As the number of users of social media continues to grow, the boundary between our personal and professional lives begins to overlap. Unsurprisingly, the customer buying cycle is also beginning to change. By the time a prospect has reached out to a sales rep, in most cases they already know what they want because they’ve done their research on social channels, canvassed their peers on community forums and downloaded materials. Where the customer goes, so does sales.
Carolyn Charles, Project Specialist and Bernard Chiu, Project Specialist, have been helping to lead the effort to transform traditional selling at Cisco into social selling. Their social selling strategy leverages the skills and expertise of Cisco sales reps by giving them the tools and support they need to interact and engage with customers in this new and constantly changing environment.
I spoke with Carolyn and Bernard separately to discuss the innovation that is taking place within the Social Selling program.
JR:You’ve rolled out Social Selling into APJC (Asia Pacific, Japan, China) and EMEAR (Europe, Middle East, Africa, Russia), how are things going? Have you noticed any differences in how the regions are adopting these new capabilities?
Carolyn Charles: There’s a lot of excitement and passion, particularly in the APJC region. Each region works quite differently with the technology. Twitter is more likely to be used in the Americas than in EMEAR, but ultimately the teams all have a very similar style of working. They all are on the same page wanting to be involved and using the latest and greatest technology—they’re willing to try anything. I found that the APJC sales team really enjoys the one-on-one connection that LinkedIn enables. Many of them are in new roles and are eager get started and feel that Social Selling is an ideal way to meet their new customers.
The Americas team is a little further along in the program because that is where it was rolled out first. For EMEAR & APJC, this is quite new and they have a real passion for it; they are thinking outside the box and actually innovating beyond what we have formally rolled out. For example, one of the sales reps in EMEAR has created a group for his partners. They are thinking creatively and are pioneering new ways of working with their customers and prospects.
JR: Have there been any surprises in the Social Selling program?
CC: I never thought we’d get SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads) so quickly. We were very surprised it happened so soon and so quickly. I was also pleasantly surprised how up for it the sales guys are—how supportive they’ve been. I haven’t heard anyone saying “oh, not another thing they’re making us do” but rather “yeah, this is going to work.” They’re getting marketing support and wanting to use it in their everyday efforts, and they’re also taking the initiative and trying things on their own.
JR: At a high level, what have you learned from the program?
CC: The adoption has reflected some generational differences. Our team are generally early in career and are thus actively involved in finding the best ways to use social media in their day-to-day life. They are not just using what we give them, but are actively suggesting and trying new ideas. I’ve learned there are so many new ways to communicate, and that the sales team like to control how they communicate with their network through the type and frequency of posts they use. I think these new methods of communicating will help our sales team develop new contacts, which can be really hard to do.
JR: What do you think of the status of Social Selling at Cisco?
CC: I’m really proud that on our “Full Circle Giving Back” day, when our VP John Donovan was asked by the CEO of the charity we were supporting how they can increase their visibility to potential contributors, John said social media is the way forward. The scope of how you reach people is much bigger today, and it’s how people want to connect. I think it shows he is 150% behind the initiative. I think Cisco, on the whole, is on par with most other enterprises of this size, but I also think there is a lot of excitement. There’s been a shift — new talk from Cisco’s leadership that sounds very powerful. “Be amazing or be surpassed” was one call out that resonated with me personally. I think this is what customers want and how our social network will evolve. It’s going to get more and more exciting.
Jennifer Roberts (@rideboulderco) is a Social Media Marketing Manager and leads the Social Selling program. Carolyn Charles is a Project Specialist and co-leads the Social Selling program.
As you probably know, networking can bring your career to a new level. Who you meet can open a variety of doors – you’re able to meet new clients, gain referrals, meet future peers, find a mentor, or begin a new partnership. The possibilities are endless.
Gone are the days where you would print out a stack of business cards and keep them in your wallet to hand out wherever you go. Now, with the digital age, your business card is your social presence. Interacting with someone digitally is the new norm; connecting with a colleague on LinkedIn, tweeting at your favorite brand or company, sharing your favorite articles on Facebook – these are all ways to network from right behind the keyboard.
