I read another article this morning predicting that by 2020 fifty percent of salespeople will be looking for new careers. By the way, some pundits predict that number will be much higher. With a buyer’s ability to do early stage product and solutions research, and often a disdain for being forced to work with salespeople (who waste their time) just to make a purchase, I believe it.
While the buyer’s journey has been evolving, salespeople have been slow to wake up and change how they do things. Now that the concept of social selling is being touted as the ONLY thing you need in selling, I fear that salespeople are in danger of making themselves even more irrelevant. After all, it takes more than a well written social profile or a few connections, clicks and likes to achieve sales objectives.
There is no easy button called social selling. Like all aspects of being good in sales, how you utilize social channels as part of your sales process takes work. Patience, planning, the right mindset and sales and technology skills all factor into the success equation too. In response to a different kind of buyer, salespeople and their leaders need to change their mindset and selling behavior. You cannot slap new technology – social channels – onto outdated sales approaches and expect to win. Cheesy selling, or is that sleazy selling, is still cheesy and buyers hate it. Adopting a new type of selling mindset means change. It means doing things differently, regardless of what worked back in the day.
Like anything new, there is a learning curve. Adoption takes effort, time and planning. As I’ve written about often, jumping straight to tactics is one of the primary reasons that many salespeople are floundering around trying to figure out how to make social selling work for them. From my point of view, you need three things to succeed: strategy, skills and execution.
Strategy – It is tempting to want to skip right over this important first step. You may be thinking that there isn’t time to create a strategy; you need more sales now. Make time. If you want different sales results, you need to do things differently. In less than thirty minutes and on one page, as a salesperson you can determine the ideal characteristics of your buyer, what social channels they are likely to use, figure out what training help you need, determine your core goals and establish metrics that you will track.
If you are a sales leader, do not assume that your marketing team has this covered. Even if they have a plan for using social media on behalf of the business, it probably does not address the specific needs of your sales organization.
The planning process should answer questions like these and more:
- Are our sales and marketing goals aligned?
- Who is our target audience and what do they care about?
- What social channels are our prospects likely to be engaging in?
- How can we make it easy for salespeople to track their online connections and track conversations as part of our current CRM process?
- Do we have a process for capturing leads that come from non-traditional sources like Twitter?
- Have we created and clearly communicated social communication guidelines to our salespeople?
- What social networking platforms should our salespeople use?
- Have we created a training plan to ensure that salespeople are properly prepared and have the right sales and technology skills?
- How do we define success and what will we monitor, measure and track?
With more variables to consider in today’s selling environment, there is great risk in ignoring these questions and others. Blindly jumping forward is not the answer.
Skills – Sellers today need a combination of great sales skills and the ability to use technology to strategically support their goals.
In a Digital Marketing Digest released by Silverpop last year, they say that “Buyers, fed up with crowded inboxes and irrelevant advertising noise, are shutting out content that isn’t relevant to them and using search and social to control their own buyer journeys.” Salespeople need to develop a completely different approach, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If you are a cold calling fan (I’m not) and it works for you, so be it. But ignore what buyers are telling you – loudly – at your own peril. They’ve had it with salespeople whose only approach is to pitch through feature/benefit/demo dances. Those routines are out of date and waste their time.
Without training and guidance, many salespeople are short circuiting sound selling principles by using social media to cast a wider net to reach prospective buyers while simultaneously trying to sell to them. This spray and pray mentality only serves to push buyers away. Second chances are hard to come by.
To solve the skills gap, implement a training curriculum focused on:
- Teaching salespeople consultative selling skills, which includes focus on communication, listening, good questioning, strategic thinking, planning and presentation.
- Teaching salespeople the effective and strategic use of social media to support their sales process.
Execution – This is the step that brings everything else together. Execution is about disciplined behavior – salespeople engaging in the right activities consistently and using technology in the right way. It takes sweat equity and any expert who tells you otherwise is a fool. Don’t believe them!
A variety of sales and social media activities must be well executed. Salespeople need to represent the brand online, generate new leads, reach decision makers fast, differentiate themselves from competitors, present solutions, demonstrate business acumen, manage multiple relationships with decision makers, negotiate deals and close them quickly. Social media plays an important role in today’s selling process, but it is NOT the only thing you need.
To determine what’s working and what isn’t, sales leaders must diligently monitor and measure the effective execution of sales activities, which includes constantly evaluating the skills of their people and providing the ongoing training, coaching and support that they need to succeed.
I will close by saying that I’d like you to think of social selling as you might a winning sports team. You need a strategic play book, salespeople with the right skills who execute well at all phases of the game. Would you send a football team out on the field with players in no particular order, hand them a ball and expect them to win the Super Bowl?
Without the trinity of Strategy, Skills and Execution, salespeople may be seen by more prospects or bring in a few new leads, but they won’t win the big game over time!