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.
Digital transformation and digital sales transformation is much spoke about business strategy terms (there is even Kudos within management circles for mentioning them). But what is it and what can it do for a business is less understood. How can a business benefit from digital sales transformation strategy is a question being asked in many companies?
I think we all have to acknowledge that the sales profession is going through a major transformation. Social media, mobile, and digital information means buyers are better informed and rely less on sales people in the purchasing journey. And that same purchase process has become longer and even more complex within the consultative type selling models.
Digital Sales Transformation could be defined as “How sales capabilities and competences need to be developed to address the “Connected Buyer”, meeting changes in the industry facilitated by digital tools”. In a nutshell, transforming sales performance will involve a combination of better training for the new age sales person, better use of technology/data, and better customer content to drive conversations.
It is not just another business buzzword to be bandied about at management meetings. The buyers journey is changing fast (wait till Millennials make up the majority of buyers!!) so it’s important to focus on real business and customer challenges and changes now. Now it the time to have a clear approach, prioritise action and involve the entire marketing and sales force in any digital transformation process. Where to focus in terms of market arenas (capture more business in the short term), what is the right offering (product to market fit) and value proposition for these markets, and how to manage customer relationships and sales to win in the digitally influenced market, are some of the questions to be answered.
The digital tools I mentioned above as part of the definition of sales transformation are invading the business ecosystem, bringing with them major changes in the way we work, communicate, and sell but most importantly the change in how customers buy. As with most things in like, this has brought both opportunities and challenges, and has triggered the Digital Transformation within companies for all aspects of customer touch points.
Sales enablement needs to focus on “value messaging”, “social selling” and “consultative selling” skills training.
The starting point is focused on improving the business awareness of the sales teams because the old sales methodology of selling product features to increasingly more sophisticated buyers will not cut the mustard. Sales professionals must be able to map the buyer’s journey, understand “Ideal Customer Profiles”, deliver compelling insights (using a variety of content) to differentiate themselves (Why me!!) And communicate this value to close more business without being dragged into the pricing discount race. So sales enablement leaders are looking to “value messaging”, “social selling” and “consultative selling” skills training using social networks to help the sales force communicate and influence buyer perceptions of value.
The development of these new sales or marketing competencies revolves around the capacities for sales people to be more agile, buyer-centred, innovative, connected, aligned and effective with present and future changes in mind. The digital sales transformation will have many connected goals, but in the end striving towards optimisation across sales processes, support divisions and the business ecosystem of the always-connected customer where building the right bridges with the right people at the right time during the buyers journey is the key to success.
A reminder of the buyer’s journey: Today’s buyers, from consumers looking for a new car to company buying committees purchasing software, can easily research and compare products thanks to the visibility offered up from a host of social networks.
The positive news is that with re-tuning for this digital era, sales teams have significant capabilities to impact the buyer’s journey to become a valuable influencer, aided by big data, digital selling tools, and organisational changes to the buyers’ growing level of self education.
The major themes of Digital Sales Transformation:
- Find growth in arenas before your competitors arrive
- Sell the way customers want to buy
- Optimise sales operations and digital tools
- Sales and marketing as a unified team who challenge the status quo and manage revenue performance
- Empowering sales enablement to make change happen
The whole purpose of sales transformation is to drive profitable growth within companies. It is about using insights, social signals and data to anticipate buyer interests and map out where untapped potential lies. They focus on being useful and valuable to buyers in order to lock in new customers first (and out manoeuvre their competitors).
Find growth in Social Data
The use of social data as part of the sales engagement plan can open up amazing sales opportunities. Companies from all sectors, B2C and B2B can build insights from a wide array of internal and external sources and create tailored selling propositions based on prospect personalisation. However to maximise the benefits of social data, social selling needs to be at the very heart of the sales culture.
