A Social Selling Guide for Sales Leaders

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?

social-networks

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.

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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-media-infographic

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.

The What and How of Sales Enablement

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?”

sales-enablement

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?

sales-enablement-graph

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.

Social Selling Training

As someone is involved with social selling training I am often asked about best practices including how to engage with a prospect for the first time. Let me start by introducing The 5 C’s of social selling. Credibility, Connecting, Content, Conversations and Conversions.

social-selling-training

Next it is important to understand that social selling is a process not an event. There are more networks than LinkedIn to target plus there are rarely short cuts to building value and trust with potential customers. True engagement via social media networks is like building the pieces of a jigsaw, the customer see’s the picture being built (with content sharing and participation) and then once they see the full picture (lead nurturing) you are now in a position to commence the sales phase, also known as customer consideration and decision.

Here are a few tips I would like to share.

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IN SOCIAL SELLING = VALUE.

To me, the most important thing is always provide VALUE to your potential customers and social network.

Social Selling is a game changer because it allows sales people to interact with buyers exactly where they are doing their research – online. Due to the change in the buyer’s journey and self-educational content being published online, sticking with old sales models and techniques is no longer an option. If buyers do not see the value a business or sales person can bring (credibility), they will simply move on to someone who will.

However, if a sales person goes our way to help the buyer through their journey from research, awareness to consideration with content and helpful conversations, they will have presented themselves and their company as a partner to potentially do business with. Therefore, always strive to provide to your social network and prospects.

SO HOW DO WE “PROVIDE VALUE”?

Well, providing value to people simply means being helpful.

At a detailed level, providing value on the social networks can be separated into a series of helpful actions (sharing content and information, engaging in conversations etc) so buyers come to acknowledge the sharer, which overtime gives sales people a deeper understanding of the buyer’s profile. Sharing is about giving freely really useful information on an area of interest, market trends, latest research or vendor whitepapers including the competition. It could be facilitating the introduction to someone the buyer might benefit knowing. Another share could be to notify them or a group to a webinar, event or briefing that would be beneficial for them to attend. These are just a few examples of how sales people can provide value to contacts and connections on an on-going basis (stay visible).

In my experience, the best social sellers are the ones who follow the 5C’s which is supported by doing research and being creative. Let’s say that during your research you see “snowboarding” in the interests section of one of your prospect’s profile, try sharing a cool snowboarding video with some text (could snowboarders be better business people) to a group or directly to the prospect. You could make a lasting impression, create awareness and establish credibility.

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HOW SHOULD I REQUEST A LINKEDIN CONNECTION TO A PROSPECT?

Connecting is the 2nd C in the 5C’s of social selling. Before we discuss how one should request a LinkedIn connection, let us state what you should not do.

1 Never send a generic connection request to a prospect

2. Never include a sales pitch or mention your product/services in a connection request

None of the above will start your business relationship off on the right footing. Why not try a conversational approach. Using a casual tone just let the prospect know that you understand they have in interest in “abc” and you are available if ever they need information in your area of expertise. The only goal here is to maximise the chance of the prospect becoming a first degree connection. Doing so makes conversations, content sharing and building credibility easier as you set out on a conversion journey with the buyer.

Provide content and value:

Providing Context – Why is this prospect getting sent a connection request? Did they look at your profile, like or comment on some content you shared? Do you both share mutual connections?

Providing Value – People buy from experts, so position yourself as a valuable source on information for some specific topics.

The request text might read like this:

“Dear [NAME],

Thanks for looking at my profile and commenting on the article I shared in [name of group]. If you ever require information on [area of expertise], feel free to use me as a resource for whitepapers and research.

Kind Regards,

[NAME]”

When it comes to connecting, if you do not have some real context, then do not send a connection request. It is better to nurture the prospect through Content and Conversations to build up your Credibility prior to requesting a connection.

social-selling-tip

SHOULD I WRITE AN EMAIL TO A PROSPECT?

Surely Social Selling has nothing to do with emailing a prospect I hear you say. Believe it or not but social selling and email prospecting can go hand-in-hand. You see, we now know that social selling provides us with a new way to engage with buyers AND it also provides insights into their social media lives. Some buyers are socially aware and others are socially active. These insights can be used to decide if the prospect fits your ideal customer profile alongside how to engage with them. Thanks to B2B lead generation tools, a prospects email address can be easily acquired so combining social selling with a warm emails can increase your chances of receiving a positive reply. .

As the buyers journey has changed It is important to interact with the prospect where they are active online whether that is LinkedIn or elsewhere. If the prospect is not active on social media then no point trying to engage them there, so sometimes trying the more traditional methods of communications such as an email or phone call can work better.

