Social selling and sales articles
Building social credibility via our social media networks allows us to nurture relationships, stay top-of-mind with the purpose of creating “sales time” with buyers at the right time. It is about positioning ourselves to have influence and high levels of perceived value with prospects or potential customers. It is not just about building up our own personal brand but also support the company’s brand online.
At a practical level it is about participating in online discussions on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Forums etc as well as writing and sharing content relevant to your customers. It also extends to being aware of industry trends, seeking referrals from clients and co-workers, and working every day towards being viewed as a subject matter expert in a given field. Social credibility is also constructed by connecting with industry experts, clients and potential prospects by engaging in social conversations. Most importantly, it invloves developing influence in your market so you contribute valuable and relevant insights to your social sphere.
What does this mean in reality?
I have my profile photos updated across all social media platforms
I have a tag line(s) on my social profiles that resonates with my ideal customer
My profile speaks to the pain points of my ideal customer
I have articles, multimedia, videos on public display across my social accounts
I have genuine recommendations from clients and connections on my social media profiles
My activity reflects my personal brand and my social purpose
I have a bank of connections that I constantly add to and engage with
I follow influencers and companies within my industry
My company page is visible to all and is active
I am socially active consistently and not just because I need leads
I can be seen and found on multiple platforms with uniform messaging
How can your social credibility be measured?
Social Selling Index
Number of Social Connections
Number of Connection requests you receive weekly/monthly
Number of followers – you and your company
Number of profile views you receive
Number of conversations you engage with or start
Number of shares and comments (on your content)
Number of leads you generate as a result of building your social credibility
Number of “sales time” events you manage to secure with potential customers
In a world where generating sales leads is now the biggest challenge facing companies, could digital selling including social selling be the ultimate sales channel for the foreseeable future. In the digitally connected world, to attract buyers attention, a business has to develop trust, this means starting with authentic interactions and engaging on social media.
There are lots of definitions as to what “Digital Selling” actually entails, but the main point to get across is that digital selling is about creating cohesion between sales and marketing in the areas of content marketing, inbound marketing, social selling, data, social listening and insights which are mapped to the buyer’s journey. All these “online” elements when structured together can be used to create a Digital Selling strategy. It is not just about the sales team trying their luck with social selling or the marketing department producing a stream of content. To make it work, leaders must create an organisational structure around the social media channels and KPI’s to measure buyer engagement.
Many companies feel that in-house created content reach (views, likes, downloads) is the ultimate measure for buyer interest, however other measures like social reach, buyer connections, sales person profile/company page views, questions posed, questions answered and conversation engagement are other key measures worth considering. A key part of any Digital Selling strategy is everyone in sales and marketing should be involved in the creation, organising and sharing of content. To succeed with the socially influenced buyer, remember companies with the best stories shared will win. In a way, a business needs to have a publishing department, one that concentrates on creating volumes of content or research which is mapped to a buyer’s journey
Let’s take a deeper look at Digital Selling
Digital selling is the use of social selling (1:1 buyer engagement on social channels undertaken by sales people) combined with the use of digital assets (videos, articles, whitepapers, case studies, infographics, webinars, online presentations) and supported by sales intelligence (data, ideal customer profiles, insights, triggers, CRM, social listening) to generated leads and revenue.
In a way, digital selling could be termed “closed loop selling” as it about matching your sales strategy to buyer behaviour which we now know is increasingly influenced by social media. So in a way, it takes a holistic view of the buyers journey to bring together the assets and actions in order to be valuable to buyers on their journey, one that ultimately leads to better engagement and ultimately more sales.
There are many compelling reasons around this strategy, mainly driven by the fact that buyer behaviour has changed and there is no old way of doing things as most sales tactics such as cold calling have diminishing returns. Today’s connected buyer is more informed than ever before plus they have become expert at tuning out to all those interrupter sales strategies and tactics that worked so well in the past. They seek not to be sold to. They seek advice, knowledge, insights and someone to guide them to the right purchase decision.
The whole digital sales transformation is in full swing around us, whether it is inbound marketing, freemium models, social selling or consultative sales models, it is digital selling to step forward and take centre stage.