Selling that matches the Buyer’s Journey
Generation connected customers have discarded their participation in traditional sales models. They want self-determined, more seamless, and rewarding buying experiences; they want more of the right information at the right time, more value from sales interactions and they want on channels of their choosing. For sales leaders, getting their heads around this is hard enough but transforming sales models in mature or emerging markets is a major challenge. But leading sales organisations are finding ways to improve digital channels, the availability of content plus maximising direct and indirect channels. Using social data and social selling they are cracking the code of how to integrate them all. No company can win today using old sales methodologies, so the smart ones are using transformation to manage a multi-channel approach to ensure consistency, maintaining close contact with customers and raising the sales bar. The best sales leaders are transforming inside sales and field sales, integrating online with inbound with social selling, orchestrating direct and indirect sales and marketing teams and using data to drive activity.
The best test and tweak constantly to bring value to the buyer’s journey and turn conversations into sales conversions. They embrace social networks, mobile and understand the benefits of building deeper customer relationships across all platforms with quality content. Finally, they recognise that digital is an additive process, so they work hard at seamless integration with every other sales channel to win.
Mapping the Customer Decision Journey
“12% of all B2B sales in the US will take place online by 2020 – Forrester”
75% of purchases now start with an online search by the buyer. 90% of decision makers say that they never respond to cold outreach – (Harvard Business Review). More than half the sales process has disappeared. B2B buyers are 57% of the way through their purchasing decision before they ever engage a sales person. In fact, a B2B customer will regularly use different interaction channels throughout the purchase process. The mapping of Ideal Customer Profiles and the Customer Decision Journey around which marketing and sales collaborate has become standard practise in many progressive sales organisations. They also know that this journey is different by customer segment/profile, with varying needs and expectations at each point in the journey.
It is about ensuring the sales teams reaches the right people at the right time with the right offer.
Innovate Inside Sales
Cold calling is dying fast and some companies are still flogging dead horses. Sales transformation success can pivot on changing the inside sales approach. The leaders of the successful inside sales forces have recognised this. They use social selling to nurture customers early, long before any sales pitch. They seek to bring value and be a trusted source of information to unlock growth in key accounts which is the prerequisite for the consultative sale. Regardless of size or industry, there are always new ways for business development people to engage new customers.
Blend your Sales and Marketing Engine
In transforming the sales engine, business leaders must ensure that marketing and sales teams work together to extract the full value of every piece of data or customer touch point. Despite their co-dependency, it can seem like marketing and sales are marching to a different tune. Successful sales leaders work with marketing (and vice-versa), benefiting from the market insight skills it brings and feeding these insights to the sales engine to maximise every campaign or lead. Research has shown that when the two teams collaborate to drive sales and revenue, companies enjoy higher sales growth.
Use Technology as an Advantage in Sales
The use of digital sales tools must evolve to keep pace with customer preferences. Part of the role of sales enablement is to ensure the investment enables success instead being viewed as another big brother information tool. Appoint an owner whose focus is on acquiring and implementing the right tools to deliver the returns on productivity or performance the business expects.
Sales Transformation is about having the right Talent to Execute
Think “New Age Sellers”. Sales leaders can have all the social data, all the social selling training or all the digital tools available, but without having the talent who embrace this new progression, they will achieve little. Hard questions like do we have the right talent for our future sales plans or how many of our existing sales force can make the transformation we require have to be asked and answered.
Make Digital Selling Part of your Sales DNA
Sales transformation is not about achieving some short term wins but embedding it in to the genes of the organisation for the long term. The companies who will win out in selling to the always connected buyer will create a culture that embraces social channels. They will prioritise sales training and throw the spotlight onto people who are playing a starring role as agents of change, and they focus on social collaboration between sales, marketing and support that goes way beyond the individuals skills to create sales capabilities embedded into the DNA of the entire organisation
Growth will be driven from the Top
Every sales leader has to step forward and be at the forefront of change. Because without strong leadership any transformation initiative will hit the rocks sooner than you think! Strong leaders will be given the platform to challenge the status quo or “the way it’s always been done “thinking. They will galvanise their team, they plan and map change while demanding results from the sales force who has been equipped to win. Senior sponsorship and stakeholder alignment is critical as well as a clear vision of where to prioritise the transformation effort.
