Social Media Marketing – Powering Sales

The use of social media within digital marketing and inbound marketing has become an important gear in the sales and demand generation engine. The sales and marketing engine needs fuel (supply of traffic or prospects) which the engine turns into visitors and leads where sales converts to customers.

social-media-marketing

The use of social media and lead generation are the gears which powers the engine. The bigger the social media gear size the harder the marketing gear works. And the harder the marketing gear works, the faster and more productive the sales machine will work to generate revenue.

Social media (blog, content marketing, and articles) is the gear that gets the marketing and sales engine working. Social media pulls in the traffic and prospects and converts them to visitors or leads. When driving a car, we push the pedal to the metal in the highest gear to get to a destination faster. The same logic applies to inbound marketing and lead generation. A business needs to work the biggest gear, social media, to ensure a constant supply of visitors, leads and buyers to power the business growth.

Social media also impacts SEO and long tail keywords. So if social media is the gear, then content marketing and blogging platforms like WordPress, Medium, Svbtle, Postach, Ghost, LinkedIn Pulse, Storify, Tumblr, Blogger, Buzzfeed etc. and the traffic they can generate is the fuel that turns the social media gear.

To put the potential impact of social media into perspective, here is some insightful statistics’ on buyer decisions.

  • “57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier.”
  • “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.”

Big business or small business, it is vital to have social media in the marketing plan for lead generation and inbound marketing strategy. Every marketing team has to see social media and inbound marketing tactics as a critical gear in the buyer’s journey.

Social Media Marketing Is Critical for Inbound Lead Generation Success, so is Sales.

The days when demand generation meant only using paid search or media placement and email marketing are over. Today’s buyers are on a different journey where business buyers and consumers are using keyword search and social channels to find content upon which to make informed choices. In fact, they are now in control of the buying process where they are start the demand generation process without any seller being involved.

Social media does not replace selling, good sales or selling practises, as research shows that talking to a sales person still has a strong influence on buyers vendor selection. Social media and inbound lead generation is just a gear (a vital gear) in the lead-to-revenue path that enables marketing to funnel leads to the sales machine, which turn them into customers.

Another reason that social media is a gear which needs to be connected to the sales engine is that while social media and inbound marketing can deliver more leads at a lower cost than outbound marketing or sales, inbound leads take 30 to 40% longer to move through the sales funnel.

The other Digital Marketing Gears

Like any engine, the sales and marketing engine needs more than one gear to power it, gears like social media selling, SEO gear, paid search (SEM) and email marketing gear all play a key role in lead generation and lead nurturing. Successful inbound marketing is about getting the mix right between short term tactics, longer term tactics and tactics that deliver demand now.

The Actions and Actives in getting the Social Media gear moving.

  1. Publish and Attract. This is about pulling in the fuel (traffic, prospects, suspects) into the engine. The greater the reach via multiple blogging platforms for content marketing, research papers, articles, the bigger the awareness a business can generate by posting the content via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, SlideShare, Google+, Reddit and other content marketing sources. But attracting traffic and visitors is only VANITY, leads and customer engagement is SANITY.
  2. Convert. This step is about getting the traffic into visitors who will convert into at least repeat visitors to gather more information or as leads (newsletter signup, free trial, landing page, and request for information form). This convert point means the traffic the social media gear is attracting is the right profile plus they like the content or messaging pushed out. Other good convert points should include the visitors who follow, shared, liked, commented or republished the content. This convert point means a business has taken a step closer to building a relationship and nurturing the lead through the sales process.,
  1. Lead Nurturing. The lead and customer nurturing process fits between the attracting and closing stages. Returning visitors will seek out fresh content or product information, people who signed up for newsletters or email updates need to be influenced. The sales team should now be engaged with social selling to the prospects. This stage is where prospective buyers are sourcing, digesting and reviewing information and content. A recent report by Act-On showed that 85% of Business-to-Business buyers said it takes three or more pieces of relevant content to help make a decision on progressing with a supplier. So, a business can lead nurture by influencing the buyer to take action by feeding them with relevant content on their terms or personalised preference.
  2. Close. This stage is where leads are moved through the pipeline to become customers. Returning visitors will reveal themselves to enter into the sales funnel and existing lead nurturing prospects move down or out of the sales funnel. The key measure here is conversion, what is the lead-to-revenue conversion rate? What is the cost of customer acquisition? Closing is both a sales process and a workflow process so marketing and sales management need to work together to audit the attract, convert, lead nurturing and closing stages to ascertain what is working and what is not.
  3. Pipeline Replenishment. Reduce the cost of marketing by getting customer referrals or customer net promoters. The stage has to do with social media monitoring and sales teams using social selling to stay in touch with customers and expand their network. This stage can include surveys, feedback, and publishing new content and listening to social media chatter

Social media marketing is a process to generate leads via well written content that is published across multiple social channels resulting in lead nurturing activity by marketing and sales where strangers become customers

Customer Service Tips for Business Growth

Customer service has as much a part to play in customer acquisition or business growth as sales.  Customer service and how it is delivered must evolve alongside the adoption of social media and technology by consumers and business. Customer service is no longer an “after the event” function, it now impacts sales, business growth even product development.  We live in a digital world of connected people and devices. Today the world is talking about new technologies such as the internet of everything, products connected to the home, technologies and apps to improve everyday life.

customer-service

A company’s business prospects or potential customers are as new as these technologies. They are curious and now use different ways to research a brand or company before interacting with it; they are constantly gathering information from social networks and digital media to make informed decisions.

