The fact that sales and marketing are subject to change, is nothing new. Internet and our 24/7 networked society make sure that customers are informed ever better and faster and that choices are based on references ever more often. In addition, customers are dealing with an ‘information overload’, something I would rather call a ‘filter failure’. They simply no longer know how to filter and distinguish relevant information. Yet especially in this dynamic playfield, Marketing and Sales have a hell of a job to do: how do I deserve the attention of my (potential) customers? To many, the magic word is ‘Social Selling’, but what exactly is that? Is it realistic to expect results from Social Selling, without a strategy and a plan being at the basis of it? Which role is there for Marketing and Sales? Meanwhile I am not afraid to say that the road to success – also through Social Selling – for many organisations is a rather tricky mountain path.
I grew up with cold acquisition: in 2000 (during my Adecco days) blindly working my way through call lists or getting into my car to go canvassing at the nearest business park. In other words: holding a personal pitch without an appointment or any relevancy, subsequently to have the receptionist friendly (and justifiably) show you the door. I hated it. I constantly felt like I was bothering people, while on the other hand I was convinced of the added value of my service and loved getting the time to tell people about it. Many professionals are good at what they do and love to talk about their expertise with customers. But for many, the road to sitting around the table with those (potential) customers, is difficult. Social Selling can help professionals reach that table and thus get the time they deserve. Since the start of my business, I’ve almost never had to do any acquisition anymore. For my own Social Selling activities, I focus on LinkedIn and Twitter, which results into more and more invitations of (potential) customers asking for my expertise and service.
Social Selling are all (online) actions aimed at creating a strong brand, making and maintaining valuable contacts with customers and prospects, and adding value from knowledge and expertise. With the purpose to positively influence the purchase process and ambassadorship of (potential) customers and to intensify the relationship.
Social Selling requires attention to a proper Corporate and Personal Branding. It calls for an insight into the challenges and problems of your customers and requires the knowledge to surround your customers online, so that you’re connected to everything that is happening at and around your customer. In addition, the content must be tailored to their customer journey, and answer all objections and concerns of your customer. Valuable insights and knowledge must be shared unpretentiously through the social media channels. Strive for a ‘Thought Leadership’ position. Make time to ‘connect’ people in your network, even though it doesn’t bring you a direct profit or lead. All these actions will make sure that you make the transformation from calling to being called.
A little while back, I was (un)pleasantly surprised at a potential customer. He had let the intern print all my LinkedIn blogs and asked: ‘What if I were to implement all the tips and insights from your blogs one by one, why would I still need a training course?’ A justified question? In my blogs I consciously share knowledge and insights that are freely accessible to everyone. Still, experience shows that it is because of this knowledge-sharing that many people know where to find me to talk about training and the implementation of LinkedIn and Social Selling.
For a successful implementation of Social Selling, Marketing and Sales both play an important part. But besides that, experience shows that it requires commitment and support from the entire organization. Social Selling calls for an investment in attention, time, energy and thus also in money. Enthusiasm is key, protocols are out
The B.E.S.T. (Brand, Establish, Support, Transaction) Social Selling-method is an effective way to guide Social Selling on an individual level.
Hereby, Marketing is no longer exclusively responsible for the Corporate Branding (the company profile on LinkedIn), but also has the job to point Sales to the importance of authentic Personal Branding (the individual LinkedIn profiles). After all, people buy based on their trust in people (instead of in logos or companies). What do we want to radiate, how do the sales colleagues maintain their individual authenticity on LinkedIn, but still contribute to an increased corporate visibility and engagement? Referral Selling, or in other words; a satisfied customer who places you around the table with a new customer, is another important aspect. Social Selling isn’t going to bring your organization anything as long as the quality and customer experience of your products or services aren’t yet in order.
With many companies, Marketing has a different target group in mind then Sales does. Marketing often aims at the ‘decider’ while Sales sooner enters on a lower level, namely the ‘influencer’ or the ‘user’. Thus, it is important to let one another know who we want to aim at and how we can add value for these different layers within the Decision Making Unit. In addition, Sales is going to have to clear time to connect on a personal level, to go the extra mile, and to become more active online. Concretely: a link strategy that is open for meeting new people, and knowledge about making Searches within LinkedIn.
