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Like scary stories? Then have we got one for you. And while this story may not be about the unrested souls of the dead, for marketing and sales executives, it’s an even scarier tale. Your customers are possessed, haunted by a hidden sales cycle of unseen influence shaping their preferences and priorities. This unseen influence, or course, is the reality of today’s empowered, ultra-informed customer brought about by the frictionless access to content and community, and it’s driving the approach that many organizations take to social media.

Aberdeen’s social relationship management research shows that the top two pressure-shaping social media initiatives are the proliferation of new channels for engagement (63% of respondents identified this as a top pressure) and the influence of third parties on customers’ decision journeys (56% of respondents identified this as a top pressure). To put another way, customers have an increasing number of channels to access an increasing supply of information. This is the “hidden” sales cycle.

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The objective of social relationship management then is essentially to first reveal this sales cycle by understanding their customers’ decision journeys, and then to influence them. There are two primary approaches to take to accomplish these goals. The first is to engage the influencers – the taste makers and pundits – that are shaping the social conversation. This is more achievable in some markets (specialized or highly technical product markets, for example, often rely on a relatively small corps of mavens for information) than others (such as general consumer or luxury goods markets). The second is to become a source of influence through direct engagement with customers, which can happen through both organic “earned” media and paid channels. These approaches can also come together when customer advocates become influencers themselves.

To this point, Aberdeen data shows that Leaders are not only more likely to identify both influencers and customer advocates, but then to engineer engagement through social media marketing programs that include incentives, integration with marketing programs, content, and paid channels.

Yes, losing “control” of your customer might be scary (note: you never really had it to begin with), but not having a plan for engaging buyers in the hidden sales cycle is truly frightening.

What else don’t you know about the hidden sales cycle? Shed some light on this shadowy process by reading our report, “Navigating the Hidden Sales Cycle: Brand Building and Demand Gen Top Social Relationship Management Strategies.

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