“Social selling is hogwash. Nothing is a substitute for human interaction.”
I heard a speaker make this statement at a conference. Statements like that are frustrating. This speaker wanted the audience to believe that the only way to do business is to meet people face-to-face, which, of course, is no longer true. If it were, we wouldn’t continue to see a steady rise in the investment sales organizations are making in inside sales teams.
The truth is that you can “interact” with other human beings in meaningful ways online. Does this mean that your salespeople will only converse with buyers on social media to discuss, negotiate and close deals? Of course not! After nurturing an online relationship, the next step in the sales cycle is, naturally, talking to your prospective customer real-time.
Anyone proclaiming that integrating social media into your sales process (AKA social selling) is hogwash either doesn’t understand how to do it, fears changing their approach or sells services that run counter to modern day selling practices. Salespeople who plan to achieve sales quotas will adapt how they sell, because buyers demand it.
Integrating social media into your team’s selling process is a must if you expect your salespeople to break through the competitive clutter and reach buyers who are better informed and more digitally connected than ever before.
Most often, sellers will use social channels on the front end of the sales cycle to network, prospect, build their online reputation and brand, increase their visibility, demonstrate credibility and capability, generate leads and conduct pre-sales call research. Social channels can and should also be used to nurture existing customer relationships also. If your salespeople are out of sight, they don’t exist. It is dangerous to assume that once a customer signs on the dotted line that they will stick with your company forever.
To turn your sales organization into a social selling machine, you need to do these things:
- Accept that buyer behavior has changed. You, as the sales leader, must shift your mindset. It is a vastly different selling world than it was 10+ years ago. The approaches that worked for you when you were building a book of business, aren’t working for your sales team members today. Inundated with requests, buyers block phone calls and emails from people they don’t know. It takes a lot to break through the noise these days. Your salespeople must change their sales approach. Your job is to help them learn how to do it.
- Create a social selling strategy. Engage marketing as part of the planning process, but marketing doesn’t own it for sales. Be careful not to default to social selling training without having thought through the bigger picture. Heading straight to tactics without a well-conceived plan is a recipe for failure.
- Establish usage guidelines. People need to know what is expected of them. As they do today, salespeople represent themselves and the company brand. The only difference is that what is said online stays there. Forever. Mistakes are bound to happen, but you can mitigate risks by ensuring that your salespeople learn the art of communicating online. More importantly, teach them what’s appropriate to say and do on behalf of your company when they are using social networks as part of their selling activities. Don’t assume that they know.
- Choose the right tools. In planning your social selling strategy, you will have identified the key characteristics of your ideal buyer(s). Understanding these buyer personas becomes the guide you use to determine what social channels are best suited for reaching those targeted buyers. The key is in making sure that your salespeople spend time on the right social channels, and they shouldn’t try to master all channels at once. Most social media platforms are free to use but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost associated with them. Time is money. Spend it wisely.
- Invest in training. Sales behaviors have to change and salespeople need to understand how to strategically use technology in the right way. If you, or your salespeople, view social channels as a vehicle to spam a bigger audience with a sales pitch, a huge opportunity has been wasted, and your brand reputation is put at serious risk. Training should be ongoing and not just a one-time event.
- Focus on the right metrics. Expecting salespeople to just do more – make more cold calls, send more emails, or do more demos – can actually impede sales progress by wasting a lot of time. The quality of sales activities is what counts. Attaining measurable sales results is more important than checking off the box that says your reps made 200 calls each day.
- Be realistic in your expectations. Using social channels is not a short-cut to increasing pipeline and revenue. You will not see results overnight. This is no different from any other sales training you may have invested in for your sales teams. Learning how to do things differently and developing new habits takes time. Provide the ongoing training and coaching that your people need and give them the space to allow these new approaches to bear fruit.
Smart sales leaders know that social selling isn’t hogwash, nor is it a gimmicky approach to selling. These leaders know social selling is simply another set of sales tools and an evolved approach to reaching today’s buyers, which means their job is to prepare their teams accordingly.