Increasing leads and sales with social selling

people talking through social mediaThe Internet has dramatically changed the customer journey for B2B and B2C customers. In some B2C industries it’s virtually eliminated the function of the sales person (remember travel agents?), and in others it’s presented sales people with a far more educated prospect and complex sales process.

Sales 2.0, or social selling, “brings together productivity tools and processes that transform sales from an art to a science.” I won’t be covering all of it in this one blog post; entire books and blogs have been written about it. But here are a few thoughts…

The tools include not just productivity tools but the social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Instagram themselves.

There probably aren’t many respectable B2B salespeople who aren’t using LinkedIn (and Facebook) already to get background on their prospects, such as how they describe their role at their company, what companies they were at before, contacts they have in common, and where they went to school. LinkedIn can be supplemented with tools such as Newsle, which provides you daily updates on news articles in which your contacts are mentioned, and SalesLoft, which sends you daily updates on changes your contacts make to their profile job description. (Newsle and SalesLoft provide other features, too.) But LinkedIn, like these other sites and tools, can be used for much more.

You can use LinkedIn’s search features to build a targeted account list. When you’re looking at a LinkedIn profile, on the right of the page there is a “People Also Viewed” feature which usually is other senior people at the same company. You’re not going to connect to these people (right? You don’t even know them), but now you can start to research them so you can make an intelligent approach when you do. LinkedIn’s company pages help tell you what is going on at the company.

But once you’ve identified the company and executives, how do you get in touch with those people? It’s increasingly difficult to have a cold call picked up by a senior executive (they can just look at caller ID and if they don’t know the person let it go to voice mail), and the vast majority of prospecting emails go unanswered, too.

Twitter can be a useful tool for additional research and even connecting. Most companies now have Twitter accounts on which they’re tweeting important news. The people you want to reach may have accounts, too; over a quarter of executives say they use Twitter often. (You can look at that 25+ percent figure to be dispiriting, as the authors of that article do, or take a more positive approach – one in four executives have now provided another way for you to interact with them.) I’ve found Twitter to be a good way to have a conversation with an executive or thought leader about one of their tweets or recent blog posts. At the very least your follow, retweet, favorite, or reply is an impression. Depending on how the person works, it could lead to them following you and you contacting them through a direct message. (You can only send a direct message to a Twitter user who is following you; you can only receive direct messages from users you follow.)

Twitter is also useful at tradeshows and conferences. You may not be meeting top executives there, but if one is speaking you can tweet about what you found most important in their talk (being sure to use their Twitter handle in your tweets so they see your tweets). And then follow up via Twitter and, if you make progress there, phone.

Don’t just follow and interact with your prospects on one of the social channels, interact wherever they are. Follow them on Twitter, watch what they’re up to on LinkedIn, read their blogs, and comment and maybe even re-post their best posts to LinkedIn. Use a social connection to share specific content with an individual prospect related to where in the buying cycle that person is.

And, of course you have a marketing automation tool at your company so you know when these people visit your website and download some content, and you have a full record of their digital body language (as Eloqua puts it) and you can respond appropriately (and not over-aggressively). And the best-in-class companies then integrate all of this information into their CRM so there’s a single enterprise record.

There’s so much more you can be doing, like re-posting and retweeting your own company’s posts and tweets, and those of your partners, and using tools to search for keywords in social media indicating someone is looking for your products and services, and participating as an honest broker (not an always-be-closing sales rep) in online industry forums, and so on.

This is very proactive. You’re not just waiting for your company’s inbound marketing efforts to bring in a qualified lead. Here’s how InsideView compares the traditional sales process to Sales 2.0:

Traditional Sales Cycle

Sales 2.0 Cycle

Discovery – leads from a built list are scored by marketing, then analyzed and qualified. Search – the new sales process begins with salespeople performing online searches for a target company from a built list.
Analyze – salespeople purchase business reports, search online company profile directories and use outdated company website Research – salespeople find and understand the critical information related to the target company – company news, funding developments, new product releases, leadership changes, etc – in a one-stop sales intelligence solution
Definition – through cold call or elongated email setup, initial sales presentation is pitched detailing the benefits of the product or service. Contact – salespeople look up key company decision makers and contact directly.
Initiation & Negotiation – introduction, discussion and finalization of sales terms for the product or service being offered. Negotiation – using traditional sales techniques leveraged with social media and sales intelligence insights, salespeople start the standard sales cycle.
Delivery – product or service is delivered and followed-up with evaluation Close – impressed by the knowledge and understanding of the sales angle and the benefit of the product/service, the customer makes the decision to purchase.

 

Of course, you can use Sales 2.0 techniques to supplement selling to qualified leads that come in through traditional means, too.

The tools you can use to do this are vast. Oracle, Adobe, Salesforce and SDL have each put together an impressive marketing cloud suite that includes CRM, marketing automation, analytics and other services, and there are independent vendors from Marketo to Brandwatch to HootSuite to… well, the list is fairly endless. HootSuite also offers a useful white paper on social selling.

And remember, all the time, that these are only tools and methods. Ultimately you need to be adding value to the conversation. More than ever now, that’s what prospects and customers want from a salesperson.

This begins with trust, so successful social sellers are active in social media and build up networks of many people who can connect or endorse them. And this works. I’ve built a personal brand around digital marketing and sales through my 1,000+ contacts who see my blog posts and posts on LinkedIn and Twitter; I’ve connected with senior executives through Twitter and gotten appointments with clients and prospects based on responding with potential solutions to the issues they were blogging about. Sales 2.0, or social selling, is listening, research, advertising and engagement all wrapped into one. In larger companies there is also an internal sales team aspect to it.

Oracle’s Jill Rowley says that the ABCs of selling are no longer always be closing; they are now always be connecting. So get to it.

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