Jon Ferrara of Nimble: Social Selling is About Striking the Right Balance of Insights and Instincts

Integrating social signals and finding insights from them will be increasingly important in forging relationships with modern consumers. Jon Ferrara, Founder of relationship intelligence application Nimble, shares his take on what it takes for traditional sales professionals to build successful relationships with very different customers than they’re use to.

Jon also discusses the role insights vs. instincts plays in sales today, and will play in the future as more social signals are created, processed and distributed through social channels.

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social selling todaySmall Business Trends: From when we first started talking about social selling to where we are today with it, how different is it today?

Jon Ferrara: Sales has always been social. Business has always been social. People buy from people they like and they like people who know them. You can’t know somebody without doing your homework, without doing your background research to get to know who that person is, who that company is and figure out how you might best be able to serve them. Because sales is about service.

If you start out from the service mentality and figure out how you can help that other business person or that company grow, from that perspective, if you do that on a daily basis, you will have success in selling.

So social selling isn’t different other than the term. Social CRM, where we’re starting to apply the idea of social to customer-facing business practices, that allow us to do what is old-fashioned smart: connecting to the right customer at the right time on the right channel with the right message. Authentically and relatively building a relationship with them so you have the opportunity to serve them.

Small Business Trends: What does it take for a traditional salesperson to be successful in the age of technology savvy people totally cutting out the salesperson?

Jon Ferrara: There’s a new buyer journey. There’s a new social customer that, in the old days, the marketing department would yell at and interrupt that person and get them to line up in front of their sales person, who controlled the conversation, controlled the marketing material and bag them and tag them. That’s the old way of selling.

Today, customers are doing their own homework. They’re having conversations among themselves on what they’re going to buy and then they’re making the buying decision without talking to a sales person. Then when they’re ready, they reach out and they yell back and expect an authentic and relevant response. Most companies’ idea of dealing with that is to hire a 25 year old kid and have them listen to who’s yelling at them. Or worse yet, to have the market department yell at the customer about how great their price and services are.

Today, a new social sales person needs to participate in the buyer journey by being a trusted advisor who is paying the relationship forward by inspiring and educating them. So that when they do make a buying decision or are considering buying something, they think about the sales person and also bring their friends with them.

Small Business Trends: How do you get a salesperson who is used to doing things and having a certain outcome on board? Do you have to leave them out and find people that are ready to deal with customers the way they want to be dealt with today?

Jon Ferrara: I think that’s a great question. And as you move outside of social tech and into the middle of America and the rest of the world, where people still think that Facebook is someplace where you hook up with your high school sweetheart and LinkedIn’s a place to get a job and Twitter’s a place where a bunch of propeller heads tell each other when they’re going to the bathroom, and they’re basically telling you that my customers aren’t social. It’s hard to argue with those people and you shouldn’t. Because ultimately, what they’re going to see is their peers or their competitors are outmaneuvering them by being a modern salesperson who is focused on paying relationships forward and by serving their customers as their customer advisor.

Even a company as big and as old as IBM is adopting social selling and empowering their customer base and business team members to begin educating and engaging with customers to build their individual brands, which ultimately builds the company brand. If IBM can do it, can’t you and I?

Small Business Trends: Is speed more important today than five years ago?

Jon Ferrara: Absolutely. When somebody is ready to make a buying decision, if you are not part of that conversation during the moments where they’re considering it, you’re done.

On a regular basis, I share content every day to build my brand and grow my network. I probably get 100 – 150 signals a day of people +1-ing, and liking, commenting, retweeting or otherwise engaging with my brand. Then hundreds more on the Nimble brand. How do you figure out which one of those signals matter?

As a social salesperson, if you’re at all successful at sharing content that inspires and educates, you then have to respond to those signals. The worst is to create engagement and then not follow through. So there is a signal, somebody’s following me on Twitter. Do you go and look at who follows you every day on Twitter?

Small Business Trends: I don’t personally, but I know a lot of people who do.

Jon Ferrara: But you can’t. You really can’t if you’re at all successful. You can’t monitor your signals and that’s why you need an intelligent relationship platform that will look at your signals, identify ones that matter, surface them into complete records that you can now authentically and relevantly connect to.

Small Business Trends: What percentage of insight vs. instinct do they need to be successful?

Jon Ferrara: I’m going to say that instincts outweigh insights and it’s going to be 60/40 or maybe even 70/30.

Small Business Trends: Now let’s go five years out. What is it then, in five years?

Jon Ferrara: I really believe that the intelligent engagement and relationship systems are going to balance the power of people with less experience. The intelligence that will be provided by these systems are going to drive it closer to 50/50. I can see a time where a human being aided with a second brain-intelligent relationship platform outperform somebody with instincts without the insights.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.