Digital selling is fast becoming main stream as forward thinking SaaS companies lead the way whilst many smaller or medium sized businesses must watch and learn fast.
So where does social selling fit in?
As I stated previously, Social Selling is the key sales person’s activity within Digital Selling. Again, there are many definitions but my own one is “Social selling is the sum of connected actions shared online when experienced by customers/potential customers will influence their awareness and consideration for your business.
It boils down to the influence an individual sales person can have on customers and prospects’, by sharing content on social networks which is consumed, shared, commented on and visible across multiple networks.
Sales teams deploy social selling as an activity that is proven to be valuable (sharing insights, articles, expert advice) to buyers as they move through the awareness, consideration and selection stages on the new buying journey via social media.
Social Selling uses three key elements: namely Insights, Triggers and Referrals to map the buyer’s journey, then supports these elements with articles, curated content, videos, whitepapers etc to engage a potential customer.
A digital selling strategy acknowledges that the connected buyer needs education but they educate themselves. They have become blind to advertising and ignore slick marketing material. They value peer recommendations over sales jargon and they complete a large part of the buying process without sales interactions or taking calls. They want to be guided and expect insights from experts with an understanding of their business not yours.
So, pause, listen & engage to nurture relationships via social networks. Modern sales leadership know that the key to sustained success is to include digital selling alongside social selling and social media marketing so all departments and all employees can play their part in the online customer engagement process. When sales and marketing work together to engage someone from prospect to customer, the whole business from top to bottom can stay on the same page with critical contacts, conversations, conversions while measuring the resulting ROI. That is Digital Selling.
A social selling strategy starts at the top. If sales management and senior executives are suspicious about social media – if they only see risk, their people wasting time clicking “Like” buttons and employees posting funny pictures, then they would be right to draw down the shutters and, in the process, cut off the opportunity social media presents.
If, on the other hand, they want to become a social business and prepared to invest in training to optimise its potential and reduce risk, to reconfigure operations so that departments work together digitally, not in silos. Then social selling could be the key to unlocking the data insights into customers and prospects. Where do they engage, digitally? What language do they use? How active are they? What external content do they share? There is a mountain of social data out there if a business knows how to mine it.
Some 62 per cent of Irish companies said they used social media platforms as their primary method for connecting with customers, up from 58 per cent and 46 per cent in 2014 and 2013 respectively. (Compiled by CSO December 2015)
So how many of our companies have formal social selling programs, policies and KPI’s in place?
The social networks allow us to interact with other human beings in meaningful ways online. Social Selling is an evolutionary step forward making the sales process more productive and meaningful. It is not about using social media to shout at, stalk, or spam people digitally. It is not about employing the social channels to replace cold calling/sales outreach or replacing the telephone with Twitter and LinkedIn.
The reality is that integrating social media into your team’s selling process is a must if you expect your salespeople to break through the competitive clutter and reach buyers who are better informed and more digitally connected than ever before.
A well planned social selling program will see sellers will use the online channels at the front end of the sales cycle to be useful, to network, build their online brand, and be found, demonstrate credibility, generate leads and conduct presales customer engagement. Social channels can and should also be used to nurture existing customer relationships and as part of account based management
To turn your sales organisation into a social selling machine, you need to do these things:
Accept that buyer behaviour and the buyers journey has changed. Sales management must shift their mindsets. The selling world is different than it was five or ten years ago. Some if not most of the sales tactics that worked when a business was building its customer base, are not working for sales teams today. Saturated with sales approaches, buyers ignore phone calls and emails from people they have never heard off. It takes so much more effort to break through the noise these days. Sales people must alter their sales approach. The role of sales leadership is to help them learn how to do it.
Develop a social selling strategy. Engage both the marketing and sales teams as part of the planning process. Be careful not to head straight for social selling training without having thought through items like culture, change, KPI’s, content and making social selling a consistent activity. Heading straight to tactics without executive sponsorship and a well developed plan is a recipe for failure.
