How social media is evolving the B2B sales process

1     Introduction

Today’s business customers are approaching the sales process differently.  They no longer rely on sales personnel to educate them about a product or service; they search the internet or discuss the topic with their peers.  Companies must have a cohesive social selling strategy to ensure that information about their brand is visible and available when prospects come looking.  This paper defines the concept of social sales, discusses its importance in an overall sales strategy, and outlines the process for implementing social selling in a B2B context.

2     What is Social Sales?

Social selling is a sales tactic that integrates social media presence into a complete sales strategy.  Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, YouTube, and many others are leveraged to “identify opportunities, get insight into prospects, earn the first engagements and deepen relationships.[1]

While social media has been embraced by marketing teams as a way to increase brand recognition, sales personnel have been slower to adopt social media and make it a part of their platform. Social media is such an integrated facet in the lives of prospects that if sales teams want to be successful, they have to have a clear social selling strategy. Prospects are using social media to gather information about the brands they are considering.  They are no longer relying on companies to educate them; they have the tools and the network to research a company and its products and services, and perhaps more importantly, the relationships that those companies have with his peers.

Today’s customer insists on two-way relevancy when dealing with sales personnel; he’s done his research on the company, and he expects the company to know about him.  This means that companies must have comprehensive sales intelligence in place that is integrated with social media. Sales personnel have to “leverage the social web to actively listen, engage, and add value to the customer conversation. Your customer expects you to know at least as much about them as they do about you.”[2]

3     Why is Social Sales Important?

Today’s average buyer begins the buying process without involving the sales personnel in an organization. Cold calls and emails are no longer effective; unsolicited emails are deleted, phone calls are unanswered.  Buyers no longer go first to marketing and sales personnel to educate them about products and services; they are going out and researching for themselves.  They are searching the web and asking their peers about their relationship with the companies in question.  They trust the members of their social media circles.

This means that companies in general and sales personnel in particular must now become trusted members of the social media circles of their prospect to prevent being filtered out of the “noise” customers are bombarded with every day.

Social media strategies must now be part of an integrated sales and marketing process.  Companies that do not have an active and cohesive social media presence are simply not performing as well as those who do.

Social sales is a direct result of technology evolution.  As social media and online collaboration tools have matured, customers are using them not just for personal interaction, but also for business interactions.  Customers scour the web for information on companies, products, and services, and if they don’t like what they see, or they don’t find enough information, they will quickly move on to another company.

The reality is that social selling is necessary, because savvy customers are setting the guidelines of how they want to get their information and how they want to interact with companies.

4     What are the Benefits of Social Selling?

Simply put, social selling is more productive than not using social media, and many studies over the last few years back up these claims.

“In 2012, 72% of sales people using social media as part of their sales process outperformed their sales peers and exceeded quota 23% more often.” Conversely, non-social media users missed quota 15% more often than social media users. This study also showed that 54% of respondents could directly tie closed deals back to social media usage.[3]

Aberdeen Group defines social selling as a “best in class practice”, and notes that “top sale performers lead all other firms in using social media to build sales prospect lists by working side-by-side with marketing.”[4]

The Core Business in Social Media Study found that “56% of people feel a stronger connection with companies who engage on social media.”[5]

5     Implementing Social Selling in B2B Environment

Social selling works just as well in a B2B environment as it does in a B2C environment.  The first step is to simply get started.  You need to make a commitment to developing a social selling plan and to implementing that plan.

Once a commitment has been made, it’s critical to understand which social media platforms your customers are using, because it’s on those platforms that you want to focus your effort.  However, since it is unlikely that your customers only use one platform, you will want to engage on all of the platforms that are relevant.

When you’ve determined where your customers can be found, it’s up to you to provide relevant and useful content on those platforms.  This isn’t about pushing a sales message; it’s about providing the information that prospects are looking for to make a buying decision. Your goal is to be the trusted expert that provides timely and relevant content.

Next, cultivate relationships with those who access your content.  If someone asks questions, answer them.  Throw out some questions of your own, and see how they are answered.  Create a rapport without pushing sales.  This has to be a two-way street; allow your prospects to access you and they will allow you to access them.

After you’ve developed a rapport, connect and engage on a deeper level.  Ask questions and listen to the responses.  Get a good understanding of their needs, and provide solutions. Draw upon internal intelligence within your company to facilitate these external interactions.

6     B2B Case Studies in Social Sales

Social selling works for businesses of all sizes.  Here are a few examples of companies that had success in implementing a social sales strategy.

LinkedIn is one of the primary social media players, but even they had to be converted to social selling.  After the release of tools such as Sales Navigator and TeamLink, LinkedIn’s own sales team began seeing significant results.  Ralf VonSosen, the company’s head of marketing for sales solutions notes, “We started seeing a 50% increase in leads to meeting conversion rates.”[6]

IBM developed a social sales program for their inside sales team.  They identified their target audience and monitored social media platforms for relevant topics and conversation.  The company trained their sales team to nurture online relationships and drive prospects to team members’ websites.  As a result of this focus on social sales and personnel training, IBM saw a 400% increase in sales.[7]

Sander Biehn used social selling techniques to win two new multi-million dollar contracts for an account that had languished under previous sales managers.  He leveraged his company’s blog platform to create a library of relevant content and used Twitter to help disseminate the content.  He then joined key groups on LinkedIn to start conversations with key decision makers. He followed those decision makers on Twitter and posted links to relevant industry articles.  These key personnel began contacting him directly about solutions, leading to the RFP process.[8]

7     Summary

Now that prospects are using social media to research and assess companies, products, and services, its critical for companies to leverage social media tools to provide the information that prospects are looking for and to cultivate relationships with prospects.  Potential customers are more likely to do business with people and companies that they trust. A social selling strategy will make your business visible to prospects in a way that builds rapport and trust.

8     About Ridge Consulting

Ridge Consulting are the pioneers in B2B social sales. Ridge Consulting helps clients build new business in home and export markets through the innovative combination of marketing automation and social media. For more information email info@ridge-consulting.com or call +353 1 687 7991.