5 Opportunities to Profit from Social Selling

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After a recent conference, I wrote that Sales 2.0 was finally ready to engage with Customer 2.0. One of the five points I shared was that “social selling” was an opportunity for innovation, inside and outside of the enterprise.

Since then, I’ve talked with a number of Social CRM vendors, social media proponents and real-world sales professionals to try to understand how social selling can boost sales performance.

Based on these discussions, I’d like to share five ideas on how to profit from social selling — meaning how social media and social computing applications can be used to increase sales effectiveness.

  1. Prospect intelligence

    That reps should be prepared for sales calls is almost too basic to mention. And yet I continue to get prospecting calls from sales people who clearly haven’t done any research whatsoever. That’s a shame, because these days it’s easy to get basic facts on business people. LinkedIn has over 100M users; it’s increasingly rare to find a manager or executive who doesn’t have a profile. Add to that social activity on Twitter, blogs, communities, etc. and with a bit of research an enterprising rep can make that first call a much more productive experience.

    Take, for example, one very experienced and successful B2B sales rep that I’ll call “Joe.” Of all the people I interviewed, he was the least impressed with the value of social tools in sales, thinking most are a time suck. Call him an old fogey if you want, but you wouldn’t mind cashing his commission checks. However, Joe still found value in social media. He told me he used Facebook to get a sense of the personal side of the prospect, such as kids in school, hobbies, pets, etc. All to help build rapport, which might be the difference-maker. Joe points out that despite all the tech innovations, “one thing that hasn’t changed – people buy from people.”

    Of course there is a massive amount of information available about companies and their management. Reps can do some searching on their own, but it’s time consuming. Increasingly social intelligence solutions from companies like InsideView, OneSource, ZoomInfo and more are being integrated to traditional CRM/SFA offerings. Newer solutions like Nimble were developed from the ground up to enable reps to view profile and connection information right within the application.

  2. Warm introductions

    Another key social selling application is to analyze where the social networks overlap between a rep and prospect. If a rep’s first-level contact knows a prospect, then ask for a referral or introduction.

    Three years ago, when I wrote about a new solution called PeopleMaps, they cited research that claimed a warm referral increased the odds of sales success 2-4 times. Since then, PeopleMaps has been renamed to Reachable but the idea remains the same — find the best path between the rep and the prospect — using social networks like LinkedIn and even email.

    Taking this a step further is a Swedish startup Clintelica, which enables all employees to contribute their connections in a secure and protected way, then mine those relationships to help reps find the best way to engage with a prospect. Let’s say a rep finds the best path is via the receptionist who has a strong connection with a decision maker. Using the Clintelica app, the rep can request an introduction. Of course, this network-based selling is highly dependent on getting everyone to play along. According to CEO Andrei Postoaca, it’s important to have a collaborative culture, provide incentives for participation and make it easy to use. I find this a very intriguing approach because it makes everyone part of the selling process. Now that’s social!

  3. Social engagement

    OK, you’ve got the right contact and maybe a warm introduction. Now what? Should reps attempt to engage with prospects on social media? Yes and no.

    Yes, engage on social media to build a relationship in non-selling mode. Jill Rowley, a top-performing rep at Eloqua, said she would focus on adding value to the social networks the prospect used. For example, if active on Twitter, retweet the prospects tweets or share some insightful industry news. Be active and visible on LinkedIn groups. I see this as the online equivalent of building rapport and credibility. If done appropriately, there’s little downside here.

    But no, don’t use social media for cold calls. LinkedIn is enabling more of this nonsense, and it’s not a good thing in my view. I didn’t sign up for LinkedIn to get spammed, and I’m getting more and more junk mail now. Same goes with Twitter DMs.

    Social CRM/SFA tools can help facilitate social engagement. For example, Oracle’s CRM solution enables a user to send a message directly into social networks, and as previously mentioned Nimble does the same. In the right hands these tools can be very productive. If misused, they could do more harm than good.

    Bottom line: I think most reps should tread carefully on social engagement. Add value first. When you’re ready for a real sales call, use email, phone or an in-person meetings because these are more accepted by business executives. Experiment with direct social engagement and see how your prospects react.

  4. Internal collaboration

    Frankly, I find reps pretty skeptical about the benefits of internal social networks like Chatter, Yammer, etc. Yes, these tools can help professionals get connected, share insights and find resources.

    But reps are not looking for more opportunities to share every detail on what they’re doing. If you wonder why, ask them how they feel about SFA!

    That said, I think in some situations with distributed sales forces and rapid growth/change, internal social networks could be a useful tool to build a collaborative team that helps reps close more business. But before forcing reps to use yet another application, do some research to find out if finding help or connecting with people is a real problem.

  5. Thought leadership

    What is the future of the B2B sales rep? Certainly not being a conduit of basic product information, which is readily available on the Web. Marketing teams and inside sales will take much of that rote work, which means field sales reps must demonstrate more business acumen and be consultative in the buyer interactions.

    I think creating content is one way that reps can stand out. For starters, get active on Twitter to curate content that might be useful to your prospects, or share info where your prospects hangout — such as LinkedIn groups.

    Seasoned reps know a lot about business problems and solutions. Spend some time with your friends in marketing and offer to be interviewed. This kind of content is great for marketing and demand gen, and will raise your profile too.

    For the truly brave reps with a knack for writing (or a willingness to learn) try blogging. Why not strut your stuff in written form? Blogging is good for the soul, helps clarify thinking and builds a personal brand. Yes, it takes time, but it’s one way to stand out in a world where basic selling is being commoditized. And who knows? Maybe your prospects will be Googling you! What will they find when they do?

In the more collaborative and social world we’re evolving into, reps must learn to use new tools, just as customers are taking advantage of them. Please keep in mind that these are opportunities, not sure things, best practices, or recommendations. Every company and sales organization is different. Pick and choose what makes sense, explore and good luck!

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