Establish social etiquette and social media guidelines. Sales people need to know what is expected of them from their actions online. Sales people present themselves PLUS the company brand. Remember what is posted online stays there is forever, while mistakes are bound to happen a business can reduce any risk by ensuring that all the sales teams understand the art of communicating online. As important is to teach them what is and is not appropriate to say and do on behalf of your company when they are using social networks as part of their selling activities. Less than 26% of sales people know how to use social media correctly as part of their sales activities.
Include social selling training into the bigger sales training plan. The digitally connected buyer means that sales behaviours have to change and sales people need to understand how to strategically use the social networks in the right way. If a company or sales people just view social channels as a vehicle to spam prospects with vanilla sales pitches, a huge opportunity will be wasted, and the company brand is put at serious risk. Social training should be ongoing and not just a one-time event at the end of induction training.
Implement and focus on the metrics. Social activity is not about doing more – make more connections, send more invitations, or do more demos. Without the right metrics and KPI’s, sales teams can waste a lot of time hitting like buttons. Without clear goals and objective sales people do not link their social behaviour to social etiquette, policies or structure. They commit “random acts of social” where at times self-promotion takes precedent over company promotion. The quality of sales activities as a result of social selling is what counts. Using the social networks to attain measurable sales results is more important than checking off the box that says sales person A sent 50 connection requests.
Be realistic in your expectations. Using the social channels is not a quick fix to increasing sales pipeline and revenue. No one who implemented a social selling plan saw results overnight. No surprise here as this is no different from any other sales tactics a business may have invested in for the sales teams. When it comes to the social channels learning how to do things differently does take time. This is why the planning that goes into providing the sales training and coaching that sales people need is vital so these new approaches bear fruit overtime.
Social selling is an additive process. This is not a replacement for phone calls and prospecting emails. It is an additive approach, a prescriptive process like another arrow in the quiver that you should think about, “How do I apply social to every prospect, every deal, every account, every single day for no more than 30 to 60 minutes a day.
Forward thinking sales leaders know that social selling is not some snake oil, nor is it a gimmicky approach to selling. These leaders know social selling is another set of sales tools and an evolution in how we reach buyers in the digital era. Social selling is a complement to traditional sales methods—not a revolutionary approach that replaces them. Social selling, due to its ability to enhance the customer journey, is an incredibly powerful sales tool. But, like any tool, its value and utility are ultimately tied to the skills of the individual employing it.
Sales enablement is linchpin that a business uses to bridge the gap between their sales strategy and how they execute this on social media, the phone or face to face. In a fast moving digital world, common sales challenges (buyer interactions, longer sales cycles, declining win rates, slowing customer acquisition and shrinking deal sizes ) can be mapped back to the same source — the conversations between sales people and buyers.
The challenge for sales leadership is to equip the entire sales team(s) with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation either online or offline with the right set of customers at each stage of the buyer’s journey to optimise the results of the selling system.
The goal of sales enablement is to ensure that every sales person has the knowledge, sales skills and behaviours to maximise every interaction with buyers.” In other words, how can sales leaders create the environment to “get all your ducks in a row to give the salespeople the best chance of closing a deal?”
A sales enablement framework for the digitally connected buyers should include:
Targeting the Right Prospects
Reports show that only 3% of buyers are in a purchasing cycle when contacted by sales. This blunt sales effort can be extremely for all stakeholders when lead nurturing is directed at the wrong buyers, who are not ready to buy, or worse just are not interested in what you have to offer.
Sales productivity is impacted due to sales people’s efforts not being focused on buyers who are middle of the funnel or already in the “I may have a problem” mindset. A better use of social selling and social data combined with sales intelligence as part of a sales enablement program will go a long way to helping this challenge.
Aligning the Sales and Marketing Teams
Sales enablement cannot be correctly implemented without aligning marketing and sales. Both departments need to work together to arm the sales teams with the right assets to have the right conversations with the right buyer profiles at the right time and in the right channels.
The reality today is that sales people need to be engaging and holding conversations with buyers throughout the whole journey, even while the buyer is in status quo mode (not yet aware that they may have a business issue that needs solving). It is about bringing a level of consistency to the whole sales process as both marketing and sales work together to interact with customers across the entire buying journey.
