Social Savvy Beats Cold Read for Warming Up to Customers

If you’re a dedicated skeptic like I am, you probably know the way a psychic’s cold read works. Start by asking a broad question that fits almost anyone — like, “Have you lost someone you love?” Allow the mark to fill in the blanks, and then ask further leading questions based on information fed to you until the mark thinks you’re actually communicating with a dead relative.

Salespersons play a more ethical version of the same game to learn about the people they sell to. They may walk into an office and, in a glance, learn about a potential customer’s interests, family, duration of time with the company, degrees earned, or job-related awards received. This gives the salesperson the opportunity to build rapport by making comments that allow the prospect to talk about these personal bits of information.

For example, if the salesperson sees a photo of the prospect’s kids in their soccer uniforms, the salesperson — without mentioning the photo — might joke about getting sunburned while watching the kids’ soccer game. “Yeah, my kids play soccer too,” the prospect might respond. With that, a personal connection starts to be formed.

When it’s done right, the prospect feels like a participant in a friendly conversation — not like the subject of a cold read. If it’s done wrong, it’s an awkward mess that can bring the relationship to an end.

Wealth of Details

These talents for gleaning information are no longer restricted to fake psychics or outside sales professionals. Social media platforms are providing all the clues that a prospect’s office might offer to a salesperson and making them available to anyone who cares to do the research.

A prospect may have photos of a kids’ soccer game, or a golf outing, or an anniversary celebration on a Facebook page, for example. If that page is public, it’s brimming with clues about that prospect’s interests and connections.

Often, we cross professional paths with people without even knowing it. LinkedIn is great for understanding the professional background of prospects; you may find that you have a professional acquaintance in common, thus providing another avenue for building rapport — along with details about experience, awards and education.

When you find these details, putting them into the customer record in CRM is the smart thing to do — but this is a function that technology has not yet automated. This is a social media activity that requires sales smarts and some actual work.

No Substitute for Sales Smarts

A lot of the sales technologies we have today automate the process of finding and understanding prospects, which has spoiled a lot of sales people. At a certain point, you have to rely on sales smarts instead of software. As it stands today, finding the right bit of customer data that can open a door or close a sale still relies on a salesperson’s ability to pull the right details out of the research.

Once you’ve done the research, you need to learn how to use the data properly. There’s no need to regurgitate everything you know about a prospect at the first meeting; if you do, you’re going to come across as creepy and a bit stalker-ish. Just because people are providing information about themselves through social media doesn’t mean they’re aware of it. Using it in the wrong way feels like an abuse of social media to the prospect. Instead, you need to use it like those canny outside salespeople have used it in the past: Open conversational gambits that encourage the prospect to volunteer it.

The art of building rapport with customers has never been more important. Today’s customer wants a trusted partner, not a pitch person. Part of building that trust is establishing a relationship early on. Doing that is never easy, but thanks to social media, sales pros don’t need to apply the cold read to potential customers — as long as they remember to get a read on them through social media instead.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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