Sales Enters a Brave New Social World

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In the case of daily deals site LivingSocial, internal social collaboration has spelled success. LivingSocial has experienced "a hyper growth environment if there ever was one," said Michael Gerard, vice president of the sales advisory practice at global market research firm IDC during the Sales Management 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia. "They get online. They get social community."

In just four years, the company has grown from 50 to 4,500 employees.

LivingSocial began in one country and is currently in 27. It now has more than 1,500 sales reps across the globe.

The rollout of Chatter through LivingSocial's Salesforce.com automation system broke down sales enablement barriers. Managers were able to interface with reps directly. Sales executives were trained to use social media in an environment that supports sharable content.

"A lot of sales executives say, 'I get social media. I'm on LinkedIn,' but when it comes to actually using social media across an organization, they don't know how to do it," Gerard said.

LivingSocial might be naturally adept at social collaboration by virtue of name and scope, but Gerard applauded the manner in which the company's sales organization adopted social media. It deployed Chatter in an organized fashion, weighing the potential impact of the new technology on business processes, as well as its relevancy to the sales organization.

Content is key, and Chatter allowed LivingSocial to set up customer, product, and sales-specific groups within the platform to organize interactions, Gerard pointed out.

It's no big secret that social media is changing the way salespeople connect with prospects and engage them throughout the buying cycle. But true adoption will require much more than signing up for a LinkedIn account. It will become vital to leverage social in sales both internally and externally, Gerard added.

Externally focused social businesses let sales teams leverage external resources and social channels to research and prepare for customer interactions, to develop leads, and to engage customers through channels like Twitter and blogs. Internally focused social businesses allow reps to use inside social channels or communities to resolve customer or client issues, collaborate with peers, and learn best practices, IDC says.

Social media is one more way to reach and connect with customers, but it is not a replacement for traditional selling methods. Sales leaders need also to consider cross-organizational strategy, productivity, and automation.

"Organizational, cultural, and process changes are where the rubber meets the pavement," Gerard maintained."This is where we'll see a shift into actual [sales] operations.

An estimated 75 percent of companies will enable sales reps to connect through social media within a year, IDC research indicated.

However, Gerard argued that a third of those might be more apt to "turn on the switch" than to create a real strategy that incorporates social in a selling infrastructure and collaboration.

"There's been a lot of discussion over the years about the technology, and [not enough] about the processes to get there," he said.

To make social business work for sales, Gerard urged companies to always establish and communicate business objectives and their value, keep marketing and sales accountable, establish indigenous social community managers, identify opportunities to help sales ease into social, and avoid a "you're in or you're out" mentality.

The Shift to Sales 2.0

Nancy Martini, president and CEO of human capital analytics company PI Worldwide, outlined the shift in sales culture at the Sales Management 2.0 Conference and how people—buyers and reps alike—are affected.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Selling is more demanding.
  • Buyers are more risk-averse.
  • Inside sales teams are growing.
  • Selling is becoming more global.
  • Buyers have more information at their fingertips.
  • There has been a shift in sales roles.
  • New technology means new job demands.

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