"Selling hello doesn't have an ROI. It's about building relationships." Gary Vaynerchuk, American entrepreneur, and speaker.

What do more than two billion people in the world have in common? They create and build relationships through Internet-based social media. But ironically, in recent years, many businesses have blocked employee access to Facebook, Twitter, and similar sites, convinced they're productivity-sucking vampires with no redeeming qualities. You yourself may have been a victim of this practice—and I use the term "victim" deliberately here.

From a sales perspective, social media can be a godsend, and I believe it’s an important sales and marketing strategy. All it takes to boost your productivity via such sites is judicious application of the right strategies. The Millennial generation—the members of which are now entering positions of authority in high numbers—has literally grown up with social media, and they use it both constantly and skillfully. So if you're not investing time in creating and maintaining sales relationships with prospects and clients on social media, you're only hurting yourself.

The worldwide sales demographic has changed radically. Most consumers have become computer savvy to one degree or another, and the younger segments are fluent in social media. In 2012, the Harvard Business Review reported on a study revealing that social technologies have reached a potential value of $900 billion to $1.3 trillion annually—and that was several generations ago now, in the Moore's Law economy.

Building Bridges

Even casual sites like Facebook and Twitter can help you build a brand presence and create a community among your target market. A writer friend of mine maintains Facebook pages for several gardening companies. One in particular (an onion plant grower) has a built a vibrant community that exchanges pictures, recipes, and growing tips, and the company's president himself posts all kinds of informative videos on everything from how his company plants onion seed to how to tell if your onions have been damaged by frost. While they don't try to sell anything on Facebook, their sales have increased significantly since they started using Facebook (as well as Pinterest and Instagram) to build sturdier relationships with their customers.

Coincidence? I don't think so. For years now, marketers have used Facebook to drum up interest in themselves as people first and entrepreneurs second. The first feeds into the second, though, resulting in more sales from people who value the free content, advice, business tips, and strategies the marketers provide, and who simply like the entrepreneurs as real people with real lives they don't try to hide.

The ROI of "civilian" social media sites lies in the long-term relationships you build; they're almost always highly profitable in the long run. Cut off social media of this type, and you make it harder to reach the large segment of the population that depends on such sites to stay in contact with the world.

For relationship building, I’m sure you’re on LinkedIn. Not only does it make it easy to network with peers, you can easily connect with your clients and find new ones. These sites allow you to set yourself and your team up as gurus—problem solvers others can seek out when they need your expertise. Some sites let you track statistics, view conversational trends, and pick up on new social/business waves as they arise. You can also use tools on some sites to see what people are buying, how often they visit, and what advertisements work best.

Before denying the value of social media, then, consider the market reach it allows you, and the possibility of developing a digital marketing plan that goes beyond the dead-in-the-water banner ads that once dominated the medium. Beyond that, explore the use of Intranet-type forums within your organization that people can contribute to and draw inspiration from, as well as forums that include your clients. Social media can also let you share information, files, and other data, not to mention training resources.

Yes, you can waste vast amounts of time on social media; I've calculated that just 10 wasted minutes per day adds up to over 43 hours per work year. But when you use it appropriately to find new prospects, you lay the foundation for big profits in the future.

The longshot? Ignore or reject social media at your peril. Tightly controlled and properly used, it can boost your sales productivity and the bottom line in ways you've not yet dreamed of.


Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE, aka The Productivity Pro®, gives speeches and seminars on sales and leadership productivity. For over 25 years, she’s worked with Fortune 1000 clients to reduce inefficiencies, execute more quickly, and increase profitability. To inquire about having Laura speak at your next sales kickoff or conference, please tweet her @laurastack or visit www.TheProductivityPro.com.