As anyone in sales or marketing knows, the sales process is more than a blunt approach with a single message; introducing yourself by immediately asking others to part with their money is not likely to win many customers. Instead, an effective sales process is one that guides potential customers through a journey that builds a relationship between them and your brand, eventually reaching a point of acquisition before cycling back again.
In the past, this cycle was mainly initiated on a broad level through carefully crafted print or broadcast advertisements, and on a more focused level through direct interaction with a salesperson. Today’s sales and marketing teams, however, have a broad range of online marketing options at their fingertips, including one that can assist along every step of the sales process: social media. From announcing your brand to the world to closing sales and assuring future success, social media can be an incredibly effective tool throughout the sales cycle.
For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to be using a slightly modified version of the AIDA process developed by marketing and advertising pioneer E. St. Elmo Lewis. Lewis broke the cycle down into four steps: Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. This process left out a very important final step that was added in later versions, and absolutely essential in today’s business world: Satisfaction. However, the basic principles outlined below can be applied to nearly any B2B or B2C sales model you choose.
In the AIDAS sales cycle, the initial crucial step is Awareness or Attention. Brand and product recognition are, of course, absolutely necessary; after all, it’s difficult to sell a product or service that your potential customers aren’t even familiar with. Social media lends itself perfectly to increasing brand awareness to almost every industry and target audience.
Through building social media fan bases, you create an expanding network of potential customers who are familiar with your product. By interacting with these followers and posting valuable content, you take the important step of nurturing these followers into highly engaged communities that are tuned in to what you have to say. The more your communities share your content throughout their networks, the farther your reach – and your level of brand awareness – will spread.
Telling potential customers who you are is only the first step; now, they need to know why they should care about what you have to offer. What makes your brand’s products or services interesting? What sets you apart from competitors? What unique or exciting benefits do you offer? While Awareness is mainly an early-stage effort (though it will continue at some level, and may be revisited with a major product or service launch), Interest should be an on-going focus of your marketing efforts.
Well-crafted and effective social media content should be focused on the desires and interests of your followers; it’s for this reason that we stress the importance of limiting overtly “salesy” social media content. However, that doesn’t mean that you should avoid posting about your products or services; rather, product-related social media content should focus on how the features and benefits of these products with meet the needs of your customers, and somehow help make their lives better.
When your target audience’s interest is piqued, the AIDAS model brings us to the next stage of the sales cycle: Desire. Your followers know who you are, and what you have to offer. They understand the features of your product or service, and what features and benefits it has that make you stand out from the competition. Guiding your followers through this next stage takes them from knowing that your product is good, to knowing why it is perfect for their needs.
Today’s savvy, plugged-in society needs more than just a sales pitch; they want to see for themselves just what the product can do, and they need to know that they can trust and rely on it. This is a perfect opportunity to put social media to work. For example, share customer reviews and testimonials through your social media channels; you could even use social media to solicit those testimonials, interacting with followers by asking them to share their thoughts in the form of a hash-tagged tweet, Facebook wall post, or LinkedIn comment. Videos posted on YouTube – and shared through your other social media networks – can offer followers product demonstrations. You could highlight the real-world application of your product by asking customers to share a picture of your product in use on Pinterest. Finally, use social media to bring your followers back to your website or to a landing page where they can learn even more about why they should want what you have to offer.
With interest and desire firmly established, it’s time to lead your potential customers into taking Action. While this could of course be in the form of a sale, having a customer subscribe to your newsletter or directly request more information might also be a desired action, depending on your goals.
At this point, the star in online conversions needs to be your website; it should be streamlined, informative, and easy to navigate. A poorly designed website or checkout process could frustrate customers, driving them away and even damaging your credibility. However, though social media may not play the largest role here, it can still be instrumental in driving followers to act on their desire. For brick-and-mortar stores, this could mean using social media to encourage followers to come by your stores to take advantage of specials or to view new products. For online retailers, social media might encourage followers to visit your website to purchase your product or redeem a promotional code, or might simply direct them to an informational landing page with a more direct call-to-action.
Though missing from the original version of the AIDA model, Satisfaction is undoubtedly one of the most essential steps in the sales process of a successful brand. Repeat customers, brand evangelism, and word-of-mouth marketing hinge on a satisfied customer base. This is a stage where social media can once again shine.
Social media networks can function as excellent customer service platforms. Through social media, you can reach out to and thank customers for their purchases, open the lines of communication for any questions, and quickly address and remedy any complaints or concerns they may have. Your overall goal is to assure the happiness and satisfaction of your customers – with the assistance of social media – so that the cycle does not end here, but continues on to help your brand grow.