In the new B2B marketing landscape, savvy sellers are applying the principles of social selling, using the social networks to disseminate relevant content and to build valuable relationships. Take a look at these stats from Demand Gen’s most recent buyer behavior survey and you’ll see the role that social media is playing in today’s buyer’s journey.
Never mind that almost three-quarters of buyers are using social to research potential solutions; a rapidly increasing number are also using their networks to connect with providers. Sellers without a solid social selling strategy? Well, I’m not really sure what they’re thinking–yet we see that every day).
The Value of LinkedIn and Social Selling
One resource that we not only use ourselves, but also on which we train senior level sales and marketers, is LinkedIn. The biggest business social network is, without question, not only a terrific source of leads, but also a place where patient sales and marketing team can lay the groundwork of building strong relationships and a network that will ultimately deliver value in terms of opportunities. And for the B2B seller, LinkedIn is table stakes.
LinkedIn understands the challenges sales and marketing teams face, and they understands the value their platform can deliver (as well as the money to be made), in providing business solutions. As such, the platform is regularly developing new resources and tools designed to help. That’s what the LinkedIn Sales Solutions team has done with with a “playbook” designed to help B2B sellers use social selling to connect with and convert potential buyers, called “The New Formula for Connecting with B2B Buyers.” You can find a link to download the full guide below, meanwhile here are a few snippets from the resource, combined with some of my thoughts on the topic, to help you decide if you’re interested.
The B2B Social Selling Playbook
The initial approach
An introduction to a potential buyer by way of someone in their own professional network is key, according to research conducted by LinkedIn. Just 4% of respondents said that they reacted positively to a cold approach compared to 87% who formed a more favorable impression from an introduction. That shouldn’t be news to anyone, much less even the most junior sales pro. Research from CustomerThink in 2012 indicated that marketing was responsible for only 30% of lead generation for sales, meaning that that other 70% is entirely up to an individual salesperson to deliver. I’m thinking that it’s likely that hasn’t changed much in two years, what about you? As a result, your initial approach is tremendously important. Picking up the phone and calling a name on a list or sending an email blast? Not in my definition of “initial approach.”
Do your homework. Is the cold call dead? I don’t think the cold call is dead, but busy people aren’t exactly sitting around waiting for salespeople to give them a call and brighten up their days. Cold calls can, in fact, be quite effective, but the only way to make that happen is for salespeople to do more research before making those cold calls. But only if they want a modicum of a chance for success. Let me give you an example. I get cold calls all the time – probably due to the large number of resources I download online and the information I willingly serve up to the companies who produce those resources. Nine plus times out of ten, it is immediately obvious that the people calling me have spent a sum total of zero time vetting me as a sales prospect. They don’t look at my website, they don’t look at my social presence, they don’t look at my LinkedIn profile, they don’t look at anything other than my name on a list–and then they call. What do you think their chances of success are with me? Don’t make that mistake – all it requires is a little advance preparation. It’s not that hard.
Wooing: the importance of the pre-introduction and the introduction. According to Russell Kern, Founder and President of Kern Agency, “Cold calling is not the most effective way to sell, but it’s not a thing of the past. Is there a way to be more effective? Yes. Do your homework and then consider sending a pre-introduction email that anticipates this question: ‘What is this call really all about?’” I also get what seems like a million of those emails, many of which I don’t even open, but if you hope to get my attention, do your homework, and write a compelling email (which means that it’s personalized and not something you’re sending to a thousand other prospects), I might just take your call. On a good day.
There’s also the personalized introduction from a mutual friend, and this is also where the value of a network comes in. When you can ask someone that you mutually know for an introduction to a prospect, it’s a door opener that stands the greatest chance of success. This is why it’s so important to build your network and to be a good citizen, online and off. Because if you do and if you are, people will be happy to do an introduction and connect you with someone when you ask, because they’ll know you’re legit and that you quite possibly can deliver something of value. How hard is that???
