The B2B buying process has become a dialogue. More people are involved in making purchase decisions, and more are researching online before buying. This is true of both B2C and B2B.
As decision-making moves from the boardroom to the web, B2B sales needs a new approach to match the modern buying process.
Social selling is one such answer. And LinkedIn is a terrific forum for it, because it's designed for being social, but with business in mind.
So, what is social selling?
Social selling is when salespeople use social media to find new prospects, engage with them, and build trust by sharing content and expertise. This powerful approach that can deliver big business benefits, while keeping people first.
Social selling expert Mario Martinez Jr., for example, used it to drive US$2 million in revenue in only 4 months.
Like any new business approach, social selling requires cultural and process changes in the workplace. In this blog, we’ll run through the five core components that can help you make these changes, and start building a strong social selling strategy.
We’ll focus on LinkedIn, because it’s a social platform focused on business. Also keep in mind LinkedIn is a networking platform, not a sales platform. This is key, because social selling is about dialogue, not about pushing products. These tips can also be used for Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Component #1: Social selling isn’t (just) about selling
Social selling is a misleading name. Really, it’s about building relationships to enhance the sales process. It’s about connecting with prospects directly, answering their questions, and sharing useful content.
However, it’s never a hard sell. Most LinkedIn users who are in decision-making roles get loads of sales messages that do nothing but push for a sale. Social selling is a way around this. It aims to provide genuine value to sales prospects and to influencers
Used in the right place at the right time, this approach helps you win sales, and also attract talent, build credibility, and promote ideas.
As IBM Analytics’ CMO and Vice President of Marketing Jeff Spicer told CMO.com, today’s buyers are “increasingly looking to their peers and to social networks for information about products and services before they engage with traditional sales organizations.”
This shift is especially prominent in Singapore, which has a social media penetration rate of 85%. This is higher than the average penetration rate in the wider APAC region (67.9%) and globally (39%). The numbers also favor B2B sales, with 39.66% of Singaporeans using LinkedIn.
With lots of prospects on social media, it can be tempting to cast the widest net possible. However, this only offers short-term benefits. By nurturing contacts over time, your social selling efforts will get far better results.
Component #2: Polish your online brand
Even with a soft sell, your social efforts could fall short if you have a poorly curated online brand. If you connect with a prospect on LinkedIn, it’s likely their first action will be to look at your profile to find out more about you and your business.
Consistency is key here. All customer touchpoints should promote your brand and attract the right prospects.
Make sure you and your teams keep photos, profile summaries, previous roles, and skills up to date. For more help on how to craft a strong LinkedIn profile, check out HubSpot’s profile tips for salespeople.
From there, you need to prepare your team for interacting with prospects. Jennifer Tomlinson, senior marketing manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, says salespeople engaging in social selling must be able to confidently answer several key questions.
Component #3: Listen and learn
Before you engage with a prospect, you need to know them inside and out. This is also something social media helps with. LinkedIn offers a wealth of data on people’s careers, viewpoints, likes, and dislikes. Other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, can also be useful, but LinkedIn’s enterprise focus gives it a clear edge for B2B social selling.
LinkedIn also offers its Pulse platform: a place where users can share their content with a wide business audience. LinkedIn Pulse can be a great way to learn more about industry trends, and see what people are saying about them.
The key, as Tomlinson says, is to gain insights into the challenges your audience is facing. You can then provide true value by matching their needs to your company’s expertise and solutions.
Component #4: Build trusted relationships
Once you know your prospect, you’re ready to engage them and nurture trust. But don’t rush it. Trust takes time to build, and can only be done by having genuine conversations, putting your prospects’ needs first, and sharing relevant information about common challenges.
One of the best ways to build trust is to identify the ideal time to offer special services to customers. For instance, The Beverly Hilton used social listening tools (solutions that analyze what customers are saying on social media) to identify guests celebrating special occasions. By delighting customers with personalized offers, the hotel started to see 50% more positive social media posts about its brand.
However you choose to build relationships, never fall back on copy–pasted, template-type communications. And this can be hard, especially now that LinkedIn offers canned responses such as a thumbs up or “Sounds good.” Don’t let quick-and-faceless solutions tempt you.
A study by LinkedIn found that 64% of buyers wouldn’t engage with a salesperson if the communications they received weren’t personalized.
Publishing your own helpful content is another successful way to inspire trust. By submitting guides, blogs, and other useful pieces on LinkedIn Pulse and similar platforms, you can build a reputation as an expert (thought leader) in your field.
Component #5: Nurture networks, not single contacts
Today, 6.8 people on average are involved in any single purchase decision. So, if you only nurture a relationship with one contact at an enterprise, you run the risk of having limited influence over those who hold the budget and make the buying decisions.
The key is to make the most of connected networks to nurture multiple prospects in a business.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you abandon building trusted, one-to-one relationships. It just means you use the recommended connections features on LinkedIn (and similar tools on other platforms) to find like-minded prospects you can connect with and grow your network.
Great social selling starts with great prospect data
The key with these components is to develop them over the long term. This is only possible if you have consistently updated, widely available data on your prospects. You can get such data from social media, but storing and using it can require a contact management platform.
Sansan’s business-card-based and cloud-based contact management system (CMS) can help you track deals and keep notes on prospects. It lets you maximize every valuable relationship and get more sales.
By tracking prospects in a CMS, your sales teams can interact with prospects over the long term. This helps them nurture trusted relationships that power successful social selling.
Click here to learn more about how Sansan’s CMS can help you manage your contact networks and get the most from social selling.