Everyone’s talking about “social” these days: social media, social networks, Social Selling…
According to Google, “social” means “relating to society or its organization” and “needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in communities.” So how does this definition translate into today’s social media oriented business world?
As the Internet makes everything visible within minutes of whatever is posted online, we could say that “social” is defined as “everything being interconnected in today’s society.” For example, if a sales professional doesn’t treat a prospect correctly or is ill-prepared ; or if an HR professional receives candidate poorly, the online world can find out about it rather quickly. One only has to look at the comments posted on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Twitter or Facebook to realize just how powerful the “social” aspect really is. Whether you’re using social media for visibility, communication, business intelligence, hiring staff or selling to customers, it is paramount to be aware of your online footprint. This is precisely where the “social” aspect comes in.
Thirty years ago, in the sales world, the prospect was considered the enemy and it was all about winning battles with your customers. Over the years, things evolved to “solution sales” where the sales people (the good ones) were positioning themselves as trusted advisors.
This is even more true today. With the Internet, the buyer most likely knows more about companies’ solutions/products/services than their salespeople do. This layer of “self educating” means that salespeople can no longer solely rely on focusing on product features or certain aspects of their solutions. In today’s social world, if sales people want customers, they have to provide “that extra something” when it comes to service. So we have come back to the role of salespeople as trusted advisors who are selling to an extremely connected buyer population who is ultra aware of their choice of suppliers.
If we really want to understand one of the many drivers of Social Selling and how it works, we must understand the buyer persona. As Graham Hawkins, B2B Sales Expert, reminds us, sales teams can no longer engage in a sales conversation without first identifying the buyer persona and the buyer journey.
A semi-fictional representation of the ideal customer based on market research and real data about existing customers, a detailed buyer persona helps sales teams to determine where to focus their time, guides product development, and allows for alignment across the organization. Understanding the buyer persona helps to identify their process, or the journey, they go through in order to become aware of, evaluate, and purchase a new product or service.*
Buyers usually go through 3 phases on this journey**:
- Awareness: The buyer realizes they have a problem.
- Consideration: The buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it.
- Decision: The buyer chooses a solution.
Sales people knew this before Social Selling, but that didn’t stop them from pushing the buyer to sign on the dotted line, working according to their own schedule and not the customer’s. Social Selling has changed this by shining the light onto exchanges between buyers and suppliers, bringing them out into the open, forcing transparency. So sales teams (socially oriented sales teams, that is!) must respect this buyer journey and act accordingly. They know that if they’re not up to snuff, the transparency of the Internet can advertise their shortcomings in just a few minutes! In short, all this translates into one thing: the customer has never been more King/Queen! Understanding this and working within this paradigm is of the utmost importance if salespeople want to succeed. So where the trouble still lies is that there is a lack of connection between sales teams and their companies: while socially oriented salespeople are out there, providing personalized service, moving at the customers’ speed, their employers are still insisting that their sales teams close before end of quarter!
So one might ask, why is this still happening? As many companies are still focusing solely on results for the shareholder, sales teams need to perform (ie close deals) to conform to this model. This means that in companies where they’re still using a traditional sales model (cold calling, warmer calling, lead generation, nurturing), there is no time to step back and figure out where the buyer is in the journey. So, sales teams have no time to breathe!
No time to really get to know the customer = no time to drive a customer-centric transaction!
While it’s understandable that Directors and their management can’t just sit around and wait for results, there are companies that have managed to re-engineer the sales process around the customer. But what exactly does that look like?
As Graham Hawkins recounts his experience with a sales/martetch company that did just that. The sales representative from this company was focused on fully educating his client and not on the sale or the product! Following the Social Selling method of #AlwaysHelping, the sales rep waited until Graham was ready to buy by continuing to nurture his thoughts along the process. In fact, their follow up was so tuned in that when Graham thought he was ready to buy, the sales rep explained that Graham wasn’t ready yet and clarified what was necessary for Graham to do in order for the project to be successful. What really makes this story exemplary is how the sales rep reacted when Graham questioned his reaction. After all, what kind of sales rep would say no or hold off on a sale? The sales rep explained to Graham that every time he signs on a new client, he feels personally responsible for the success (or not!) of the project. Wow, what a smart move for this company and the sales rep, meaning either the company set up a program that encourages their sales reps to get fully personally involved, or Graham just happened to fall on an especially exceptional sales rep! Either way, this type of personalized service on behalf of the sales rep who really was involved in every step of the sales process is the key to Social Selling!
While many companies are still struggling with this type of sales rep empowerment and are executing a product-centric sales process, there are companies that have moved on to Social Selling. But how are they doing it? With baby steps!
By inputting Social Selling in incremental phases so that their teams can still meet their quotas, usually managed the “old fashioned way” (ie focused on closing the maximum amount of revenue each quarter), they’re still able to identify buyer types very early in conversations with prospects. With this mixed approach in place, they’re then able to mirror their efforts so that they stay focused on the buyer’s timetable.
In practical terms, this means that a company’s pipeline has to reflect the real world with real opportunities and there must be enough of them to ensure that the sales team will meet the company’s objectives whilst following the buyer’s timetable.
In today’s online world, old sales methods that don’t take into account the fact that the buyer may know more than the sales rep does about their product or solution just won’t cut it. There is however a light at the end of the tunnel for Sales Directors confronted with the changes that Social Selling is bringing about. While it does take a little bit of time to incorporate a Social Selling strategy into the day-to-day operations, if your sales reps are already positioned as trusted advisors and are engaging with buyers, they’re already on the way there!
In fact, according to LinkedIn, salespeople who engage in Social Selling have 51% more chances to hit quotas and 45% more opportunities than non Social Selling sales reps! Isn’t this a great way to start the discussion with upper management and a great way to start 2018?!
Co-Author: Lise Norris
*Source: Sam Kusinitz, Editorial Assistant, HubSpot
**It’s important to note that as not all clients are at the same stage in the buying process, the buyer persona and journey changes as per each client.