Tweet, Tweetboy, Tweet

Anybody who’s ever participated seriously in an endurance sport such as running or cycling has probably experienced “hitting the wall”. It’s a term that’s commonly used to describe the devastating feelings of fatigue and confusion that can occur in the final stages of a race.

Lately, I’ve started noticing a trend with Twitter that can be likened to “hitting the wall”. A point at which a user feels confused, or even disillusioned with it’s value. At this stage their volume of Tweets decreases, often going days without sending any at all. They stop following anybody new, and nobody follows them back in return. Many people who hit the “Twitter wall” slowly disappear from the platform altogether.

I’ve been on Twitter for two years now. Looking back, I had zero expectations for how I would benefit, or any idea of “twitiquette” when I started. I jumped straight in and everything I know I’ve learnt through pure experimentation. I’ve stuck with it, turning initial curiosity into a real passion.

Unfortunately, I talk to many people that don’t share my enthusiasm. They have been forced to create a Twitter account by their company, yet have no real idea what to do with it. For an organisation to become a true “social business”, it’s not the platform that should be the focus, but the transformation of it’s culture to support real-time dialogue and engagement with it’s customers.

Of all the groups I see, it’s the business-to-business (B2B) sales professionals that I feel for the most. In this world, everything is about numbers and targets. Sales folk are under constant pressure to deliver or exceed their sales quota, and are only ever as good as their last quarter.

If you work in B2B sales, this post is for you – not your boss, Marketing Manager, or head of Corporate Communications. You – the person in the trenches, under pressure every day to bolster your sales pipeline, close more deals and now use this stupid freakin Twitter tool! I’m going to share with you what I’ve learnt, hoping that I’ll help you avoid some of the early mistakes I made. I’m assuming you know the basics of RT’s, @’s etc, therefore this guide is not for the complete novice, but those who want to build long-term engagement.

Understand your WHY over your WHAT

I talk to brands about this every day. The critical importance of not WHAT you do (make, sell, provide) but WHY you do it (higher purpose, cause, meaning, belief). In the case of Twitter, far too often people are told to use the platform by their management teams, but given no real reasoning behind it; therefore without a solid purpose, you will have no reason to continue engaging. The likelihood is, until your company understands it’s social strategy, it won’t be able to give you a purpose other than “just because other companies are doing it”.

If this is the case, it’s up to you to find your own purpose. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Twitter is going to bring you a wonderful stream of new sales leads – it won’t (well, not just yet). Think instead of the power of becoming the authority in your field, building new connections, assisting others based on your knowledge and building your own “personal brand”.

Think about what you can offer, and what you want to be known for. On Twitter, people care much more about the individual, than they do they company he or she represents.

Give, give, give!

B2B selling is about building relationships and delivering value. Twitter is exactly the same, yet so many make the mistake of just using it as yet another platform to push a message (think magazine adverts, billboards, or TV commercials). Here’s a hint: people don’t care about you, they care about what you can do for them. To be successful on Twitter you need to offer value first, second and third.

If you are at a party and the person chatting to you is only interested in the sound of their own voice, you will switch off. Twitter is the same. People who only talk about themselves are boring.

It’s not who you know. It’s who you don’t know

Whilst it’s fantastic that some of your friends, co-workers or even family use Twitter, just talking to them will do you no favours – you may as well pick up the phone, or send them an email. The power of Twitter is getting to know those you don’t already know.

Unlike Facebook, or LinkedIn, Twitter has no strict rules of who you can and can’t talk to. Therefore in my mind, it’s one of the most powerful networking tools on the planet.

Use the in-built Twitter search function to find people or live conversations that you might be interested in. Follow those you don’t know. Listen to what’s being said, and look for ways you can help others and start participating – just remember to focus on engagement, not interruption – and before you know it, you’ll have a made a powerful new connection.

