Gerry Moran, Senior Director, Social Media Marketing, SAP
While social selling has clearly taken strong hold in the B2C world, its prevalence in B2B interactions is less well established. Sure, plenty of companies have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social sites, but that’s a far cry from getting sales teams to use social media as a central component of their sales strategy. The question is, what best practices really work to turn social into a powerful sales tool for your business? Even more important, is the payoff worth the effort?
The Rewards of Social Selling
Market research lets us answer the second question with a solid “yes.” A growing body of evidence demonstrates the value social selling delivers, and organizations with an effective social strategy are reaping big benefits. For example, a recent Aberdeen study found that social sellers significantly outstripped other companies on multiple KPIs related to sales effectiveness—including total team attainment of sales quotas, customer renewal rates, sales forecast accuracy, and percent of sales reps achieving quota.[i] Social Centered Selling reports that 72.6 percent of sales people using social media as part of their sales process outperformed sales peers in 2012 and exceeded quota 23 percent more often[ii]. And the list goes on.
With benefits like these, why don’t more companies embrace social selling? Uncertainty about the right approach ranks high as a reason. If that’s holding you back, the following four strategies—used successfully to implement social selling at SAP and elsewhere—offer a good place to start.
Four Strategies for Effective Social Selling
As I’ve written in my social media coaching blog, MarketingThink.com, creating a social sales strategy can be compared to making a birthday cake: you simply add the extra social media ingredient to each layer of your existing sales process.
You can also think of it as adding new moves to the plays already in your sales playbook, with the power of social upping your advantage at each stage of the game. Viewed this way, social becomes less intimidating and more fun. Here’s how it might look.
Play 1: Integrate social into prospecting and preparation.
Why to do it: At SAP’s recent SAPPHIRE NOW event, many enterprise software sales executives told me how tough it’s getting to break through the noisy sales clutter. In fact, InsideView reports that 90 percent of CEOs don’t answer cold emails and cold calls anymore, a trend also occurring with sales decision influencers. So what’s filling the gap? You guessed it—social media. For example, IBM reports that 75 percent of B2B decision makers use social media to inform their decisions[iii], and blogs play a burgeoning role as well. The takeaway: layering social media onto the sales process helps you connect with the “unconnectable,” providing crucial access to prospects and targets you might otherwise never reach.
How to do it: Before you talk, it’s important to listen. What are your prospects tweeting, posting, or blogging about? What do they praise or decry? This information will help you know how to enter conversations later on.
Start by creating private lists of your prospects, then follow them using a social management site like HootSuite or Google Alerts. Learn which influencers your targets follow, and follow their reports and influencers yourself. Make it a habit to read the industry publications and news your prospects wish they had time to read. Curate relevant content to develop diverse sources to draw on, and follow the hashtags your prospects associate with most (apps like ManageFlitter can help you filter Twitter feeds by user and topic).
You can also Google your prospects’ names with the word “blog” to see where they’re blogging, then set up ongoing searches through tools like Feedly or Flipboard to stay on top of their talk. Search for their questions and answers on LinkedIn, and conduct keyword searches to find comments, discussions, and questions circulating in LinkedIn Groups.
Play 2: Use social to make the first contact.
Why to do it: With fewer people responding to calls or emails—and buying organizations typically completing two-thirds to 90 percent of the sales cycle before approaching a supplier[iv]—social media may well be your best bet for connecting with prospects. What’s more, it gives them a comfortable, convenient way to learn your qualifications and credibility in an unbiased environment, making the case for your brand in a less direct, yet far more effective way than traditional sales approaches.
How to do it: A simple three-prong strategy can streamline your path to successful social connection:
- Don’t jump the gun. Before reaching out on social, get your ducks in a row. Identify the network(s) where your prospects are most active, and establish your presence there with a polished, complete profile. Then use the engagement strategy most suited to each location. For example:
- On LinkedIn, you can “get introduced,” engage in a group they belong to, or ask them a direct question relevant to a group discussion or their area of expertise.
- On Facebook, you can like, comment on, or share a prospect’s post.
