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.

sales-process

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.

Connecting Content Marketing to Sales

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.

sales-marketing-divided

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?

b2b-buyers-decision

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.

B2B Sales Techniques for a Digital World

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.

b2b-sales

 

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

b2b-buyers 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.

buyer-stages

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.

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.

social-selling-mantra

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.

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.

How to Find New Customers on Social Media

Every business needs to find new customers and social media has become the go to channel for reaching new buyers using content as the main hook. Since the arrival of social selling and big data tools, social networks are now the main channels on which to identify and engage with new customers. While social platforms are superb publishing channels they are also great channels in which to promote products or services.

social-media-channels

The foundations to using social media platforms to find new customers are built upon 3 pillars. The first is having all your  social media profiles set up, the second is having your website populated with some customer centric content and the third is you have put in place a lead nurturing process for potential customers engaged with through the social networks.

So assuming all the social profiles are set up and you have the resources to lead nurture, take a look at these simple ways you can use social media to find new customers.

Here are some ways to use social media to find new customers

Getting leads via friend invite

A great way to increase social media exposure is to enable a friend’s invite scheme. Encourage your existing user base to invite their friends to connect with you or the business and maybe reward if they do will allow you to tap into a market segment that is likely to be interested in you. Also as you are using friend invites to increase social media exposure, why not use those friend invites to find new customers. The audience who already purchase your products or engage with your website are more likely to introduce higher quality leads, which allows you to find leads that are more likely to convert into paying customers.

LinkedIn group discussions

LinkedIn has become the main channel for B2B social selling, providing businesses and sales people the opportunity to network and engage with shared interest professionals. Done correctly the LinkedIn groups can provide a gateway to share, listen and engage with potential new customers.

A simple way to start is to do a search for the type of customer you are looking for; this will give you a list of groups to help you identify new customers. Just type in the search bar the profile of person you want to find and then on the left side click on Groups.

LinkedIn-group-discussions

Start viewing the groups that have populated in your search, but before clicking on join, be sure to look through the list of members to make sure that the people in the group are the type of people you want to engage with.

Once you have been approved into the group, plan out how you will go about sharing interesting content (not always your own!), creating discussions and contributing to existing topics around the group topics. Doing this activity in a thoughtful way will build your “social selling index” and add credibility to your brand. Over time this activity will give you insight to what your potential new customer are interested in. This is the preamble before you should reach out to connect with them.

Tap into hashtags on Twitter

Hashtags and social conversations are a superb way to find new customers. Twitter has over 600 million users and the real-time chatter provides any business with ample amounts of data to find customers.

For example, if your company is selling the latest marketing tool and your target audience are marketing professionals, search the hashtags #marketing on Twitter and a list of conversations and profiles with marketing will be accessible. Just like LinkedIn you can then start following and engaging with these professionals so you can start building relationships that can potentially turn into new customers.

Promote your customers on social media

Promoting real and valid customer stories is a great way to find new customers through word of mouth referrals. Select some customers who are benefiting from using your product or better still ones, who engage with your product on the social media platforms, then promote them on your company’s social channels. This type of activity will gain those customers’s loyalty, and the exposure you receive when they also share the “promotional url/article” on their own social profiles; increasing your brand awareness through your brand promoters.

Funnel social media traffic to landing pages

The creation and use of landing pages on inbound marketing and social media campaigns are a great way to find new customers. When running a campaign to promote a product, a white paper or maybe a webinar on social media, funnel your traffic to a landing page that relates back to the tweet or social post. Companies like Hubspot and Marketo are experts at this. It works as follows.

landing-page-example

When someone clicks on the link in the tweet/post it takes them to a dedicated landing page to download the content or information after submitting their name and email address. This kick starts the lead nurturing process for potential new customers that were acquired through social platform traffic.