The sales and customer service channels are being rewritten, the buyer journey has been revolutionised like never before. Here are eight things a business should know to help acquire customers and grow a business.

  1. Customers like knowledge and to be informed.

Customers and potential customers will help themselves to product or company information if you provide a content library via the web of FAQ’s with at least 100 questions. If they don’t get it on your website, they most likely will go looking elsewhere in the presale process or phone customer service in “after the event” process.

Help content to support customer interaction should include how-to video content, written FAQs, product specs, replies to queries from social forums and research articles.  The goal is that this open availability of content will satisfy customers quest for information, allowing the customer service team to focus on higher impactful issues that need one-to-one attention. An informative and comprehensive FAQ page is a win for any business because it requires just time, not money.

  1. Customers want it to be personal.

Personalisation is the only game in town. Bland demographics are out. Selling today is all about the uniqueness of each potential client. Prospective and existing customers expect offers that are relevant and useful. Do not simply blast out mass messaging or post links on LinkedIn, nothing worse than ill-timed or ill-targeted messaging from a company to turn off customers.

A simple business tip is to focus on building personal relationships and remembering  about individual preferences uncovered along the way.

  1. Be flexibility with your policies.

Business policies may suit the business but do they endear customers. Consumer data shows that 70% of buyers feel that brands are motivated by a self-centred desire to drive profits rather than any genuine commitment to their customers. Some forward thinking companies are turning that feeling around is by becoming more flexible with purchase policies, returns and cancellations.

In the B2B market, especially in digital goods and software, buyers want to try before they buy and not be locked in to a purchase if not for them. Best in class companies are offering more transparent buying procedures, less restrictive return and cancellation policies. Flexible and transparent polices can act as a customer promoter.

  1. Clear the clutter in purchasing and interaction points .

No matter how big or small your business is, do not put clutter in the way of your customers when they want to purchase or interact. Buyers are educated and most are digital savvy so reduce down the steps when it comes to buying. Take the examples of pre-checking in on flights, paperless tickets for events, touchless payments in shops or ability to download and complete forms ahead of time to save time at hospitals.

These are just some of the examples a business can brainstorm how to clear the clutter and streamline purchasing and customer service.  Where do customers experience the biggest clutter points (usually measured in cart abandonment, exit pages, contact forms and phone calls) in your business? That’s the parts any business should clean up.

  1. Turn customer service into a marketing department.

Customer service is the new marketing. Easy access to information, FAQ’s and touches points to interact with the company impress a customer more than flash ads or meaningless straplines. The old saying of you only get one chance to make a good impression has never been truer with time poor buyers. It really is simple, use customer service as a way to compete and as a customer acquisition channel.

  1. Customers want a multi device experience.

Customers or prospects are searching, researching and checking out websites or social media channels while on the move. The key is to make it easy for anyone to share your content and communications around the web on smartphones and tablets. Ensure to test all the various elements of a customer’s journey on multiple devices.

7. Look at every touch point

Why spend money getting traffic, leads or sales when a bad customer experience at any point in the customer lifecycle can kill the customer relationship with a click. In is in every businesses interest to ensure the right skills and information is being deployed, does customer service understand their strategic importance. Focus in on the major touch points, but make sure the whole customer experience has been plotted. Customer service that is not fully integrated or with holes in the touch points can really hurt business growth.

  1. Business mission matters

Business mission matters so share it and live it with staff and customers. Customers and prospective buyers will take note if you let them know the business mission and why you are in business.

The bottom line is the customer service team is often the face and voice of a company. In the digital age a customer’s experiences will be defined by the information, skill, accessibility and quality of the support they receive.

A business who just wants to survive will have to have good customer service as standard, but a company who wants to grow and thrive will always be asking “What is great customer service?” These companies will constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to improve the customer service and use it as a customer promotion or customer acquisition channel.

 

 

Digital Marketing Strategy

Any Irish company with growth ambitions needs to have a digital marketing strategy in order to take advantage of the growing opportunities for sales, inbound lead generation, traffic and customers that digital marketing can generate.

The internet is changing the buyer –supplier relationship, today businesses have to know that attention is a currency and social media generates lots of noise so it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract the eyes and ears of the companies target market. Small companies can compete with larger companies but larger companies have well-funded marketing departments, a business is also competing with social media itself for information dispersal and a multitude of social networks are trying to get the attention of the same prospects or traffic.

digital-marketing-plan

So digital marketing has to have a strategy, a well thought out strategy which must support the overall business strategy; in fact a company’s digital marketing strategy may be the engine that powers the sales strategy. Ask the question, “what is our digital marketing strategy based on?” is it customer growth, new product promotion, market penetration or market development? Digital marketing and social media channels continues to expand and influence the buying choices of consumers and business so it is vital that every business learns how to succeed in the online world. In some recent reports published into digital marketing, a lack of effective strategies remains the most significant obstacle to succeeding in digital marketing. In fact, a survey of digital marketing managers showed that over 51 percent of them believed that a lack of connection to business strategy prevented them from achieving the digital marketing goals set out.

A well thought out digital marketing strategy will help a brand or business reach digitally engaged audiences, build deep customer relationships, and create new markets, products, or even redefine the business model.

