Firms, sales staff need to monitor online reputations

The rapidly changing business environment has altered the approach that organizations need to take to attract customers. As consumers become more comfortable with online interactions, this is forcing companies to step up their online reputation management efforts.

Customers now routinely use social media and digital channels to research products and services. Potential leads have access to a range of reviews, discussion boards and other resources, making it difficult to attract business if these channels are not monitored. Negative reviews can drive customers away before they ever speak to a company representative.

"It's effectively the same as spending all this money on new facilities and someone comes along and spray paints on your beautiful new building, 'Don't buy from this guy,'" Steve Hurley, owner of Stingray Chevrolet in Plant City, Florida, said about negative online reviews. "Dealers have to be aware of what's being said about them and manage it properly."

To maintain better control over brand information available on the internet, some businesses are creating new compensation solutions that include social media interactions. Paying attention to the entire purchase process could improve the companies' bottom lines, as businesses with positive reputations tend to attract more clients. Rewarding sales staff for participating in online discussions, live web chats and other reputation management efforts can ensure that the correct information is available to potential leads. This is the approach that Chrysler and General Motors are taking to drive sales at local dealerships.

The car companies have altered their incentive compensation plans to include online reputation management. Salespeople who encourage customers to post positive reviews or share their experiences via social media are rewarded with bonuses. This provides the incentive employees need to ensure that every customer is helped in a respectful manner.

Carrying out digital interactions with customers requires a very different skill set than most sales situations. Companies can provide incentives for staff members by rewarding training and professional development. Bonus programs offer the motivation workers need to maintain their skills and learn new techniques, and may also help companies attract new talent.

Compensation solutions are one of the key components to attracting top sales staff. A structure that rewards behavior which ultimately drives sales and improves company performance benefits both parties. Online reputation management allows salespeople to develop good relationships with online communities and enables them to present themselves as experts, which can build trust with potential leads and make transactions easier.