How Cisco Uses Social Media to Close Big Sales (And More)

When Cisco account executives have a big deal they want to close, they don’t take clients to dinner at Bottega in Napa Valley or for a round of golf at Pebble Beach. No, these days, the supplier of telecommunications and IT systems leads key decision makers into the Social Media Listening Center on its San Jose campus.

“We brought in a chief communications officer from a big prospect who was a little skeptical about social media,” says Charlie Treadwell, Cisco’s social intelligence manager. “What we do is show the customers what their customers are saying about them. So we’re going through the demo and this guy actually jumps out of his chair and says, ‘I know this [bleep]! What’s he saying about us?’ After the session concluded, a deal was imminent and the communications chief was muttering that he wanted a listening module of his own outside his office.

Cisco can only do three or four of these high-level briefings a year. They take a lot of planning and they can be risky. If one happens during a new product or financial release for the client, the social buzz can turn negative. “They’re hard to do. It’s for driving large sales with key customers,” Treadwell says.

Deal-closing is just one side benefit of Cisco’s social listening program, which the company credits with turning in an ROI of 281% in its first full year of operation. Comprising listening programs from Salesforce.com’s Radian6 unit and state of the art hardware from Cisco, the center collects audience insights, aids customer service, and focuses activities of outside creative agencies and “partners,” Cisco’s term for dealers.

“We had started by listening to our customers’ conversations, identifying their pain points in an effort to guide our objectives,” says Treadwell, formerly an art director in Cisco corporate affairs, who was charged with monetizing the social listening experiment last year. “Management started saying, ‘The honeymoon is over. We need to show value.’”

Radian6 helped Cisco do that by building complex public profiles guided by an organic pool of keywords. Simply using “Cisco” as a keyword conjures up the city in Texas and the unfortunate pooch shot by a copy in Austin. The Radian6 program filters down to actual customers talking about Cisco products. That also means foraging in the right locations—IT forums and communities such as Spiceworks where the discussion is high-level. “People don’t go on Twitter and say, ‘Hey, I’m looking to buy a $2 million communications system,” Treadwell notes.

The supercharged social system can dramatically cut reaction time. Treadwell says that one Twitter appeal was tagged by Radian6 as a sales lead and was immediately routed to Cisco’s Global Demand Center, which contacted the lead the same day. “One of our partners saw the tweet at about the same time. It took someone five days to help [the prospect], by which time we had already sold him.”

The system can also head off problems that might stymie sales, customer service, and product development if left to fester. Last year Cisco released a new a new cloud-based firmware outfit for Linxus routers that encountered user interface problems. “We saw conversations happening almost immediately on Reddit and Slashdot saying, ‘How do we undo this?’ The resulting word cloud said “update”and “rollback”—and I think “hate” might have been in there, too.” The legal department was called in immediately. They worked with communications to quickly post a blog telling users how to undo the update. A larger crisis was avoided.

The listening center manages in excess of  5,000 mentions a day and supports more than 70 Facebook pages and 100 Twitter accounts. There are five core members of the social listening team, three manning the center in San Jose and two working remotely—one being Treadwell in Arizona. A triage unit in the Philippines rates mentions for response urgency and routes them to the appropriate social “ambassadors” seeded throughout the organization.

One of the key Cisco sectors penetrated by the listening program has been senior management. Both the CEO and CMO have listening kiosks outside of their offices (see photo above) and monitor them during important events like product roll-outs and quarterly earnings reports.

As for that nearly 300% ROI, Treadwell says that it’s mostly due to increased productivity at several levels of the company. “It creates new value,” he says, “new data and insights and information that you couldn’t get before.”

Next up for the Cisco Social Media Listening Center is a fishing expedition for solid leads called (what else?), Listening  For Leads. “Marketing departments are now being scored on lead generation,” Treadwell says, “so when we go on a forum and see someone say, ‘I got a million bucks and I want to buy X,’ we capture that, run it through the sales team, and track it.”

Anybody out there listening?

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