Don’t waste my time. LinkedIn’s research indicates that buyers are generally positive towards sales professionals, but they want to know what they’re talking about and don’t want anyone wasting their most precious asset: their time. Notice how important the “quality of the sales professional” is in the graph below. In my mind, that “quality” means not only what your phone techniques are, but also things like how you engage with me online, what kind of homework you do, how you manage to intrigue me when you reach out to me, what you know about my business and the services I provide. Unfortunately, many sales teams (and sales managers) aren’t thinking about prospecting in this way – they’re looking for the down and dirty easy button which, in my case anyway, doesn’t exist. And for all that’s holy, if I agree to sit through a demo of your product and you treat me like you’re delivering a 101 course on a topic I could probably run circles around you on, well, I’m going to eat you for lunch. I cannot even begin to count the amount of feedback I see from my online networking groups where salespeople have made this mistake with very smart, very educated people they are trying to sell to. Just don’t do it.
Be a part of what’s happening online. The buying process has become more complex than ever. Well-informed, well-connected buyers lack the patience (or the interest) in dealing with or hearing from sales pros mailing it in. Buyers are using social networks, especially LinkedIn, but others as well, as a place to not only network, but also to research, learn, ask questions, and hear about experiences others have had with products or services they are considering buying. If sellers aren’t there too, building legitimate networks and relationships that might ultimately lead to opportunities, they are missing out. Period. And sellers who only show up to sell? That’s a waste of everyone’s time and completely and totally transparent.
Building the network. According to the Social Buyer Study from IDC, buyers trust their professional networks. I see this everyday – in LinkedIn groups that I participate in, in blogs that I read and in the comments discuss, on Facebook and, less often these days, even on Twitter. Salespeople seem to understand the concept of building relationships off line, but when it comes to building legitimate relationships and a robust network online, that is all too often left undone. That makes absolutely no sense to me. The data below only reinforces that.
The Keys to Social Selling
When it comes to the keys to social selling, it’s not rocket surgery (yes, I said that intentionally). And it’s not hard. The foundation of social selling is the same as any selling equation: establish a network with key players in your marketplace, and build relationships with the right people. Add to that delivering value on a regular basis and you’ll be in good shape. The basic things you need to do to make that happen are:
- Establish your professional brand online. Have a LinkedIn profile that doesn’t sound like a resume and write the content for your profile in such a way that it shows the value you can deliver and what kind of results you’ve been able to deliver for others.
- Spend time discovering the right people to add to your network, using old-fashioned research and/or tools like LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator, LinkedIn Search (it’s the basics, people) or Moz’s Followerwonk.
- Always be building your network. The more connections you have, the greater your reach. While I don’t suggest connecting with every person on the planet, spending some time after an event or a meeting, or in advance thereof, making connections and building your network base makes good sense. Don’t forget to do it.
- Actually go to LinkedIn and use the platform – for at least a few minutes every day. Pay attention to what your connections are doing, sharing, etc., stalk your competitors and keep an eye on what your key prospects are doing. It’s all right there – you just need to care enough to look!
- Quit operating in silos. Communicate with your internal team and leverage their respective networks to help connect you with the prospects that you’ve got your sights on.
Social selling is no longer a luxury or an add-on; it’s a necessity. And if you’re in the B2B world, it’s flat out table stakes. This quote from IDC in the LinkedIn study sums it up perfectly:
“Evidence of non- participation is just as visible as presence. Salespeople will inadvertently deliver a negative message with their absence. Put simply, sales professionals must answer their social phones.”
LinkedIn isn’t the only platform you can (or should) use as part of your B2B playbook, but it’s most often the one that all too many sales and marketing teams are doing a crummy job of leveraging. Hopefully this is a kick in the rear to get you started thinking about doing a better job there–and if you need some help, let me know.
There’s some good information in the full eBook, which is available to download at “The New Formula For Connecting With B2B Buyers” (registration required).
Other resources on this topic:
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