Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director of Manufacturing.net, The Leading Source for Manufacturing News & Insight. Jeff is recognized as a manufacturing industry thought leader and has produced recent work on the adoption of social media within the manufacturing industry.
Given his expertise, I reached out to Jeff to discuss Social Selling, particularly within manufacturing. His answers provided a lot of great insight into this evolving hybridization of traditional sales/marketing and social media:
1. How do you define Social Selling?
Like a lot of new jargon that’s been created by social platforms, social selling will mean different things to different people depending on the context. In the manufacturing setting I think it can go one of two ways. First, some sellers will use outlets like LinkedIn or a Facebook group as a soft marketing tool, wherein you post some thoughts, look for feedback and nurture relationships. Once that relationship gets more comfortable, people start talking business and see if/where there’s a fit for the seller’s product or service. In this context things start as peer-to-peer information sharing, as opposed to a formal proposal or simple cold call. This contrasts with companies that are more consumer focused, as opposed to business-to-business manufacturing suppliers, where they might simply post coupons for everyone who “likes” their product or company.
The other dynamic is the buyer being proactive and searching these different social sites for sellers that match what they’re looking for and engaging in dialogue related to such a purchase. In this setting things are much more direct and less time-consuming. The focus is not on the relationship, but product specs, etc.
2. What differentiates Social Selling from traditional sales? What differentiates it from traditional social media?
It differs from traditional sales in that the value for both parties is established immediately. In other words, I’ll reach out to you via LinkedIn because I think you could offer some interesting perspective on a shared concern or topic, or I want to be your supplier, or I’m interested in your product/service. If the other party doesn’t see the value in establishing that contact, he or she will simply ignore the request. So you don’t have time for that initial first impression or stroke of salesmanship via a hand shake or cold call. In some ways it can be more difficult as it’s easier to ignore an e-mail than hang up on the phone or ignore somebody at a trade show. In other ways it can be easier if the buyer is familiar with the seller’s company or brand reputation.
The social media interaction is unique because it’s more focused and in many cases, non-social. For example, I don’t care how you’re feeling at this moment or what movie you saw last night, but I do care about what your thoughts are on tracing supply chain materials to protect against a product recall, or if you have a product that can help me in that regard. The other thing that comes into play is the need to touch, see, inspect or demo a great number of non-commodity items. So while social outlets are great for making connections, for many manufacturers there will always be a need, at some point and time, to have a face-to-face meeting in either sealing the deal or growing the business. That’s a lot different need than following Aaron Rodgers on Twitter.
3. Why has manufacturing been slow to adopt social media compared to other B2Bs?
I’d say this sector is simply following the speed limit. I wouldn’t characterize manufacturing as being too fast or too slow in adopting any technology. We kick the tires, take a look, consider whether it will work, take a test drive, and if it works then it’s full speed ahead. With the level of competition that’s out there, the number of jobs that are at stake and the fact that every manufacturing company works just a little bit differently based on product mix, supply chain, geography, labor and a whole mix of other factors, the industry as a whole moves very deliberately – and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. Pepsi can and should be more aggressive in selling soda via Facebook than a company who depends on a low volume of high-priced capital equipment or highly specialized components. In many cases the value proposition and value perception is much greater and much more important for a manufacturer and they need to be careful in managing their public appearance.
4. Does Social Selling represent an opportunity where manufacturing can excel? In other words, is Social Selling a better fit for manufacturing than traditional social media?
I’m not sure I’d say “better fit”, but it’s a good one, especially given the global presence of both entities. Anytime a manufacturer or distributor can get it’s name out across mechanisms that have a global audience, it’s a very positive thing. And that probably goes back to what makes the utilization of these platforms unique. All of the sudden a manufacturer in Hustisford, WI can market itself against a supplier in China on even grounds. Granted, there might be price differences, etc., but the opportunity to communicate and develop relationships is right there. Again, while manufacturing might have been slower, I think they’ve been appropriately slower in many instances.
5. What recommendations do you have for a manufacturer interested in implementing a Social Selling strategy?
One of the greatest things about this form of media is that you’ll know very quickly if it fits with your company’s culture and the way you go to market, or not. You definitely want to give it a try and see what happens because there is the potential for being notorious by one’s absence. That said, this won’t work for everyone so if you don’t get results and have concerns about the resources being allocated towards these endeavors than shut it down and go with the selling mechanisms that do work. Just don’t turn a blind eye towards it or forget about it because these social mediums will continue to change and have an impact on the way people across all societal and business realms interact.
Notorious by absence
Jeff’s last comment on participating (even experimentally) stuck with me: “You definitely want to give it a try and see what happens because there is the potential for being notorious by one’s absence.” I think this is a general theme for social media (and now, social selling): participation without dilution.
It is a delicate balance between navigating social networking technologies (and being viewed as an early-adopter) and getting lost in the shuffle because it’s a poor fit with your industry, you implemented the wrong strategy, or you merely jumped on the bandwagon.
Thank you, Jeff!
I hope everyone has enjoyed getting more insight into social selling from a manufacturing industry thought-leader. So thank-you, Jeff, for spending the time with us, and we look forward to collaborating with you more in the future!