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With the advent of Web 2.0 and social media, it’s now easier than ever to find and connect with people. Social networks such as Facebook, Orkut, Hi5, MySpace are teeming with hundreds of millions of people looking to connect (or reconnect) socially. Meanwhile professional networks such as LinkedIn and Xing have attracted millions of people looking to connect professionally.

Social media has redefined not only how people connect but also the kind of information they share.  While the initiated may know to share information selectively, some neophytes have learned the hard way that being candid about their personal lives can be hazardous to their professional career. All of this sharing has created a unique opportunity not only for online marketers, who are shifting more and more of their advertising budgets to targeted social media ads) but also to B2B sales professionals.

The same rich social profile information that allows marketers to do hyper-targeted advertising also enables sales people to do more targeted prospecting than ever before.  Web 2.0 has created an abundance (many would argue a surplus) of social and professional information.  This information overload has itself spawned a new category of sales tools and processes dubbed Sales 2.0.  Conceptually Sales 2.0 is all about using Web technologies to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the buying process for both buyer and seller.  In the context of information overload, the idea is to leverage technology to identify relevant business events and relationships from across thousands of sources and present this intelligence in such a way that sales people can easily act on it.

Among the various capabilities of Sales 2.0 applications, connection mapping has emerged as a darling.  This comes as no surprise for those of us familiar with the concept (and power) of reference selling.  Indeed the ability to identify a connection into a prospect and leverage a trusted reference is extremely effective.  Personally, I’m much more inclined to take a call from a sales person who calls with a reference and my guess is that you are too. I may not buy the product or service but I’ll certainly spare a few minutes to learn more, which is a step further than most prospecting efforts ever get. Especially when budgets are tight and expectations high, we’re less inclined to take chances with new products and services. But if someone we trust has used that product or service, it lessens the risk.

Connecting the dots across different social networks and your internal systems can still be a tedious task. Sales 2.0 technologies can harness data from across the web and bring it under one roof, directly within your CRM. More importantly these sales solutions can do the heavy lifting to find the hidden connections that exist between you prospects and your reference customers, previous employers, colleagues, and executive team.

Connecting with people you know through your personal networks and professional experiences to create business opportunities is nothing new.  What is new is the scale of your network and the ease with which you can leverage it.  In the last two years, early adopters of Sales 2.0 have seen excellent results leveraging connections.  With the early majority now adopting Sales 2.0, conventional data providers are likely to want to play catch up and invest in connection mapping technologies as well.