Any good salesperson tries to establish a fairly warm relationship with a prospective client before trying to sell him a product. Not too long ago, the most commonly used B2B sales technique was cold calling which made it very difficult to establish a cordial relationship with clients . However, the world of sales is quickly doing away with this outdated technique and ushering in the era of Social Selling.
Commonly misinterpreted as a sales technique wherein the salesperson uses a social medium to make a pitch, social selling is something entirely different. Although it can be used to make a pitch, that is not its main purpose. It’s mainly used as a catalyst in the selling process. It helps salespeople gain customer insight and helps them “listen” to what the customers have to say, without having to make cold calls or establish any direct communication, for that matter. Simply put, it is a means to identify grounds on which to build relationships with potential clients.
Once a salesperson has a clear idea about the client through his social profiles, such as those on LinkedIn or Twitter, he can time his communication perfectly, even through other mediums such as E-mail or telephone.
But why should you, as a B2B sales executive, take such a keen interest in social selling? Research has shown that cost-per-lead decreases by up to 75% if social media is used efficiently in the selling process. And that, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Content and Engagement
It’s a fact that most businesses look online for solutions, for people with answers. These customers are clearly leading the way into the era of social selling. When they do stumble upon a salesperson’s profile online, they will perform at least a brief social background check to check if the salesperson has a knowledgeable or impressive digital footprint, before getting in touch. If they think that the person lacks knowledge or reputation, the chances of even initiating a relationship are highly diminished.
Therefore, it becomes crucial to engage potential customers with content that is relevant and intelligent. The display of genuine intellectual empathy helps attract more relationships online, and much more quickly too. But, beware. As stated earlier, social mediums are not the ideal forums to make sales pitches. My advice is keep sending them educational materials, then drop in something on your company, and they will click on it. The reason behind this is to simply build trust. If a salesperson comes across a discussion on LinkedIn that is relevant to his service or company, he must simply offer advice or factual, relevant information without any mention of his company. This helps build an image of a ‘connection’ who is unbiased in his advice.
But how exactly does one produce such engaging content at such high frequencies? It’s actually pretty simple. The internet is already filled with content regarding any topic one can think of. Dedicated research through news, blogs and even videos will land any salesperson enough content. After this, it’s up to him to filter out content that will resonate with his target customers and phrase it in an engaging manner.
When people find that a person shares engaging content, most of them do end up checking that person’s profile page. A few tips that can help make profile pages look professional, genuine and engaging include:
- Always use a professional headshot for your display picture. Don’t upload selfies or photographs taken at informal social events.
- Make your description crisp and creative. As noted in LinkedIn’s social selling advice guide, “Customer-centric B2B Sales Professional” sounds more appealing than just “Sales Executive”.
- Highlight your professional achievements, but avoid excessive self-indulgence. Talk about your achievements from your company’s or customer’s point of view.
Using services such as Buffer or HootSuite also helps schedule posts well in advance. It automatically uploads posts at the designated time, saving the salesperson from much hassle and manual processing.
Finding Leads and Building Pipeline
Building a water pipeline takes several smaller pipes and tremendous amounts of patience. Things aren’t very different in the word of social media. Generating leads through social platforms such as LinkedIn and twitter is much easier than doing so through cold calling – this is a given. However, a good salesperson also knows that a few ‘right leads’ holds much more practical importance than simply generating several leads. Sales Benchmark Index (salesbenchmarkindex.com) found that their sales efforts averaged an impressive 63% win rate on referrals. Clearly, leads that are backed by references from their closer connections have an higher chance of turning into sales. But how do you build this network or pipeline of connections through referrals?
- Say, for example, you have joined LinkedIn. Firstly, connect with people you know and form a first-degree connection circle.
- You can also use the search features available on social networks to search for potential customers. However, don’t be tempted to send them connection invitations, already. Instead, study their interests and the groups that they are part of. Share content on such groups, relevant to the problems being faced by the customers. It is very likely that they will end up contacting you, which is a big win.
- It’s very important to ask to be introduced. Ask your first level connections to introduce you to their connections. Always ask, sometimes get. Sometimes ask, never get. This is one of the best ways to expand your circle of connections.
- Use an account networking tool to centralize all your referrals at one place. It becomes much easier to keep track of each individual target customer.