Authenticity builds trust

If you only retweet (RT) what other people are saying, then you aren’t offering anything that your audience can’t get from someone else. You are, after all a person – not a news-feed. The whole Twitter experience for a B2B sales professional should be about authenticity – being who you are, and providing knowledge to your audience. You want to have a good blend of work content, as well as some personal stuff too – people buy people, and that is no less true in the world of digital.

Nobody is going to buy from you unless they trust you. In every face-to-face sales meeting, establishing rapport with your prospect is naturally the first thing on your mind – it should be no different in the world of social media. Twitter is a fantastic way to show who you really are, therefore building up trust with your audience which in turn will have them coming to you, rather than you having to interrupt them.

Who you follow is a reflection of you

People will check to see who you are following. If your follow list is overflowing with pop stars, models and comedians then you might not be taken seriously. Who you follow is a reflection of your own personal brand. If you want to follow the latest evictee from Big Brother, or fame hungry TOWIE wannabe, then it might be a wise idea to create a separate, anonymous account – just don’t get the two confused when you are Tweeting.

It’s a commitment not a campaign

Don’t expect to be closing your next £100,000 software opportunity within a week of using Twitter (although stranger things have happened). Your Twitter use shouldn’t be a means to an end. Like anything worth doing, there are no shortcuts. You will get out as much as you put in. The more value you offer, the more followers you get. The more followers you get, the more you build your personal brand.

Cleo doesn’t love you

If you see this type of account following you, unfortunately guys (or girls) you are not in luck. She doesn’t really love you, you are not going to see her naked, nor is it going to be her you are exchanging pillow-talk with over MSN.

Cleo is regrettably just Twitter spam. It’s important to check who is following you on a regular basis, and to block and report accounts like this. As well as checking out who you follow, people also will take a look at who is following you; therefore if your account is riddled with followers like Cleo, they are likely to form an opinion of you, and you are very unlikely to gain a new follower.

Twitter use policies suck

Yes, I realise the influx of abuse I will get from corporate leaders telling me the utmost importance of having a policy. Yet, I standby my belief that if you want employees to be raving about your brand and building an army of followers on your behalf, then you have to trust them to do so. Asking them on one hand to use Twitter, and on the other to adhere to a set of old-world corporate guidelines just doesnt work. It stinks of you not trusting your workforce – you are preaching about the importance of being authentic, just as long as its your version of authentic.

As a B2B sales professional, if your company is asking you to Tweet, yet also follow a huge set of rules so that they can kick your butt if you say something untoward, my suggestion would be to concentrate on your own personal brand. Use Twitter to your own advantage, demonstrating your knowledge and simply highlight that your Tweets are your own views, and have nothing to do with your employer. This way, you will build your own army of trusting fans that will follow you no matter who you decide to work for.

Employers should take a leaf out of Tony Hsieh’s book from Zappos. He has one rule for his company employees when it comes to Twitter – “be real and use your best judgement”. Twitter is about being authentic and transparent. Companies don’t have control anymore – consumers do. And they want to engage with real people, not a faceless machine. This poses a real threat to organisations that have hired the wrong people, have a weak culture or simply can’t trust their staff – in this case, policies are the only option.

Lack of content means lack of followers

It might seem a little too obvious, but it’s so true. In order to create a strong Twitter following, you have to add value by sharing insightful content. In your role as a B2B sales professional, you must be adding value to your clients daily, otherwise they simply wouldn’t buy from you.

Twitter is a brilliant platform to demonstrate your value to those who you don’t yet know – building up trust, and making you the first person they will call when they are in the market for what you are selling. Think about what you are offering to your audience, is it all about you, or is it something they can use and put into practice? If you sell software for example, you could share tips and tricks, or maybe even user adoption techniques? How about being really brave and inviting your followers to tweet you any challenges they are having with the software for you to personally own and address?

Unlike us, famous people don’t have to worry about distributing useful content daily. For the rest of us, this is paramount. Twitter by itself would be worthless without the content that is created by it’s users. Twitter is simply a platform – it’s the content that makes it so valuable. How compelling are your Tweets? Are they relevant, informative and useful to your audience? Or are they just about you?

