An Exploration of the Value of Online Social Networks for Salespeople

An Exploration of the Value of Online Social Networks for Salespeople

Mary E. Shoemaker (Widener University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jcrmm.2012040101
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Abstract

Social Customer Relationship Management, using interactive technologies to have conversations with the customer, is rapidly emerging as a source of competitive advantage. Online social networking, such as using LinkedIn or Facebook, is being touted as essential to building customer relationships. Salespeople whose primary function is to build relationships are embracing online social networking to reach their sales goals. This paper reviews academic and practitioner literature to consider what aspects of interpersonal relationship building may be enhanced by the use of online social networks. Sales process support, trust building, weak tie leverage, customer value creation, buying center identification, and contact management are proposed as areas where online social networks could contribute value to sales endeavors.
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Online Social Networks

Social networks are the fastest growing of the Web2.0 tools (Lager, 2008). The most widely known and most popular networking sites are Facebook with more than 500 million users active users (http://www.plaxo.com) and Google’s Orkut are sometimes known as Facebook for grown-ups. Social networks are sometimes growing faster than the servers can handle (Sullivan, 2008). Forrester Research Inc. forecasts social networking will account for 2 billion dollars in Web 2.0 spending by 2013 (Lager, 2008). Not only are the numbers of people that are participating in online social networks exploding, but the amount of time per person and the frequency of visits per person are also growing. People consume social media in little bites throughout the day, mixing business and leisure interests (Webb, 2007). A Fortune magazine survey found that 51% of salespeople use social networking websites, 19% of those use the websites “to find additional contacts in their current client organizations” and 14% use the websites “to make connections with new prospects” (Miller Heiman, 2008, p. 121).

LinkedIn

An online social network is a web presence that can be shared with selected individuals. For example, LinkedIn allows a person to create a web presence, and then request to connect with people, building a network of contacts. A basic profile can include current and past employment positions, education, a picture, recommendations, and can possibly provide links to a company or personal websites, much like a sophisticated electronic resume. People who are not a connection can view a limited profile with a title, company and region. A person’s connections can view the person’s entire profile, and all his or her connections. A person can request to be introduced to someone’s connections though LinkedIn. A person who has 200 connections is two connections away from over 14,000 people and three connections away from 1.5 million people (LinkedIn.com).

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