By BARBARA GIAMANCO
A fundamental shift in the way that people communicate has occurred requiring salespeople to adapt their process and approach. Most are moving too slowly, preferring to stubbornly stick to outdated strategies that haven’t worked for some time.
With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, the buying process has changed. In a social sales world, most B2B buying decisions now begin, move forward and are often closed online or over the phone without a single face-to-face meeting. That’s a frightening thought for the sales professional who has long believed that the only way to “close a deal” is to be sitting across the table from the prospect. Salespeople must also recognize and leverage the emphasis that buyers now place on recommendations, comments and the reviews of others.
Using tools like LinkedIn, Gist, Facebook, Hootsuite, Foursquare and Twitter, the number of people that we maintain some degree of one-to-one contact and connect with via peer networks and groups has dramatically increased in the past few years. Social salespeople will use these tools to become more adept at successfully navigating the first few critical phases of the sales process: investigate and early qualify.Better information leads to better qualification of sales opportunities. And, used effectively, social networking saves considerable time during this aspect of the sales cycle.
As technology continues to influence the way in which we do business, social selling can be thought of as a model that allows sellers to attract, interact and close business with buyers online by tapping the conversational power of the Web. This new approach – when done right – leads to higher sales velocity, volume and profits.
As with any business initiative, it is important that you don’t shortcut the process. Utilizing the appropriate social media tools to improve sales performance represents an investment of time and money. Though many of the social technologies you might choose to implement are largely free, people will need the proper training to ensure their success. Here are 6 tips for creating social sales success:
Begin with a strategy and tactical plan. This doesn’t need to be a long drawn-out process, but it does require slowing down long enough to think through: 1) What do you want to accomplish? 2) What will be the best technology to support what we want to accomplish? 3) What type of training will be needed on both the technology and new communication approach? Sales executives should schedule a social media planning session with their teams. Make sure that everyone on the team has the same understanding of what and why you want to participate online. Discuss how you will measure and track results. Following that initial planning, discuss progress, lessons learned and share best practices during regular team meetings. This will help to keep everyone on track.
Secure management buy-in at all levels, from the beginning. Many sales executives are still living in yesterday’s business world. They either see social media as a passing fad or a threat to their view of how the sales process works. Fear of what they do not understand keeps them rooted in outdated approaches to acquiring new customers and serving the ones that they already have. Bring in outside help to properly educate your management teams on the business value and benefits to using social media.
Invest in training. The old saying “you get what you pay for” applies here. Don’t assume that your sales people can figure out the technology on their own. Rather than clicking buttons, do they know how to use the tools to drive a specific sales result; i.e. lead generation? Your sales team members probably understand how to invite colleagues to join them on LinkedIn, but do they know how to create dynamic lead generation lists that they can use for their prospecting efforts? Do they understand how to create a compelling profile? Inadequate training is guaranteed to deliver lackluster results. Make the investment. It’s worth it.
Do not expect immediate results. There is no quick fix! You need to put a plan of action into place that is followed regularly and tracked along the way. Expecting an immediate ROI is highly unrealistic and will lead to salespeople rushing the process. Sales management needs to maintain a focus on the bigger picture. Building a solid brand reputation online takes time, participation and patience.
Train, Track, Monitor. Give your salespeople the proper technology training, educate them on your social media usage guidelines and help them set goals that are then tracked and measured. Remember that ROI can be measured in many ways. It might be measuring sales revenue, number of new leads in the pipeline, shortened time from lead to sales close, or increased sales percentages with existing accounts. Monitor the progress of your people by the results they achieve.
Invest the time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your social sales success. Not having time for social media is a common sales complaint, and I believe that the main reason people use time as an excuse is because they consider the use of social media an “add-on” to an already packed day. The reality is that there is wasted time on the calendar of every salesperson in your organization. Meetings with non-decision makers. Networking events that fall flat. Chasing down leads that are poorly qualified. Too many internal meetings. Have your salespeople complete a time tracking activity. At the end of one week, I think you will find the results enlightening. The question to ask is “What can I let go of that will bring me a greater sales return if I used that time for social media instead?”
The world of sales has changed. If you are not integrating social media into your sales and marketing plans, you are setting yourself up for decreasing sales and increased competitive pressure. How long can you afford to wait to get started?
Barbara Giamanco is the co-author along with Joan Curtis of “The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media” (Praeger, August 2010), is a sales and social media strategist, consultant, coach and speaker with a 30-year proven track record in sales.