Twitter isn’t just for 9-5, but weekends are sacred

I see plenty of Twitter users only Tweeting work related content, and only doing so during office hours. For me (others may disagree) this misses the whole point of being “social”.

When meeting with a prospect or customer in person, you are likely to talk about your weekend – therefore Tweeting during the weekend about the stuff you are getting up to helps “humanise” your Twitter account. I often Tweet about trips out with my nephew, nights out with friends, and make sure that I back them up by taking and sharing photo’s.

When I meet a customer on a Monday morning, its common for them to open the conversation with what I’ve been up to at the weekend – simply because they’ve seen what I’ve been doing on Twitter. It helps to strengthen the relationship on a more human-level, and goes a long-way in breaking the ice with a new client.

However, it is important to remember that people’s weekends are special. I very rarely Tweet anything related to my line of work during a Saturday or a Sunday. Your followers are people, they are enjoying their weekends and they want to see you enjoying yours. Tweets about your latest software fix-pack are rarely relevant on a Saturday afternoon.

Crush the competition

Picture the scene. Two salesman. Two software firms. One writes a Blog, has a Twitter account and is seen as a knowledge expert. The other has nothing but a price list. Who do you trust?

There has never been a more important time to build your personal brand. It takes a long-time for a customer to really trust a sales person, therefore anything you can do to boost your credibility with your target audience is going to catapult you above your competitors. Using social platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Blogs will help you elevate yourself from sales person, to sales authority. If you haven’t started, you are already behind. Don’t do it just for your employer – do it for you. Using social tools to demonstrate your authority and leadership in your space will not only help you in your current position, but it will make you even more visible and employable to others.

Tweets will go unnoticed

For your Tweet to be seen by the perfect prospect at the exact time you hit the “Tweet” button is pretty much a miracle. You have to accept that Tweets will go completely unnoticed, and not all will get a response. That’s why a commitment to Twitter is critical.

The use of #tags for your specific subject will increase the visibility of your Tweet – for example, appending #socbiz to the end of a Tweet which is about “Social Business” will get it seen by anyone who has set-up a feed containing this #tag. You can also set-up your own feeds to follow specific #tags, using an application such as TweetDeck – for example #cloud or #saas to be kept informed of people sharing information on Cloud Computing or Software as a Service. It’s a great way to find interesting people to follow, and to participate in conversations that are in your specific field.

In summary, here is why I feel Twitter is so powerful for you as a B2B sales professional:

  • It will help you build connections with people you don’t already know
  • It will take you from being a sales person, to being a sales authority
  • It will dramatically reduce your dependency on dreaded cold calling
  • It will increase your sales effectiveness, as you have built trust before meeting the prospect
  • You will be seen as an expert, not just by your company but in a much wider circle
  • Customers will find you, rather than you having to look for them

There is plenty more that I can share, but I hope for now that these tips will help you get on your way. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like any specific advice that isn’t contained above.

Just remember, if you get confused about what to do, then forget the technology – just pretend you are having a real face-to-face conversation with a customer. After all, that’s why it’s called “Social Media”.

If this post has inspired you, or if you feel that I’m talking garbage, then I’d love to hear your comments. And do your colleagues a favour – send it to them. They need your help to break through the wall.

  • Anna

    Thanks Mark, really useful information here. You persuaded me on to Twitter (!) and I’ve gained at least three new opportunities as a result even though I rarely tweet. This post is definitely inspiring me to do more with it… 

    • Mark Sampson

       Glad it’s useful, and fantastic to hear it’s working for you. Thanks for commenting Anna.

  • Simon Stafferton

    Great post, and totally agree with it not being about the platform, but how and who you engage with… which almost starts a move to one on one marketing. Note to self – must make and take more time to do this!

    • Mark Sampson

       It’s all about people, not platforms :-) Thanks for your comments Simon.