Stop the Madness – Social Networking is not a Panacea

You’re Not Ready for Social Networking

A colleague who operates a retail franchise asked me my thoughts about incorporating social networking into his Internet sales efforts. Currently, he tracks about 35% of his sales directly to customers who first contacted his store via the Internet.

As I explained to my colleague (without trying to sound like a killjoy) I have no doubt that franchisees can and do sell their wares using Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The question, however, should not be “How do I use social networking to drive sales?” but rather “Am I ready to use social networking to drive sales?” For 99% of the franchised retail locations out there, the answer is that you’re just not ready.

“Internet sales” (let’s not call it Internet marketing just yet) is an evolution. Think of your Internet sales approach as a “crawl-walk-run” strategy and determine where your store is using this scale. For example, if you’re not closing 20% of the leads generated by your website, then you’re still crawling. Put some processes and training in place to make sure you’re selling all of the low-funnel buyers before spending hours maintaining a Facebook page to possibly attract high-funnel browsers.

I Think I Can Fly

Social networking, you see, is in the flying stage of the crawl-walk-run continuum, because it takes roughly 100 times the effort to generate one sale as a good old fashioned salesman following a good old fashioned process working a good old fashioned lead. The ROI is just not there. Spending time managing a company MySpace account without successfully managing the leads and calls you’re already getting is like skipping first, second and third base on your way to home. It’s just not a homerun if you don’t touch all the bases.

I gave him a few examples to help him determine where his store was on the crawl-walk-run continuum:

You’re still crawling if:

  • You don’t have a written, clearly defined Internet sales process that includes at least 90 days of follow-up;
  • You’re not actively managing your store’s online reputation; and
  • You don’t currently collect 99% of customer email addresses in your store.

You’re just walking if:

  • You’re not logging at least 90% of your inbound sales calls in your CRM tool for future follow-up;
  • You’re not sending monthly, targeted email messages to your database (and I’m not talking about an e-newsletter here); and
  • You don’t have a clearly defined SEO strategy that includes managing your presence on the local searches.

You might be running if:

  • You’re consistently closing 20% of your Internet leads and phone ups;
  • You employ an effective SEM strategy; and
  • You’ve exhausted all the traditional leads sources available to you and you are actively seeking new ways to drive customers into your store.

But Twitter is Cool

The sad truth to all of this is that the cool stuff you can do on the Internet in the retail business, like social networking, is useless to an Internet sales department that has failed to do the heavy lifting first. We all want to do what’s new and glamorous, but there are no magic bullets in sales – it all takes work and 99% of that work is not glamorous.

This is not to say that social networking can’t have a huge impact on a brand, because it can. As I explained to my colleague, leave the bulk of the social networking to the manufacturer (the owners of the brand) until you’ve successfully harvested the low hanging fruit for your store.