Use and optimise Social Video

Video channels such as YouTube, Vimeo and Vine are powerful social networks to generate social media traffic for your business. In fact, according to Shareaholic, Google owned YouTube drives the most qualified referrals to websites.

social-video-facts

If not already doing so, consider using video content in your marketing strategy. Ensure to always include a call to action at the end of the video or in the description box. The call to action should funnel people to a landing page (see previous tip).

Target and measure Social Sharing

Social sharing is not only a powerful method to generate online referral traffic but also to boost SEO which in turn drives more traffic. Every day there are over 22 billion social shares on the web. This echo system can provide a large amount of product exposure that requires very little work.

Always include social share buttons on every blog article and make sure they are positioned to make it is easy and encouraging for users to share your content. Depending on the quality of the content will increase traffic to your content or website.

Become active on Google+

Google+ has over 2.5 billion users. (Social Media Facts and Trends) and in the world of social networks, Google+ can be overlooked. However, Google+ has a useful feature in its Google+ Communities. Just like LinkedIn groups, these communities have members which could a source of new customers. Do a search on a topic relevant to your business, and you will see the communities that could be a good channel to engage with potential customers.

Google-Plus-Community

Do a search for “web designers”. The search will pull up the Google+ communities that were made for web designers. Start by joining the communities that have the highest number of members, highest number of posts, and the most relevant profiles. Again the tactic is to engage within the community to build authority, then share relevant content that funnels people towards your website or landing page.

Final Thoughts

All the social media channels provide any business with the opportunity to find new customers and as a customer acquisition channel. The about suggestions are just some of the ways social platforms can be used to find customers. Remember that every tactic must be customised to your types of business and customer, vanilla flavour doesn’t work! So ensure to understand which social networks your target audience are on before committing resources into social media to find new customers. Understanding your ideal “target prospect” and where/what (type of content) this audience engages on the social networks will help you in being efficient in acquiring customers. Do not get caught up in the quantity over quality of leads debate, this is a matter of targets. To be successful in customer acquisition via social media is as simple as ABC, (a) use the right social networks, (b) have great content to share (c) have the right social selling tactics. Follow this mantra and finding new customers on social platforms will become a whole lot easier than you imagined.

Content marketing is powering social selling

The creation and use of content marketing is key to getting social selling activities right. In fact content marketing is now powering most selling and sales activity as it is the smoothest route to build up a relationship with prospects or buyers. It also gently reinforces a brand without over ally interrupting people with sales messages. In today’s digital aware environment, brochure selling is a big turn-off and no longer cuts it with buyers.

The sales professional today knows that selling is now about genuine, beneficial interaction with existing and potential customers which builds trust over time. Content sharing also has the dual effect of building brand awareness, a business may never actually sell anything directly over social media but they will generate awareness.

social-selling-guide

What content is shared will impact the results.

To really make social selling work, the target audience has to be interested in what the sales person has to say and, ultimately, the customer believe in what they are saying.

 “Creating content your potential prospects will find useful or enjoyable is key to success”.

Quality, insightful and useful content brings a brand to life, giving the business a personality and allowing it (if they work hard enough) to eventually become an industry thought leader. Content can also help a business differentiate them from the competition. .

As content marketing plays such a central role in enabling social selling activity, here are some tips to help make a business brand stand out from the crowd:

What does a business need to consider when developing a content marketing plan?

There is no “magic wand or instant success formula” to creating effective and impactful content as each buyer grouping and seller is unique, each with its own buyers journey and value proposition. While it is helpful to review other content marketing strategies and competitor approaches by doing some internet searches, ultimately any company’s content marketing plan needs to be tailored to its customers and market needs. However any content plan should include the sales team sharing information that is of interest to their target audience (of which a portion should be nothing to do with their brand). Information worth sharing might include market insights, industry news, analyst reports or independent market research.

They say people buy from people, and in the social network world people follow people who share things that enlighten them or educate them. Also a business should consider social selling training so sales people develop their own style and not be a channel to spew out branded sales updates.

