Every minute, there are 350,000 tweets and 290,000 Facebook updates; every second, two new members join LinkedIn. These numbers are impressive, and they aren’t static or declining – they are growing rapidly. Today, prospects and customers are just a click away, and modern day companies must adapt their sales strategies to attract these next-generation buyers.
Social selling is a hot buzzword in the B2B selling space, but it’s one that is often misunderstood. Social selling goes beyond just technology utilization to place the customer experience ahead of the sales pitch, helping to build meaningful relationships. In today’s increasingly connected world, the power of social media can help sales forces relate to and engage more intelligently with buyers.
How do we know social is actually worth our time and not just a distraction from selling? Well, research from IDC reports that social buying is directly correlated with buying influence – the social B2B buyer is more senior, has a larger budget, makes more frequent purchases, and has greater control over the decision. For the B2B seller, this means shorter selling cycles, larger deals, more productive sales teams, and increases in revenue (up to 10-15%!). As Dale Carnegie asserts in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the two keys to success are building relationships and changing the way people think. Social selling serves to accomplish both.
I recently held a panel discussion with several leaders in the social selling arena about how to embrace social selling technologies and leverage social media throughout the sales cycle. Mike Kunkle from GE Capital, Keith Burrows from Lattice Engines, and Melanie Barrett from Vision Critical brought a wealth of insight into how social selling helps reps and their teams to sell more effectively. A few key takeaways stood out as recurring themes in our discussion:
1) Social Selling is Not a Fad
Social selling is not just a fad but a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Gen Y is projected to account for 75% of the workforce by 2025, and socially active buyers demand socially prepared vendors. They want to have immediate access to information and expect the vendor to offer insights, meaning that digital channels are here to stay. That means that a lead today can be a complaint on Twitter, a question on LinkedIn, or a discussion on a Facebook page.
The use of social media in sales allows reps to engage with potential customers without interrupting their daily lives with cold calls and hard sells. In fact, a Harvard Business Review article reports that 90% of C-level executives never respond to these tactics. According to Keith Burrows, having social selling skills helps reps to better understand their audience so that they can engage in a relevant and meaningful way, add value to the conversation, and guide the selling process.
2) Effective Social Selling Requires Training
Reps who use social selling are 6x more likely to attain quota, yet only 1 in 4 reps receives training on it and only 1/3 of companies have a social selling strategy in place. These are missed opportunities! And social selling training doesn’t just apply to how to use the tools – it’s also learning how to challenge the buyers. Mike Kunkle suggests that when training goes beyond the functional how-tos, sales reps can learn how to apply social selling through the entire sales process. “We have this opportunity to do the research, collect more information, build the relationships – all through social channels.”
Melanie reiterated, “It’s important to have the training structures in place in order to coach and train your sales reps on not only building relationships but doing that through social media outlets – it’s a more effective way to sell.” Social selling is not a place for a hard sell – it’s a place to build trust and credibility and offer guidance. This deviation from more traditional selling is key in converting relationships into revenue.
3) Social Selling Can Open Untapped Opportunities
The discussion frequently returned to the importance of challenging and engaging your prospects. Melanie proposed that social selling is “less about using social media efforts to sell your product or services and more about using those outlets to socialize an idea that will challenge your buyers to think differently”. For many B2B vendors, a ‘Challenger’-type sale is required, or rather, an approach that is willing to upset the status quo for your prospects and customers.
To get started, the Mike recommends employing the 3 Ps:
Presence – Even if you aren’t actively looking for buyers, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t looking for you. For B2B companies, it’s particularly important to be on LinkedIn.
Profile – Create a compelling profile that will make a great first impression. Use a professional photo, highlight key experiences that validate your authority, and incorporate relevant keywords throughout.
Participation – Add value by contributing relevant, non-sales-oriented insights, answering questions, retweeting posts, and commenting on blog articles. An added bonus is that you are positioning yourself as a subject matter expert and trustworthy resource, adding credibility to both your personal brand and your company. In fact, 92% of buyers are willing to engage with a sales rep who is known as an industry thought leader.
With the adoption of technology, the rise of the tech-savvy consumer, and a more collaborative decision-making process, social selling will soon merge into the standard sales process. It will no longer be ‘social selling’, but rather just ‘selling’ – another way to engage with prospects, along the lines of emailing or calling.
I will conclude with a quote from Erik Qualman, best-selling author on Socialnomics: “We don’t have a choice of whether we do social media – the choice is how well we do it.” So what are you waiting for? See you on social!