There is so much more to social selling, feel free to contact me regarding training workshops or comment on your own training tips.

The Sales Process

The sales process is a repeatable model that a business deploys for the sales teams to follow when moving a buyer from being a prospect, to a qualified lead and on to a paying customer.  This is an introduction to defining what is process could look like for your company.

sales-process

A sales process could be split into segments such as Knowledge, Research and Sales.

Knowledge

Product features and benefits  – Competition

Research

Define target market – Ideal Customer Profile – Sales intelligence on prospects

Sales

Prospecting/Social Selling/Lead Generation
Connecting
Presenting
Closing
Continuation

While the “Sales” element is the implementation aspect of a sales process, incorporating Knowledge and Research ensures a more holistic approach to customer acquisition. The below is a condensed version of how a sales process  template might look.

TYPICAL STEPS IN THE SALES PROCESS

Prospecting

This is the 1st step and involves finding new leads or “lead generation”. Prospecting is based on the research you have completed into potential buyers. Now using this information the sales teams use social selling, content sharing, social networking and any data to tee up the prospect prior to connecting.  Prospecting is not a smash and grab event, it may take weeks or months to build up enough influence with a buyer before a connection is made.

Connecting

This step entails initiating a contact with the set of prospects the sales person has teed up as to understand their business, uncover needs, gather more information, see if a product to prospect fit exists and gauge their potential to move up down the sales pipeline. This step may be played out over several conversations and may include site visits, free trials, free samples, product demonstrations and proof of concepts prior to moving down the pipeline to the presenting step.

Presenting

This step is about formally presenting your proposal or solution. It can include some sort of buyer urgency lever in certain situations. In value based or consultative selling this step can be time consuming, so it should positioned deep into the sales process for well qualified prospects. This step also covers off any objections, hurdles or customer policy adherence. Again, this step may take time and repeated interactions to conclude.

Closing

This step is involves buyer realisation of opting for your offering, concluding any final negotiations or pricing and buy-in of all decision makers.  It most companies it concludes with a Purchase order, signed order or contract.

Sales Process is Different from Sales Methodology

Now that we have covered off the “sales process”, I want to introduce the phrase “sales methodology”. Sales process is different from methodology and here is why.

The sales process (what to do) refers to mapping out specific steps, criteria and list of actions that a sales person must follow including updating the sales pipeline, in acquiring a paying customer.

The sales methodology (how to do it) is the approach or framework given to the sales team via training on how each step in the sales process is expected to be carried out.

Nearly every company needs both, a strong sales process and a sales team trained on the sales methodology which has been proven to deliver success.

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Examples of Sales Methodologies

Solution Selling

Solution selling has been around for over 30 years, this method involves needs discovery which then focuses on the customer’s pain points ahead of promoting the company’s products. Products are instead framed as solutions, and emphasis is placed on achieving agreement on what a resolution of the customers’ pain would look like.

Consultative Selling

This method grew out of solution selling, it differs in that consultative selling is centred on the sales person positioning themselves as a “trusted advisor” to the buyer, the premise being that they will gain authority and trust as time goes by in the buyers journey towards a purchase.

The Challenger Sale method

The Challenger Sale method is taken from a book of the same name.  The book outlines some five types of sales peoples profiles, the hard worker, the relationship builder, the problem solver, the lone wolf, and the challenger. The challenger profile was the one matched to high performance in sales. The challenger is characterised by a willingness to invest in learning about a buyers business, then to challenge the customer on their preconceptions (technology adaption, product match, ideal solution) during the sales process.

Social Selling

Social selling can be seen both as a sales model and methodology. It continues to rise in popularity alongside the rapid evolvement of the buyers journey from “being educated” to “self educated”. While not strictly selling, this method is weighted to driving up prospect engagement (with content, white papers, social conversations) by first creating great awareness and then getting buyers to consider the company. This acts as a prelude to direct customer connection.

Sales is a Process, Not an Event

Implementing a sales process with clear steps should result in:

Improved Outcomes. When carried out via a series of set actions, outcomes will improve leading to sales and higher margins.

Repeatable Activity. All sales activities should be repeated and repeatable to obtain the same desired outcome by any sales person time and time again.

Measurable Results. All outcomes that can be measured and compared

Relevant to All. A well mapped out sales process can be duplicated for other units or divisions.

Just having a documented sales process in place will not guarantee anything. Just like looking at someone’s LinkedIn doesn’t lead to a hot lead. Proper and repeated use is what makes the difference.