So, what’s the benefit of getting active on social networks? Here are my top three benefits for taking your networking skills to the computer:
Reach Brands Directly. Many brands are active on social media and are curious about how their customers and partners are using their products. Use this to your advantage and start a conversation about their latest launch, an article they posted, or good customer service. They’ll likely respond back with a follow-up question or a kind note as a way to thank you for reaching out.
Save Time and Money. While you should continue to go to live events when possible, you can network through social channels whenever and wherever you go. You can reach out to brands on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn through your phone or desktop without the hefty price tag that comes with traveling.
Interact with Industry Leaders. If you refer to an article written by an industry leader, tag them by using @[their handle]. On Twitter, for example, many company executives and brands will favorite or retweet your post as a way of engaging back. It’s a way of interacting with people you might otherwise not get the chance to.
Have you started networking online? Share your thoughts in the comments.
First impressions really matter. We know this intuitively, and you may also have seen the stats that say it takes web visitors less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression, and just 2.6 seconds for a user’s eyes to land on that area of a website that most influences their first impression. Visitors make their decisions on whether to stay or leave in 10 seconds or less.
Visual design – the photography, graphics, typography and layout on a page — has a lot to do with initial first impressions that your visitors have. While it’s not the only thing, paying attention to visuals in the right places can have an important impact on how you connect and engage with visitors to your web and mobile experiences.
Last week I was on an interesting panel that included some colleagues in digital design from other companies: A well known express shipper, a major wireless provider, a cutting edge design firm. We talked a lot about what makes visual designs work. Then, we talked even more about other factors beyond visuals that are required to make an experience effective.
Where Strong Visuals Matter
Strong visual designs are immensely important in attracting attention and engaging users, especially where they’re new to your brand and company or organization. At Cisco, we have examples of this in our home page, immersive experiences around specific topics such as Internet of Everything and many other places.
A sampling of some of the visual designs in our Cisco.com and mobile digital space.
Good and consistent visual design does great things: It helps to quickly establish trust with your brand. It orients people. It keeps your visitors engaged. A good visual design can lead users to the right places on the page, and help them make decisions.
Visual designs don’t need to be extreme or snazzy to be effective: You can use good simple visual design to lead users to a key call to action. For instance, one of our panel members pointed out that good adherence to visual scanning principles makes sure that button and other key elements are obvious, raising the probably that users will engage. Another follows a strategy of using visual and interactivity and make sure the online experience is enjoyable, fun and efficient.
One of our panelists pointed out that users tend to scan a page in an “F” pattern, looking across the top, down the left side, and the slightly lower and horizontally on the page again. This remains true even with tablets, and probably works the same way even in the horizontal themes that are emerging, such as Wired.co.uk’s new home page design.
OK, but something all of us panelists emphasized is that visuals are just a piece of the digital experience. We all also have many important “boring” pages where visuals are more muted but where principles of good design are essential.
For instance, the visual treatment of this simple search results box below, while perhaps aesthetically “boring,” results in a very effective design that collects the most important information around a product all in one place, lays it out in a very scannable format, and makes it obvious how to connect with someone at Cisco to find out more information.
The search results box on Cisco.com.
While simple, this is an effective design for our customers and partners who are often working on problems on deadline and need information quickly, unencumbered with fancy visuals or other distractions.
Some Tips From Our Panel
That simple search results design above gets to the heart of the matter: “Design” is much more than bold visuals, and in any design project you should tune your visual design to the user’s goals and the task at hand. Here are some points for the panel:
Design end to end – When you’re design a new experience, think about the entire experience from someone searching on Google or Bing to landing on a mobile page to the offline interactions they may have in between. This experience should “designed” end to end and not just a screen at a time.
Design for actual people – Use personas or other techniques to design for real types or users who are completing real tasks.
Do Some Wireframing and IA up front – Use basic wireframes (simple diagrams of your pages/screens) or concept drawings to articulate the basics of an experience before you dive into an extensive visual design. (but see the next item)
But, visual comps can help – A corollary to the notion of wireframing is to have some strong visual comps on hand that you can show to your sponsors or decision makers. Sadly, black and white wireframes won’t convey the fireworks they’re expecting.
Don’t throw away common sense visual design rules: With today’s poster-oriented page layouts, often assembled with mix-and-match panels, it’s tempting to allow a random quilt to emerge on pages rather than a holistic design. But, with a good visual system, you can balance fidelity of the visuals: Create a design system with a good strong blend of iconography, infographics, photos and the information itself. Avoid blending incompatible styles and leverage modules and patterns to make things easier on your designers and agencies.
