’s very, very, very easy for them now to tell everybody. We’re seeing in businesses. This of the mobile phone business, every experience is amplified. Every time you go on a trip, you may alert people on things like TripAdvisor, or a third party rating blog. The power of the individual consumer is amplified dramatically.

The bottom line is that we see a shift, a new framework emerging. The traditional, linear, seller-directed funnel is giving way to a much more organic customer journey. It’s a big messier, a bit more interesting, much more end to end, and the consumer is definitely driving the bus along the way.

We’ll have part two that includes information from the panel, later this week!

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