Regardless of the sales process steps or even the sales methodology you deploy as a company, success in sales hangs on two key locks, the ability to establishing real credibility and the ability to build trust with the buyers. Once your sales model is set up to achieve these two things then revenue will get generated. As buyers are now social in nature (and become digital natives) it is important to understand their journey. It is now all about the buyer as they are in control; they know what they want and when they want it. The key for sales leaders is to make sure that the sales organisations and sales training processes are in line with the buyers signals and expectations.

Social Selling using Data

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.

social-selling-information

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.

 social-selling-tips

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.

Sales Prospecting Tips from The Bitter Business

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:

sales motivation

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.

sales-prospecting

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.

Sales Funnel Improvement Tips

How many people in sales really understand the sales funnel, the sales pipeline and the objections that can clog up the process? Success for many companies and start-ups depends on if they can shorten the sales cycle and speed up the sales process. It may come as a surprise to many sales managers that it is not product knowledge or productivity that separates out the good from the average in the race to revenue. The biggest key to unlocking revenue in sales is to understand the buyer’s perception of time.

sales-funnel-graph

The ability to move customers (cost of customer acquisition) through the sales funnel fast enough to bring in revenue can be the difference between success and failure no matter how good a business believes its product to be.

Even the sales and marketing gurus at HubSpot stated “buyer’s lack of urgency is the number one objection we face in the sales process.” So for sales teams to be successful, especially start-ups, they have to create a sense of urgency to move prospects faster through the pipeline.

The reality is that in today’s fast paced business environment, time is a scarce commodity. The seller’s time is scarce (need revenue) and the buyer’s time is scarce (need value now). Unlocking this time scarcity and getting the buyer to focus in on it is the key to a repeatable sales process and the means to a healthy sales pipeline.

The advent of inbound marketing and buyers own journey of discovery has seen seller time scarcity work well as a tactic. This tactic works well as the inbound customer is likely to be in the “consideration” or “Intent to buy” phases of the sales funnel, and moving closer to making a purchase. This is where seller scarcity nudges the buyer down the funnel. There are many types of seller scarcity from the instant discount for decision now; daily offer only, limited number of units available at the price, free express shipping or the free trials offering etc.

Buyer urgency presents a greater challenge. How many times have you heard the phrase “Can you get back to me in a month” While sometimes genuine (if qualified), most won’t remember your name by the time you call back a month later

The key to triggering a sense of urgency during an outbound sales call is to get some information about a business goal that needs attention. A sales person time is scare, if a business goal cannot be identified then move on. A question such as when is the latest you need to solve/resolve/have in place X?, is designed to probe as to find an urgent need within the business that justifies the prospect spending time engaging with a sales person.

From experience and monitoring sales processes, I believe a sense of urgency is best addressed after the goal priority phase of the discovery conversation. Once a goal that the seller offering can fulfil has been identified, then explore why it is prudent for the prospect to address the pain now. All sales people should be versed in communicating the negative consequences of inaction and the positive implications of addressing things now. A 3 step approach is to

Probe for negative consequences

Probe into the negative consequences at overall company level

Probe for positive implications

The sales skill and ability to bring a prospect through this dialogue is really important. The skill is for both the seller and buyer to understand the buyer’s priorities and how the sales person can help now.

Without a sense of urgency in sales, buyer desire loses its value

If I was selling data, I would probe how urgently the buyer needs to increase leads in the sales funnel or how urgently the data team needs to provide information to product managers, sales, marketing and finance. Another tactic is to sell risk reduction (use us as a backup vendor) to protect a business against the current supplier not delivering or if they are stretched. Computer and technology companies (we used this at Dell as a beachhead strategy) to invoke urgency as a way to sell products even if only small amount initially.

As part of sales training or as part of the sales interview all sales people should be able to ask and understand these same three questions:

  1. Why does the prospect need to take action today?
  2. What are the negative implications if they don’t?
  3. What are the positive implications if they do?

Ask any venture capitalist or business leader and they will tell you that faster sales cycles are a competitive advantage. Because faster sales cycles enable companies not just to acquire customer faster but to refine their sales techniques quicker, measure sales people faster, improve sales training and test marketing and lead sources instantly.

But much more important, moving sales faster through the sales funnel means speedier growth, which impacts any fundraising requirements and scaling headcount. For SaaS based start up companies, we know that product-to-market fit is vital, and developing urgency to prospects in the sales processes is equally vital.

Any sales strategy that unlocks time scarcity and motivates the buyer to act now forms the basis of a great sales unit that can stand the test of time.