Marketing and Sales both have the purpose to reach the (end) customer, but (still) too often do this without creating synergy. Marketing strives for Marketing Qualified Leads through inbound activities – on LinkedIn I see one sponsored whitepaper after another appearing. Engagement is low, visibility might be high, but hereby people are less receptive for ads when they see the same whitepaper through a connection they know. Organise a Social Selling session in which Marketing and Sales together take a look at which corporate content is needed and how this can be translated into individual content for Sales. And no, just blindly ‘sharing’ messages on the company page is not a ‘winning strategy’.
This is a result of the steps above. Hereby, a transaction doesn’t necessarily have to be a sale or an appointment, it could also be an invitation to meet somewhere, or to share your knowledge in an important professional magazine, or that one introduction that eventually will get you at your prospect’s table.
Social Selling requires patience! I admit: it sounds like a cliché, expecting today’s actions to bring tomorrows results is more suitable for ‘Hard Selling’. All too often, organisations start to work without any form of strategy and structure and lose track of reality and results. The other day for example, when visiting a large insurance party, I heard that they had already stopped Social Selling: too little involvedness, too little affinity and too expensive in the purchase of tools. After further enquiry, it turned out that there was no clear plan, knowledge was lacking, and they thought they were performing Social Selling by just using LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator.
Social Selling S.T.E.P.S. (Strategy, Tooling, Enablement, Pilot, Success) offers you the structure for implementation on an organizational level.
Analyse the current sales and marketing process, the present content and the way Sales and Marketing are working together now in order to make an inventory of the relationship with existing customers and to trigger new customers. What should Social Selling offer a solution for? What knowledge is present and how do we create involvedness and support within the organization?
Which tools are Sales and Marketing using now? Which tools are we going to use to collect information about customers, how are we going to setup and use Sales Navigator? How will we position our content better-aimed and more relevant, and how will we communicate all these tools with our CRM system?
How are we training Sales and Marketing now? How can we increase the knowledge level of Social Selling? Do we have internal key users that could take on a coaching role? Do we have all the l FACK-tors for a successful implementation? (Facilitate, Attitude, Capacitime and Knowledge)?
“Start small but think big”. Start with a pilot with Social Selling-savvy people from Sales and Marketing and take at least six months. Work with a project leader and take inventory, analyse and communicate ‘best practices’ and results. Create enthusiasm and curiosity, to get the rest of the organization on board and to be able to upscale.
Define ‘Successes’ (introduction, acquaintance, response, appointment, sales), in the pilot. Steer on team success rather than on individual success. Contemplate about motivation and incentive for the ‘performers’ and eventually start working with customer stories and referrals. Connect successes to upscaling (offer people the possibility to jump on board).
So, Social Selling is neither a hype nor something completely new. It is an answer to changing customer behaviour in B2B sales and marketing. When your business conduct, product or service is inadequate, Social Selling will never work. Also, when a board or management isn’t convinced of the added value, it will be difficult to clear the necessary time, energy and investment.
But how great would it be when your sales people get called by (potential) customers more often, when your content resonates with the challenges your customers are feeling and offers a solution for this? When people immediately think of you when there is a question in your field of expertise? When you make a connection with a new customer through someone you have once brought into contact with someone else. In the end, Social Selling of course is just doing and learning with and from each other.
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Richard van der Blom is Social Selling en LinkedIn expert, auteur "Social Media Management" en organisator van het jaarlijkse LinkedIn Congres. Hij spreekt regelmatig op congressen en seminars over LinkedIn en Social Selling. Daarnaast helpt hij organisaties en salesteams met het implementeren van Social Selling (verhoogde leadgeneratie door slim en sociaal (online) actief te zijn). Vanuit zijn recruitment achtergrond verzorgt hij tevens regelmatig LinkedIn trajecten en trainingen op het gebied van mobiliteits- en firstname.lastname@example.org