Social Media: The truth, but not the whole truth

It seems as if Social Media is taking over our lives in every way.  If you are not on Facebook, if you are not LinkedIn and – perish the thought – if you don’t tweet, you really must be a bit of a  loser.  And not just socially, but in business as well.  How many articles, books and blogs have been written in the past few months about how essential it is to promote yourself through these media if you are ever going to sell anything to anyone?

Well, there is probably some truth in this, but I am reminded of a quote that I saw recently: “20 minutes of face-to-face time is worth more than a whole year’s worth of emails!”  Now, in this context, a barrage of social media is equivalent to a year’s worth of emails.  It’s all well and good to create some ‘noise’ around your product or service (call it ‘thought leadership’ if you really want to), but many products and services are sold face-to-face, based on a trusting relationship built over time.  That’s hard to achieve through electronic media, no matter how clever and friendly your tweets may be.

With so much advice now focussed on social media, what can we say to those who need help in developing the trusting relationships which are essential for them to sell, and to sustain their business?  Assuming that you have the core relationship skills of curiosity, generosity and the ability to listen, the final ingredient is:  discipline.  Quite simply, it is up to you to control the pacing of your contact plan.  Too frequent, and you will scare people off.  Not often enough and they may think you are not interested or, worse still, you may miss opportunities that have emerged in the meantime.

To achieve this, the answer is very simple – you must develop your own diary system.  You can do this in Outlook, on a spreadsheet, with pencil & paper, on post-it notes.  Anything you like, but you must do it.  You meet a new prospect at an event and send a follow-up email – what happens if you receive no reply?  When do you try again, or make a call?  You should decide this the moment you send the first email and record it in your diary.  Your prospect says they will call you next week – where do you keep a note of that date?  You have sent a proposal – when do you chase for feedback?  You agree to catch up over coffee later in the summer – how do remind yourself of that?  If you can keep control of the dates in all of these situations, you will be giving yourself the best possible chance of business development success.

Some businesses may have this sort of activity centralised, but if you have look after this yourself, find something that works for you and give it a go.  If you run out of energy, or it is simply not working for you, try it from another angle, but never give up in the quest for discipline.  If you do, you will start missing opportunities.

My business certainly falls into the category of building trusting relationships with prospects and clients, so how do I maintain my discipline?  For some time now, I have had a dedicated ‘marketing diary’, a simple A5 book from Smiths, where ALL my key contacts have a single entry to remind me what my last contact was (left voice mail, sent email, phone call, sent proposal etc.) and what my next one will be (send reminder, book coffee, chase feedback etc.).   Of course, things happen in the meantime, and dates can be moved forwards or backwards for many reasons, but every morning I can see which of my contacts I need to reach out to that day, and why.  The sense of control is very comforting.  What is even better is that I don’t even need to worry about the rest of my contacts, because I know that their time will come…

So, if you think that you are not in control of your contact plan for your clients and prospects, just buy a diary – it can be as simple as that!