In the past, salespeople relied on meeting customers at exhibitions or going to visit them in their offices to move the sales process along.
However, Covid forced companies to change how they create and maintain relationships with their prospects and customers. And even as the world reopens, businesses continue to see the benefits of those changes.
Over the last year, 55% of companies within the industrial sector have found organic social posts to be their most successful marketing activity.
Social selling is a cheaper, more sustainable, and more scalable option than travel, which can be costly in more ways than one. That’s why companies like ABB are embracing it.
We recently chatted with Mike Umiker from ABB about how they implemented their social selling strategy and the relationship between sales and marketing. You can watch the full recording of this conversation here.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
The way salespeople approach customers has changed
Travelling is no longer a sustainable way for businesses to interact with prospects and customers. As Mike put it:
'We commit very strongly to sustainability targets, so travelling is maybe not anymore, the number one target that you need to have in terms of customer visits. So, then we thought about how can we still be engaged with our customers? And we put domain expertise very high on our agenda with our sales force that we have in the field.’
‘We can have one to many connections rather than in the traditional way you visit the customer, you have your one or two contacts till you get to the next contact level or the senior management level or who name it in this company. It just takes you much, much longer.’
Covid provided a big boost to social selling efforts because businesses didn’t have a choice. That’s where social selling really found its feet, and many more businesses began to explore its potential.
Training programme is vital
As nice as it sounds, you can’t just run one training session and magically turn everyone into social sellers. Not everyone will be ready at the same time, and, as Mike put it, ‘different people start from different places. And they move at different paces.’
To test the water, try a pilot programme in a couple of countries with interested employees.
It’s important to ‘start with the ones that are interested, are open for it. And this is something which we learned at day one. Social selling is not for everyone. You need to find how you differentiate between the ones that are more on the traditional sets.’
Once you’ve done that, you need to take those who are newer to social selling on a foundational journey, and have an expert track for those who are more advanced, too. That way, you’re meeting employees where they’re at, not making assumptions about their skills and losing them before you’ve even started.
Someone’s Social Selling Index (SSI) will help you work out which track they’re going to be on. Then, you can consider the best training method for them.
'In huge companies, it can be quite difficult running the same webinar over and over again to cover the basics. But actually, there should be an element of self-service.’ This is where things like recorded webinars come in, allowing employees to study in their own time and learn the basics of the platform.
Self-service is also more scalable, particularly for those who need foundational knowledge.
eLearning modules are another good option for self-service learning. To learn more about Tribal Impact’s eLearning click here.
Once the pilot is over, you can gather the findings, discuss conclusions, make necessary adjustments and start scaling the programme.
Some roles adapt better than others
‘Global roles are obviously the ones that see this as a much better opportunity because they are located in one place but have to reach out to their global accounts,’ said Mike.
Social selling helps employees to reach out across borders, regardless of a prospect’s time zone or location. It can also help them break the ice with prospects, especially if an existing connection or colleague knows someone they want to engage with.
However, it can take time for someone to find their niche. Having someone to keep everyone motivated is therefore important. They can set an example, showing everyone else what’s possible and what they could achieve in the future.
Sales leaders need to be on board
Some sales leaders will be involved in social selling from the start, while others will take more convincing.
They have long to-do lists and can be reluctant to add even more to those lists unless they really understand how it could benefit them. Convincing them that social selling is a great opportunity is about courage, curiosity, and taking calculated risks.
It’s important to answer their valid questions with answers that apply to them, as they’ll have a better understanding of how social selling could boost their role in the business.
Giving them one-on-one coaching sessions to focus on the platform can really help them to understand social selling’s impact on their role. They can ask questions they may feel uncomfortable asking elsewhere in a safe environment, like:
- How do they make their profile better?
- What happens if they click this button or that button?
- What makes a good post?
Some sales leaders will always be more active than others, but it’s important that salespeople see at least some of them active. Those leaders will become role models for the rest of the team and help to keep them engaged.
Sales and marketing must work together
Traditionally, the role of marketing was to help sales to generate leads. Marketing would feed the funnel with leads, then sales would take over.
Salespeople ‘don’t have the bandwidth to think about what to do, or how to bring in the next lead,’ said Mike. They focus on what's happening right now, as they’re constantly being measured.
Marketing, meanwhile, ‘is two steps ahead.’ They’re considering things like, ‘What are different markets to explore? What are different platform tools?’
Social selling encourages salespeople to generate their own leads through their own thought leadership. It takes time for salespeople to adapt to this mentality, though, especially when content creation can be so time-consuming.
‘For any organisation that wants to do this you need to work closely with your communicators because you don't want your salespeople to start spending a lot of time on creating content,’ said Mike. One way to solve this is for salespeople to take existing content and ‘bring a personal twist to it.’
For example, they could share a white paper alongside their opinion on its contents.
It’s important for the employee sharing the content to have at least a basic understanding of what they’re sharing, or it may do more harm than good to their personal brand – and the business’s brand.
There’s more than one way to measure success
Interactions and communications are an important part of measuring success. Consider:
- Are potential buyers opening your emails?
- Is there site activity?
- What other interactions are there?
- Are things moving ahead?
It’s not just about the stuff that you can track numerically, though.
Qualitative data can be just as impactful as quantitative. Stories can really show the effectiveness of social selling, but they’re not always shared – especially if the story isn’t related to winning a deal.
It’s still a success if someone accessed an account they haven’t spoken to before, for example. These stories still show the success of social selling just as well as any dashboard.
Successful social selling can also future proof your hiring efforts. Younger candidates will see how engaged, empowered, and activated employees are on social media, and they’ll want to be a part of that. Especially when many businesses still have social media policies that begin and end with ‘don’t talk about work on social media.’
For a generation that’s grown up online, avoiding any overlap between social media and work may feel strange to them. So naturally, they’ll gravitate to the businesses that do encourage their employees to be their true selves online. This could improve a company’s time to hire and their quality of hires, too.
For manufacturers to drive sales and marketing efficiencies with social selling, they need to remember that the way salespeople approach customers has changed. It’s still important to showcase domain knowledge, but now, it’s about showing that knowledge online, and possibly reaching a much wider audience than was previously possible.
Training employees to do social selling in the right way is vital, as it will only work if they have an understanding of the psychology of how and why it works, as well as an understanding of how to use platforms like LinkedIn.
Sales leaders should set an example, as that will encourage and motivate the rest of the sales team. Marketing must also work with sales to help them generate content to share and put a personal twist on it. That way their time isn’t being eaten up by content creation, but they’re still sharing something relevant to their audience.
The most important thing to remember is that there’s more than one way to measure success. A story of how an employee finally connected with a new lead can show the success of social selling just as much, if not more, than stats on a dashboard.
If you’d like to find out what else Mike had to say, you can watch the replay of our LinkedIn live here.