Doug Wendt is a co-founder and senior partner with Wendt Partners.
Digital business has evolved rapidly over the last decade. From the early days of companies establishing websites as its digital storefronts to entire departments focused on building and maintaining online communities, digital continues to change and evolve as a core business function. In particular, the new digital business landscape has forced sales teams to evolve to stay in tune with a rapidly changing sales environment. An essential tool for digital sales is the effective utilization of social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to attract and tighten connections with prospective customers by creating meaningful content and consistently engaging essential communities. The process of utilizing social networks to gather intelligence, identify suspects and nurture prospects along their journey to becoming customers is known as social selling.
Though social selling can enhance many traditionally arduous sales tasks, it’s important to note that social selling must be part of an integrated and evolving sales strategy that strong teams already use to drive revenue. You have all the resources you need to get started with social selling. Here are a series of valuable approaches you can implement today:
1. Building B2B Connections with LinkedIn: Create Value First
Any good networker knows that the ability to actively listen to potential customers is one of the most important strategies in a successful business relationship. In dealing with potential customers, it is critical that a salesperson remains informed when following up with clients. A good businessperson develops his or her own techniques to remember people’s names, unique traits and/or facts. Using this knowledge to add value to existing contacts or creating value for new contacts is essential to sustaining and growing one’s network. A plethora of tools like LinkedIn and other social media platforms, have made connecting with people and providing direct introductions a seamless experience. Providing customers with the right information at the right time is essential to quickly improving sales relationships.
Steps You Can Take Now
- Listen intently to new contacts and ask yourself “How can I add value in supporting this person to achieve their goals?”
- Use LinkedIn to identify common connections or potential future introductions that would be valuable to provide and obtain, then request a connection.
- Before jumping into asking for introductions, scan your own contacts for opportunities to add value for your new connection.
- In your follow-up email, offer to introduce your new contact to two or three people that they could benefit from getting to know.
- When you make an introduction, always do so thoroughly and with clear details and a suggested follow-up action to maximize benefits to both parties.
- Once you’ve made the connection, now it’s appropriate to scan their contacts and ask for any potential introductions that may add value to your work.
2. Expand B2B Prospect Research Beyond a Company's Official or Sponsored Links
A company’s website is now its digital storefront and social media interactions are an active 24/7 connection to a community of customers and prospects. Customers are more informed than ever before and seek answers extensively online before contacting a representative.
Online, what you say about your company is important, but what’s even more important is what others are saying about your company through blog reviews, tweets, social endorsements and other brand experiences. A company’s ability to identify, monitor and listen to prospects and current customers alike is an essential tool companies can’t afford to overlook. However, the power of research isn’t only in the hands of people seeking to buy, it is potentially even more powerful in the hands of sales teams interested in identifying prospects. Therefore sales teams should research every aspect of a prospect’s profile online and perspectives online.
Steps You Can Take Now
- Identify your prospect’s online identities and communities.
- Review all company sponsored websites and platforms.
- Monitor social networks for communications directed toward the company or made about it.
- Review and assess non-sponsored reviews for business intelligence.
3. Social Media Promotion: Find and Share About Others
Social media platforms have made it easier to share updates, engage customers and attract prospects. Beyond being a tool to expand a business’ own community, social media is even more powerful with respect to promoting the achievements of others. As Guy Kawasaki, technology visionary and evangelist, mentioned during a recent talk: “Today a retweet is the sincerest form of flattery.” This witty one-liner captures the power of using your network to help expand the reach of someone else’s value proposition.
Virtually every site now offers social sharing icons, encouraging users to promote the work of others. In the effort to monitor, post and respond to our own digital communities, it’s easy to forget that we rely on others to amplify our voice. In fact, any single event on the internet is competing for the attention of others and without a lending hand, easily gets lost. It’s important to integrate this element of strategically promoting others into your social selling strategy.
Steps You Can Take Now
- Pick 3-5 customers, prospects or allies to strategically promote today.
- Review their websites, recent announcements and social media accounts.
- Identify something the company posted or a post where they were mentioned.
- Prepare your tweet, Facebook share or LinkedIn update with a personal note promoting the action to your network.
- Make sure to tag the company, individual and other parties as fully as possible.
4. Pursue Target Accounts as Organizations, Not Individuals
The vast amount of online information available to sales teams can sometimes seem overwhelming. It’s important not to waste time getting lost in research. In developing strategies to effectively target prospects, consider targeting an entire company before an individual contact at a particular company. This strategy casts a wider net that will fully utilize one’s existing contacts and is more likely to generate a warm connection into the company, rather than a call call to one individual. A wider net creates space for sales people to make introductions, gain insights, nurture champions and more effectively find decision makers.
Steps You Can Take Now
- Identify one company that is on your target prospect list.
- Using a tool like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, search for a connection at this company by reviewing the entire company and looking at any first- and second-level connections involving you or other personnel at your company, or to your current customer accounts.
- Develop and execute a new, customized target account strategy specifically structured around these existing connections or possible pathways.
5. Empower Sales Teams to Incorporate the Human Touch
Any effective salesperson understands the sensitive nature of nurturing a prospect through the buyer’s journey, and the level of trust it requires. Building trust means being consistent, transparent and reliable through every touchpoint. Real people are still the most powerful tool behind implementing social media publishing, social monitoring and direct prospect interactions.
Sales teams must be empowered to use their own personal touch to enhance the sales process, putting a face and personality behind their online interactions. However, these human interactions must be guided by a Brand-Driven Leadership strategy that remains consistent with company values. The cost of unprofessional interactions online could be far greater that that of interacting in person. Messing up a human interaction may be resolved, but recovering from a negative online interaction may result in the loss of long-term business. The more that prospects or customers can feel the personality of a brand or real person behind their interaction, the more of a connection they will feel with a brand.
Steps You Can Take Now
- Add a face to your social media interactions by encouraging your team to consider engaging from their own (personal) accounts, not just through company accounts.
- Use a whiteboard to begin collecting personal and professional insights that team members can share online.
- Set up a process to track professional advancements made by the individuals in your customer community.
- Encourage interested individuals to write blog articles, capture short videos and otherwise share their ideas and advice online.
- Have your sales team begin sharing some of these less-formal communications as 'snippets' within their channels.
It's called 'social selling' precisely because these technologies empower you to become more fully engaged socially with your network. Each of these five strategies will begin empowering you to enhance stronger relationships and experience better results in your sales cycles and business relationships.
By using social technology to (a) listen, (b) learn, (c) share, (d) thank and (e) empower, you will create the context for more referrals, opportunities and valuable insights that will help you close deals.
Image Credit: Highways England (Flickr @ Creative Commons)