A consistent approach from sales and marketing will help assess the sales cycle, identify problem areas, fix them, and achieve the sales goals.
Understand where content fits In
This involves developing relevant content to specific buyers during a specific stage of the buying process. Content is a “must-have” asset in successful sales enablement roll-outs. This includes blog posts, white papers, infographics, eBooks, videos and reports which are deployed to engage customers and potential buyers. During the sales process, the sales team need to understand when to use each type of content and how to position it with their buyers and prospects
Ask and answer questions like:
What are the online personas each prospect will display?
How do we create content that aligns with that persona?
How do we deliver content to the sales people?
Who will produce and supply this content to the sales team?
How will all sales people be trained to use content effectively?
Which is the right combination of company-created, curated and shared content?
How to match the content to the stage the buyer is in?
The role of social selling
For a whole host of reasons (which you can read in other articles on this blog), social selling is crucial for a sales enablement initiative in the sales 2.0 world. Once the content strategy has been mapped into the sales process, sales people can use these assets as 2nd click content to qualify prospects through the funnel. They can leverage the content to share with and engage buyers, showing that your company is already aware of their concerns and is ready to answer their questions.
A successful social selling program takes time to listen, share, post, nurture, engage and convert. Sales and marketing should work together to form concise messaging and offers that targets issues that buyers may be addressing now.
Measure your Results with KPI’s
If you can’t manage it, you can’t measure it, still holds true even if large parts of the sales conversations has moved online. Rather than try to measure too much, it may be more beneficial to focus on a small set of key performance indicators.
A tip is to separate the sales enablement metrics into two parts:
Performance metrics: How did we do?
How many new connections did we make last month or how much content did the sales teams share last week? How much reach, interest or engagement did we ignite?
Diagnostic metrics: Which is working/not working?
Which activities are working? What needs to be improved? What types of content are the salespeople sharing and with who? What content is not performing or which set of prospects are not responding?
These metrics will help all stakeholders make the right decisions; decisions which help the buyers engage and drive revenue.
Always prioritise the prospects
Too many times, businesses are thinking about “Me” and not “Them”. The focus can be solely on the company, the product, the messaging, the key differentiators, etc. They hone in on themselves and relegate their target audience and the audience’s needs. This internal focus impacts on true sales enablement. So rather than helping the sales teams understand the buyers, the focus can be entirely on helping the sales team understand the products. Helping buyers through the buyer’s journey should the core of all sales enablement programs, from awareness to decision.
A quick summary
Sales enablement is critical as the business world in which we function has fundamentally changed. Out with the explaining the companies’ products and why buy messaging. In is assisting prospects evaluate alternatives, helping and educating buyers. The focus becomes truly enabling the sales team to engage throughout the whole buyer’s journey, on their grounds and in the channels they choose.
The modern buying process means that different criteria have to be introduced. Using sales enablement as the guiding principle, sales organisations everywhere can set themselves up for success. The end result will be empowered and productive sales people, skilled in helping prospects across the buyer’s journey and bringing in more revenue, faster than ever.
The Bitter Business is delighted to be named in the TOP 100 BRANDS and influencers for Social Selling. The report complied by Onalytica was to identify which Social Selling brands and individuals were leading the online discussion. They analysed 263K+ tweets from 16 November 2015 – 4 February 2016 mentioning the keywords “Social Selling” OR socialselling OR socialsales OR “social sales” and identified the top 100 most influential brands and individuals leading the discussion on Twitter.
In the top 100 brands there is organisations such as Salesforce and Hootsuite and some top industry resources such as SocialMedia Examiner and Social Media Today.While 38 on the global list is a great achievement, it should be noted that The Bitter Business is flying the flag for social selling from Ireland.
Social Selling is an evolutionary step forward making the sales process more productive and meaningful
The Top 4 Reasons Why Companies Embrace Social Selling
Old sales tactics have diminishing returns:
90% of decision makers say that they never respond to cold outreach
(Harvard Business Review).
Buyers use social media:
75% of B2B buyers now use social media to research vendors (IDC).
