Lead assignment by social proximity. There’s gold in them thar processes.

Lead assignment is at the heart of every organization’s sales processes. Since people buy from people, not companies, the most important question asked of B2B sales managers is “who should work the deal or account?” It can also be the most complicated.

The importance of the process is directly proportional to transaction or account size. For medium to large B2B opportunities, a simple round-robin type assignment process just doesn’t make sense. For these deals, most businesses manage assignment using criteria like industry vertical, geography, opportunity size, product type and track record. Whether the processes are informal or formal, the objective is to apply these rules to maximize sales. Unfortunately, most B2B companies are missing out on a key opportunity to achieve this objective.

As every salesperson knows, people buy from people they know, like and trust. When offered roughly equivalent solutions, buyers will always pick the person who created the “know, like and trust” relationship. What’s more, common relationships, or social proximity, is THE most important factor in relationship building.  

People are psychologically wired with a trust equation that gives disproportionate weight to social proximity. That’s why sales leaders have always subjectively factored relationships into lead assignment. However, this approach was limited by its very subjectivity and perceptions of “unfairness”. Managers also didn’t have the benefit of social network visibility. Before social media, how many of us could list our “2nd degree connections”? If you’ll excuse the cliché, lead assignment by social proximity was only  employed when an insider relationship jumped up and bit us on our collective  asses.

Well, no longer. Thanks to the emergence of business social media, sales managers can now access hard social proximity data . When salespeople share social accounts with their employers (which is happening increasingly), it becomes possible to create objective rule-based lead assignment, using LinkedIn “degrees of connection” and Facebook “common acquaintances”.

The most important factor in the “know, like and trust” equation, social networks, can now be used as a primary means of lead assignment.

For those of you who aren’t yet social media converts, below is an example of how it works. I did a search on LinkedIn for Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. Two of my connections are directly connected to him, which I would never have known without LinkedIn.

Assuming I am a candidate to work a deal with Salesforce, a sales manager could (i) evaluate my connectedness to decision-makers at Salesforce, (ii) compare my social proximity to other members of our sales team, and (iii) make an informed and objective lead assignment decision.

Successful selling is becoming more relational than transactional. Social selling is accelerating this evolution. Sales leaders cannot afford to ignore the opportunity to assign leads based on social proximity. It makes common sense, and it also makes money.

If you have any experience, processes or tools that you use to take advantage of social proximity in lead assignment, I would love to hear about them.

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