A final thought
Undertaking sales transformation may sound brave but the insights to future buyer preferences remove it as optional. The rise of social channels and data brings enormous opportunities for value creation and sales growth, but there are many challenges along the way. Any companies planning to be in business five years from now should already be preparing for a major overhaul of how they sell, no business and no industry is immune.
If I were to ask you who your ideal customer is, what would you say?
When I ask most new founders this question, I usually get an answer like, “Any technology company between 2-200 employees.”
I appreciate the optimism, but I have some bad news: When you try and sell to everyone, you end up selling to no one. New businesses especially need a more focused, specific market than “any technology company.” The problem is, they don’t know how to accurately define their ideal customers, so they just guess.
But guessing doesn’t cut it. Selling to the right customers is too important to gamble on. So let’s take some time today to create a realistic ideal customer profile.
If you already have one, read on anyway. Maybe yours could use some improvement.
What is an ideal customer profile, and what does it do?
An ideal customer profile describes the fictitious individual or organisation that gets the most value out of your product, and provides the most value back to you. We’ll go into what that means shortly.
This profile helps you find qualified prospects and protects you from selling to the wrong customers.
For outbound prospecting, your profile will give you a clear target to aim for, resulting in highly qualified leads. For inbound prospecting, you can compare incoming leads to your profile. If they don’t match the criteria, you’ll know to move on.
Simply put, an ideal customer profile helps you identify and sell to the type of customers that will most benefit your business.
Creating your ideal customer profile in 3 steps
Although ideal customer profiles describe a fictitious organisation, they need to be based in reality. The following steps assume your business has at least 10 customers. Without those customers, you won’t have enough data to create an accurate profile.
If you’re not at that stage yet, check out this guide to getting the first 10 customers for your startup.
1. List your 10 best customers
Your “best” customers are the customers who are the most successful with your product, not necessarily the ones who are the most happy with it.Happy customers like your product. Successful customers receive real, tangible value from your product, and offer that value back to you.
Successful customers should be able to easily quantify the value they receive from your product, and it should always be substantially higher than what they pay for it.
Once you have your 10 customers, move on to step two.
2. List their defining attributes
Create a simplified profile for each of these 10 customers that outlines their defining characteristics. For example, how large are they? What industry are they in? Where are they located?
The goal of this step is to create a clear picture of your customer’s business from all angles. It can be as long or short as you’d like, but here are the 10 fields I recommend including in each:
- Annual revenue
- Total customers
- Total employees
- Years in business
- Why they need our product
- How they use our product
- How they found our product
- Primary pain points
Add any industry-specific fields you see fit, such as social media presence or brand awareness, then move on to step three.
3. Identify commonalities
Take a look at your 10 customer profiles side-by-side. What traits do they have in common? In almost all cases, there will be a handful of key elements that most (if not all) of your top customers share.
For example, are they all:
- In the same industry?
- Generating the same annual revenue?
- Using your to product solve the same challenge?
If you’re having trouble finding commonalities, it might mean you didn’t create a thorough-enough profile for each of the customers in step two.
Consider going back and taking a closer look. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find a handful of key elements they all share.
Compile all of those commonalities into a single profile, and you’re done! You’ve created your ideal customer profile.
Update your profile often
Your business is going to grow and evolve over time. As it does, make sure to update your ideal customer profile.
At least once a year, run through the three steps above. Update your list of high-value customers, identify their defining characteristics, and create a new profile.
You might be surprised how much your profile changes over the course of a year.
You can organise your ideal customer profile however you see fit. But if you need some inspiration, here are three examples.
Example one: Short, sweet, and to the point
The shorter your profile, the easier it is for your reps to remember on the fly. By limiting your profile to a handful of information-dense sentences, you make it easy to learn and utilise.
Our ideal customer is a bootstrapped FinTech startup between two and five employees. This startup averages $1M in annual revenue and uses our product to better manage their growing list of prospects and customers.
Example two: The list
The list is an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand approach to the ideal customer profile. This lays out the most pertinent information in a format that is easy to review on an as-needed basis.
