In a mad rush to achieve short-term sales objectives and with many experts proclaiming that “social selling” is the panacea to get there, important points about what constitutes sales success is noticeably absent from most social selling conversations. From my perspective, what’s missing is a focus on the bigger picture. After all, it takes more than a well written social profile or a few connections, clicks and likes to achieve sales objectives.
Thanks to social networks and the Internet prospects begin the buying process without the involvement of sales 60%-80% of the time. With the ability to educate themselves quickly and independently about products, solutions and the companies who sell them, sales people are no longer primarily needed for education. Buyers expect them to bring more to the table, and this new reality is a struggle for many sellers.
This shift in buyer behavior is at the heart of why I have a problem with the yammer related to social selling. Most of it centers primarily on execution – the tactics, techniques or technology. Each, in their own way, play an important role in selling today, but it should not be assumed that these things on their own will address the challenges that many sales organizations find themselves facing.
What isn’t being talked about enough is that in response to a different kind of buyer, sales people and their managers need to change their mindset and selling behavior. You cannot slap new technology on outdated sales approaches and expect to win. Adopting a social selling mindset means change. The rub is that change is difficult, and there are no short cuts to getting there.
If you are a sales leader who is serious about adopting social selling in your organization, these are the three steps I recommend that you take:
Strategy, Skills, 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.
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 the 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 sales people 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 sales people?
- What social networking platforms should our sales people use?
- Have we created a training plan to ensure that sales people 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 effectively to support their goals.
Unfortunately, the over reliance on technology is replacing the basic principles of great selling and the gap is only getting wider. Does it really matter if sales people can use technology to reach prospects more quickly if what is said in the phone call or email lands with a thud?
In a Digital Marketing Digest released by Silverpop, 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.”
Without training and guidance, many sales people are short circuiting sound selling principles by using social media to reach prospects and sell to them simultaneously. This “spray and pray” mentality only serves to push buyers away. Second chances are rare.
To solve the skills gap, implement a training curriculum focused on two things:
- Providing sales people the relevant sales skills that considers today’s buyer.
- Teaching them the effective use of technology to support the sales process.
Execution – This isn’t the first step toward successful social selling, it is the step that brings everything else together. Execution is about disciplined behavior – sales people engaging in the right activities consistently and using technology in the right way.
A variety of sales and social media activities must be well executed. Sales people 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 the selling process with the bulk of the tactical execution being at the front end of the cycle.
Sales leaders need to diligently monitor and measure the effective execution of sales activities, which includes constantly evaluating the sales and technology 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, sales people 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, sales people may be seen by more prospects or bring in a few new leads, but they won’t win the big game over time!