LeadJen’s Jenny Vance contributes to iMedia Connection this week in her article about the growing trend for businesses to begin using social media as a way to spur sales effectiveness. Vance lays out and explains three steps companies should use when wanting to add a sales component to their social media program; monitor, respond, and convert.

In social media there’s a lot of buzz about listening to conversations and building content that can play a role in online discussions. Why not take it a step further and put a strategy in place to help turn these conversations into sales opportunities?

There are at least three types of social media “mentions” you should familiarize yourself with so you can monitor and help drive sales:

  • Brand mentions offer an opportunity to engage with existing customers to further propagate positive mentions and immediately respond to negative mentions, building awareness and customer loyalty.
  • Mentions sharing negative comments about competitors’ products or services on social media channels are opportunities for you to win new customers and gain market share.
  • Point-in-time-need mentions are the best opportunities to engage with qualified prospects because they are actively looking for a solution to an identified need.

Many companies do a competent job of listening and developing relevant content with the goal of generating interest and engage leads online.  However, responding appropriately and in a timely manner is a labor intensive issue that tends to trip-up social media efforts.

Take for example, a national gas station and convenience store chain that decided to monitor social media channels to identify those who talked about gas prices and specific retail items carried by competing stores. The retailer hoped to capitalize on these conversations by promoting specific offers to people discussing these topics. When the effort was initiated, the company found it had nearly 700 relative mentions a day. The questions then became: how can the company respond, what type of response is needed, and who is going to do it?

The stakes are high for companies wanting to use social media to spur sales. Responding in an open market where anyone can see the conversation is risky and requires staff with business acumen. Responses need to be controlled and measurable. When adding a sales component to your social media program, use these three steps:

Listen to your target audience by carefully selecting and monitoring key words. Look for additional terms people are using to capitalize on.

Develop messages and test them. In social media, companies can send either branded messages from the company or non-branded messages from individuals. In either case, the messages should point recipients to additional content: a landing page, an offer, an article, or other content. Test these elements in various combinations (branded vs. non-branded, offer vs. landing page, etc.) to see which ones drive the best results.

Social media messages combined with links provide a wonderful way to engage people and convert the conversation into revenue. Include in your strategy ways to foster conversions with messages by encouraging recipients to like you on Facebook and join your email list. Measure your success by following the click all the way through the sales funnel to determine if the program is driving leads and sales, and what the value of the sale is.

Once your strategy is in place, run a pilot program to determine if there is a business case for a full roll-out. Then you can identify the right mix of talent to make it work — a tech might be good at monitoring conversations, while an experienced sales rep might be the appropriate person for responding.

Keep in mind that while finding sales leads using social media may cost more than traditional prospecting methods, the cost of the sale is often greatly reduced. Similar to an inbound sales lead, social media prospects already have a need, so you spend less time educating and start closing the sale quicker.

Jenny Vance is president for LeadJen Inc.

On Twitter? Follow Vance @jennyvanceindy. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.