Can Twitter Improve Your Sales Process?

Last week I pointed out that the social networks phenomenon is relevant to sales and marketing and that it has a lot of potential value to business people. This week, let’s consider a relatively new and very interesting social network: Twitter communicates short messages, tiny postings (limited to 140 characters). The idea is to provide a way for people to answer the most common query between friends: “What’ya doing?”To follow someone on Twitter, you simply sign up for an account, search for their name (or their “handle”; mine is “mjweb”), and push the button that says “Follow.”
Once you have a Twitter account, you search for people you are interested in and push the button that says “Follow.” (If you’re interested, you can follow me at mjweb.)  When people you are following take a notion to “tweet,” their message goes out to their followers via the cell phone (SMS) network, as well as via instant messages and the Twitter website. When you want to tweet, people who have decided to follow you will see your message too. The result is a new (and popular) channel for conversations among people.
Like most people, at first I thought it was, well … just weird.
Who wants to hear me (or anyone else) talk about their visit to Burger King, or the Nikon camera they want to buy, or how tired they are from taking the red-eye from San Francisco? Especially when you may not really know these people?
Yet once you follow people you are interested in, you learn all sorts of new and interesting information you didn’t know before. During the presidential debates, for instance, some of the people I was following revealed volumes about themselves through their tweets. I’ve learned about people’s families, their travel schedules, and their personal reactions to McCain’s and Obama’s comments in the presidential debates. These are important things to learn if you are to really know people.
You can send direct messages to individuals (rather than to everyone who is following you) by entering an @ before their “handle” (e.g., @mjweb). And, of course, you can search the Twitter feed for messages containing words you are interested in. There is a lot of power in that, as I’ll discuss in a moment.
Here are some examples of why Twitter is growing so fast:
Someone heard about a bomb threat on the block where he worked. By sending a tweet, the news spread incredibly quickly. “Armano,” actually David Armono who writes the Logic + Emotion blog, tweeted recently about someone who fell off a building where he works in downtown Chicago. Earthquake news, even military movements like Russia’s activities in Eastern Europe’s Georgia, was spread by tweets much faster than such news has ever been able to spread before. All of the major news services are now monitoring Twitter for this reason!
Here’s another example closer to home: Home Depot placed an ad in a local newspaper with an offer that caused a man to visit his neighborhood store. Unfortunately, the local store knew nothing about the offer, and since he did not have the ad with him, refused his request. Of course, he announced his frustration to the world by sending a tweet!
This is where the story gets interesting: It turns out someone from Home Depot’s marketing department was “listening in” to Twitter feeds, searching for conversations about Home Depot. The man’s tweet caught their attention, so they called him to see if they could help. They then called his local Home Depot in an attempt to solve the problem!
Smart companies like Home Depot and even Comcast are starting to listen to Twitter to find and try to solve customer service problems. They consider it an early-stage warning system of sorts. Investors are even using it to keep up with news and behind-the-scenes information about the companies they are interested in.
Why Should You Be Interested in Twitter?

Why might someone be interested in what you or I say on Twitter? I’ll use myself, as an example.
As of this writing, I have 64 people following me. That’s not very many, folks! Some people, like Guy Kawasaki, have over 20,000 followers (although Twitter is trying to limit the number to 2000 now)!
By the time you read this, there will be more people following me because new followers arrive every day.
Why? Maybe they’re curious about what I’m like as a person, or they like my book, or they are interested in learning more about me because they think I might be someone who could help their business. Perhaps I fall into their target market and they think they might be able to sell me something in the future. Maybe they want to study my communication/marketing techniques. Except for the individuals whom I know personally, I don’t know why people follow me for sure.
Since people are listening and it is easy to do, I try to send out interesting/valuable information. I’m a real person: my son comes home from college, my daughter struggles with math tests in high school, and my wife is always looking out for me. I also run across interesting professional information-(like how social networks are affecting sales and marketing activities!). I let people know when I’m working with an interesting client situation (being careful to preserve confidentiality, of course). All this gives people a view of my world they might otherwise not have. When I tell people I’m working on something interesting, like a cool idea for a newsletter article, or when I’m getting ready to announce a new product, some of them respond.
So, what does twitter have to do with sales processes?  It shows people what I’m about, and so builds credibility. Of course, it can do the opposite, if not used wisely.
Twitter is another communication medium, like newspaper, radio, television, e-mail, podcasts, blogs, etc. It is another channel to reach your audience-and can be a very personal one.
People in the market are always looking out for ways to solve their problems, testing for who they can trust, who speaks their language, and who might have the special insights they need. Customer service departments and market researchers can scan for opportunities to communicate with target customers. Heck, enterprising salespeople might figure out how to get sales leads by scanning the Twitter stream!
Here’s how:
Just visit Twitter, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and enter your search terms. I’m interested in scoping out presidents of biotechnology companies at the moment, so I type in “CEO” and “biotech.” This gives me several interesting search results. One- nicoleatbio- is the handle for Nicole Ruediger, a Twitter member who is a marketer/writer at Biotechnology Industry Organization. She is providing a link to a speech her organization’s president (Jim Greenwood) gave about the current financial crisis. Scrolling through her tweets, I can see a variety of potentially interesting events about biotechnology companies. There are several other potentially interesting search results as well.
So what is the difference between this and a simple Google search? For one, Twitter feeds are almost immediate, so you are always dealing with issues of current importance. For another, I can start following nicoleatbio, so a communication channel is opened between us. I could get to know her and her organization better by following her tweets. If she sends out a tweet with a question for which I have a useful answer, I could respond with that information and thus initiate a relationship. 
This is not at all far-fetched, though it may seem to be if you haven’t done it. In practice, people develop communities of followers who they get to know in varying degrees. When attending a conference or trade show, for example, they can share tweets about what they see, thus providing a volume of observations and insights about what is most important to see while the show is going on.
Caution: It Takes a while to “Get” Twitter

It takes a while to “get” Twitter. If you decide to try it, I recommend you simply start following some people you are interested in for a few weeks. (Your cell phone will likely be beeping all the time, so do yourself a favor and keep it on stun so your wife doesn’t get aggravated with you … just a tip from experience.)
Everyone who uses Twitter quickly points out that overt “selling behavior” is quickly punished on Twitter. It is a sensitive medium: You have to listen for a while to get the hang of it, and if you tweet overtly promotional messages they are (rightly) treated as spam. Instead, you have to learn how to insightfully contribute to other people’s conversations and so earn a positive reputation.
I would say that Twitter is improving my sales process in several ways: First, it helps me to “listen in” to what people are saying (and asking) about the key words I am interested in. Second, it helps me find people I might be interested in-people with whom I would otherwise be unable to communicate. Finally, it enables more people learn about me.
After a while, you’ll see patterns and ideas in the stream of Tweets. You’ll learn things about people that you didn’t know before. I’ve gotten ideas for blogs and articles from the people I’ve been following. Guy Kawasaki, the venture capitalist and one of the original evangelists for Macintosh back in the day, swears that Twitter has made his website better. Click Here to See It.
If you are interested in learning more about Twitter, check out these links:
It could be that might work for you too. You’ll have to try it to see.


Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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Marketing guy - May 24, 2009 Reply

Great overview. Great timing. Been looking for a good explanation to send to clients. I just wish Twitter had some kind of ‘guest’ account that allowed anyone to contribute to the conversation without needing an account. We are starting to use Twitter feeds on websites to create an ongoing conversation. There is still a barrier to entry though – with regular people not ‘getting it’ as you mention. Still has a lot of promise though.

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