Just recently I had a chat with a friend who works as a sales professional in the IT industry. He's a sociable guy and his customers enjoy working with him because he brings a personal touch to business and he's doing well! However, what impressed me most is how he has integrated 2.0 selling techniques and social selling tools into his arsenal of skills. He doesn't cold call anymore - he finds all his customers "the social way".
There is no doubt in my mind that B2B buying cycles have changed with the emergence of social media. Buyers are turning to trusted networks for recommendations and advice. They're trawling the web for research and knowledge. They're reading opinion pieces on blogs. Asking questions on forums. What's more, all of this activity is taking place before they've even become a "lead" in the eyes of a vendor. They are "seeds" and they need nurturing.
So how can your sales team adopt a "Social Selling" approach? Here are some social selling tools and tips you can share:
- Build a profile: Most people have a profile on some kind of networking platform. In Europe, LinkedIn is a fairly standard business platform with over 70M people accessing the network worldwide. It covers many industries including Finance (12M users) and Manufacturing (10M users) and over 50% of users are potential decision makers. Your personal brand is key so build a profile that supports the business brand you work for. Update your "Activity Feed" with news, marketing events etc that will keep people informed. This will strengthen your search popularity within the tool and search engines like Google.
- Build a network: If you're not connecting to customers via social tools such as Xing or LinkedIn then this is the place to start. People who know people, open doors. Mutual connections and referrals are by far the most cost-effective way to find new opportunities. With sophisticated functionality available on professional networking sites, you can discover connections you probably never knew you had - hugely important if you adopt an account based selling approach.
- Be yourself - not a sales pitch: Social media is exactly that...social. As a colleague said to me the other day, people don't want to chat with a logo - they want to chat with a person. However, there's some social etiquette that needs to be remembered. Don't sell, sell, sell. You wouldn't sit at a dinner party pitching your business all night to your friends...so don't do it online. Instead build relationships and credibility by listening, learning and participating - not blatant selling!
- Add value: Post relevant articles, participate in discussions, share experiences and provide insights. This is the nurturing part and it can take time but you'll develop a reputation as someone who can help and add real value. Whilst it might be tempting to do the "hard sell", it's not appropriate and could be received negatively. Just be relevant, helpful and approachable.
- Do the research: Perhaps you have a list of target accounts or you want to grow business within an existing account, there are a number of tools that can help you gain insight. By "Following Companies" on LinkedIn you can check out the latest news, recent hires, recent departures and stock price. You can view their employee network and see how you're connected to them and what you have in common (e.g. Six Sigma Black Belt). There's no excuse for not having done your research before picking up the phone!
Enabling and educating your sales teams in social selling techniques and social selling tools is an investment worth making - if done correctly!