- Create strategic connections with professionals who share the same target market, but not the same service. While he refers you to his connections, you can return the favour by doing the same. This is one of the most efficient methods of expanding your social pipeline.
Another significant advantage that social selling provides over conventional selling is ‘multi-threading’. Since numerous professionals from the same business may have profiles on the same social network, you can connect with different people working for the same organization. This helps increase your influence in that company at various levels. Let’s stop for a moment here and rewind back to the era of cold calling. In that era, sales executives would have to struggle to get past the gatekeepers (speaking figuratively), to even have a chance to pitch a sale to the top fish. However, social selling enables you to connect directly with the top-level decision makers. Even a decent salesperson can use this virtual power to influence relevant decisions within an organization.
Once a salesperson has an established circle of connections, he must try to move online interactions to offline communications. The next step in the relationship formed can be communicating through e-mail, telephone or even, personal meetings. This transition can be sensitive and must not be hurried, under any circumstance. Analyze the responses being given by the person to your relationship-building efforts. If they seems mostly positive or encouraging, do not hesitate to request an offline communication to further discuss your solution.
Remember that it can take some time to know if a lead is even close to converting into a sale, or if a referral has worked in getting you a sale. And more often than not, a good salesperson will experience significant reductions in his sales-cycle, within a few months of employing social selling techniques.
Revenue and Results
It is of course true that the efficacy of a sales tactic can only be accurately judged by analyzing its ROI. But, before diving into specific Enterprise numbers, let’s look at few statistics that outline the impact of using social media in selling.
- The credit for making social selling an indispensible tool goes not to sales executives or companies, but to the consumers. A whopping 72% of buyers research the product or service they seek through an internet search, while about 33% credit social media for discovery of new services or products.
- Most social media platforms offer tools for businesses to measure increase in the virtual footfall. 75% of small and medium-sized businesses cite social media as the reason for increased web traffic, while 89% have credited social media for increased exposure to their brands, services or products.
- Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of salespeople using social media to sell better. 78% of them have attested to the fact that they are employing social media to outsell their competition.
- Some self-proclaimed sales gurus may argue that social selling is just another short-lived phenomena. However, almost 64% of organizations that have been using social media to sell for over four years have reported significant sales gains, consistently.
It becomes quite clear now that social media offers a steady platform to salespeople and organizations to connect better with potential clients. The investment in low, training required is almost negligible and the results are quite rosy.
But, let’s shift the focus away from small and medium sized businesses, and see the role social media has played in helping big enterprises sell better. A lot of case studies in the recent past have linked social selling techniques with increased lead conversions and better overall sales efficiency. A few of these include:
- National Bank of Canada was one of the first in its industry to exploit social selling techniques. The banking industry is known for its stringent regulations and security-mindedness, so taking a social route to engage with other businesses was a rather bold move. They made use of the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, aided by an educational curriculum, to try and positively impact the sales of their financial products. A mere 10 months later, they recorded a 400% ROI. Their sales representatives who used LinkedIn Sales Navigator were, on average, 5.2 times more successful than those who didn’t. Also, a 33% rise in connections was recorded amongst advisors who studied the curriculum.
- In late 2011, AT&T was experiencing a significant decline in clientele. When conventional B2B sales techniques were no longer able to cut deals, they put in place a brand new sales team. This team decided that the best way to approach the problem of drying sales was to exploit social media. They set up a new company blog to discuss various topics that were relevant to their line of business. They made sure that the content was curated with precision, for maximum impact. They used Twitter and LinkedIn to get the word out about the blog, as these were the two social platforms most visited by their target businesses. Within an 18 month period, they gained new businesses worth $47 million, all attributed to social selling initiatives.
The evidence for social selling is very strong, but also very easy to misinterpret. Do not, for a second, assume that social selling initiatives WILL simply usher in new sales into your business. Social selling tools and techniques are really only as good as the salesperson making use of them. To convert more connections into leads and leads into sales, a salesperson must be able to, firstly, identify the right targets. He must be able to curate content that resonates with his targets and must be infallible in the art of subtlety. If he is too loud about your product, even great content may end up failing him. And finally, he must be able to convert online relationships into conventional conversations (phone, in person, etc.)
The future of social selling isn’t too ambiguous, to be honest. Companies who refuse to employ social selling techniques will become obsolete in another 5 to 10 years, say industry experts. In fact, in a short time, perhaps a few decades, social selling will just be called selling.