Discover the art of social sellingInterview
Shannon BelewAuthor of the Art of Social Selling
REGALIX: HOW DO YOU DEFINE THE TERM ‘SOCIAL SELLING’?
SB: In its most basic definition, Social Selling is the process of using social media as a sales tool to reach prospects. When introducing people to the concept of Social Selling, I elaborate on that definition, describing Social Selling as the identification, targeting, and reaching out to prospective and existing customers through social media channels and social communities in an effort to engage them in conversations that result in a potentially mutually beneficial relationship. A significant part of social selling is establishing yourself – the sales person – as a trusted advisor, an expert in your field; and then building and leveraging relationships with prospects and other influencers within the social channels.
REGALIX: HOW CAN COMPANIES OPTIMIZE SOCIAL SELLING AND LEVERAGE ITS POWER TO GENERATE MORE LEADS AND CLIENTS?
SB: To truly leverage social selling and keep leads flowing and pipeline growing, it’s important to have a clear plan for your sales team and provide them with the proper tools and training. It’s worth an investment in time and resources to make sure every sales person knows how to find the right prospects on social media, build relationships and engage with them to convert prospects to buyers. From optimizing your LinkedIn profile properly to knowing how to use hashtags on Twitter to find useful conversations, there are many tips and tricks to doing social selling well.
REGALIX: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT THAT YOU THINK BUSINESSES SHOULD KEEP IN MIND WHEN IT COMES TO SALES MESSAGING?
SB: In terms of sales messaging in general, it’s important to relate your offering to the needs of your prospective customer. Too often, sales messages end up focusing on the company or the product/service, instead of why that solution matters to the customer. Why should they care? What problem are you solving for the customer? Sales messages delivered through the social selling process need the same type of solution-oriented focus – but you don’t necessarily lead with it. Sales messaging in social is delivered as part of the process of building relationships and having conversations. It requires understanding where those socially engaged prospects are in the buyer’s sales process, and what content and messaging matches that stage.
REGALIX: WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THAT COMPANIES STRUGGLE WITH WHEN CONNECTING WITH PROSPECTS ON SOCIAL CHANNELS AND HOW DO THEY OVERCOME THESE HURDLES?
SB: Allow me to answer that question in a couple of ways.
There are three common challenges companies face when implementing social selling: time, process and ROI. Social media is often seen as too time-consuming to be useful to a sales team, but as with any sales strategy, there are tools that help make a sales person more efficient. Similarly, narrowing the focus is beneficial – identifying those social media communities where your prospects are already active and engaged and then spending time in those communities, first – maybe start with two social media channels instead of five or eight. Next, is overcoming the process challenge. How do you fit social selling into your traditional sales processes and integrate it into your CRM? Again, the answer is to start small and test how best to integrate social selling into your existing tools and processes and commission structures, etc.; or, again, there are plenty of tools available (at various degrees of affordability) that can assist with integrating the social selling process into your existing sales process. Finally, it can be challenging to address the ROI of social selling. Results are not always instantaneous, so you have to have realistic expectations; more importantly, you have to define and agree upon KPIs to track and determine success.
The other way to answer this question revolves around reaching prospects on social media. How do you know where – which social media channels – your prospects are active? How do you identify your prospective customers in those social channels? How do you get their attention and get them to engage with you? Once again, overcoming these hurdles comes down to doing your research and using the right tools. The research starts by identifying who your ideal prospect is and then finding out where they spend time online; it’s also helpful to pay attention to where your competitors are active. Tools, from Hootsuite to Sprout Social (and so many others) help you monitor conversations for brand mentions or other important keywords that signal interest. There are also social communities and micro segmentations within social channels (like Twitter Chats and LinkedIn Groups) that gather people based on topics or interests, and those can be ideal places to reach your ideal prospect and start conversations. The key in having successful conversations is to contribute interesting, useful information.
REGALIX: HOW CAN BUSINESSES TURN THEIR SOCIAL SHARES INTO SOCIAL SALES?
SB: Turning social shares into sales can take time. As mentioned before, it means building relationships, being seen as someone that has answers on certain topics, and staying active in the places where your ideal prospect is spending time so you can consistently share good information. It can also be a matter of using social signals (that you monitor for) as queus to re-engage existing prospects as they move closer to a conversion point. It’s worthwhile pointing out that not all social is organic, or free. The various social media channels offer paid engagement opportunities that support your organic activity and provide an opportunity for conversions.
