The use of social media by salespeople has exploded over the last few years. Social media includes internet-based platforms where content is generated and exchanged by users to interact with one another. Such platforms can be personal (Facebook), professional (LinkedIn), and forums and blogs. Both B2C and B2B salespeople also use social media to generate leads and develop and maintain strong customer relationships. Social media use can help salespeople gather in-depth knowledge about the customer. It can also help resolve disputes, reveal opportunities, and align objectives by exchanging relevant information via an informal medium. All these can boost relationships between customers and sellers.
However, the impact of social media use on customer loyalty can also be negative. A recent study investigates this phenomenon and attempts to answer the question: How does the use of social media by salespersons affect customer loyalty in B2B sales?
Customer loyalty is a measure of a salesperson’s effectiveness in maintaining relationships with customers. It refers to an expressed preference for a supplier and the intention to maintain and expand business relationships with them in future. The study found that two factors determine whether customer loyalty will increase or suffer due to salespersons’ social media use: customer status and the size of the customer’s buying centre.
Customer status refers to the relative importance of a customer to a supplier. High-status customers demand and often merit special treatment and selling behaviour. These customers expect frequent and accurate communication from their suppliers. Salespersons can provide appropriate and helpful targeted information through social media, fostering loyalty among high-status customers. On the other hand, low-status customers might find social media communications intrusive, even annoying, as they would be obliged to reciprocate and incongruent with the relationship with the supplier. Hence, social media use by salespersons is more helpful in the case of high-status customers.
The other factor is the size of the buying centre, which refers to the number of people involved in making purchasing decisions for the product or service. When the buying centre is small, salespeople can concentrate their social media communication efforts on fewer individuals, customising their communication and leading to more effective customer exchanges. This tactic helps in enhancing customer experience and developing greater customer loyalty. When the buying centre is large, customising social media communication is not done as it becomes difficult, leading to lower customer loyalty. Hence social media use is impactful only when the buying centre is small.
The use of social media in sales is a relatively new development, and this study is amongst the first of its kind. Therefore, managers need to exercise caution before using these findings to develop a social media strategy. But what seems to be clear is that even in the internet age, in-person communication and relationship building are still critical. So organisations need to ensure that social media-based communication is actively supported by traditional forms of communication such as face-to-face meetings, telephonic conversations, print-based literature (brochures, catalogues, newsletters) and emails.
Beyond this, organisations also need to make efforts to overcome the issues indicated by the study. They need to find ways to customise and target social media communication for low-status customers and for customers with larger buying centres to avoid limiting the reach of their salespersons’ social media use efforts.
The matrix below summarises suitable approaches for the use of social media based on customer status and size of the buying centre:
Figure 1: Implications for salespersons
Source: Salesperson social media use in business-to-business relationships: An empirical test of an integrative framework linking by Fabian Bill1, Sven Feurer, & Martin Klarmann