Bigger deal sizes:
Buyers who use social media have larger budgets – typically 84% larger than the budgets of buyers who do not use social (IDC).
Better Sales Achievement:
Social sellers realize 66% greater sales achievement than those using traditional prospecting techniques (Sales Benchmark Index).
Social selling starts by being about the relationship between sales professionals and the connections they have nurtured in social media spaces. While there is a lot of social selling that takes place on LinkedIn (which is considered the businessperson’s social media space), there is also a tremendous amount of it going on in all social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Google+, Periscope, Blab, and others. (If you aren’t familiar with all the social media spaces and how to use social selling that your sales team can be a part of, don’t worry! there are lots of articles in our Social Selling category to keep you going.)
Business loves the concept of social selling, tapping into the social networks combined with big data to lower the cost per lead and to speed up the sales and marketing process like never before is appealing. The good news for sales and marketing leaders who want to use social selling as a sales tactic is that “Big Data” is now a commodity. The sheer volume of data available to marketers today is staggering including social media insights, CRM data, sales records and web traffic alongside a multitude of other online sources. The adoption of social media by consumers and business buyers alike to buy and build our lives means the quantity of data is growing on a massive scale. To put it into perspective, social media currently accounts for over fifty two Trillion words shared every single day.
But big data is as valuable to a buyer as it is to a seller. Data is no longer the secret art of the marketing department as access to social data is there for everyone (buyers and sellers) with a few clicks of a mouse. Every minute of everyday companies share content and buyers share purchasing intent. The result in the past few years has seen a major disruption to the whole buyer-supplier relationship. Today potential customers can educate themselves on your products, your company, and people’s perception of you and even compare what the competition is offering without ever having to engage with you. They are doing this on social media forums and many other online sources without speaking to a sales person. Armed with the knowledge that data and social media has changed the way things are bought and sold, marketing and sales management have to utilise two very effective tools, “Big Data” and “Social Selling” to capture more revenue in an ever changing landscape.
Social Selling: Learn to Listen
A wider social selling strategy involves using big data to listen to what the markets are talking about and then share content that will grab their attention. Even basic social selling activity needs to tap into social conversations and content to understand buyer’s motivations. It may seem like a huge task to begin a data listening program but it is easier than you think. A few Google searches will throw up lots of free and paid marketing analytic tools to help you identify potential customers via social media.
Larger companies now use a whole raft of analytical software for data crunching, to get insights into customer behaviour analysis and buyer profiles so that marketing departments can discover answers to questions about the type of buyer who might consider buying from them. Smaller companies can use tools like Hootsuite Free, Socialmention, Twazzup or Addict-O-Matic amongst others to gain deep insights into keyword driven conversations.
Even without software tools, sales and marketing can gleam valuable information via social media conversations, online reviews and forums and then use this to help build connections with potential customers. Tools such as Socialbro, Rivaliq, ripjar and Connectors Marketplace allows sales people or marketing teams to trawl through blogs, social networks,, forums, news and reviews for brand, product or company mentions right down to specific keywords.
Big Data Insights for Improved Social Selling
Regardless of whether you are using software or digging around manually, there is no limit to the amount of information that can be gleaned using Big Data as part of your analytic tasks into identifying buyer sets that narrow down your prospect target list. Sales and marketing teams should be looking to gain the following insights from listening to social conversations and the social chatter.
Who is your Buyer: Prospective customers may be spread wide and deep but it is vital a business tries to condense them into “buyer persona’s”. Creating a typical customer with characteristics helps sales and marketing teams to identify, understand, and target. A point to note is buying behaviours varies by category on social media. For example 25% of Facebook and 34% of Twitter users reported buying tech tools or electronic devices after seeing recommendations or shares posted on these social network sites while 75% of B2B buyers now use social media to be more informed on vendors.
Target Specific Networks: Monitor what your prospects or buyer persona’s are talking about including mentions on your competitors. When it comes to social media, not all platforms are created equal or suit both B2C and B2B. Some social network sites produce higher leads and conversion rates than others. Even if you produce great content and follow all the best guidelines depending on your product or business, some will not perform. Focus in on where you can get higher sales conversions from specific networks as opposed to trying to cover off every one.