- On Twitter, you can retweet, reply to, or “favorite” a prospect’s tweet; mention the prospect in a tweet; tweet a question to your prospect; or list a prospect.
- On your prospect’s blog, you can comment or reply to a comment; on your own blog, you can ask a question or request recommendations, leverage LinkedIn or Twitter, or mention your prospect’s blog.
- Play nice. Remember, how you say things conveys as much about you as what you say—so be helpful and honest, friendly and polite, professional and relevant. And as your mother always told you, etiquette counts. Follow group or site rules, never send spam, don’t ask to add people you don’t know, and keep your exchanges focused on others (no one wants to listen when it’s all about you). Finally, pay attention to your spelling and grammar; careless or sloppy language suggests that you might be, too.
- Stay in the game. The way you follow up on initial connections can determine whether you launch a conversation or nip it in the bud. If your prospect responds, be sure to reply within 24 hours. If not, wait five days before initiating another contact (just like in dating, overeager pestering can kill interest faster than a dad with a shotgun). Once a conversation gets going, stay in touch to establish yourself as an available resource. You can set up alerts on your prospect’s activity to ensure you don’t miss any of their input.
Play 3: Nurture warm prospects through social.
Why to do it: Social media not only offers a great way to make non-intrusive contact, it also lets you differentiate yourself while your prospects are still in the early stages of information-gathering. Think of social as your online golf course: on the surface you’re just pleasantly chatting while you bat around some balls, but at a deeper level you’re building relationships that can pay off over the long haul.
How to do it: The key to effective nurturing is simple: add value. When you join groups and conversations, enter with your hands full. Contribute relevant, non-sales-oriented insights to blogs, groups, and sites that customers frequent. Offering knowledge or subject matter expertise that addresses their pain points and concerns is more likely to cement connections than pitching your products or services, so listen for key issues through Google Alerts, NetBase, and similar sites. If your prospect tweets about a problem, tweet back with solution-oriented YouTube videos, links to white papers or blog posts, or other helpful content relevant to their issue. And don’t forget to share the love. Retweet and like your prospects’ posts and tweets, and mention them in your tweets; monitor their social media accounts to discern follow-up, blog, and comment points plus content to pass along.
Play 4: Make your brand easy to find through social.
Why to do it: When prospects start their purchasing cycle, having an established, highly visible social presence ups your chances of being in the right place at the right time—when they’re ready to buy. That accessibility also goes a long way to ensure you’ll make their short list when decision time arrives. What’s more, it’s a great way to extend your reach and build your brand without heavy legwork, since a strong social identity represents a one-to-many resource that can engage prospects 24/7 without your constant, direct presence.
How to do it: There are myriad ways to strengthen your social visibility. Don’t neglect the obvious ones, like including links to your social accounts in your email signature, updating your social profiles regularly, and staying actively engaged in key prospect forums. Adopt these strategies as well:
- On your blog, use SEO keywords and include links, and be sure to comment on other blogs as well. Focus on discussions that interest your prospects and targets.
- On LinkedIn, perfect your profile, use keywords, and list multiple contact touchpoints to make yourself easy to reach. Include a custom URL to make your cyber identity more memorable.
- On Twitter, use your full name in your handle, include your location, and incorporate keywords and links in your bio. Make sure to tweet and retweet frequently and at the right volume.
Want to Hear More?
You can find additional tips and info about social selling on my blog at http://blogs.sap.com/innovation/author/gerry-moran/. For specific questions, or just to keep the conversation going, email me at gerry.moran@SAP.com or tweet me @GerryMoran.
[i] Collaborate, Listen, Contribute: How Best-in-Class Sales Teams Leverage Social Selling, Aberdeen Group, November 2012.
[ii] Social Media and Sales Quota: The Impact of Social Media on Sales Quota and Corporate Revenue (A Research Report for B2B Companies), Social Centered Selling and A Sales Guy Consulting, 2012.
[iii] IBM Buyer’s Preference Study, 2011.
[iv] “Buyer Behavior Helps B2B Marketers Guide the Buyer’s Journey,” Lori Wizdo, Principal Analyst Serving Sales Enablement Professionals, Forrester Research, October 2012.