Planning and executing a digital marketing strategy is essential to out-thinking the competition. In the online world the ability of a business to thrive could well be directly related to how well the business is able to maximise digital media channels. Social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter or keyword searches on Google means it is possible for consumers or potential customers to interact on a truly global scale. Buying channels and behaviours are changing, the sales process and customer acquisition tactics are being redefined which means regardless of the business size or industry, it is critical that a business learns how to tap into the power interacting and engaging customers online.

The number of digital marketing choices can seem confusing, companies can confuse digital marketing tools with digital marketing channels, what is social posting versus SEO, what has content marketing to do with marketing automation? As a result, it can be difficult to determine where to start. Without a clear digital marketing strategy the temptation by a business, particularly small businesses are to try and do it all. Get a video created and post it on YouTube, plug a few promotions on Twitter and Facebook, join lots of groups on LinkedIn, the list can go on and on. Some businesses even use a specific team to handle a social media channel.

The reality is, without the right digital marketing strategy, a business is simply wasting resources and time, even losing ground to competitors. Much the same as any business planning process, the key is to understand the business mission and vision, then get agreement on the overall business strategy roadmap, next develop an understanding of the customer base, what goals the business wants digital marketing efforts to achieve, then selecting a digital marketing strategy that will help you to reach both your target audience and goals. For instance, if the strategy is market penetration or development then the strategy is to reach new customers or if it’s a product development strategy then the strategy is to focus on launching a new product or service.

The point is, without a solid strategy, it is not possible to determine whether the digital marketing tools a business has invested in will actually help meet the goals that have been set.

There is allot of technology hype around tools, social media monitoring, digital marketing courses, SEO submission etc. so thread carefully as the easy option can be to simply jump in on the latest digital marketing buzz word  which may or may not help a business’s digital marketing strategy.

Developing a successful digital marketing strategy is as simple as:

  1. Understand the business mission
  2. What is the overall business strategy
  3. Identifying the target audience.
  4. Developing SMART business goals.
  5. Selecting a strategy for meeting those goals.
  6. Implementing actions and activities for the strategy
  7. Monitor, review and adjust the chosen strategy.

Start out thinking your competitors, develop a digital marketing strategy that can be resourced and has clear ROI. To bring the point home, MarketingProfs reports that 69 percent of senior marketers in large companies expect an increase in digital spend. The time to get digital marketing right is now as digital marketing will impact on a business’s customer acquisition, sales, product development and maybe ultimately business success.

Business Plan for Growth

Devising a Business Plan and Strategy for Growth

Business plan and implementing a business strategy is more than simply achieving business goals. It inspires people to work hard, makes the team feel part of a purpose; it incites actions and ensures that activities happen. Simply constructed, effectively executed, a business strategy is a template for business success.

  1. Take Time to Think

A business needs strategic thinking before any strategic planning. Maybe the biggest strategic obstacle to any business is if they can out think their competitors.

“If today was the last day of your life, would you do what you are about to do today” Steve Jobs

  1. Ask and Answer Key Business Questions
  • The purpose of the business
  • Strength of the team
  • Current effectiveness
  • Financial resources of the company
  • Target market trends
  • Current market position
  1. Know the Business Why
  • Real planning and growth strategies are founded on “Business Purpose”
  • Vision: where the business is going in the long-term
  • Mission: the business purpose and reason WHY for existing
  • Values: Who and what the business stands for
  1. Business Mission
  • Think about the Business Mission
  • The business mission concentrates on the here and now. A mission statement defines the fundamental purpose of any business. It identifies who the company is, what it does, and who it serves.
  1. Why do Business Planning?

A business plan gives a business options, it can Die Quickly, Die slowly, survive or thrive. Doing nothing is not an option; a no business plan is the weakest plan of all.

 business-planning

  1. A business strategy to Thrive
  1. Start with goals – what do I want out of this business?
  2. Create a vision of what the business needs to look like in order to accomplish your goals.
  3. Create a business mission to guide you along the way.
  4. Develop strategies to get you from where you are now to where you want to be in the future. Strategies require investments – which mean budgets, resources and timelines.
  1. What is strategic business planning?

Strategic planning is the process of determining the primary business purpose (the “WHY”), putting in place goals and tactics, then adopting courses of action and allocating resources to achieve the selected goals and tactics.

What causes business success?

  • Has history shown us that the No.1 business killer is lack of market?
  • When a great business team meets a stagnant market, market wins. When an average business team meets a great market, market wins. But when a great business team meets a great market, then something really special happens.
  1. Ideal Growth Plan
  • Desirable products or Services
  • Big enough market
  • An economical way to target and serve it.
  • Note: Product quality will not create market size; Steve Jobs learned that lesson with his NeXT business.

business strategy options

  • Market Penetration – selling more of the same things to more of the same customers
  • Market Development – selling more of the same things to different customers
  • Product Development – selling new products or services to the same customers
  • Diversification – selling new products or services to different customers

Market penetration

Market penetration is the name given to a growth strategy where the business focuses on selling existing products into existing markets.

Market penetration seeks to achieve four main objectives:

  • Maintain or increase the market share of current products – this can be achieved by a combination of competitive pricing strategies, advertising, sales promotion and perhaps more resources dedicated to personal selling
  • Secure dominance of growth markets
  • Restructure a mature market by driving out competitors; this would require a much more aggressive promotional campaign, supported by a pricing strategy designed to make the market unattractive for competitors
  • Increase usage by existing customers – for example by introducing loyalty schemes

A market penetration marketing strategy is very much about “business as usual”. The business is focusing on markets and products it knows well. It is likely to have good information on competitors and on customer needs. It is unlikely, therefore, that this strategy will require much investment in new market research.