Identify Buyer’s Pain Points or Needs: To be successful at social selling you need to use data to discover what needs or product features are trending plus what questions/interests buyers are engaging with online. Part of your content strategy has to mirror these needs, plus when reaching out to potential customers using social selling, remember 90% of buyers never respond to cold calling (because no need has been identified)
What Type of Content do Buyers Engage with: Analyse the networks and data to see what type of content and from what sources do buyers like/read/interact with. It’s all figuring out what content and which information will influence their engagement with vendors
Map the Buyer’s Journey: The buyer’s journey is not changing, it HAS changed. More than any of the other insights that marketing leaders can provide to sales is mapping out the steps a buyer takes from awareness to consideration to purchase. Having the insight into how buyers gather information, what type of content, how they consider vendors, how they like to establish connections and take decisions is the critical data that makes social selling successful.
Using the insights from Big Data and Social Conversations, marketing team can now provide sales with the information, behaviours and likely interest triggers for the buyer persona. Then make social selling work by providing highly relevant content that matches these insights. Also a social selling training should be developed so that sales agents learn how, where, and when to connect with buyers and prospects on the various platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other relevant social media channels.
It is the ability for sales to reach buyers in a highly personalised way with the right content, with the right context and at the right moment is the key to social selling in the era of Big Data.
The building blocks for successful sales prospecting or lead generation are not solely down to selling skills but a combination of prospect lists with data, accurate targeting and understanding the buyers journey.
Prospecting can be a reluctant or even feared selling activity, especially when the term “cold calling” is mentioned. However prospecting is a vital sales activity and well trained sales people should view as a necessary aspect of being successful in sales. The positive news is using tools like social media and social selling to engage prospects, the actual event of contacting a prospect should be called “warm calling. Warm calling is about a sales process where reps use social data to research their prospects prior to making a call, understand where they can add value and can demonstrate concern about a buyer challenges. Regardless of the sales cycle, reps whose first goal is to offer the buyer help (white papers or industry research as examples) and guidance (seminars, vendor profiles etc) are far more successful and satisfied than people merely engaged with cold calling.
Here are some tips to win at prospecting using warm calling:
Set aside day every day for sales prospecting. Work with your sales coach or manager to help manage what you are doing or being asked to do. Set targets for prospects researched, profiled and engaged – daily.
If a sales person is blindly approaching prospects with emails and calls without reason other than a profile view then they will fall flat and fast.
If reps are not taking a value first approach then it is not worth even making the call or sending the email
Sales people who are trained to look outward, use social media tools, focus in on the world of the buyer and what they value will perform better in their roles.
‘Dear Buyer, The reason for my call today is…’ If a rep cannot complete this sentence then they should not be making the phone call as they lack sales process and value wedge knowledge.
When engaged with prospects, it is important that the context is there the relevancy of the approach has to be valid.
Use social selling tools, social insights, data and lead generation software! The days of having multiple browsers open to find prospect information are long over. It is amazing how many sales managers do not know this yet
Warm calling to activate sales leads is about making the customer the hero, make them glad to have connected with you, bring value and understanding before any sales pitch.
Confidence comes from being in control. So practise the sales conversation, write scripts, the genuine reason for the call and connect this back to a challenge, know your value wedge, understand your industry plus study the buyer’s journey.
Mistakes are learning tools. Every call is a learning opportunity to enrich any sales person’s skill. So do not fret on mistakes and embrace the learning.
Know when to hold and when to fold. When a prospect is not a good fit or you can’t add value move on. When your product or service is not sparking a buyer’s interest then do not add to the pipeline, rather think of it as a step closer to find a matching prospect.
Focus on the Outcome. Prospecting is not about selling, it has a different goal. It is about exploring the possibility that you might be able to create value for the buyer and maybe do something together down the line. Selling, at this point really is cold calling.
Have fun. Enjoy the fruits of your research and the social insights you have gathered. You bring value and are worth listening to. Buyer to Supplier relationships has to start somewhere and opening these relationships is what prospecting is all about.