New B2B buying behavior is driving sales organizations to consider expanding their digital presence beyond the traditional company website. As a result, social media channels have emerged as forums where salespeople engage in conversations with potential customers. According to a study by Forbes Insight, decision makers and C-level executives visit social networks and online communities to inform their purchase decisions. Nonetheless, only one-third of companies had a proper social media strategy, according to a survey of 140 companies by Sales Management Association.
Before jumping into the bandwagon, it is recommended that sales managers fully understand what it takes to succeed in one of the fastest growing digital arenas: Social Selling. Brandon Uttley from Sales Performance International wrote about the importance of having a well-designed social selling strategy. In his post, "What Does Good Social Selling Look Like?" Uttley listed the following steps to achieve an effective social selling strategy:
DEVELOP A PROPER PLAN
Get all stakeholders on board and devote time to craft a formal strategy that includes a social media policy. Avoid the ad-hoc approach.
GAIN SUPPORT FROM THE TOP
As with any initiative, it is important to have a top-down approach. In other words, social selling should be supported by senior management. Top management has a key role to play in bridging the gap between strategy and execution. It requires their time and effort.
HAVE A LONG TERM FOCUS
In other words, if social selling is seen as a short term commitment or as a quick fix, it is recommended to adopt another mindset. Forward thinking organizations have a long term focus.
PROVIDE THE RIGHT TOOLS
Marketing must join forces with sales to create relevant content that can be shared by salespeople at all stages of the buying process. However, if content is shared inconsistently via different platforms –due to the amount of tools available in the market – managers risk losing control over what works and what does not. A better approach is to use one corporate wide platform to support a standardized and consistent usage across the entire sales force.
KEEP IT PERSONAL
Selling via social media allows salespeople to target and personalize conversations and sales messages. After all, salespeople must engage in one-to-one conversations with buyers.
MAKE IT PART OF THE SALES PROCESS
Sales managers need to perceive social selling as an important component of the sales process. It should not be treated as a separate activity nor as a task to be executed if salespeople have time. Make sure social selling is part of your sales team's daily routine.
ENGAGE CROSS-FUNCTIONAL TEAMS
Engage and encourage collaboration between sales and marketing teams. Cross-functional activities are essential to a successful execution of your social selling plan. Social selling not only requires collaboration between sales and marketing, but also between customer service, product managers, service delivery, etc.
Just as with any other emerging tool or methodology, social selling requires new skills and competencies. Provide continuous training to your sales team on how to engage in digital conversations. After all, the majority of B2B sales professionals do not have formal training about how to use social media for selling purposes. In fact, access to training is what differentiates best-in class from laggards, according to research by Aberdeen Group.
TRACK PERFORMANCE OVER TIME
Are sales reps behaving according to plan? Or are they falling back on traditional behaviors of not using social media as part of the sales process? It is important that you measure and track the activities and behaviors that lead to adoption.
Are you already selling or considering selling via social media channels? What is your approach: ad-hoc or formal strategy?
Ph.D. Markus Ejenäs, ProSales Institute