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Social media: Getting ‘LinkedIn’ with customers, companies

By John Lorince

Can social media—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, among others—be an asset to electrical distributors? Many of you are skeptical, perhaps thinking, “Twitter? Half the comments are about how long the line at Starbucks was that morning.”

Well, not so fast. Social media can be a profitable tool for the savvy distributor. But ours is an industry that has been hesitant to jump on board and one that has many customers who do not see the value in it. It is a slow, nurturing process.

Whether your business is involved in social media or not, you are on it. Customers are going to talk about you, whether literally by word of mouth or via the discussion boards on various web sites. The best approach is to get involved in it and engage with your customers.

Some companies may be hesitant to join social media, perhaps afraid of finding negative comments from customers. But by participating, you can at least respond. You can look at that negative comment as an opportunity to interact with that customer and possibly turn that comment around.

People coming into the business today are younger and they are used to getting their information differently. And you have to embrace that reality. You can’t avoid it.

The first social media outlet I want to examine might surprise you: LinkedIn. Yes, it’s viewed primarily as a job search site—one in which people build up and add contacts to be tapped in a future job search. But for sales, inside or outside, LinkedIn has great potential.

At a recent marketing meeting, I asked people to give me the name of a company. I went on LinkedIn, searched that company and found five people among my contacts that were one step away from a person within that company. Now that one person may not be the decision maker, but among my contacts could be someone who would connect me to that person and whom I could ask to recommend me to that sales decision maker. You have now turned a pretty cold call into at least a warm call.

Type a company’s name into LinkedIn and often you can find the names of the key players within the company, how big the company is, how much their revenues are and how long it’s been in business, among other things.

So when you approach that company, you’ll have some background information about it. At least you’ll know the name of the decision maker. And you may, via LinkedIn, be only a connection away from getting to meet that person.

People give money to people. They don’t give it to businesses. It’s about relationships and how you develop those relationships. If you’re interested and knowledgeable about a company you’re calling on, they are bound to be more responsive. It’s just human nature.

One of the oldest advertising techniques in existence is getting endorsements. LinkedIn can be a way to ask your longtime customers to write something about your company. Many people, if they’re not already familiar with you, will go online and research what other people say about you. (This is very common in the restaurant business.) This facet of LinkedIn is a great way to allow others to recommend your services.

There are many social media options. Which ones might be the better fit for our industry? In future columns, we will explore these outlets and evaluate their potential for electrical distributors.

Lorince is the marketing manager at Leff Electric, a wholesale electrical supply distributor headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Contact him at jlorince@leffelectric.com.

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