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Not Your Grandfather’s Customer

Note: This guest blog post is by Jon Ferrara, a pioneer of CRM solutions. Currently, Jon is the CEO of Nimble; and was the co-founder of Goldmine. I am honored to have Jon as my guest this Wednesday, May 16th at 11 AM/ET (8 AM/PT) on Talk Business With Howard which airs on Blog Talk Radio. 

Jon Ferrara, CEO of NimbleThank you, Jon, for the guest blog post and for being a guest on the radio show. Looking forward to talking about Nimble, which every CEO, president and business owner needs to discover – a platform which helps individuals and teams build better relationships by unifying contacts and social engagement. Jon is also a thought leader on social media and sales so we will have much to talk about. You can listen to the show right here on this blog post. – Howard –

Listen to internet radio with Howard Lewinter on Blog Talk Radio

It used to be that if either a person or a business wanted to buy something, their first contact was with a sales representative. After that initial engagement, they might have asked friends or co-workers for informed opinions, but usually only after they’d already been “sold” by the sales rep.

If a company wanted people to buy our product, we had to yell at people. We tried to get the attention of our target audience through direct mail, cold calls and print, radio and TV ads. If we were lucky, we generated positive, far-reaching word-of-mouth through Mad Men-style advertising gimmicks, raving customer service stories or clever taglines.

Social media have turned this model on its head. These days, the sales rep is often the last person that a customer contacts. Consumers and businesses are listening to what their online network is saying about your offerings. And they’ve started yelling back.


The Evolving Customer Relationship

It’s estimated that by the time an interested buyer actually approaches your company, they’ve gotten information and opinions from between seven and 10 different sources. The fact that you’ve been vetted already works in your favor, but you’re not a sure thing yet. Your prospects want to know who you are and why they should buy from you.
You’ll be better prepared for the savvy new customer if you know who they are. That’s where social selling comes in.

It’s not really a new concept, though our reach is now dramatically extended. We not only know what’s happening in our own personal contacts’ lives, but we can see what their friends and business associates are thinking and saying and doing.

Yes, people who sell things have always used personal connections to encourage patronage. They got to know the parents of their children’s friends through school functions. They joined civic organizations for face-to-face networking. They engaged with their communities in numerous ways because they genuinely liked expanding their pool of friends and acquaintances, but also because they knew that people base at least a part of their buying decisions on the likability, accessibility and personality of the seller.

Social selling simply moves that in-person interaction onto your computer, making your limited local network a vast, global one. Just as your potential customers already know a lot about you before they contact you, you, too, can learn a lot about them by engaging with social networks, like:


  • What kind of marketing do they respond to?
  • What do they say publicly?
  • Who are they influenced by?
  • What are they interested in, and what are they buying?
  • What are their pain points, and how can you help them?


Building an Effective Online Presence

Social selling is about sharing your passions publicly and thus humanizing your brand. It lets you give your company a face and a personality. It’s not so much about the what as the how and why.

You’re not simply giving your audience a rundown on your products and services. You’re discovering what they’re passionate about, which can lead naturally – organically – into a discussion of how you can solve a problem or improve their lives, and why your company is the right choice.

It’s the age-old basics of persuasion, given endless possibilities by our modern social media tools.


I like to describe the basic tenets of this process by using five “E” words:

Enchant. Build an online presence that will attract the audience you want. You have something that many people need, so draw them in by building an appealing persona.

Educate. Here’s where the “why” comes in. What exactly do you have that they need? Why should they buy something from you? Don’t sell; describe and explain. Let them see value and benefits and results, not lengthy product descriptions and spec sheets.

Engage. Like. Comment. Chat. Get involved. You’ve shared your passions; encourage others to do the same. Even if they’re not potential customers, they have friends that are.

Embrace. Identify those individuals and companies whose needs mesh with your strengths. Formalize connections and continue to talk, listen and watch.

Empower. Show them how their lives can be better or their businesses can run more efficiently, how your presence in their lives helps them fulfill their own personal and professional missions.


In Other Words: Be the Butterfly Milkweed

My wife, Arlene, designs sustainable gardens here in southern California. She creates communities of trees and flowers and other vegetation that both nurture and depend on one another. They’re beautiful, and they require minimal maintenance.

Arlene understands these relationships. She knows that the natural order of the world has its own kind of intelligence, and she uses that knowledge to bring together life that will flourish as it co-exists.

One day when I’d been pounding away on my computer for hours, she brought me out into out garden and introduced me to Asclepias Tuberosa, otherwise known as the butterfly milkweed.

Want bright orange-and-black butterflies in your garden? Include these plants in your master plan. They’re what’s for lunch, if you’re a Monarch. In fact, it’s the only thing that both the caterpillars and the adult butterflies eat.

When I learned about this natural bond and the symbiotic relationships that all of the individual living entities in Arlene’s gardens have, it became instantly clear to me that this it was a perfect metaphor for my social selling philosophy. If I want to build and maintain the right social connections, I must attract the desired mix of people by providing something they need, and then planting myself in a place where they can find me.


New Sales Model, New Freedom

Effective selling requires lifelong learning, a lot of hard work and resilience. Effective social selling is actually rather a liberating concept. You can be yourself and let people discover who you are. And you can slowly become a part of their lives by showing genuine interest in them.

Social media and the connections they facilitate can accommodate this exchange of needs, passions and ideas beautifully. So cultivate your networks – your virtual sustainable gardens – wisely.


Jon Ferrara‘s passion is building relationships. He’s been designing tools that help salespeople and their customers create and strengthen relationships for over two decades. A thought leader in the social media field, Jon practices what he preaches. Jon was the co-creator of GoldMine in the 1990s, and his latest creation is Nimble, a social relationship manager that lets users unify the social streams of people in their lives. Its simple, elegant tools also provide myriad paths to new connections. You can check out more at or follow him @Jon_Ferrara on Twitter.

PS: Don’t forget to listen to the discussion Jon and I had about social media, social business, social selling, social CRM and about how Nimble is a tool to help you improve your business. You can listen to the audio replay at the top of this blog post. You are welcome to post any questions or comments.


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