Business type: FinTech startup
Annual revenue: ~$500,000
Number of customers: 100-500
Type of customers: VC-funded startups
Number of employees: 2-5
Years in business: 1-3 years
Biggest challenge: Managing a growing list of prospective and current customers
Our solution: Our software compiles their prospects and customers into one easy-to-use interface that allows salespeople to easily track data, follow up on accounts, and close more deals.
Buying cycle length: One month
Competitors used: None
Online presence: Established following on Facebook, weekly blog
Geographical location: Bay area
Product awareness stage: They are aware of our product because of our online presence, but have never been a customer and have not yet signed up for our free trial.
Example three: The novel
Sometimes there just isn’t a substitute for details. When you’re going after a specific niche, you might find it useful to start with a long-form profile like this, and then create a shortened version for reps to memorise.
Our ideal customer is a 1-3-year-old bootstrapped FinTech startup earning about $500,000 in annual revenue. This customer will have completed a startup incubator program within the last year. Although they service a handful of markets, the majority of their most successful customers are VC-funded startups who are struggling to meet projected sales goals
They employ between two and five people full-time, one of whom is a dedicated salesperson. The majority of their leads will be inbound, and need to consider branching out into outbound lead generation to meet sales projections.
Their sales team has been managing their accounts through an Excel spreadsheet and, although it worked for them in the beginning, the system has not been sustainable as they’ve grown. They are beginning to let accounts slip through the cracks and spend more time trying to manage current accounts than on-board new ones.
They need our software because…
You get the idea. This approach outlines every potentially valuable detail about the ideal customer to make it easy to spot them from a mile away.
Limit yourself, grow your business
If you feel like your profile is limiting your leads, that’s not a bad thing.
New businesses especially need a hyper-specific customer profile. If only 15 companies fit the specifications in your ideal customer profile, then go out and close those deals.
But until you’ve locked down your ideal customers, don’t step outside them. 15 high-value customers are worth more to your business than 30 low-value customers (that’ll probably end up churning anyway).
If you’re on the fence, I challenge you to give it a try. Set aside an hour or two this week with your team and create your ideal customer profile. Then use that profile to track down and close deals.
If you don’t notice a difference, forget about it. Shred the profile and keep doing things the way you were.
But when you do notice a difference, I want you to come back to here and share your experience, and your profile, in the comments below.
I can’t wait to hear your success stories. Until then, get back out there and crush it.
About the article
This is a guest post, courtesy of Close.io. The Bitter Business has no business relationship with Close.io other than enjoying the quality of their insights into sales and how to sell better.
About the author
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.
How to use content marketing for improved sales enablement is a big discussion point among sales and marketing leaders. Most B2B companies rely on selling by direct sales teams to generate a large percentage of their revenues. For these companies, improving sales performance is a critical business objective, and sales enablement alongside the use of social media is seen as the best method for delivering company revenue goals.
When executed correctly, sales enablement has the involvement of both marketing and sales. Content marketing resources such as research articles, whitepapers, e-books, testimonials, video content and case studies plays a vital role in sales enablement. The marketing department are the ones usually tasked with creating the content assets.
Does your sales team understand your content strategy?
Research shows there can be a mismatch between the content that marketing produces and the content the sales people need to progress their sales opportunities. The findings included that:
- Only fifty four percent of sales people and sixty five percent of sales managers understand their company’s content marketing strategy.
- While 65 percent of sales people and seventy four percent of sales managers say the content their company publishes is valuable to their customers.
- However, a full fifty two percent of sales people and forty three percent of managers say the content their company publishes helps improve sales effectiveness.
The results show that nearly 50% of sales people do not understand the content strategy. So what is the issue?
Lack of Smarketing!! As sales and marketing are not aligned on how a buyer buys. They probably have not mapped out the buyer’s journey together leading to disconnects between the two teams. In fact Forrester reported that one-third of B2B marketing leaders acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to serve up appropriate content to specific buyers when the time is right.