Social Selling is Selling

Social selling is selling. In sales and marketing there is a tendency to use catchy phrases to describe something new or promote new products. Social Selling has suffered from this fate as companies in marketing and sales automation use a myriad of keywords associated to “Social Selling “ to look Social and grab SEO traffic; but in reality none of their products get the job of actual selling done any easier. Sales people and managers need to be reminded that sales tools do not do the selling for them. The training, the processes and the sales performance of the people themselves are what really matter, supported with the right technology tools to simplify tasks.

social-selling-facts

In most sales situations, a core set of tasks usually need to be accomplished to progress through the sales steps. Below, is a set of basic selling tasks.

Identify prospects – Prioritise the prospects – Plan the sale

Contact prospect – Sell – Close

Deliver – Review – Improve

The above is a high level view with lots of other tasks associated to them. The list is also probably missing some tasks but I have kept it simple as it is a blog post. OK so next let us start to understand how value is perceived by the sales people who are trying to sell products or services. No sales person or sales team has the time to get confused about some new sales concept that is completely irrelevant to the task at hand. Nor can any company afford to invest the time and money rolling out a sales process that shifts attention to a sparkling new concept; at the expense of the fundamental focus of the sales team work – selling.

In the sales world words like Social Selling and Social Networking are phrases that should be used to bring meaning that customer’s preferences and the buyer’s journey have changed over time. Understanding the methods and channels buyers/customers now use to evaluate a product or service is critical if any business wants to a) adapt new sales methods in the value chain and b) to separate out when to or when not to, invest in the latest sales craze. If a business can align the sales process to newly identified customer needs and communication channels which improves sales performance, then can make that switch. If not, then work towards improving the existing sales process.

social-selling-data

Social Selling is selling in the digital age

Social Selling represents a shift in how sellers reach and interact with buyers in the digital age. Business’s must first validate and then implement how their set of target customers is now sourcing information on product and services. Very few buyers’ journeys have been left unchanged in the digital age. Social Selling is not some new craze, it is just selling evolved to match the realities of today’s online business environment.

Certain steps in the sales cycle or process have evolved a lot over the past 10 years. All social selling is doing is to get sales people and sales management to reassessed how well a step, let’s say “sales prospecting” gets done given the new set of capabilities afforded by the social networks. These new sales capabilities have,

  • Increased the ability of sales people to build networks
  • Reduced the time in identify buyer conversations
  • Made it simpler to share content with prospects and buyers
  • Made it easier to find information about companies and contacts
  • Changed the way sales establish and maintain relationships
  • Interactions have moved from person to digital
  • Increased the number of channels Customers can access touch points

In above list is far from exhaustive, there are many other customer or sales capabilities with varying levels of importance and satisfaction that the digital or social networks facilitate. However these emerging capabilities do not change a simple fact…social selling is still selling  but for a different era. Sales methods and customer interaction channels will continue to evolve and it will be interesting to see how the next wave of concepts impacts the sales tasks. The fact that business needs to sell to customers won’t change; but opportunities to improve customer connections that had unavailable in the past, will emerge as the new must have sales tools for sales teams everywhere.

BENEFITS OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN BUSINESS AND SALES

“What are the benefits to social marketing media to business or sales?” This was a question I got asked recently at a presentation I gave.

What still surprises me is the amount of senior managers, business owners and even those involved in sales that are still to be convinced how social media can impact their business sales results. During my career I have nearly (not always) been a fan of technology and tools that help create a competitive advantage to a business in the selling process which is why I believe social media will change the face of sales forever.

Quite simply, social media has to be a baked in component of any business or sales strategy.

social-media-marketing-business

Research into the sales process has shown that the use of social media has a significant positive effect, in fact sales people that use social media to interact and share information, gain as much as 78% greater sales than sales people not using social media. Now what impact would these numbers have on your business? Proof that social media matters in sales and is playing an increasingly bigger role.

So here are five good reasons why every sales person, manager and business owner should implement a well planned out social media strategy.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS A 24/7 SALES CHAMPION.

Social media will work for your business 24/7. Business never stops and neither does promoting your company to potential customers. Sales people can work maybe 7, 8 or 10 hours but only social media can work 24/7 sharing information, reaching potential buyers and driving awareness for your business. Social media is now the go to channel to check out a business, to source referrals, to see how engaged a business is and for a buyer to evaluate what vendors are worth considering. Today most business is global and time zones are irrelevant to buyers who are seeking information or considering a purchase. A deal or a buyer waits for no one regardless of how many hours a sales person works. This is where social media comes in. With social media, a business or sales person can remain engaged and active that bridges both time zones and continents.