Market development

Market development is the name given to a growth strategy where the business seeks to sell its existing products into new markets.

There are many possible ways of approaching this strategy, including:

  • New geographical markets; for example exporting the product to a new country
  • New product dimensions or packaging: for example
  • New distribution channels (e.g. moving from selling via retail to selling using e-commerce and mail order)
  • Different pricing policies to attract different customers or create new market segments

Market development is a more risky strategy than market penetration because of the targeting of new markets.

Product development

Product development is the name given to a growth strategy where a business aims to introduce new products into existing markets. This strategy may require the development of new competencies and requires the business to develop modified products which can appeal to existing markets.

A strategy of product development is particularly suitable for a business where the product needs to be differentiated in order to remain competitive.  A successful product development strategy places the marketing emphasis on:

  • Research & development and innovation
  • Detailed insights into customer needs (and how they change)
  • Being first to market

Diversification

Diversification is the name given to the growth strategy where a business markets new products in new markets.

This is an inherently more risk strategy because the business is moving into markets in which it has little or no experience.

For a business to adopt a diversification strategy, therefore, it must have a clear idea about what it expects to gain from the strategy and an honest assessment of the risks.  However, for the right balance between risk and reward, a marketing strategy of diversification can be highly rewarding.

  1. All Business Plans need Resources

Money – to fund cash flow, product, materials and resources

Information – Market and product research, market trends, market size, customer profiling, customer acquisition

People – The team needed to facilitate the growth plan, to execute the plan, to manage the costs

The success of a business strategy depends on the resources available to thee business. A good tip is to follow this 5 Step Planning Process

  • Imagine – what products or services
  • Dissect – data and customer feedback
  • Expand – market research and tasks
  • Analyse – results, information, investment
  • Sell – customer acquisition, marketing, sales

Every business should develop a “strategic hypothesis” and test it out making very small bets. Try to sell the idea to a customer before it’s built, look for a supplier, and ask a mentor or advisor who has some expertise in the new area.

10. People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan

A business plan for growth should be grounded in your Business Purpose, Mission and Core Values, a solid business strategy will help you develop a plan of action and maximise your likelihood of success in achieving your vision.

 

Business Mission- Know why you exist

Why does a business exist? Every business needs a mission and a purpose. We know the overarching purpose of any business is to acquire, develop and maintain customers at a profit however any business must fundamentally know why they exist so the effort, work and emotional investment has a real meaning to all stakeholders.

Is there too little “know why” in business? Businesses with a purpose are usually led by a person with a purpose.

vision-mission

Business vision and business mission should not be confused, business vision is about imagining the future shape of the enterprise, the business mission is about the here and now, it defines the reason the business exists and its purpose. A business mission is about personalising who the company is, what it does, and who it serves.

Writing a business mission statement should be done in consideration with the business vision and values.

  • Vision: where the business is going in the long-term
  • Mission: the business purpose and reason WHY for existing
  • Values: Who and what the business stands for

“The business person who knows How will always have a job, the business person who knows Why will always be boss”

Business mission statements means there is a primary purpose behind the business or organisation. This primary purpose is the why the business exists and about putting the business on the right course for success. The business mission must be in the DNA of the business, in everything the business does, every action the business takes, every product it manufactures, every service it provides, every communication it issues, every transaction it conducts, and how the business conducts itself.

Without a business mission, the business is a ship adrift on a dark ocean, so when the going gets tough, the business has no compass, no reference points, no why does it exists, no purpose. The lack of a business mission will impact business growth, sales and customer focus.

In the business book Purpose, by Nikos Mourkogiannis, It describes four kinds of business purpose, “starting points” that govern what great companies do and how they do it. Each of these purposes represents a kind of “holy grail” as opposed to business goals (usually more financial based), missions or visions, or even a set of values. As Mourkogiannis puts it, “Let others play with ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ and ‘management.’ Purpose is the game of champions.”

According to this theory, true business purpose can be found in: (1)discovery, the challenge of adventure and innovation characterized by dot-com entrepreneurs willing to work 24/7 in search of the new or unknown, (2) excellence, in which high standards are not compromised for short-term performance (as with Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett), (3) altruism, where the primary purpose is to serve (customers, employees, etc.) first and assume that profit will follow (as at Nordstrom), and (4) heroism, typically involving grand plans to change entire industries or even the way we live (Bill Gates and Microsoft).

vision-mission-values

The argument is that only one of these business purposes, if pursued rigorously and successfully, is required for success.

Every business mission is unique and individual to that business and listed below is a typical list it should cover:

  • The purpose and aim of the business (i.e., a definition of what the  company is and does)
  • The products and/or services the business offers
  • What the company aspires to be
  • What features/characteristics distinguish this business from its competitors
  • The businesses values, purpose and visionary goals

Creating a personalised mission statement for a business is not some exercise done in isolation, the mission statement must reflect the business’s core principles, connected to what the business stands for, it must be seen in the profile of the people the business hires and defines the culture the business is working to create. A mission statement binds the people in the company to make an impact on success of the business because everyone in the business understands and lives by the mission.