In your business do sales and marketing define the buyer’s journey differently? Marketing may have segmented the buyer’s journey into 5 or 6 stages.
.Apart from some buying signals on social media (some social selling tools are starting to monitor early stage indicators of buyers journey), most companies see the buyer when they are about to exit the awareness stage and enter the consideration stage. At this point the buyer starts to identify the right people with the answers on how to solve their challenges. They are actively looking for solutions and are self educating by accessing content to help make informed decisions. They are socially active on the social media networks, reading articles, downloading reports, looking for research and interacting with different forms of content to shape their next movement in the buying process.
Social selling engagement and marketing technology can assist a business with this stage to understand and track buyers who are downloading and interacting with your content.
Now buyers move to engage with vendor partners, they will subtly seek out relationships with a select few, ones that can help solve the problems the buyer has identified as being critical.
According to IDC, 75% of B2B buyers use social media to research vendors. The majority of buyers are researching online where they should find you (as a sales individual who they value) and most likely your competitors. The research shows they are looking at product features, reviews, testimonials, pricing and company information. – Source: IDC’s Social Buying Meets Social Selling: How Trusted Networks Improve the Purchase Experience
The buyer has most likely now consumed enough content and the content produced from the companies which have proved they can provide the solutions to the challenges they face.
At the final stage, the buyer will choose a vendor as their preference with maybe one other as backup. If any business is waiting until the vendor engagement stage (which marketing may own up to now) then opportunities are being missed. Forrester has shown that 74% of B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before talking to a salesperson. If the content marketing strategy and sales enablement (social selling as an example) do not create value early enough and help guide the buyers journey then potential new customers are being missed.
You can bet that if the sales force feels disconnected from the marketing team, it also goes the other way. The marketing department can be frustrated that the sales teams are not sharing enough content. Maybe the reason is that marketing and sales have not had the conversations to figure out what type of content the buyers respond to at certain points of engagement. Marketing can only produce content to support the revenue goals if they understand the buyer’s journey.
Sales and Marketing Alignment is the solution
Create a revenue team, where sales and marketing come together and developed a unified version of the buyer’s’ journey. Segment the content tactics to mirror your sales pipeline and buyer’s journey. ACD content marketing focuses the type of content created to match the three stages in customer acquisition. These are Awareness, Consideration and Decision.
Awareness content: This is mapped to the buyers why (Why do I have a problem?). This type of content is aimed at top of the funnel where the prospect acknowledges that there is a potential problem that needs a solution.
Consideration content: This reflects the buyers how (How should I solve this?) Where by consuming more information they have identified what that problem is and who could maybe solve it.
Decision content: Getting the buyer to identify the “who.”(Who has proven they could solve this) They have defined their ideal solution strategy and who they will engage with based on relevancy of data they have accessed.
By mapping the ACD content strategy on the buyers “why” and the “how” will give the sales team earlier opportunities to engage with prospects.
By aligning sales and marketing as a revenue team they can work together to create content that is relevant to buyers to match what stage they are at. The power in connecting content marketing and marketing to sales will create powerful assets that the buyer truly values.
The buyer’s journey is changing sales models and how B2B sales teams sell. Sales 2.0 as a sales technique has been around nearly ten years now but still many companies struggle to embrace it. If you are in B2B sales then Forester projects that over the next four years, 1 million B2B sales people will be replaced by self-service e-commerce. Those that want to have a long term career in sales will have to up-skill and move away from transactional selling while companies will have to embrace a sales model along with sales processes that adds value to the buyer’s journey.
One Million US B2B Salespeople Will Lose Their Jobs to Self-Service e-commerce by 2020
The reality is (and numerous research proves it) that increasingly B2B buyers prefer to research solutions online plus then conclude the cycle by buying the products and services via the web. How many companies still insist buyers to engage with their sales teams as part of the buying process? Maybe it’s time for sales leaders to transform the historical sales models, one which facilitates a highly social, seamless buying environment where maybe the website and not the sales teams are at the heart of how companies procure and sell.
