Often the first thing a person will do with a new business contact is run a quick Google search to find out more about who the person is, what he does for a living, and other relevant details about his affiliations. Partly because of this, you’d be hard-pressed to find a successful professional who doesn’t have a LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook account.
But aside from increased visibility and real-world legitimization, there are plenty of other good reasons for modern salespeople to leverage social platforms. Namely, they provide a way to find new leads, engage in conversations that pave the path to deals, and maintain open relationships that can allow additional cross- and upselling opportunities later on.
“In this modern selling environment, where buyers are more knowledgeable than ever before and sellers are getting less and less direct access [to them],” says Mary Shea, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, “engaging through social networks provides a newish distribution channel to get the word out.”
Still, simply instructing reps to create their own social profiles is rarely enough. For one thing, reaching out to the right customers with appropriate messages at the right time and in the right place has become something of an art form. It’s often mentioned, for instance, that buyers are more than halfway through the buying process before they’ve even contacted a salesperson.
To stand out in a buyer’s mind through social media, and evolve to the point at which they’re less salesperson than trusted adviser, reps must be sophisticated and calculated in their methods. For this reason, it’s vital that their organizations are prepared, and equipped, to enable them in their efforts during various stages of the sales cycle. The following includes some advice sales organizations, and individual reps, should keep in mind as they commit to becoming social selling superstars.
1. AVOID “FAKE SOCIAL” AND ONLINE COLD CALLS
Many “people think of [social selling] as a shortcut,” points out Hank Barnes, a research vice president at Gartner Research. Diving haphazardly into social media, he notes, is a mistake, one that is made all too often. He refers to the practice as “fake social.”
Typically, Barnes explains, a social poser will find a prospect in his target territory, invite her to connect on LinkedIn, and, almost immediately, send her an invitation to hear his sales pitch. “That happens over and over again,” Barnes laments. It happens through email, too, as these social posers bumble to explain how they found the prospect’s email address, but lack the grace or patience to ease their way toward an elegant sales pitch.
Natalie Bidnick Andreas, an independent digital strategist and marketing consultant, also warns against sending out bulk or “canned” messages. “The key is to personalize each interaction as much as possible,” Andreas recommends.
The cause of such unacceptable behavior, Barnes notes, can often be traced to poor leadership. In many companies, the pressure emanates from managers who dictate that a specific amount of calls need to be made, a specific amount of prospects contacted. But “while metrics are important,” Barnes argues, “context matters even more, and a focus on metrics without an understanding of the value of those connections is a common symptom.”
2. LEAD BY EXAMPLE
“It’s really important to have some management and governance around social selling,” Barnes says, “because that’s where a lot of it can break down.”
In organizations it’s natural that there will be different levels of proficiency on social media. “In a B2B sales force that has a social selling program, you will find various types of users,” Shea says. “The users engage differently, have different competencies, and need different degrees of support.” In a typical sales force, you might see a breakdown of users into different categories, including “Celebrity,” “Expert,” “Social Novice,” and “Non-Participant.”
Jim Dickie, a research fellow at CSO Insights, a division of MHI Global, holds that a lack of quality training is one of the greatest challenges sales outfits face. Companies “need to have a formal policy and provide training to salespeople on exactly what to do via social, and how,” Dickie says.
Shea highly recommends instilling a formal policy and having executives buy into the notion and sponsor the initiative. It’s also ideal to set the bar with “a few highly visible, active, and influential leaders across the sales team” who will inspire the culture to adopt methods.
To enforce adoption, the social engagement activities should be incorporated into a worker’s daily flow, much in the same way that other training initiatives are. Another way: motivating users through gamification tactics. (Read more about maximizing training methods in our May issue, in the feature titled “11 Tips to Make Sales Training Stick.”)