Want to creep your customers out by employing social media as a sales tool? There’s an app for that.

No, seriously, there’s not really an app. But it’s all too easy to come on like a stalker if you misuse social media in your sales efforts. And, needless to say, most customers don’t react well to that.

For some buyer-centric wisdom on what’s creepy and what’s not in social selling, you might find it useful to look at a survey of 273 buyers conducted online by HubSpot, a vendor of sales and marketing software. These respondents represented a combination of B2B and B2C buyers.

Good news, cautionary news

First, the good news from the survey. About 60% of the buyers said that, as a rule, social selling tactics aren’t creepy in and of themselves. And a majority of the respondents said they expected sales reps to research them online before making a first contact, whether that be e-mail or phone call. So in general, buyers don’t find the use of social media to sell to them offensive.

But when the survey started to drill down to specifics, the answers were a little bit different.

When the buyers were asked, for instance, whether they would find it creepy for a sales rep to message them about a LinkedIn or blog article they’d written or posted, a majority – 54% – said, No, that’s not creepy. But the result was flipped when buyers were asked whether a sales message referencing a recent change at their company would feel creepy. In that case, 56% opined, Yes, that would.

In regard to Twitter, 52% of buyers said it would be creepy if a sales rep sent them a direct, cold tweet. But only 38% found it creepy for a salesperson to tweet them referencing one of their own tweets.

There’s a pattern here that you may have noticed. When the sales rep refers to something the buyer has already expressed, the social media contact becomes more welcome. But when a contact implying a degree of intimacy comes out of the blue, it feels to buyers like stalking.

E-mail and Facebook

The survey made a couple of other important points:

  • Some 55% of the buyers said getting a sales e-mail about a social media post of theirs would feel creepy. Clearly, buyers don’t appreciate it when a rep tries to take a contact out of a relatively public arena like social media into a private one like e-mail. Again, buyers like to feel that they are the ones initiating or choosing to deepen any burgeoning relationship.
  • As far as sales is concerned, Facebook is a different animal from other kinds of social media. Fully 81% of buyers said it would be creepy for a rep to send them any kind of Facebook message, and 78% said the same about a Friend request. Buyers see Facebook, apparently, as being for social contacts exclusively. Use it for selling at your peril.

Research with care

To be sure, researching prospects or customers via social media to better understand their needs is just fine. In fact, you can hardly do without such knowledge.

But if you follow up your infodive with customer contacts that are too obviously based on your social media search, beware. You might creep buyers out rather than flatter them.

Maybe we can state a conclusion this way. You always want to know as much as you can about your buyers, both before and during the sales process. There’s nothing wrong with using social media to gather such information. What you don’t want to do is call attention to the fact that you’ve been researching the buyer. Be subtle and use what you’ve learned in an indirect way, to shape your proposals and responses to their queries.

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