Interacting socially with potential customers has long been an important element in a successful selling strategy, particularly when selling business to business (B2B). Building personal relationships, within market or industry segments, has proven to be paramount to forming long term relationships with customers and often was the aspect of selling where a salesperson best demonstrated their expertise, knowledge and capabilities to potential clients and customers. It is the point in the sales process where the most knowledge about a company’s product, service, features and benefits is communicated to the prospect and is critical to establishing a successful process that culminates with a closing of the sale.
With the revolution in communication technology, the significance of the social aspect of selling has changed but is not diminished. The term “social selling” is the use of social media by sales organizations for listening, customer engagement and internal collaboration and is an evolutionary step forward in the selling process. Social selling eliminates some of the most wasteful parts of the traditional sales process (like cold-calling) and allows a sales agent to actively communicate with more accounts and stay better informed about all of them. It includes the use of email, phone calls or face-to-face meetings as well as social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Social selling makes it possible for decision makers to reach out to peers and experts for advice and receive an immediate response.
A recent White Paper, “A Definitive Guide to Social Selling’, indicates that more than 1.5 billion social media users globally, and 80% of online users, interact with social networks regularly. Social media is dominating online activity and is influencing the majority of business decisions. It is clear that users are learning more about brands, products and services from social media than from any other single source. Professor Neil Rackham, a pioneering researcher of the sales profession, argues that purchasing has “gone through a major revolution” in the past two decades to emerge as a “vibrant strategic force” in business. Recent developments, including social media, have only accelerated the revolution. The biggest question is how and when people on the sales side will react. “The average company today can access twenty-times as much information about you and your competitors as they could access five years ago,” says Rackham. “So you’re no longer dealing with a customer where ignorance is a factor. Sophistication is the nature of customers today, and you need a sophisticated salesperson to be able to handle that.”
In the new “Social Purchasing “ environment, business decision-makers begin their purchase process by researching products and services online and by the time they seek out sales professionals they’re well on their way to making a decision. The change has altered the way in which potential customer interact with a sales person. Their expectation of the salespersons has change, from the traditional role, to one that facilitates the conclusion of the purchasing decision.
According to one Chief Sales Officer in the CEB study, “Our customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into fulfillment conversations.” The new role for today’s successful sellers includes opportunities for sellers to use social media to identify opportunities and to engage the prospects at the critical decision making time. Social media is perfect for reaching buyers who are still thinking about the particulars of their decision. Desirable social networks help salespeople establish authenticity and credibility, so customers consult with them readily instead of avoiding their efforts to interact. Continuous participation within relevant social groups allows salespeople to stay visible and valuable throughout their customers’ buying experience.
Today social selling is part of the broader concept of social business. While the focus traditionally has been in promotional activities, with the marketing and public relations departments leading the way for most companies, within the next two years that focus is projected to shift toward lead generation, revenue, and post-sale service. In order to make the transition, sales managers are going to have to implement social media training programs that support its sales representatives with education, monitoring and the establishment of social media best demonstrated practices. Sales teams that are behind the curve today can’t make up for lost time unless organizations formulate a social media policy and commit to training their staff. Merely encouraging reps to start using social media is not a recipe for success.
Implementation of an effective social business strategy includes collaboration between both sales and marketing, which need to work more closely than ever to give buyers the right information at the right time. Since social engagement relies so heavily on providing relevant, custom content, it’s important for marketing and sales to closely coordinate the content of the message. Companies have an opportunity to get ahead of competitors by tailoring content to the stages of the buying cycle. Potential buyers expect to see that sales representatives are knowledgeable, experienced and capable and are not just outlets for marketing campaigns.
Successful social media sales teams will listen to the real-time conversations and discover opportunities for engagement with existing accounts and new prospects alike and will simultaneously monitor multiple social networks for brand mentions and other key indicators. Sharing the message with multiple social networks will establish your online persona and will position your company favorably with potential buyers. Make social listening into a collaborative process with shared streams, message assignments and other team functionality, and ensure that every member of the sales team has the best content for social sharing.
To remain competitive, retain market share and survive in this fast paced world economy, initiating a comprehensive strategy for transition from a traditional sales process to one that reflects the new reality of the communication revolution is essential.