To tweet or not to tweet? People in the business of selling goods and services are increasingly wondering if it's worth communicating with the 140 million users on Twitter, the short message broadcast service.
With so many users, Twitter is filled with infinite potential sales leads, said Andrew Hunt, 34, founder of the Canadian solutions company Inbound Sales Network, which provides sales and marketing strategies to other salespeople. "It's important to know how to get the most out of the time you spend on the site."
One way to use the site, of course, is to build your own set of followers by tweeting and replying to other people's tweets. Hunt, for instance, has built up a following of more than 55,000 folks on Twitter. The more followers you have, the more likely one will turn into a sales lead.
No one cares what kind of toilet paper I use”
"You need to look for experts in your industry and connect with those people as well as the people following them," said Hunt. "You need to contribute to other people's Twitter conversations. That's the best way to establish yourself rather than just mass-following everyone to make your numbers look good."
Salespeople should mostly tweet useful information for those in the regions and industries they serve, said Hunt. Forget random musings and self-promotion. "Once you have people's attention, it's easier to contact them for business," said Hunt.
An Artful Tweet
Lori McNee, an artist from Ketchum, Idaho, joined Twitter in 2009 and began tweeting about art, animals, healthy foods and social media's favorite topic -- social media. She later found that she could also use Twitter to sell her work by directing followers to her blog and the galleries that carry her work.
"In the past year I've sold a few thousand dollars worth of art through the site," said McNee, who has more than 49,000 Twitter followers. "Still, there's a necessary balancing act between promoting your product and building relationships with people," she said. "You have to be cautious about not turning off your followers or they'll stop following you."
To find customers directly, use Twitter's advanced search function to locate people looking for your particular product or service, said Tim Sobocinski, 37, a regional vice president of sales for the Chicago software-as-a-service company The SAVO Group, which has 1,824 Twitter followers.
"Everyday people are sending out messages on Twitter saying, 'I need help with a problem'," said Sobocinski.
In 2010 Sobocinski was scrolling through his company's Twitter feed and spotted a tweet from a former colleague, Dan Schleifer, who was working as a product marketing director at Trustwave, a Chicago data security firm. Schleifer had helped his company build an internal wiki platform, but the information on that wiki was cumbersome and difficult for the company's sales team to use, Sobocinski said.
"Dan tweeted his frustration, followed by another message asking for help," he said. "Discovering those tweets allowed me to directly message him through the site and let him know that that is something we deal with everyday."
A few days later SAVO Group closed a deal with Trustwave's sales team to help them set up a new internal system for the company and its 500 employees. That business exchange led to Schleifer joining SAVO in April 2011 to head the company's marketing team, Sobocinski said.
Some companies are using Twitter to sell directly to consumers via the PayPal payments service. Minneapolis-based record label Rhymesayers Entertainment is in the process of setting up a Twitter-based sales platform to sell CDs, vinyl records, concert tickets and merchandise from its online store.
"We've been looking for a way to offer direct-to-consumer sales through Twitter, so this makes perfect sense," said Jake Schaefer, 30, marketing director and publicist for Rhymesayers. Rhymesayers has over 42,000 Twitter followers and plans send out tweets to sell tickets for the label's next round of tours and album releases.
Not everyone is a Twitter fan. Alan Canton, 64, a life, health and disability insurance rep in Fair Oaks, Calif., said he found using Twitter a waste of time.
"These days more people in sales are afraid of the sales process--getting out there and talking to strangers," Canton said. "Many of them are constantly getting ready to get ready. Twitter doesn't help with that." Canton relies mostly on networking with people at charity events and other meet-and-greets.
"I sell to everyone from Ma and Pa Kettle to C-suite executives," he said. "None of them care what brand of toilet paper I use, or what I just fed my cat, or what I just read. They want to know how I can help them individually."
Twitter declined to comment.
Write to Damian.Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com