Embrace change, prototype quickly, be agile – With almost every project now, we create quick prototypes to understand how the designs will work. These are also good tools for testing with users, and demonstrating ideas to our stakeholders.
Test and learn – As you have protoypes ready or finished live implementations online, test and tune your designs. And then test some more to optimize. There are a number of tools at your disposal for this, including well-crafted A/B tests (including control groups), usability testing through online self-service or facilitate sessions, five second tests, and other techniques.
Finally: Don’t create a monster you can’t feed – This is perhaps the most important rule of all, and one that it’s hard to convince teams about until they’ve lived through a few projects: You may have the most splendorous design in the world, but if it is hard to update or expensive to maintain, it will quickly go stale and obsolete. To use a real estate analogy, don’t build a 30-room mansion if you can only afford to maintain a small bungalow. Think through the ongoing costs of production, localization, management and other factors when you create a new design. It’s important not only that a design look good and work well, but that it’s maintainable.
Above all, beware of projects that start out with the main requirement to “do something cool.” If you focus on the true business and user outcomes you want – and follow the advice above – you will like end up with something not only cool but useful.
The subject of fragmented channels, which is fragmenting audiences, has been written about frequently. Advertisers though, secretly still long for the “glorious” days of focusing on just a few major channels and is one of the reasons why the rare shows that can predictably garner mass audiences (Super Bowl in the US, World Cup Soccer, personality driven radio shows etc.) attract a very high premium.
However, rather than chasing the very few predictable high-audience opportunities, the marketing dollar is much better invested in building up the complete view of your audience by integrating multiple touch points through which they are engaging with your brand. The audience has not disappeared – it is simply spending a smaller slice of time engaged through a particular medium. But brand loyalty is still as real as it ever was in the days of the “MAD MEN“.
And what’s more, the benefit of this integrated view is not simply to drive better marketing and sales leads (which it will), but to also inform corporate strategy – for your stakeholders are talking to you all the time, leaving behind breadcrumbs of valuable information if you are willing to take the effort to piece them together and read them. However, this remains challenging, though progress has been made.
Fully 88% of buyers suggest that social channels are strong influencers during the purchase decision process. A whopping 84% of Millennials trust their friends over advertising or sales messages. (Both stats according to a McCarthy Group report.)
Long gone are the days of disingenuous and detached Mad Men and corporate spinmeisters. The customer journey has evolved. Buying behavior has changed dramatically and irretrievably, to the point where customers exert much greater control and judgment, often informed by trusted, authentic, even anonymous sources.
New buyer behaviors demand an updated supplier response
Since 70% of the buyer’s journey occurs online before they ever talk to a sales representative or supplier, it’s important that buyers find what they are looking for, including positive feedback on your company and its offerings.
It doesn’t matter if you represent a business-to-business (B2B) enterprise, a business to consumer (B2C) company, or are business to government (B2G) focused, we are all headed toward a ‘people-to-people’ model. ‘Human-to-human’ (H2H) is what author and influencer Bryan Kramer calls it. Bottom line: people buy from people, and they place a high value on trust, authenticity, reliability, and other factors when making purchase decisions.
You and I have already adopted ‘the new way’
Think about your own digital behavior, the one you undergo when you purchase something online (or offline). Before you click the ‘purchase’ button or sign the contract, what do you do? I take a look at the reviews for the product or service to see what other users have commented about, what they like or don’t like about the core product features in comparison to their competition, ease-of-use, reliability, the company’s reputation, and their post-sale service.
Just as I rely on the brake lights of the car in front of me to signal that the driver is slowing down, I rely on feedback signals from brand sites, app stores, neutral reviewers, existing customers, and public social media regarding products or services before I buy. It’s this people-to-people reference and connection, this human feedback, that we all trust and follow.
We all look for the ‘star’ rating on sites
Businesses know we look online for their ratings and they know that we are following the advice of others when we make purchase decisions. It’s common practice for businesses to ask us to ‘like’ and rate their products on their website, on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, OpenTable, or other social sites … and to leave a review if we are satisfied with their service. The power of people-to-people is self-fulfilling as it gains steam with every new review written and every decision influenced, and is growing at an exponential rate.
