Social Selling in the business world is a hot topic right now. However, it’s a bit like teenagers learning to drive. Lots of people are talking about Social Selling, not everyone is doing it yet and some think they are doing it well just as they skid off the road and smash into a brick wall!

To get the lo-down I’ve been talking to a couple of experts in this field from 2MARK-IT, a Social Selling consultancy working with medium to large organizations across Europe and the US. Peter Rovers (CEO) and John Fedden (Social Selling consultant) are both helping start-ups through to global brands to successful implement Social Selling.

How should entrepreneurs and marketers take their initial steps into Social Selling? 

First of all, an integrated plan needs to be in place to make your Social Selling effective. There needs to be a continuous process of evaluation within your company and most importantly, a change in behaviour is essential.

The real question here is why should business people move into Social Selling. The internet has changed everything. Now, customers are better informed and can get much more information on a product or service without the need to talk directly to a potential supplier (at least initially).

Customers are deciding what they’re going to buy and how they’re going to buy before they need to approach any suppliers. No longer is the seller the font of all knowledge. Customers can decide what their requirements are and which supplier organizations don’t meet their needs long before they speak to a sales rep. This change in buying dynamics is terrifying many sales and marketing executives right now.

Recognising that customers buy differently, you now need to go where customers are hanging out, where they get the initial information that forms their decisions to what they need, what their problems are, and what service or product they need to buy.

Unless you are hanging out in that buyer’s area, you’re closing the door on yourself to that group of customers. In today’s market, everyone conducts their own online research into products and services before deciding on their priorities and consequently which suppliers will reach the ‘short list’. And often buyers will go to their favoured social networks to carry out this research. So, Social Selling works best when it is focussed on the Social Networks where you ideal customers can be found.

What are the obstacles to implementing Social Selling into your routine? 

Social networking is more than just networking on Linkedin and other platforms. Having the right Social Selling vision is very important and so having appropriate knowledge about how to create this vision is essential.

Before we had ‘bricks and mortar’ business i.e. a nice office with a secretary ready to meet and greet customers. Today’s buying has gone online and away from the real world.

Initially, people felt they needed a good looking website that solves the problems customers face and promotes the benefits and features of their product or service. But now customers can scour social media to find out more about a particular product and its reputation.

While many companies attach importance to their website, they don’t necessarily give the same level of importance to their social media profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. So their social media profiles tend to resemble more of an online resume or ‘brag’ sheet rather than telling the company’s story and showing how they can solve customers’ problems.

Because everything is in a constant state of change, the digital strategy of last year is already out of date. In reality, businesses need to put the same effort into their social media and networking strategy as they do in creating or maintaining their website. In fact, buyers are more likely to reach your website through Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and so if you get it wrong at this point it doesn’t matter how good your website is, it will just start to become ignored and undiscovered.

So, social networks are the new front door for your business. If I’m buying something, I want to look at the LinkedIn profile of the salesperson I might need to speak to. I might want to look at the LinkedIn profile of the CEO. I might also want to look at the profile of the engineer who will deliver my new, shiny business solution. I want to see that their profiles resonate competence, capability and customer service passion.

This isn’t sales 2.0, rather it’s sales 3.0 and lots of companies aren’t keeping in step with where and how their customers are buying.

In your opinion, is there a highly effective method to inculcating the behavioural changes needed to become Social Sellers? 

It’s not just about experience and know how, it’s also about behaviour. It’s about understanding the story behind Linkedin and other social platforms and how this affects your existing selling process.

It’s been well quoted in the past that you have within an organisation different silos between marketing and sales. Unlike before where organisations had specific marketing and sales specialists. Now, however, marketers need to sell and sellers need to market or rather ‘smarket.’

Traditional salespeople will normally only get serious about a sales prospect once it is ‘BANT’ qualified. BANT is a popular qualification approach and entails salespeople finding out if a customer has the right levels of budget, authority, need are at the right point in time where a purchase is likely.

