The Evolution of Social Selling

Dave Stein

Social media has clearly become a force in business that won’t be dismissed. Unfortunately, while most companies understand that, few have developed the capability to leverage this ubiquitous communication tool to advance their sales teams’ efforts.

Data that underscores how far social media has progressed is abundant. Last year, Facebook topped a billion users. LinkedIn has over 200 million members. And, it’s likely you’ve heard the statistic from the Corporate Executive Board that customers will contact a sales rep only after they have independently completed about 60 percent of the purchasing decision process. It’s just as likely that your selling team doesn’t have a strategy to overcome this development.

Without a strategy, too many companies leave social media learning and development up to the individual sales rep. That can be dangerous, leading to wasted time, confused company messaging and offended customers. Most importantly, a fractured approach can keep your reps from adapting to the new ways that customers are buying products and services. That disconnect means fewer wins.

So how do savvy sellers meet, create a dialog with, and nurture sales prospects before the buyer takes that crucial step of reaching out? The answer is “social selling.” Take a moment and go to trends Type in social selling. See what I mean? Social media is a force in B2B sales.

You can buy social media strategy advice and training from any number of sources. The challenge is integrating it all into your company’s selling process. And, while some sales training companies have added social media learning to their solution portfolios, many others still don’t want to be held accountable for that component of sales peoples’ skill sets. That’s not a good thing.

Leveraging social media isn’t new to Philadelphia-based Richardson. Over the past several years, ESR has given the firm high marks for its implementation of social media in its own marketing and selling efforts. Right now they’re planning to incorporate LinkedIn and Google Alerts into their “Prospecting with Insights” and “Selling with Insights” programs. That’s a good choice of platforms, given that Facebook tends to be more of a business-to-consumer and friends-and-family network. Twitter, the other big force, can be a time-waster and risky, for some of the reasons I mentioned above.

Sales Performance International — the Solution Selling® folks — has successfully piloted a “Social Media for Sales” workshop and defined the emerging roles a seller must play within new customer buying processes. One of those roles, the “micro-marketer,” uses social media for planning and demand creation and generation. The program includes learning objectives and exercises that can help salespeople get the most leverage out of such technologies as InsideView, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs and YouTube.
It all springs from recent changes in the Solution Selling execution methodology intended to boost sales performance in our world of tech-savvy, sophisticated and powerful purchasers.

Solution Selling now includes a framework for mapping social media into the sales process, which includes actually opening selected social media tools and exercising them in the context of a sales process. So reps can answer the question, “As a seller at a given point in the sales process, exactly how do I use this to advance my sale?” SPI provides the roadmap.

What can you do now to separate value from hype and get up to speed on what social media networks, tools and strategies to employ in your own selling efforts? Talk to your customers. Find out what networks they use to build and maintain business and personal relationships. That’s where you need to be.

Identify where they educate themselves to perform their jobs better. You need to be there, too. Then, as we’ve learned from two top sales training firms, integrate your new social media strategy with your sales process, get your sales team trained on how to leverage it, and help your reps keep pace with an evolution that their customers have already embraced.  

(Note: Richardson and SPI subscribe to ESR’s research.)

Dave Stein is CEO and founder of ES Research Group, Inc. The company's in-depth industry research and independent evaluations of sales training companies helps companies make the right decisions about sales training programs.