The primary purpose of why the business exists can be built around why and how the business serves everyone who interacts with it, in whatever way, and for whatever reason, at the very highest level of attention and quality the business can deliver.

A true, living business mission is about the business attributes that will draw customers centred on VALUE and RESULT. The values and results the business will deliver to the market or industry, and through, or as a result of the product or service being offered.

A good starting point on why a business exists is to look at its Values, Vision and Mission.

Values
Business or Organisation values identify the principles and ethics by which the entity on and its people conduct themselves and their activities.

Vision
Business vision is about the future, an aspirational description of the desired achievements of a business. A business vision asks – ‘Where is the business going?’ or ‘What will the business look like when we get there?’

Mission
As stated earlier, vision focuses on the future; the business mission concentrates on the here and now. A mission statement defines the fundamental purpose of any business. It identifies who the organisation is, what it does, and who it serves.
Where a business vision statement is aspirational, a mission statement is more practical. The mission statement should communicate, in an easily understandable manner, what the organisation does and possibly for whom.

Know Your Business “Why”

“Why does my company exist?”

In Peter Drucker’s book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Organization, Mr. Drucker writes “A mission cannot be impersonal; it has to have deep meaning, be something you believe in — something you know is right. A fundamental responsibility of leadership is to make sure that everybody knows the mission, understands it and lives it.”

Here are some examples of business mission statements:

Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Apple: Bringing the best personal computing experience to consumers around the world.

Facebook: Give the people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Netflix: To revolutionize the way people watch movies.

The business purpose is the most powerful tool a business can have when it comes to attracting and inspiring the best people or talent, focuses the businesses activities and guiding strategic plans.

Social Media Selling for Sales

A growing use of social media within companies by marketing and sales teams is in the area of social selling.  In the sales process connecting with prospects and establishing relationships can be the difference to winning or losing deals, more and more companies are using social media selling to help them accomplish these connections quickly and easily.

Selling and sales methods are evolving; the vast majority of buyers (business or consumers) are socially engaged and informed. The sales team must be too. They need to have the tactics, tools and training to leverage social media for sales success. The innovation of the Internet, cloud based business models, smaller transaction values and the adoption of sales technology tools means the sales profession is in a state of modernisation.

social-media-selling

The Inform versus The Interruption based sales model.

Why bother with social selling? Well still too many sales models are “interruption” based, meaning the sales person or marketing function targets a list of prospects then emails them, phones them, advertises on-line to them, chases them, which is still based on the hard sales concept (even if the actual sales discovery/meetings are collaborate the approach to getting the prospect to engage is interruption based).  Social selling with social media is when the sales team or marketing use social media to engage directly with selected prospects across a range of social networks. The sales team strives to provide value in the sales process by answering prospect questions, posting relevant content and offering insightful information on the company or product until the prospect is ready to engage in the buying process.

So social media is informed based, to intelligently inform a target audience thus allowing the sales teams to enlighten their prospects rather than interrupt them with cold calling or hard sells for meetings. The goal of social media selling is getting buyers into the sales funnel further down, it is about informing and educating prospects then converting them into buyers.

The shift in the way people are buying means sales trainers and sales teams have to shift the way they are selling. The Internet has changed the sales game, time was the only way a potential customer could find out about a product fit was to engage the company or more likely the company interrupted them. Not so any more, now Google, LinkedIn and on-line business forums will allow any buyer to identify the competition, do research on companies and narrow down the potential supplier list which will inform them on their purchase options. Options the supplier company can inform on via social media or let the competition do it. Studies in the sales process have proven time and time again that many buying decisions or lists of preferred vendors are made before a salesperson is even in the conversation, with many companies merely used as a stalking horse.

Sales success in Social Selling.

Before, the sale team signs up for twitter accounts or join hundreds of LinkedIn groups, to be successful in social selling they need to make the following happen.

  1. Sales people must give first, offer content, help and engage their network to become trusted.
  2. Sales people must change their behaviour and interact as buyers expect today.
  3. Sales people need to inform and connect social ties, mainly weak ties.

To assist sales teams with this sales transformation we will start with “social ties”. Almost everyone’s “social networks” is made up of a range of social ties that consist of friends, family, fellow workers, and other acquaintances. Typically this includes a group of very close social ties (family, friends) and a considerably larger number of weak ties (loose acquaintances) that get weaker as a persons social network grows. Across social networks today, the average user has over 800 social ties.

Why is this important to a sales person? Well it has all to do with the concept that weak ties are better than strong ones in social selling.

In social selling building a social network with weak ties offers the best sales opportunities in the longer run, due to different people and interests.

Why Weak Ties Are Better Than Strong Ones.

Well Doctor Mark Granovetter (author of “The Strength of Weak Ties) defined a social tie (and its strength) as, “a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the social tie.” And if a sales person only spends time with stronger ties, then they only inform similar people, with similar skills, and similar interests.

Sales people and marketing need to understand that every social network is really a collection of smaller social groups.  The key is to inform the people who are weaker ties within this structure so they can act as a “bridge or broker”, by connecting the sales person to other groups of people as it is weak ties that allow a bridge to occur between two different social groups. A strong tie will usually only connect to similar profiles or interests.

When a sales person spends time informing and engaging weak ties they start connecting with different people, with different profiles, different connections and different interests.  And as a result of this, they create a network effect, opening them up to finding newer and different opportunities for development.

