Social Selling: Aligning Your Sales and Marketing For The Modern Buyer

Posted by Douglas Burdett

Are you wondering what social selling is and if it works? It's not a replacement for your sales process - it's additive. And studies show it's very effective.

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Ask any salesperson and they’ll tell you that selling is becoming even more challenging than just two years ago.

In Jeb Blount’s new book, Sales EQ: How Ultra High Performers Leverage Sales-Specific Emotional Intelligence to Close the Complex Deal he explains that the sales profession is in the midst of a perfect storm.Buyers have more power—more tools, more information, more at stake, and more control over the sales process than at any time in history.

And sellers are coming face to face with a brutal truth: what once gave salespeople a competitive edge like controlling the sales process, product information, and a great pitch—are no longer guarantees of success.

And just to make things more difficult for salespeople, because of a growing array of technologies to avoid marketing messages (caller ID, email spam filters, digital ad blockers, satellite radio, DVRs etc.), the ability to interrupt and get the attention of prospects is rapidly deteriorating.

As a result, the way your customers research purchases and buy has changed:

• 90% of customer buying decisions are starting online. (Forrester)
• 75% of B2B buyers use social media to research vendors. (IDC)
• 57% of the buyer’s journey takes place before a sales professional is involved. (CEB)

So what are the top performing salespeople doing now? Social selling, amongst other things.

Social selling is not social media marketing. It's an upgrade to your existing sales approach that reaches and engages customers online, providing value and insight during their buying process. It helps to build the personal relationship with the buyer that leads to more sales and revenue.

Jamie Shanks, in his book Social Selling Mastery: Scaling Up Your Sales and Marketing Machine For The Digital Buyer, explains: “Social selling is additive, not a replacement for how your team sells today.”

Buyers who use social media have larger budgets (typically 84% larger than the budgets of buyers who do not use social media according to IDC). But, studies show that the sales world is struggling mightily with the transition to using social media in sales.

Is it a fad? Call it what you like, but it works:

  • Social sellers realize a 66% greater quota attainment than those using traditional prospecting techniques (SBI).
  • 61% of organizations engaged in social selling report a positive impact on revenue growth (Feedback Systems).
  • 74.9% of companies that leverage social selling report increased sales in the following 12 months (Feedback Systems).
To get the social selling ball rolling in your organization, here are some of the key elements to address:

Optimize social media profiles. Do this before you do anything else, otherwise your social selling initiative effort will be wasted. For social selling, a salesperson’s social profile needs to appeal to prospective customers rather than recruiters. It should project an image to buyers of a trusted advisor who can bring fresh insights to their business challenges. Start with your LinkedIn profile and then your Twitter profile (if you’re on Twitter). Bonus tip: get a professional head shot – LinkedIn’s own research shows it’s the most important element of your profile.

Join LinkedIn groups and relevant forums like Quora. Then check out the profiles of your customers and prospects and join the groups they are in. That way you can stay informed of your prospects’ challenges. If you have something valuable to contribute to a discussion, do it. But advance the conversation – don’t be spammy or you’ll be ignored and/or kicked out. Social selling is more about social and less about selling.

Set up social listening alerts. Use Google Alerts and social monitoring tools to notify you of mentions of your customers or issues pertinent to them.

Subscribe to blogs. By reading blogs about your prospect’s world, you’ll have a better idea of what to talk to them about on social media. Then share the articles you think would be particularly interesting to your buyers on LinkedIn, or tweet them out. You can also email your prospect a link to an article they would find helpful (include a personal message). Bonus tip: easily monitor multiple blogs with a free RSS reader like Feedly.com

Seek referrals. Once you’ve identified specific stakeholders you’d like to be introduced to, stop by their LinkedIn profiles and see if you have any connections in common. Then request an introduction from your mutual friend.

Create content. The right content helps spark sales conversations. But in order to succeed, sales teams need to get involved in content development. Content educates buyers with insights that guide their buying decisions.

And with the right content, it works:

  • 65% of buyers feel that a vendor’s content has an impact on their final purchase decision to purchase from them (Demand Gen Report).
  • Nearly 82% of buyers viewed between five to eight pieces of content from a winning vendor (Demand Gen Report).
  • 67% of top-performing sales organizations support their sales enablement efforts with content (Aberdeen Group).

But there’s a catch – your marketing content needs to align with your buyer’s journey so that your prospect will get the right content and the right time. Companies that are able to successfully align their sales and marketing enjoy 19% faster growth and 15% higher profits (SiriusDecisions).

That’s why Jamie Shanks concludes his book Social Selling Mastery with this observation:

“I truly do believe that social selling is simply the by-product of effective sales and marketing integration. I also believe that solving this challenge will become the most important topic for companies over the next five years.”

Facebook social prospecting

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(A version of this article originally appeared in Inside Business - The Hampton Roads Business Journal, on May 1, 2017.)

photo credit: Tom Simpson Kiss by moonlight via photopin (license)
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