REGALIX: WHICH ONLINE TOOLS WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO TRACK AND IDENTIFY SOCIAL INFLUENCERS?
SB: There are so many tools available to assist with all aspects of the social selling process. Hootsuite, LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator, Sales Loft, InsideView, Triblio… these are just a handful of the tools out there, today.
REGALIX: WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO BUSINESSES FOR DISCOVERING MORE SALES OPPORTUNITIES WITH SOCIAL MEDIA?
SB: Listen, target, converse and repeat. Being successful in finding more sales opportunities on social media starts with social listening – monitoring for those conversations and social signals that provide an opportunity for you to engage. Using your social networks, like LinkedIn, you also have the opportunity to seek out prospective buyers and those who influence the decision process. Just as you do in a traditional sales process, leverage your connections and existing relationships to reach out to prospects through social. Whether monitoring or targeting, your next objectives is to actually engage, which simply means starting and taking part in conversations – sharing, commenting, asking questions – and sharing your expertise in a helpful way. All of that said, without being consistent, your opportunities could be limited. It’s important to stick with it, stay active, and continue executing your social sales strategy.
REGALIX: HOW CAN SOCIAL SOLUTIONS DRIVE BIGGER DEALS FOR BUSINESSES?
SB: Prospecting through social media is an increasingly critical tool for your sales strategy that can drive significant amounts of revenue. Research has shown that key decision makers and influencers who are active on social media tend to have seniority, are more frequent buyers, and have larger budgets – all of that adds up to more and bigger deals. In fact, the study (from IDC) indicated that B2B buyers active on social media made purchasing decision valued at nearly double the amount of those made by decision makers not active on social media ($355K vs $195k).
REGALIX: WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE SOCIAL MEDIA TRENDS THAT ARE INFLUENCING CONSUMERS’ BUYING DECISIONS?
SB: There are several trends that are important to mention. Social referrals continue to be an important part of the online buying process. Buyers are heavily influenced by peer recommendations that occur on social media – and this includes referrals from influencers, experts, and perfect strangers. These recommendations are far more influential than brand messaging. Another trend is Video. It’s being increasingly integrated into the various social media platforms and video gets the attention of buyers. It’s a powerful and quick way to engage your prospects within a particular social media channel. In other words, your prospect doesn’t have to leave Twitter or Facebook (or whatever platform) to view the video so it’s not a disruption.
REGALIX: LASTLY, WHAT ACCORDING TO YOU HAS CHANGED MOST IN THE B2B MARKETING UNIVERSE OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS AND WHAT DO YOU THINK THE NEXT 5 YEARS WILL LOOK LIKE?
SB: Obviously, social media and video has greatly changed B2B marketing. Content has also factored into that evolution – we’ve moved from using static brochures and data sheets (and traditional advertising) to needing an intricate content strategy with lots of different types of content delivered through varioius platforms and channels, all of which is targeted to carefully segmented buyer personas. Perhaps all of this change in B2B marketing is centered around the changing relationship between the modern buyer and the brand (or business). B2B marketing is no longer a one-way channel where information is broadcast out to the buyer; today’s buyer is very informed and has lots of choices in when, where and how she gets information – there is more of a two-way conversation that occurs throughout the buyer’s journey.
As for the next few years, I think technology will continue to shape the marketing process and the buyer’s influence on that process. For example, web-based apps using real-time communications have the potential to significantly change how marketers, sellers, and customer support interact with buyers/customers online. And certainly mobile will continue to play a huge role in B2B marketing over the next few years. The amount of data that marketers have access to will also help shape buyer messaging in the near future, especially if companies are able to not only collect the data but make it truly meaningful and useful. There is great potential for highly customized messaging that is super targeted to match the buyer’s intent and need (predictive marketing, perhaps?). As for how social media will influence B2B marketing, I think the big change will be a continued shift from organic to paid activity as social platforms continue to push promoted tweets and pins and other paid advertising options that are integrated into the social experience. Overall, the next five years should be another exciting period for B2B marketers – and definitely good for buyers; they will continue to be winners in the modern marketing and sales process.