The impact of social media on brand monitoring, customer service and marketing is a hot topic these days, but there has been less discussion about one of the biggest areas of social media impact: B2B sales. The opportunity to capitalize on social media in sales is clear: if Customer 2.0 leverages social media to inform their purchase decisions, why not tap into the same well to inform our sales engagements? As customers evolve, so must the process through which we sell to them, right?
Engaging today’s socially-savvy customer involves far more than a grasp of the basic facts and figures about their companies, and requires a broader view that incorporates recent business events, social conversations and social relationships – in other words, social intelligence. B2B organizations have been slower to tap into social intelligence to connect with customers compared to their B2C counterparts, but this is beginning to change. Sales professionals are starting to seize the power of social intelligence to augment “what they know about who they know” with “when and where they should know” it to ensure they engage the right people at the right time with the right message.
For example, take TriNet, a successful and rapidly growing HR services firm that delivers payroll HR compliance to small and mid size businesses. TriNet has found that talking to prospects at times of change (e.g. new CEO/management, new funding, expansion, significant changes in hiring, etc.) critically drives their sales team’s success. Timely and in-depth knowledge of trigger events at their target accounts gives them compelling reasons to start conversations. With an incredible 70 percent conversation-to-appointment rate, TriNet has experienced substantial success.
So how can B2B sales professionals most effectively leverage new social selling techniques to increase sales productivity? We advocate a three step process, based on the following principles:
- Listen to your prospects and customers, so that you can understand their unique needs and business challenges,
- Connect with them through networks that are common between you and your prospects, and then
- Engage with them in a relevant conversation, anchored on how you can help your prospect improve their business.
Listening to the social conversations surrounding target accounts and their decision-makers can help sales professionals determine the best individuals with whom to begin a dialogue. Tuning in to these conversations can also provide peeks into the personalities and work styles of these prospects – something that is often visible in social media profiles.
Listen to prospects: Gain professional insights into changes in buyers’ environments
Change often triggers more change. As in the TriNet example, certain trigger events, such as leadership changes, new product launches, new office openings or mergers and acquisitions, can lead to buying opportunities for new products or services. While we can observe some of these trigger events through traditional news sources, social media adds an insider’s perspective that helps sales professionals get ahead of the curve. Social insights can mean the difference between losing a deal (or not even being aware of it in the first place!) to “catching a lead in mid air.”
Once you know who to call and what to say once you get him or her on the phone, you need to find the best way to connect with the prospect. Sales has always been about who you know, but social networking now allows you to connect with a broader range of people than you were able to reach without social media. When you take advantage of Facebook or LinkedIn, you can easily discover how you are connected to influencers at your target companies, and how to initiate “warmer” introductions with them. Armed with unique insights on how your products and services can address your prospect’s current business challenges and opportunities, you have what it takes to engage prospects in relevant conversations that are likely to result in a rich engagement – and hopefully a win.
Over the next several posts, I will explore effective social selling tactics for every phase of the sales cycle. I will also share success stories from both large and small organizations. I have broken the sales cycle into four stages, both because many companies organize their sales teams around these stages and staff accordingly, and also because different social selling tactics may be more appropriate through each of these sales stages:
- Lead generation (better known in the sales organization as prospecting) focuses on discovery of new businesses to target, as well as getting “in” existing target accounts. Knowing the right people to call, and making those calls highly relevant, certainly improves prospecting odds.
- Lead qualification is about assessing the quality of inbound “leads” to quickly and accurately classify them as sales-ready (or not). Determining where the contact falls in the corporate hierarchy is helpful, as are any insights that validate the opportunity. Speed and efficiency are key for lead qualification success.
- Opportunity management is about turning an opportunity into a win as quickly and as often as possible. Relationships certainly matter, as do a keen awareness of trigger events that may impact a prospect’s decision.
- Cross-sell and up-sell are about selling to existing customers by assessing any new or increased appetite for your portfolio of products and services.
As I prepare to discuss these topics, I’m interested in listening to what you have to say about social selling. What are your success stories? How have you implemented social selling in your organizations? What challenges did you encounter in doing so?