But now if you only engage with an opportunity once it’s BANT qualified, it’s already too late. You have already closed the door on yourself to this opportunity. The whole point of Social Selling is to engage the opportunity much earlier in the sales cycle. You need to build credibility and influence over your customer well before they reach the BANT decision-making point in their buying journey.

Traditional salespeople can no longer compete in such a market. They come too late to the party. By the time these traditionalists come across a sales opportunity the potential customer has already been influenced and ‘courted’ by the competition – all they can do is try and sell on price because the chance to demonstrate value has already disappeared. The way people sell needs to change because the way people buy has changed.

Which social networking platforms should be the focus of your Social Selling routine? Is there a ‘one size fits all’ platform or does it have to be niche marketing? 

You need to focus on the social platform where your customers generally hang out. So with business sales you can, of course get insight into a potential customer via Facebook yet it is better to connect and communicate with them on LinkedIn.

It must be incredibly difficult, not to mention time-consuming to maintain top quality content when there is a deluge of content good and bad. How can someone tackle this problem head on? 

Well, first of all, content is important. One uses content to nurture sales opportunities and maintain customer mind share. Using content is the way you establish trust and recognition amongst your customer base. It’s the way you outmaneuver your competition and position yourself not only as a thought leader but also a trusted adviser.

There is a lot of content out there, you can either write your own or curate the best content that meets the need of your buyers. It’s important to have a strategy in place and to build loyalty with your clients. This is done by putting together a profile or buyer persona which makes finding the right content much easier. The best method for this is the ‘one third’ system. One-third of your content should be based on the needs and interests of your buyers. A third should be content that builds your personal brand – your views on life. And, finally, a third, should be focussed on your offering and include case studies, product descriptions, and explainers.

It’s also vital to ‘listen’ to what your clients are saying and reflect your understanding of their needs, in order to produce and publish content that properly resonates with buyers within your market. While it may be time-consuming, it’s vital that you build such strong relationships through your content.

Marketing is often responsible for generating content but now, increasingly, it’s sales that are responsible for the distribution of content. This calls for a much stronger relationship that feeds into both what the marketing team is doing and what the sales team does. Your content should be scheduled and distributed in the right way so as not to cause annoyance to potential buyers. There are tools out there that can help such as Buffer which allow you to schedule your content at the right times of day as well as being spread across weekdays.

You don’t necessarily have to produce all your content. The reason you produce or share content is to further cement your credibility as a thought leader and, ultimately to nurture your leads and convert them into sales. You can build this authority not only with your own content but also with other people’s. This is where the concept of ‘content curation’ comes in. This can be in the form of 3rd party content that you introduce to important people within your network and as a result, enhance your own reputation.

White papers are considered to be good lead magnets. But they can be too long when someone is just finding out about a product.

It’s possible to ‘chunk down’ small excerpts of a 10-page white paper taking aspects of the research contained and deliver them in ‘bite size’ portions. Less is more in a time where concentration levels are much lower and there is plenty to distract.

In essence, marketing should be the custodian of content, they should support and provide the right type of content for sellers who can then tailor this content for one on one communication. And with that, they also should appropriately time their content through scheduling carefully distribution.

In Summary

  • How you sell should be based on how your customers buy and the way customers are buying has changed. You need to change through adopting Social Selling techniques.
  • You need to be focussed on targeting those areas of Social Networking where your potential customers are most likely to be found. So with B2B, LinkedIn will normally represent your key area of focus.
  • You need to define an effective content creation, curation and distribution strategy. There are great tools out there, such as Buffer, that will allow you to automate much of this activity.

What Next?

2MARK-IT offer a free-of-charge one hour Social Selling consultation with a personalized follow-on recommendations report – ideal to feed into your 2017 business planning. To apply for your free consultation, please contact 2MARK-IT’s CEO, Peter Rovers, at pro@2mark-it.nl

The Author: Tariq Ziyad is a freelance blogger and content producer associated with a range of topics from digital technology to sales and marketing.

Based on an interview with Peter Rovers and John Fedden.