At the end of the day, the fundamentals of selling haven’t changed: what makes a great sales rep is the ability to establish and nurture relationships and build trust. In today’s world, sales pros can tap into social as a tool that extends those natural abilities, and they’d better do so sooner than later. Reps ignoring social as a source of their next opportunities will find themselves left out of every deal.
There’s no doubt about it: social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are incredibly valuable tools for making connections and nurturing business relationships, but it’s not that easy. Sales reps need a way to tame the firehose, so to speak. They need tools that help them separate true social buying signals and important moments from social noise. Otherwise, they end up wasting valuable time, time they could be spending selling.
Despite these challenges, now that buyers are moving along the path to purchase without involving sales, it’s more important than ever for reps to pay attention to these channels. Remember, by the time buyers reach out, they’ve downloaded competitors’ eBooks, read online reviews, and may have even asked members of a LinkedIn group for advice on the products or services they’re considering.
“When a seller can’t or doesn’t engage early with the right people, more often than not, they have lost the deal before they even started.” – Ryan Blakely, Dynamics Business Development Manager, Microsoft
What’s a sales rep to do? How can organizations get a foot in the door, so to speak, without spending countless hours on social?
Ditch overt sales pitches
The answer is to adopt the principles of social selling. The Aberdeen Group defines social selling as the utilization one of three techniques, which include:
- Social Collaboration: Sharing information internally or with partners to pool knowledge on how to generate more leads and sales
- External Listening: The gathering and interpreting of information or content produced by clients and prospects
- External Participation: Providing prospects with relevant and helpful content or information to build relationships and positively impact future buying decisions
However, let’s be clear: the term social selling is misleading. In the social realm, selling is a no-no. Social is about connecting, informing, and helping. This is how today’s reps influence the buying process before buyers even engage them on a deal.
Become an expert in your industry
According to Ryan Blakely, Dynamics Business Development Manager at Microsoft, the key to successfully engaging buyer 2.0 is the following: deliver a steady flow of expertise, insights, and relevant content that nurtures, teaches and influences throughout the buyer’s journey. When done well, buyers see the sales rep as a partner and valuable asset to long-term success.
The best reps establish thought leadership on social channels to become the trusted expert buyers seek out. As Colleen Francis of Engage Selling Solutions explains, “Today, no one buys from salespeople—they only buy from experts. And buyers are actively searching for thought leaders and experts daily.” Kendra Lee, author of Selling Against the Goal: How Corporate Sales Professionals Generate the Leads they Need, continues by saying “To distinguish themselves from the competition, sales reps need to inspire trust in prospects.”
Succeeding in this way requires a disciplined focus on understanding as much as possible about buyers’ pressing concerns and then sharing useful and relevant information. Furthermore, until prospective customers indicate otherwise, the information should not be about the company or its offerings. Remember—if buyers even pick up a whiff of someone trying to sell to them, they’ll likely close the door to any interactions. On the other hand, the sales reps that deliver selfless value often make the short list…and in many cases, close the deal.
Use digital signals to jump-start interactions
Effective sales reps monitor and engage with prospective buyers in social channels. Doing so lets them pick up on signals that give them a reason to reach out or jump into a conversation. In other words, it’s a foot in the door early in the buying cycle. The trigger could be something personal such as a key contact receiving a promotion or celebrating a birthday. It could also be something indicating when a contact is primed for purchase, such as her company receiving funding or a key executive spearheading a new initiative.
To support their reps, a growing number of marketing and sales leaders are offering their sales team listening tools, content libraries, and social publishing tools. These make it easy to stay top of mind and provide thought leadership, as well as real-world advice that actually helps their prospects do their jobs better. Increasingly these marketing and sales leaders are also partnering to provide social insights on leads, contacts, and accounts, freeing sales teams to focus more on what matters rather than noodling with their latest tweet.
Always be connecting
Jill Rowley, an incredible social selling thought leader, believes that when it comes to social selling, it’s not “Always be Closing”—it’s “Always Be Connecting.” As she says, “The Modern Sales Professional uses social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to find, listen, relate, connect, engage and amplify her buyer, the buying committee and their sphere of influence.”
We could not agree more with this. While it may not be possible or even smart to connect with everyone in a company on social channels, connecting socially should be a key focus for any organization’s top accounts. It’s important to remember not to connect just for connecting’s sake. This isn’t the equivalent of building up a Rolodex—it’s about building relationships.
The smartest reps are extremely targeted in who they reach out to (another tip from Jill Rowley). They also take the time to research that person to give context as to why they want to connect. Perhaps most importantly, they offer free, valuable insights or advice. According to Rowley, “The Modern Sales Professional doesn’t sell; she serves. She doesn’t sell; she helps. She doesn’t sell; she facilitates a buying process.” Doing so gets a buyer’s attention and quickly dispels the notion that the rep is all about making a quick sale.
In fact, this advisory approach boosts the likelihood that prospects will share their contact information or agree to a demo, for example. As Colleen Stanley, founder and president of SalesLeadership, Inc., says, “Most people view salespeople as self-centered, Lone-Ranger types. The best salespeople I know are generous. Generous people enjoy the law of reciprocity. When you give, you get.” Barbara Giamanco, president of Social Centered Selling and co-author of “The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media,” agrees. “…the focus is not on your company or what you sell, it is in offering something that is educational. Giving is more important than getting. Giving first leads to more opportunities over time.”
- Give your sales team social insights on their leads, contacts, and accounts.
- Provide reps with content and tools that makes it easy for them to be productive on social.
- Make social connections on LinkedIn and Twitter a key part of the process workflow for top accounts.