Don’t underplay the power of the people
What do you do about it as a business leader? People are going to say what they feel and sense and experience about your company or its products, so be involved and talk with them. You will get to know your customer better and ultimately, improve your product or service. If you’re not listening, you will miss great opportunities for innovation. More importantly, if the feedback is negative and you don’t do anything about it, your ratings will decline, and so will your business. Doing something about it will often lead to public kudos.
Cisco’s brand is ranked #13 most-valuable on the planet according to Interbrand (nestled between BMW and Disney at a $29 billion valuation) and we continue to monitor what is being said through social media, our websites, mobile apps, hosted online communities and discussion forums — as a way to learn from our customers what we can do to improve on even that amazing value.
Your competitors are already out there
Remember Tower Records and Borders? They were slow to adapt to digital music and online bookstores, causing their businesses to suffer. As a result they are no longer the top brands they were 10 years ago. Companies like these thought they knew best and didn’t evolve with the digital age, and didn’t listen and respond to their customers or changing market behaviors.
Your next potential customer is online shopping right now – investigating and evaluating well before their purchase decision – and they are comparing you against your competitors to determine who has the best product or service according to the reviews and social buzz. Many of them will make their decisions based on peer reviews and trusted neutral recommendations alone. Consumers are looking for social reassurance about their purchase decisions in order to reduce the risk of a bad experience – so you’d better be engaged.
Once damage is done, it’s difficult to fix
Once someone has posted an unfavorable review about your product, it is nearly impossible to rescind, and of course, the worse the feedback is, the more people will find and read it. We’ve all heard the brand meltdown stories — from the ‘United Breaks Guitars’ video with over 14M views or Amy’s Bakery FaceBook saga, both examples of what could happen and what not to do. Remember to listen to what is being said about your business and have a social media strategy in place before you need to handle any unflattering reviews.
“The Customer is King” (or “… Queen”)
Really, this is not just a marketing slogan someone dreamed up. The point is: your current customers are the ones who are in control — they will be providing feedback that prospective future customers will read and rely on — and the insight upon which those prospects will base their purchase decisions. Listen to this feedback and use it to guide improvements either in your product, your customer service, your policies and practices, your ease-of-doing-business, or some other aspect of your business.
At Cisco, we cultivate a group of Cisco Champions. These ambassadors are external experts who are passionate global champions for change. They share their perspective with the broader Cisco community of customers, partners, and prospects, and they offer their time to help others learn about and connect with Cisco in unique ways.
We also have a Cisco Customer Connection program whose members get direct access to our product development and engineering teams to influence our innovation roadmap, suggest product improvements and new features, recommend user experience improvements, and more.
These and many other activities augment our formal market research and informal market listening, sensing, and engagement activities – so that Cisco can respond with agility to emerging customer needs and shifting business trends.
Provide a feedback mechanism
If you don’t have a mechanism on your website for your customers to provide feedback, pro or con, they are still going to share it on Twitter, Facebook or somewhere else. It’s best to provide ways for customers to connect with you directly so they can channel that frustration or delight in productive ways.
We have multiple approaches … In the footer of Cisco.com we ask for and receive a wide range of feedback. We continually monitor what is being said about Cisco in the traditional media and through social media, and we have a strategy to provide appropriate actionable responses. We have social listening centers throughout the company, including one outside our CEO’s office, one in our Customer Briefing Center, one in the digital ‘nerve center’ with our core team, and multiple instances of social listening tools and reports accessible online. This allows all of us, from the general employee to our CEO, to see immediate feedback after any news release, business update, customer comment, product launch, or analyst report.
Use today’s tools to advance your brand
It’s people-to-people world out there! Ten years ago, FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn didn’t exist to connect people, give them a voice, or to empower them with a platform, a channel, and access to potentially millions of others around the world.
Today, customers are using these platforms (and more) to provide feedback that shapes your company’s reputation and brand value. Prospective customers are using these ratings and reviews to inform their purchase decisions. Start listening and engaging to help shape your company’s reputation and to position your offerings in the minds of new buyers all along their purchase decision journey.
B2B, B2C, B2G — it really doesn’t matter; it’s all P2P and H2H.