Social Media and Sales Acceleration in the Public Sector
By Marc Hausman, Strategic Communications Group
When it comes to the public sector there is seldom a quick hit in enterprise sales.
Prospective government customers are appropriately demanding. They assess corporate capabilities and reputation. They evaluate product features and service offerings. They judge track record and contract performance.
A vendor that attempts to rush this evaluation process can sour the deal and, in some instances, soil the long-term relationship. That's because connections with government buyers are cultivated over time. In fact, it's quite common for the opportunity identification and capture process to be measured in years.
The payoff sure is sweet though. Revenue generated from a multi-year, enterprise deal with a government agency can run well into the millions of dollars. Plus, the lifetime value of the customer engagement is significant, as it provides a critical qualification that can lead to follow-on work and new opportunities.
At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), the majority of our clients sell complex products and services to government agencies, at both the federal and state/local levels. As such, our social media marketing focus and engagement methodology has gravitated towards direct support of the three most important benchmarks for success in the sales process -- lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture.
It is possible for executive management and marketers to align social media with sales by following four key steps:
Step 1 Evaluate prospects in the pipeline and prioritize the hot ones. Work closely with the sales team to cull prospects based on their purchase authority, intimacy of the existing relationship and timeline to buy. We'll typically select 20 to 25 targets who we anticipate having a need in the next 18 months.
Step 2 Map and monitor. Outline each prospect's social media engagement and online participation. What social networks are they active in? Do they blog? Who do they follow? Who follows them?
Monitor and update this social media map at least twice monthly to stay tuned in to how the prospect's network of connections evolves.
Step 3 Engage in a prospect's communities of choice. Connect socially with each target in LinkedIn, Govloop, GovWin, Twitter and the other online networks where they already spend time. Follow the conversations they participate in and stay tuned in to their updates.
Then, identify opportunities to bring value to the online discussion by sharing relevant content. This could include posts from your corporate blog, links to trade articles or research, and technical white papers and presentations. Steer clear of a blatant sales pitch by focusing on thought leadership and best practices.
Step 4 Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. Set tactical benchmarks such as the number of prospect connections made in a social environment, online interactions and prospect visits to the corporate blog. Government buyers engage with those they trust, so this dialogue represents a deepening relationship.
Equally important, collaborate with the sales team on an ongoing basis to shape content for the blog and provide intelligence on how prospects interact with the company in an online environment. Seek anecdotal feedback from sales reps to understand how they have leveraged these social contacts to move deals forward more quickly.
Marc Hausman is president and CEO of Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), a social media consultancy based in Silver Spring, Maryland. Strategic recently partnered with Market Connections to survey the social media participation of government agencies and the contractor community and present the 2011 Public Sector Social Media Study.