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How to succeed at selling inside social networks (Guide to Small Business Ecommerce Strategy)

Great comment the other day from John Johansen on the discussion of when marketing becomes sales. John talks about “…the dichotomy of the social media focus on authentic content and conversations that don’t include marketing and the ease of using these channels for sales…”

He then goes on to ask, “Beyond just the blurring of sales and marketing, how do companies engage in authentic discussion with their audiences while at the same time looking to include their call to action that will lead those audiences towards a sale?”

It’s an interesting question, but a loaded one. Here’s why. Somewhere along the way, we’ve all come to believe the following:

Sales and marketing doesn’t represent authentic dialogue with our customers.

Why is that? Why can’t social channels allow for sales and marketing? Social channels allow for more honest dialogue, not less. The problem in John’s question is that he’s really asking, “How do companies use these tools when they have traditionally sold to people by pretending to be their friend?”

They can’t.

As this video shows, the rules of the game have changed.

For too long, marketers have built their promise around the idea that they’re here to be a friend, a pal, a trusted resource. Social channels require that you actually be that or stop pretending.

And that’s a very good thing.

After all, sometimes, we’re actually here to sell things.

What surprises many companies is that customers will often agree to let you.

@delloutlet – which Dell only uses to sell discounted, refurbished inventory – has over 1,200 followers on Twitter, more than “authentic person” (and good guy), @richardatDELL – and more than any other Dell business persona that I’m aware. HR Block has over 800 fans on Facebook. You might think, “‘Fans’ of a tax preparation company?!? For real?!?” Yes. For real.

Why do these – supposedly inauthentic – companies or marketing initiatives capture attention? Because they’re honest about why they’re there. They don’t hide behind fake personas. Notice, none of these pretend to be your friend. They’re authentically providing a service or offering you a sale, most likely information you can get somewhere else. But by going where their customers are and providing an authentic presence, they’re finding success.

So, really, the question is, when you use social tools, what’s your reason for being there? And do you authentically tell customers why you’re there or are you trying to hide the fact you’re selling something?

All right, Big Thinkers. Your turn. Tell us how you’re using social tools to grow your business in the comments below.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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