Why Social Selling, Why Now?

September 28, 2017 Jamie Shanks

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The average buyer in business is just like you and me at night, on our couch, surfing the Internet. Buyers purchase clothes, televisions and build their future vehicles online. What makes you think they don’t also research software, HR best practices, insurance or corporate healthcare policies?

74% of today's B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before making a purchase.

My business, our clients’ businesses and your business have already forever changed because buyers have changed. Buyers are arming themselves with more information than ever to make informed decisions. Buyers can now connect with their peers on social platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to learn about the challenges, pitfalls and successes of any solution implementation.

Social sellers hit their revenue goals 40% more than non-social sellers in the past year.

There are a host of other statistics that prove the buyer has forever changed, which has facilitated the social selling movement. To name a few:

Buyers control the journey: 57% of the Buyer’s Journey is now done before a sales professional is involved (CEB).

Buyers use social media for research: 75% of business-to-business buyers are now using social media to research vendors (IDC).

These core statistics have already awakened progressive companies because their sales professionals saw the vital importance that social played within “top of the sales funnel” activity. Sales and marketing departments have changed their ways to become a resource to buyers before sales professionals even know an opportunities exist. I can personally account dozens of clients over the last four years who attracted “Blue Birds” into their sales pipeline through social.

You might think this is just dumb luck, but the data would say otherwise:

- B2B sellers who embrace social selling are 72% more likely to exceed quotas than their peers who don’t (Forrester).

- 62% of top salespeople attribute closing more deals to social selling, compared to 42% of all sales professionals (LinkedIn).

- Effective social selling sales training services can improve win rates and quota attainment by 14.9% and 10.9%, respectively (CSO Insights).

BUYERS ARE LEARNING WITHOUT YOU

In 2013, Craig Elias, the author of Shift, had presented me with this mind-blowing statistic from Forrester: “63% of buyers are choosing the sales professional and company that was first to add value and insight in the buying journey.” What does that mean?

It means that long before you think about adding value to a prospective buyer via the phone, email or presentation, the buyer has been learning without you. Buyers have been collecting enough information to be able to select which vendors are best for their business. This is all happening before ever speaking to a sales professional. Then, as buyers are making vendor decisions, they are typically choosing that first vendor who presented them new ideas, concepts and road maps that the buyer hadn’t encountered before. All of this is happening before you even know it!

Yes, your competition has been teaching your prospective buyers with their blogs, videos, infographics, ebooks, webinars and success stories. Your buyers are shifting their priorities before you’ve even called them for the first time.

Think about this scenario. You’re about to conduct a huge presentation in the buyer’s boardroom. You’ve been preparing statistics, ROI calculations and reasons why your company is the best vendor for the project. The problem is that when you start your presentation, it doesn’t go anything like what you planned in your mind. The client seems completely educated on your market – features, implementation strategies, best practices and pricing.

In fact, the flow of the conversation seems like a grand inquisition as the buyer has been prepped with land-mine like questions. Guess what? I, the social seller, was the one who set up those land mines! I, the social seller, had been sharing best practices, implementation road maps and pricing scenarios to the buyer for months.

The buyer now uses my solution as the benchmark, and because I taught him or her all the pitfalls to look out for, your solution seems to feel like it’s been sold into the business, rather than a right fit. While a simplistic analogy, this is the cause and effect that social media has had on buyers.

STAY RELEVANT, RISE ABOVE THE NOISE

It’s time to take an objective look at your business. Has it become more difficult to reach decision-makers over the phone or via email? Are these mediums having the same effect they did even a few years ago? Also, “the buyer” is not just one buyer anymore. According to CEB, the average size of a buying group is currently at 6.8 stakeholders. Are you effectively nurturing and influencing these six to seven champions, influencers and decision-makers in the organization with the phone?

Where does this leave you and your organization if you’re not leading the customer conversation? You’re a ghost, lost in a sea of screaming voices. 

If you work at a Fortune 2000 company, and for a brief moment you rolled your eyes and thought, “This doesn’t apply to me. I work at XYZ Company, and we have a brand as the market leader.” If this was your reaction, your future is in even more trouble!

At a macro level, Forrester suggests that one million sales roles will be wiped out by 2020. These declining roles will be Order Takers (decline by 37%), Explainers (demoing sales professionals will be down 27%) and Navigators (relationship nurturing sales professionals down 17%). All these roles are reduced because you’re not the face to the industry. You’re not the “consultant” shaping the Buyer’s Journey; you’re only answering questions along the journey.

At a micro, personal level, you in a big business are not very nimble. You can’t start guerrilla marketing campaigns like your smaller competitors. Don’t think for a moment that because of your business card that you’re an obvious vendor choice. Your corporate business card might get you’re a few more meetings than smaller companies, but the value many times ends there. Nimble, smaller competitors can unleash ground-breaking insights that disrupt your sales cycles. Now your buyer is armed and dangerous with market information, so how are you going to stand out? Why do they need you?

Where you need to change your mindset is on social selling’s involvement beyond the sales role. How is sales operations, sales enablement and especially marketing influencing your digital interactions with buyers?

Your sales approach must have a positive impact on your ability to enhance your buyer’s experience. Unfortunately, B2B companies have been approaching social selling as a series of individually executed “sales hacks” to create quick wins, but have done little to improve long-term trust within their buyer-to-seller interactions.

SOCIAL HACKS ARE ONLY A QUICK FIX

Picture a massive wave approaching your dam, a metaphor for your company. The wave is inevitability going to hit your dam (as your buyer is leveraging social and digital information to make informed buying decisions), and your approach to mending your cracking dam is with “Social Media hacks.”

This is like concrete filler for the cracks in the dam. These tips, tricks and tactics can keep your dam together for the short-term, but the engineer in you knows you’re doomed if you don’t find a long-term, scalable solution. Social media tips, trick and tactics within tools such as LinkedIn are great at establishing buy-in for social selling, but they do little to establish true social selling change across the company. True change is deeper than that—it requires leadership buy-in, reinforcement, and training. You can get there, but it's going to require some legwork. 

Just remember—the longer you wait, the longer you allow your competitors to educate your buyers.

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