So the More Weak Ties, the More Opportunity.

Thanks to social media and social networks like LinkedIn, the average person has more weak ties than ever before. However the next challenge for the sales person is that is it not as easy to leverage weak ties. They can’t just phone them up and ask for a coffee or meet for lunch to ask them for an introduction to a company or buyer.  Sales people need to have a gradual approach, maybe some gentle nudging with insightful content on an industry, and over time grow the connection into a real business relationship.

This “inform” concept is at the core of social selling, because sales people need to build trusted relationships from the thousands of weak ties they are connected to today in order to influence the social ties they want to be connected to sometime down the line.

Sales people must change their behaviour to Social Selling with a Small Habit.

For social selling to really work, sales people will need to change their behaviour.  As anyone in sales understands, nothing is more important than hitting sales targets for this sales period and the next one will be just as important. But if a business or sales person wants to continue to succeed, they need to start building a social ties network of future opportunities now.

A simple method to do this is for sales people to form the small habit of sharing relevant content to their social network.  Train sales people that in quiet times, maybe as they wait to board a flight, having a coffee or after they check email, share some content prepared by marketing (not sales brochures or self-promotions) or maybe an article they read on LinkedIn, or twitter. Don’t bombard social ties with badly written or irrelevant content. As the sales person builds weak ties connections, they could send it directly to them as long as they know they will find it interesting.  Start small, maybe once per week, and they encourage them to gradually increase that to 2, 3 times per day.  Be thoughtful, be informative but build this habit.

Social selling using the Inform sales model is not a might do, the world and sales channels are shifting, selling power is in the hands of the buyer and buying power is in the hands of the seller, so sales people need to use social selling to attract buyers the same way as buyers are using social media to identify sellers.

Business and Leadership

Business leadership can be hard to define but it is a title many aspire to regardless of company size or industry. But is business management different to business leadership and which of these traits (leadership or management) is the most valued when promoting someone to a senior role. Is the term “business leader” being overused to the extent that it is rendered nearly meaningless?

business-leadership
business leadership

The press and online articles are full of sound bites and quotes from business leaders. What are these so called business leaders?. Business leadership was once deemed to be a wealth generator, someone who took a risk, set up a business to create wealth while generating employment or was instrumental in delivering huge growth for a company. So are the real business leaders people like Bill Gates,Michael Dell, Larry Ellison or Steve Jobs to name but a few right down to the heroes of a local economy, small business people who create opportunity and employment for their local area.

Anyone with a Twitter account and a blog is a Business Leader.

It is important to state that titles are an important aspect of any organisation, business or company. They indicate a certain level of achievement, authority and responsibility. However leadership used to mean something specific. High level executives. Leaders of industry. Time was you would never call a middle manager or a front-line supervisor, a leader. Today it seems when anyone kind of picks up the ball and runs with it are called people or business leaders. What we’re really talking about here are people who are engaged in the business. So we have become accustomed to seeing the term business leadership being used in a very broad sense.

This is probably the reason middle or senior managers in large multi-nationals often get referred to as “business leaders” in press articles. Most do not define business strategy, how the business operates, the culture  or the direction of the business. So the business leaders we often see quoted in the press in most cases are business managers (even if they do have the title VP or director they are in reality managers). Title inflation, self-proclaimed titles, and title overexposure are the cause of dumbing down leadership titles. When titles are overused or abused, they lose their meaning.

Business leadership has nothing to do with titles. A C-level title, does not automatically make someone a “business leader.” In fact no one really needs a title to lead. The reality is anyone can be a leader in their community, sports club, in family, all without having a formal title.

There are lots of business managers who aspire to be business leaders but lots more do not. Having an MBA with a C level title while working within the cushion of a large organization does not a business leader make. The role of these business managers is to “Implement”. That is to take the pre-defined strategy and Business goals and implement them whether its sales,marketing,finance or product. They may lead the unit or division from a tactical stance but they do not lead the business.

The world seems to fallen in love with titles and in a centralised decision making business world maybe bigger titles such as VP or Country Manager are a way of compensating for the true role a manager is expected to perform.

Business Leadership has nothing to do with level of seniority or someone’s position in the hierarchy of a company. Too often in business, when we discuss the company’s leadership we are most likely referring to the most senior executives in the organisation. They are just that, senior executives or business managers. Leadership does not automatically happen when you reach a certain pay level. Hopefully business managers can work to earn the title business leader but there are no certainties.

If you are reading this article hopefully you love business and business strategy, the cut and trust of sales,marketing, trying to win a customer, managing people to deliver higher results but this does not make us a business leader. Knowing ones place in the business world is healthy and honest. First and foremost “Know Thyself”. No need to perfume the pig, a great manager is a great manager, no need to embellish it with titles that do a disservice to the title “business leader”, a title many aspire to but only a small portion ever really earn the right to be called it.

Not everyone in business sees themselves as a potential leader.  Maybe it is really about being the best at their job they can be.

However for people who want to continue the business leadership journey, then maybe it is a process of influence, which stimulates and maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Real business leadership stems from influence, not title, authority or power

A few tips to build up a leadership profile includes (A) they learn to act like a leader: to manage their image in a genuine, authentic way. (B) They are straightforward; they tell people what they stand for, and then stand for it. (C) They are inspirational and learn what motivates people. They are optimistic and use emotion in their communication. (D) They know the people they are leading and help them develop and (E) They stimulate people, make people think and make them take responsible  but always with the positive support of a business leader knows they must provide.