So are B2B sales dying? Absolutely not but it does mean we have to recalibrate our view of the sales process and what it means to be a sales professional. The sales funnel is no longer being calibrated and decided by sales as the buyers decides where they are in the process. The good news is that a company’s potential customer base is bigger than ever, thanks to social media, the web and accessibility of communication paths to buyers.
Sales needs to rethink where and how to add value in the buying process, when and with what should sales people engage with the buyer so it improves the buyers journey are critical questions coming down the line. The old sales methodologies of marketing bringing in leads for the sales funnel where sales would then commence the process to qualify prospects based on some internal criteria to narrow down the focus to the most likely to convert to customers is disappearing.
It just does not work like that any more. Buyers are not travelling a journey prescribed in some sales manual or CRM system; they are taking their own journey and leaving sales models in the rear view mirror. But the key message for sales here is NOT about catching up (more sales training anyone) with the buyer’s journey but where along the road can we add value. It is about the buyer needing information, resources, guidance, advice and help depending where they are on the journey,
Below are some suggestions on what it will take to be successful in sales for the road ahead and to add value to the buyer in their journey
CONTENT TIMING IS VITAL AS BUYERS MOVE ALONG THE ROAD.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 80% of decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus advertisements
A recent report from Forrester showed that over 33% of B2B marketers acknowledge that their biggest problem is figuring out how to deliver relevant content to specific buyers when the time is right. I recently wrote about “How to Use Content Marketing the ACD way” which may be worth reading.
IF OVER 66% OF THE BUYER’S JOURNEY IS DIGITAL, MAKE SURE YOU ARE WELL ROAD SIGNED.
If you read up on new sales methodologies or social selling, you have probably read that 67% of the buyer’s journey happens before sales ever get involved. Well this does not have to come true. Yes buyers are doing research online before contacting sales, so smart sales teams should position themselves as helpful signs or stopping of points along the way. Social selling, credible social presence, inviting and quality (even personalised) content will help flag you to buyer’s as they travel in search of solutions.
BUYERS TRUST OTHER TRAVELLERS ALONG THE JOURNEY, SO SALES CANNOT BE STRANGERS HITCHING A LIFT AT THE SIDE OF THE ROAD.
Research shows that only approx. nine percent of B2B buyers trust vendor content especially when it comes to data and claims. So they look for independent signs and also they trust information that comes from people they trust: valued social influencers, social network connections, ex-colleagues and friends. Sales has to work hard to get trust by offering valued contributions, staying in touch with existing buyers and sharing information that helps even when it’s not your own. Avoid the big neon signs about special offers, free coffee for everyone and buy today. Seek first to understand (where is the buyer on the journey) and then let the buyer be understood (what do they expect). A socially engaged sales mentality is a must.
INVITING THE BUYER IN WITH GENUINE HOSPITALITY WILL BE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE.
This is not an outbound V inbound argument, outbound sales will always have a place, it’s just about deciding where to place it! Day was when only cold calling and mass broadcasting was the only way for companies to talk to buyers. Sales 2.0 along with social media have flipped this on its head. In an Aberdeen Group report, they found that on average, the most successful sales firms got sixty percent of marketing leads from outbound marketing, while forty percent came through inbound efforts. However the inbound leads converted at a higher rate. The lesson here is these firms used content and not sales pitches to invite the buyer in regardless of whether outbound or inbound. Be a trusted, helpful resource to the buyer along the journey and not interrupting them is the way to get the attention of buyers.
SALES AND MARKETING ALIGNMENT
Finally, one last thought. On the buyer’s journey, sales, marketing and customer service are seen as a single entity. The term “Smarketing” has been thrown into the mix as a means to convey that sales, marketing and customer service have to collaborate more closely. All departments working as one will create a deeper understanding of the journey a customer takes to engage with your company.
In the socially connected, social media business world, everything moves at a faster pace and this is driven by the buyer. Any business that hopes to get the attention of the traffic on buyers road then they must understand where the potential buyers are coming from, what they demand along the way, and be wherever they need you to be with the right service.