Mining Facebook for 40% of Sales
How did a twentysomething salesman with few personal connections make use of the Internet to establish a customer base stretching from Taipei to Jiayi, and rise to the top ten in a sales force of more than 500?
Mining Facebook for 40% of SalesBy Chao-Yen Lu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 429 )
As soon as the customer pulls his car up in front of the Fortune Motors Sijhih dealership in Taipei County, salesman Hsiao Chien-min is out the door to greet him.
It's hard to believe that the 25 year-old Hsiao, less than 18 months into his first job and lacking the fast-talking persuasiveness of a traditional salesman, nonetheless emerged among the top 10 out of Fortune Motors' more than 500 sales staff during the first half of the year, even amidst a severely sagging automotive market.
So how did he achieve the status of super salesman despite his youth and relative lack of personal connections?
"With Facebook you can get to know a lot of friends through other friends and chat with a lot of folks whom you've never even met before," Hsiao says in his central Taiwanese accent. Accepting his first media interview, his hand nervously plays with his black business card case.
Online, he is anything but awkward or shy. In daily online sessions he always manages to bring up business, and nearly 40 percent of the cars he's sold have been sold to online friends.
Method: Whenever he has a free moment at work, Hsiao logs on to Facebook and heads to the "Happy Farm" game application. Through the popular online game he can interact naturally with other users, entering their virtual online "farms" to steal turnips or help water the crops. One of the characteristics of the game is that it can be played for just a couple of minutes or however long the user wishes.
After interacting on Facebook a number of times, Hsiao was able to build a basic level of trust with online community members. After seeing Hsiao's profile identifying him as a car salesman, some of them began to chat with him about cars. Hsiao invited those that perhaps had an interest in buying to join him on MSN to consult privately with them in greater detail about what they were looking for.
One of the main reasons he has been able to so effectively use the online social networking attributes of Facebook has been the support of his boss.
Lee Ting-yu, the 34 year-old manager of the Sijhih dealership, is online for hours each day. After learning from a friend earlier this year how popular the networking site had become in the U.S., he immediately signed up for an account and directed his nine sales staff to do the same. Due to the economic slump, walk-in customers had slowed to a trickle, and "you definitely have to take advantage of every opportunity the Internet offers to get your sales pitch out," Lee says.
Another advantage of the Internet is that it extends the reach of the sales force beyond the immediate locality into other regions, expanding the potential client base. Hsiao has made sales to clients as far away as Jiayi.
A Competition of Trustworthiness
In cyberspace, it is not just a competition over price, but of trustworthiness as well. Although salespeople can say whatever they want online, quoting any price without necessarily having to take responsibility, Hsiao emphasizes that it's all about "sincerity and trust."
"People online are wary of being taken for potentially affluent customers and afraid they'll end up paying more than others," he observes.
Hsiao once had a competitor's client mistakenly come into his dealership. Five days later the same person came back looking to buy a car from Hsiao, and they were able to immediately conclude a deal. As it turned out, the original salesperson had quoted a certain price online, but when the customer showed up in person, he went back on his word, offering a price NT$15,000 higher. Miffed, the customer turned to Hsiao. "News gets around fast on Facebook, and if you don't stand by your word, your online reputation is sure to be ruined," Hsiao says.
Looking at the bigger picture, what Hsiao has managed to do is seize upon a new generation of consumer automotive buying habits.
Before they've even entered a showroom, today's car buyers have already done their homework, performing online searches for all relevant information.
"The last order of business is actually showing up to decide whether or not they want to buy," observes Jessica Kao, advertising director for the sales division of Chinamotor, the parent company of Fortune Motors.
What's more, online research has become an extremely important part of the automotive purchase decision-making process. Customers have begun to accept that "people you don't know can become friends or someone you might consult for an opinion," Kao says.
Walk-ins Replaced by Virtual Visits
As such, for the new generation of sales agents like Hsiao, "walk-ins" are gradually beginning to shift toward "virtual visits," with salespeople first becoming more personally acquainted with potential clients to snap up business opportunities.
The rapid growth of social networking media presents a new opportunity for automotive products. In the past, sales of high-end models directly prompted through the Internet were quite rare. But with the advent of social networking sites and the increase in participation in discussions, when customers log on seeking automotive information, salespeople are there to provide an instant opinion, and that can help increase the rate of closing deals.
With his embrace of social media, this twentysomething salesman has also seized upon the new wave in consumer spending habits.
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy
Chinese Version: 深耕Facebook 四成買主是網友