Sales Management

Sales management or being a manager of a sales team could be described as leading people to higher levels of achievement to deliver company growth while implementing the sales process the company uses to target prospects and convert them to paying customers.

The starting point to managing a sales team is not with the sales team but with ourselves whether we are a sales manager or sales director. The reality is that to successfully manage and build a high performing sales team, the sales team needs a high performing sales manager.

sales-leadership

“People tend to follow those who will lead them somewhere”

To manage the sales team to high levels of performance, the sales manager needs at a minimum the following four competencies: (1) general business and market acumen, (2) ability to deliver effective coaching, (3) strong leadership skills and (4) evaluating and communicating individual salesperson performance. Sales managers who build on these core competencies are on the right track to managing the sales team.

In today’s highly competitive market with longer sales cycles and maybe smaller sales values, for a business to successfully sell their products or services, the sales leader needs to have these competencies to effectively manage and lead the sales team. The sales manager responsibilities also extends so that the sales team not only understands the sales objectives but the company’s overall strategic direction. It is about managing the sales team so they want to fully apply themselves to their roles and maximise their selling skills to sell solutions to customers.

Walk the job: As a sales manager, you need to allocate the time to work closely with your team so that you develop an understanding of each person’s motivation, strengths and weaknesses. This walking the job and communication will over time help a sales manager to put the right salesperson in the right sales role (hunter, miner, and farmer) that best suits the requirements of the sales process. A sales manager needs to organise the sales teams so that there is a range of different people bringing a range of different skills and experiences to the business.

Control: A sales manager can only control the outcome if they control what the sales people do! A balanced approach to managing sales people is about mixing activity based management with results based management. This is also known as Task V Individual in management schools. “Activity based management” is about giving the direction and coaching on the sales process and ensuring the associated activities get done. This could be coaching and educating sales people how many calls to make, how many appointments to set, what suspects to call, which products need to be pushed, etc.  The activities or tasks may be set by senior sales management or by the sales manager to assist the sales people to take ownership in managing their own sales business.

Remember that activity based management is not about trying to kill creativity or initiative in the sales process. It should be used to define the sales role expectations so that a sales person can take ownership of their role and clarifies the sales person question of “what do you want me to do?”

The “Results based management” aspect for a sales manager is to focus on the individual sales member’s goals, actions and target results.  It is about giving the sales team ownership and the ability to approach a sales process or task that suits their style. If a sales person likes to make a LinkedIn introduction prior to a sales call, then fine. This is about asking the sales person what their plan is to hit the sales target or what their personal goals are for a given sales period. Don’t be afraid to listen to the sales team’s views or insights on getting the desired results. It gives them freedom and shows you value their input.

If a sales manager gets the balance right between Activity and Results based management, sales teams realise their manager is leading them somewhere (bigger earnings, recognition, promotion, job enjoyment).

The Sales Managers “Playing Lines”.

Sales managers should set playing lines at an individual sales person level, they are at their widest when a sales person is delivering the agreed results, and the playing lines are at their tightest when the results are not there.

Playing lines represents how much scope (weekly rather than daily reports, less drill down on the pipeline or forecasting, reduced focus on the activity etc.) a sales person has earned from the sales manager when they are hitting their targets or results. If the results are there then the sales person enjoys the wider space in which to perform and be successful. The only things outside the playing lines are items such as company policies, human resources issues, unethical behaviour or actions that could affect the sales team. The sales person understands they have a level of autonomy earned from the sales manager due to past performance and can only be retained by continuing to perform.

The flip-side is if the sales results start to suffer or the numbers are not coming in, then the playing lines start to narrow. When the lines narrow, activity based management or task dominates. Now the sales manager needs to work the basics with the sales person bye spending more time challenging approaches or activities. Ask more questions. Deeper drill down into the metrics and status updates. The sales person still has the space to determine their own plan, just not as much. If over time, results are still not achieved and progress is not made then the playing lines will get even tighter to the point of performance management.

The playing lines concept is a great method to have a consistent approach to all sales team members with the ultimate goal of having all your sales team members operating within the widest lines of responsibility.

Quick sales management tip: Want to boost your sales team performance? It may sound simple but get the sales team spending more time selling. Managing a successful sales team requires the ability to get the sales team to spin the plates that matter.

A few more tips for managing a successful sales team.

Become a great sales coach

Create the space to let them do what they do best. Sell!

Give them recognition and constant feedback.

Always remember, in sales management it is not just about the final sales numbers. As any high performing sales manage will testify, you need the business acumen to know that the sales pipeline needs to be constantly filled and kept filling via sales activities, and this requires the competencies of a proper sales manager. In order to maximise the revenue of the sales teams pipeline, the sales manager needs to be able to analyse what actions and activities are working, and what is not then prioritise tasks. A high performing sales manager will always focus on the realities in the sales process of what works for the company and the sales team.

As written about earlier, managing a sales team is a balancing act. Clear guidelines on the “playing lines”, sales role definition and time spent on sales analysis can help sort the “what’s wrong from the “what’s working”. Strive to create the space to let the sales team do what they do best– sell the product. By working on the sales manager’s competencies and focusing on the sales process, a sales manager can enjoy watching the sales team thrive as a result of having earned a widening of the playing lines which will drive bigger revenue streams to contribute to company growth (not to mention your career).