Also well thought out sales strategies make use of social media to create and maintain professional profiles, these act as online business cards providing information and conveying knowledge, experience and expertise. The combination of well crafted social media profiles with quality content (articles, white papers, thought leadership and research papers) gives any prospective buyer the information needed to place the sales person or business on their radar for follow up or even to engage in the sales process.

SOCIAL MEDIA BUILDS CREDIBILITY.

Years ago small companies or new start ups found it hard to build business credibility against large companies with huge advertising and marketing budgets. The Internet and social media has changed this. Social sharing of articles, recommendations and the ability to freely publish information has “democratised” the exposure of companies on a global scale. Social media acts like one big resume or CV for a business.  As any buyer or sales manager will tell you, nearly every sales or business meeting is preceded by or followed by visiting LinkedIn, Twitter and Google to look for business credibility.  Switched on buyers know that social networks will throw up lots of data on a business, from looking at LinkedIn for profiles, to Twitter for activity and Google for company information or validate business credentials , they use social media to consider or dismiss a vendor long before ever sealing a deal.

It is vital that every business and every person in the business that could influence a buyer’s decision to maintain not only their social media profiles but also a presence that conveys the message any buyer would like to see. Social media profiles whether personal or professional should be impressive and appropriate. They not only validate the sales persons credibility but the whole business, while acting as a conduit to draw the prospect closer to doing business.

BUYERS ARE IN THE DRIVING SEAT.

With so much accessible and static information shared on the social networks, sellers are no longer in control as buyers have changed their journey in how they buy. Now any buyer can do extensive research quite easily prior to making a purchase whether B2B or consumers, in fact the “average consumer views more than 10 pieces of content online prior to making a purchase”.

Social media has empowered buyers so they no longer have to rely on the information provided by sellers. It does not matter if the transaction is business-to-consumer or business-to-business; buyers are doing their homework by visiting social media sites and accessing content to support buying decisions.

Business owners and sales team must make themselves easy to find by potential buyers using inbound and content marketing tactics if they are to stand a chance at scaling the business. A story from the 1950’s comes to mind when a bank robber named Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed so many banks. His answer: it’s where the money is! Now every business leader and serious sales person should ask themselves this question. Why focus on social media? The answer: It’s where the buyers are!

SHARING IS CARING.

Every marketing person worth their salt knows the power of “going viral.” Social media and the Internet can bring potentially huge exposure for a business as a result of social media channels ability to easily and quickly share information. With content marketing as the lead driver, the ability to instantly share information or expertise on the social networks means that any business with the creativity and determination can raise awareness quickly. “Social media’s success is built on the ability of people to access and share information”. Just visit any profile or view any piece of content on social media and you will be encouraged to vote, like or share the information. Our natural tendency coupled with some encouragement from the social networks has resulted in buyers and consumers sharing millions of pieces of content around the Internet about products or services they like or dislike.

Marketing and sales teams that maximise the potential of social media create a sustainable mechanism to attract prospective buyers and turn existing customers into brand advocates for the product/service. Through sharing of relevant and quality content, a business can potentially reach hundreds, thousands and possible millions of people with their message.

social-media-effectiveness

CONTENT IS NOT KING, IT IS A KINGMAKER.

That all too familiar marketing quote that “content is king” should in reality be “content is a kingmaker”. Content cannot be king, but through the sharing of quality, insightful and useful information, content can influence buyers (in search results, on forums, in reviews and social networks) so they come to view a business as king of their topic. Well crafted and optimised content found on search engines, social media and web sites creates a path leading potential buyers straight to the seller’s site. Content marketing can be any type of information that can be indexed on the web. This includes articles, info-graphics, video, podcasts, whitepapers and any type of information that can be accessed online by buyers. The power of content is its ability to inform and influence prospective buyers. The goal for sales and marketing is to create compelling content in different formats, which when shared will influence potential customers seeking information before making a purchasing decision that their company is the one to consider. Any business who fails to create and share content bestows advantage to their competitors who do incorporate content as part of their business strategy.

So why are the most successful companies in the world fully engaged with social media marketing? Because it is where the buyers are! Social media and content matters in sales to make your business and not the competition the king. It gives you the advantage and turns potential buyers away from the competition towards your offerings. That is one powerful motivation to use social media to sell more and win business.

Sales Strategy – Marketing Services – Sales Consultant – Social Selling – Inbound Marketing – Lead Generation

I'm always available to have a chat on your business plans and any challenges in lead generation, social selling, marketing or sales.