There’s been a lot of talk about social selling and its impact in 2014—and rightly so. Social selling is a critical part of responding to the changes in buyer behavior. Unfortunately, the term “social selling” (emphasis on the selling) has caused organizations to see this as a problem for the sales organization alone. In some ways, sales organizations only have themselves to blame for this. For years they have often disdained others for getting involved in anything that had “sales” attached to its name.
Well there’s no room for such territorial behavior anymore. The reality is that sales organizations cannot execute an effective social selling strategy without the help and collaboration of a number of other groups within their company.
First, the CEO and other executive leadership need to have a social media presence. Indeed, BRANDfog’s 2012 “CEO, Social Media and Leadership Survey” found that 82% of employees surveyed were more likely to trust a CEO who communicates through social media—so there’s already a benefit to this. Buyers are demanding higher levels of visibility into your organization than ever before. They want to know who’s running the company, who they are, and what they think. The time has come for CEOs and other senior execs to come out of the shadows and represent their organizations online to create greater levels of connectedness with buyers. This will not only help during the self-discovery period of the buying process—when buyers research vendors—but it will also continue to credential your organization throughout the purchase process.
Next, marketing needs to play two primary roles. The first is to help enable the buyer’s self-discovery process. To achieve this, marketing needs to make sure that there’s valuable and insightful information readily available to buyers during their research phase. This information should be deployed in whatever format buyers prefer (e.g. whitepaper, video, infographic), and on whatever platforms they leverage (e.g. company website, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter).
The second role is to help salespeople learn and master social selling tools, such as LinkedIn. Marketing can provide invaluable guidance on how to create a buyer-focused online profile. They can also provide salespeople with concise and targeted content to share with buyers and in professional networking groups. Plus, they can teach sales people how to communicate online in a way that quickly resonates with their audience. Today’s salesperson needs to have micro-marketing skills. Who better to help them develop those skills than marketing?
But to develop and execute social selling strategies effectively, management needs to buy in to social selling in the first place. This is a particularly acute issue at the sales management level. Salespeople take their cues directly from their sales managers. Whatever the sales manager places importance on, so will the salesperson. Therefore, it’s imperative that the sales manager creates an environment in which social selling can actually take place.
To begin, sales managers need to enlist marketing’s help to develop online, personal brands for each of their salespeople. Then, they need to encourage and help their salespeople master social tools from a technical perspective, as well as understand how the fundamentals of good selling can be executed online. Above all, however, they need to create the time, space, and culture that allows sales people to conduct social selling online as opposed to always calling or emailing. The latter two activities are still important, obviously, but the sales manager has to balance them with the time required to research, listen, and engage effectively on social platforms.
Customer service and implementation also have important roles to play. They’re the ones engaging with customers post-sale—a time when they can learn more about customers. Given that every implementation of products or services has some differences, however subtle, there are always new insights to be gained. These valuable insights can be filtered back to sales and marketing to leverage in their online engagement. So, in essence, customer service and implementation can become conveyor belts of raw material that can be used for content marketing and sales engagement.
Lastly, social selling obviously requires salespeople to be fully committed to learning and mastering this new selling environment. They need to become part-researcher, part micro-marketer, and develop higher levels of business acumen while continuing to leverage solid fundamental selling skills. Furthermore, they need to develop a comfort level with marketing and customer service so they can reach out for help with mastering the social tools developing/adapting content that they can share online, and gaining additional insights into their target buyers and current customers.
In the age of social selling, nothing worthwhile can be achieved in a vacuum. This is the era of connectedness. Think about it: How can any salesperson truly create value by effectively connecting and engaging online if they can’t create value by connecting and engaging internally first?
Connectedness and engagement starts at home. In other words, social selling takes a village.
John Golden is author of Winning the Battle for Sales and Social Upheaval: How to Win @ Social Selling and founder and CEO of Focused Revenue Results Inc., which helps small, midmarket, and startup companies with strategy, marketing, and sales.