A good starting point is maybe blogging about observations or customer opinions about the industry in which a business operates which can also be a handy means of kick-starting some social conversations. “Maybe research shows some validated trends that all companies or customers are embracing. Then create a nice content piece about it and to add in your observations maybe with some independent quotes.

There is always LinkedIn group discussions, Twitter conversations or any other forums in which the target audience can be found to share insights. But don’t be a bull in a china shop, marketing and sales people need to listen and understand what is going on in the social world for their customers in order to get to grips with the relevant topics to engage on.

The marketing department should ensure that everyone involved in social selling has access to pertinent content as and when they need it or as part of a schedule, this content can be developed internally, aggregated from social media or taken from approved third party sources.

The content marketing strategy needs planning, production schedule, promotion plan and a means to measure the effectiveness of the activity

  • A business needs to define and set content marketing aims plus ensure they support business objectives.
  • To identify the target audience and gather as much information about them to understand their characteristics and interests via social media.
  • Clearly define what kind of content will help achieve the business goals.
  • Develop a content marketing execution plan. Including a weekly or monthly content calendar so that the sales teams understand what content and marketing campaigns are in the pipeline.

Content marketing is about sales and marketing combining in order to share with customers the right content at the right time.”

Final suggestion on this tip is for sales and marketing teams to hold a content meeting each month to decide which segments or messaging they will focus on and then agree what content is necessary to create or source.

content-marketing-diagram

How businesses can ensures it exploits its content plan effectively

The first step is social media training for all in sales to ensure they maximize the content that will be made available to them. This social selling training should cover how to/not to use the various  social media platforms, what the company’s social guidelines are to training on tone of voice and language on social media.

Business needs to make it easy for sales people to interact with marketing in order to understand what content topics are working and which are not, then repeat the things that do deliver results (make sure results is defined to all) and stop any content production to those topics not delivering. In this regard monitor and report on the analytics whether it is leads generated, white paper downloads or social followers etc. Monitoring the analytics from social activity in detail, and drawing up a reporting pack will help the business stakeholders what content drives what activity plus what the target audience has read.

Other basic marketing activities such as monitoring click on URLs, content/blog page views can provide a business with useful data to shape the content marketing plan accordingly and tweak where necessary.

A crucial element in content success is ensuring that the business (sales and marketing) have a daily plan to actively engage in social conversations. This means taking the time to impart value-add comments, liking or re-sharing content with less emphasis on broadcasting sales messages.

“Buyers want to see that sales people are knowledgeable in their own right, not just conduits for branded marketing campaigns.”

Strike a balance so the target audience do not get bombarded with too much content or feel like they are being stalked. Mix up different types of content, whether is it informational, infographics, video, white papers, case studies or images to make the social interactions more meaningful.

The aim is to share quality content that people enjoy reading, also in social selling sales people need to come across as being unbiased so providing impartial advice works really well.”

Social selling is NOT plastering half-price offers on social media. A business needs to be engaging and give audience food for thought.

What are the key challenges a business is likely to experience?

Delivering real business results using content marketing combined with social selling can be tricky and which some companies struggles with date due to a number of factors.

Content Quality! It can be challenging to create really engaging content that cuts through the huge amount of social chatter. The volume of content and information sharing on the social network is huge so it requires any content marketing campaign to be “targeted and relevant” to a clearly defined audience.

Don’t force it. Too many companies try to push the sales teams and people to become a brand advocates with little choice. Start by educating and tapping into the people are really interested in social media where their passion can lead to other team members getting involved. Forcing people to update their LinkedIn profile or Twitter account every hour can lead to social fatigue. Think Smarketing. Where sales and marketing work together to plan and put in place goals that everyone will contribute to. Both teams and departments working in unison can the difference between success and failure in running content marketing campaigns. “If either sales or marketing try to push out this activity alone, it probably will not work. Avoid headless activity where people detach themselves from the brand values and focus on their own goals which can be wasteful. Clearly defined goals, objectives and constant feedback is what makes content marketing powering social selling successful.

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.

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