A Strategy for Business Success

The strategy for business success are built around three pillars: The Product, The Market and The Team. Each pillar or a combination will most likely determine the success or failure of a business. The core pillar or strategy to focus on is “the product to market fit”. In business schools they say that a business fails for two reasons, lack of funding or lack of strategy execution. Strategy execution should centre on getting the product and market fit right. If the product to market strategy execution by the leadership team is not right, the cost to fund the business for customer acquisition, sales, marketing and product development increase to the point where value cannot be captured.

What causes business success?

In business which strategy pillars contributes the most to success of the enterprise, the team, the product or the market? Or put another way “what is the biggest cause of success”? Also which is the weakest link: a bad team, a weak product, or a bad market?

Let us briefly dig a little deeper into these three pillars. Investors and venture capitalists often say they don’t invest in businesses they invest in people, so the team can be defined as the potential effectiveness of the CEO, co-founders and senior staff relative to the market opportunity. Can the team execute against the market opportunity they have identified, will their effectiveness overcome any lack of experience, and has the team the ability to deal with the “never seen it before” obstacles.

The product can be defined as to what problem is it solving and how impressive is the product to any customer or user who actually uses it: How easy is the product to install/set up and use? How feature rich is it? How fast can the benefits be seen? How transformational is it? How well-crafted is it? How has it been tested and what were the results?

The market is the size, number, predictions and growth rate, of those addressable customers or users for the product.

One other pillar that has to be planned for is “the Cost of Customer Acquisition”; meaning that the cost of acquiring a customer is lower than the revenue or profit that customer will contribute. The rate of customer acquisition has to do with execution and the ability of the team to move enough prospects through the sales funnel. Remember also that product quality will not create market size; Steve Jobs learned that lesson with his NeXT business. What a business needs is a desirable product, a big enough market and an economical way to target it.

business-strategy

So which pillar is the Number.1 building block for business success?

If anyone conducted a survey amongst business people on the question of which is the most important factor in business success, they probably would get three different answers.  Some will say team, some on the product, while others will choose the size of the market.

As written about earlier in this article, if you ask entrepreneurs or VCs which of team, product, or market is most important, many will say team. This is an obvious answer because most of their knowledge and reference points in the beginning is the team as the product may not be built or ready to market plus the market will not have been fully evaluated yet.

Marketing and techies will say the product is the most important factor. The business is product driven, creates great products, then markets buy and use the products. The most valuable companies today are brands such as Apple and Google because they build the best products and without the product there is no company. Right? Try building a great team and having no product, or a great big market and having no product.

This leaves “The market”, where researchers, students of business success and business leaders will tell us that the market is the most important factor in a business success or failure. The argument is that in a big market (fragmented market or badly served by existing solutions), a market with lots of real identifiable customers, then the market needs will pull products out of the business. The market is ripe for change, has an appetite that needs feeding and the market will consume, viable products that will feed it. Maybe the product doesn’t need to be the greatest; it just needs to work. And, the market doesn’t care how good a team the business has, as long as the team can produce those viable products.

Has history shown us that the No.1 business killer is lack of market?

To expand on this a little further, maybe the business killer is not just lack of market, but more importantly a lack of product to market fit. Could the building blocks for a successful business be about being in a sizeable market with a product that can satisfy enough of that market to make profits?  Is being in business about “making things that people want and will pay for”

Take the example of search engines, smartphones, online marketplaces even cars, when there is a growing, sizeable market with an appetite for change. Is this the story of telephone directories morphing to the web as search engines, the evolution of the telephone into people’s pockets, the buying and selling of goods being streamlined online or the transportation of people becoming about journeys.

The flip-side is in a market with little appetite for change, a business can have the best product in the world and super leadership team, and it may not matter, the business is going to fail. A business can spend a heap of money digging for years trying to find customers willing to pay for a product, little reward for a lot of effort and the team eventually will disintegrate, and the business folds.

Has history shown us that the No.1 business success factor is market?

When a great business team meets a stagnant market, market wins. When an average business team meets a great market, market wins. But when a great business team meets a great market, then something really special happens. Now this is not to say a business can’t screw up a great market, it has been done many times, but assuming the team is effective and the product is accepted in the market, a great market will tend to return success for the business and a poor market will tend to return failure to the business. So does Market matter most?

A few things worth remembering

Great products are really, really hard to build. So surround yourself with a great team, as a great team will always beat a mediocre team, given the same market space and product appeal.”

Great products can sometimes create new markets. Product that are so transformative to business or consumers it creates a whole new big market and the business becomes a gorilla. Think Microsoft.

The team needs to know how and on what battle ground it will take on and beat the competition to gain market share.

As a business leader or start-up, what should you do next? Focus on the thing that matters; get the product to market fit right. Product to market fit means getting into a good sizeable market with a product that can satisfy that market and capture value for your business. Do whatever is required to get to product to market fit. Seek out people who can help build your vision, change the product, change the sales model, move to a different market, tell customers you need some customer validation for the product, whatever is required.

Lastly, build a team that can make the product to market fit happen.  A team that can go out and get customers buying the product. Next get product usage growing across a wide range of paying customers.  Customer acquisition and market acceptance of the product means the team has got the product to market fit right which means the business can grow by hiring marketing,product, sales and customer support staff. The strategy for business success will always be the product,the market and the team.  So the business plan and go to market strategy needs to address all three.