How do you know when, in the midst of conversation, to market? Is it never? Is it only when your conversational partner asks? How about at any reasonable opening to do so? Or is there a medium in between one more more of those?

From The Cluetrain Manifesto‘s declaration that “Markets are conversations,” we’ve all tried, and some have struggled, to figure out what that means, how we as marketers can capitalize on it and tactically, when in conversation can we market? Or more appropriately for many, when in conversation can we sell?

Ask 100 people and you’ll get 100 answers. Social media purists will say, “You never sell. You only make yourself trustworthy and ever-present and let the market come to you.” But how many salesmen do you know who make a good living just sitting back and never asking if they can help? None that I know of.

Lakhovsky: The Convesation; oil on panel (Бесе...

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I’ve often used the civic organization or professional networking event as an example of what conversational marketing is. You migrate around the room, listening to conversations until you find one you most appropriately fit into. You stand adjacent to the circle of participants until they recognize and let you in. You participate, smiling and laughing only, until an opening comes where they ask you to introduce yourself or you can contribute to the storytelling and cajoling without breaking cadence with the group.

Eventually, someone asks, “So, what do you do?” And there’s your first opportunity to market. But you can dive into sales mode. You just tell them, give them the background and let them know in an unspoken way, “If you need someone to do this, you can call me.”

Over the course of the evening, or even other meetings and weeks or months of getting to know the group well, you find other opportunities to tell war stories from work, share problems you’ve solved for other people and the like. You may even find yourself saying to someone, “You know, you look like a guy who could use a new X. Why don’t you come by next week and see me?”

That relationship-building and conversational marketing happens online, too. Far too often, however, many traditional sales-oriented folks try to rush it. We live in a here-and-now world. I don’t care what the social media rules are, I’ve got a quota to meet. Yes, the social era has begotten a shift in mindset and behavior for companies. This is one of their hardest areas to change. But how can they change and still meet deadlines, quotas and projections?

When is it right to market through conversations?

I’m not only interested in your thoughts in the comments, but I’m co-hosting a webinar on the subject tomorrow with NetBase as part of its 11 for ’11 Webinar Series. We’ll walk through ideas on conversational marketing, show examples of some companies doing it well. I’ll go over how to handle detractors in the conversational marketing world. Heck, I might even share some embarrassing stories of my own missteps in the conversation space.

Register for the webinar over at NetBase and join us at 1 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT tomorrow, Thursday, August 18, 2011. It’ll be a hoot.

Now … when is it time to market in conversations? Your thoughts? The comments are yours.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Chase Sherman

    Your example is well illustrated, Jason.

    I think this blog post is also an exceptional example of how to generate conversation marketing…

    Now with social media (and more specifically blogs), you can sell yourself through posts and create new raving fans by adding even more value with unexpected ‘twists’ at the end of the piece.

    In your case, you’ve ‘weaved in’ a webinar that furthers the conversation…

    Through social media this seems like the most effective way to meet those quotas and leverage platforms to serve your business interests.

    • JasonFalls

      Nice pick up, there Chase. I kinda thought like I was illustrating how to a bit there. But how many people got to the end and though, “Crap! All that to pimp a webinar?” Heh.

      Actually, the post and webinar are part of a larger question that I keep asking and don’t ever seem to find the answer, so it’s all part of the exploration. Hope the discussion will generate some ideas that can help us better define when it’s good and when it’s not.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Virtual Business Assistant

    Conversational Marketing is a marketing communications strategy and
    philosophy that helps companies drive revenue through their CRM
    strategies. So thanks for this great share….

    Online Business
    Virtual Assistant

  • RecruitingANIMAL

    Sales people don’t help you. A friend helps you. A salesman sells you something. The confusion of the two is a deliberate attempt at deception by sales and marketing people.

    • JasonFalls

      What if you buy from your friend? He/She is a friend, but also a salesman.

      • RecruitingANIMAL

        Jay, help is a form of assistance. What distinguishes help from other forms of assistance is the motive.

        When someone helps you, the primary motive is to assist you. That’s why, when a person says, “Let me help you with that.” the help is assumed to be free.

        When someone sells you a service, the primary motive is to make money from you. That’s not help, it’s business.

        When a friend does business with you, it’s business. But when a friend helps you, his primary motive is a desire to help you.

        He might have to charge you because he can’t afford to give it away for free but often he’ll give you some sort of deal because making money is not his primary motive.

        I agree that we make friends with business people on social media. But just because you find someone friendly in conversation does not mean that he will be a friend when you do business.

        The friendship will show itself in the extent of his concern for you over making as much money as he can from you. When he does something that is not pure business, that’s help.

        Help is caring. That’s why, when someone says “How can I help?” and they really mean “How can I make money on you?” it’s kind of false front as as such, somewhat disgusting.

        • JasonFalls

          I think you have a cynical view of the world here. I know a lot of salesmen and saleswomen who help the customer in the spirit of being useful. If they ultimately buy, that’s awesome. If they don’t, that’s fine, too. Good sales people are helpful without being disingenuous or thinking money only.

          And when my family friend, Terry, sold us automobiles for years, he is our friend, but he is also a salesman … making money off of our purchases.
          You’re painting a black and white world. But ours is a thousand shades of gray, my friend.

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