Social selling from desk

10 tips to a successful social selling program that drives business results

Social selling is all the buzz in the B2B world. Social selling is revolutionizing sales like digital marketing changed marketing. With more B2B decision makers using social media and companies completing more of their buying cycle before they approach a supplier, social selling has become your company’s best bet. Research has shown that salespeople who use social media outperform those who don’t and exceed quota more often. But is it worth the effort?  How can you activate social media and content best practices into a powerful sales tool?

With highly-informed buyers needing salespeople who can provide relevant knowledge and help them tackle their business challenges, this blog post explores how to empower your sales team to meet these heightening customer demands. Learn what it takes to become the social selling expert at your company, including lessons learned and pitfalls to avoid when launching a social selling initiative. Learn about a framework for tackling social selling at your organization—including getting C-suite buy-in. And discover how social selling can help provide insights into your content marketing efforts.

Let’s first start with the definition of social selling.

What is Social Selling?

Social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with clients and prospects. Social selling defined in 100 words.

Why Social Selling is Important

Social selling is a revolution for sales. Cold calls, qualifying leads, and sales demos are no longer effective as they once were. The new sales model is now about education, social media networks, and engagement. According to the Corporate Executive Board and OgilyOne, 60 percent of B2B customer research is conducted before contacting sales and 71 percent of salespeople believe their role will be radically different in five years.

The sales team is looking for a partner to help with this transition. Marketing is in a great spot to help since marketing is looking for more insight from sales on what content is being used and shared. According to Sirius Decisions, 60 to 70 percent of all company content goes unused. What content should marketing create more or less of?

Social selling is an evolution for marketing.

At its core, social selling is half social media and half content marketing.

Half Social Media - Half Content Marketing

Social selling is half social media, half content marketing. Marketing is in a great position to provide social media and content marketing advice to sales.

Content marketing and social media are two areas of marketing that have become too important for companies today to just stay within the marketing department.

Social selling is the next evolution of content marketing and social media.

Marketing has a great opportunity to provide their digital marketing expertise to the sales team who needs help in this area. Sales is looking for help with social media and their online presence. According to the Sales Management Association, two in three companies don’t have a social media strategy for sales, but 80 percent of sales teams would be more productive with a greater social media presence.

Most marketers, especially those at B2B companies, are tasked with better aligning with sales teams and enabling their sales teams with content and social media tips to better interact online with current customers and future ones.

The Rise of the Term “SMarketing”

With the growth of digital marketing and marketing taking on more of the sales or buying journey, the term SMarketing is rising in importance. SMarketing is the process of integrating the sales and marketing processes of a business.

SMarketing

Companies who have an integrated approach to sales and marketing are in a position to drive more growth and better target the ideal customers and retain current clients.

Now that you understand the importance of social selling, how does one create a social selling program? Here are 10 tips to launching a social selling program:

1. Explain Why Your Company Needs Social Selling

Buyers have more power in today’s world, thanks to the Internet and the rise of social media networks. As a result, their habits have changed because they can do more research online before interacting with someone. They can also ask more people about the products and services they are going to buy before interacting with sales. According to LinkedIn, 5.4 people are now involved in the average B2B buying decision; 75 percent of B2B buyers now use social media to be more informed on vendors; and 90 percent of decision makers say they never respond to cold outreach.

The Reality of the New Buyer

Buyers are self-educating before they make purchases, especially large ones. When was the last time you went to buy a car or TV at a store without knowing what type of car or TV you wanted? Did you know what types of “bells and whistles” you wanted?

Of course, you did.

You did all your research online before going to the store. And you may do more research on your smartphone while in the store.

Buyers are consuming more and more content before they buy online or in a store. Search engines like Google and Bing have created an “era of self-serve information.” Google’s Zero Moment of Truth study shows that consumers digest more than 10 pieces of online information before making a purchase decision. Therefore, companies today need to provide content that informs, educates, persuades, and retains customers or clients.

Buyers are changing the landscape for sales and marketing. Buyers have new knowledge expectations. They want advisors, not ready-made solutions. And they are including more people in decision-making process.

As a result, most buying cycles or sales cycles are getting longer.

The Corporate Executive Board has published excellent research about how the sales process or buying process has changed. They found that high-performing sales people are Challengers and the reason salespeople are successful is because it is all about how a sales person sells, not what he or she sells. They also published research on the key factors to create consensus in buying groups.

Frustration is occurring internally at many organizations. Conversations at companies today may be along the lines of something like this: “we’re losing deals to unlikely competitors” or  “our sales team is being engaged so far late in a buyers purchasing cycle, resulting in conversations about price and fulfillment” or “prospects are asking us ‘late funnel’ questions much earlier in the sales process.”

As a result, there is a shift at many companies where social selling is becoming more of the sales process since a majority of the self-educating is done before the first meeting with sales. Marketing and sales can no long take the “spray and pray” method or approach to finding new customers or clients. The new approach to selling and marketing is summed up well by Seth Godin in this quote.

Selling to People Who Want to Hear from You

Sales professionals, sales leadership, marketing leadership, sales enablement leaders, and C-suite executives will want to know what the outcome of social selling is at your organization.

Social Selling Outcomes

It is important to communicate the four main outcomes of social selling. They are:

  1. Thought leadership. Buyers choose sales rep that add value and insight.
  2. Brand. Build it over time so you become a trusted expert and are knowledgeable in certain topics.
  3. Competitive differentiation. Insights help differentiate you versus your competitors.
  4. Business conversations, not sales pitches. People don’t trust companies who cold call and are perceived as “spammy.”

Companies that provide value and insights are winning their customers or clients over. According to Corporate Visions, 74 percent of buyers choose the sales rep that was first to bring value and insight and according to Forrester, 82 percent of buyers viewed at least five pieces of content from the winning vendor. Check out these 107 mind-blowing sales stats.

The Social Seller Wins

Research has shown the sales person who uses social selling performs better than the sales person who doesn’t. According to LinkedIn, social sellers create 45 percent more opportunities; social sellers are 51 percent more likely to achieve quota and 78 percent of social sellers outsell peers who don’t use social media.

Now that you understand the value and outcomes of social selling, let’s talk about how you should begin.

2. Start Small With a Pilot to Get C-Suite Buy-In

To get C-suite buy-in, it is important to start small with a pilot. The pilot should be long enough to collect enough data to build your business case but short enough that it doesn’t take too many resources.

There are five key ways to get C-suite to buy-in on social selling. They are:

  1. Vision and strategy. It is important to demonstrate where you are now, and where you want to go or need to go with this initiative. Creating a maturity model, outlining your strategy for social selling, and communicating the business value of the initiative on a page can help paint your vision and strategy.
  1. Success stories. It is critical to have social selling champions internally who can help you show the value of social selling to your business.
  1. Case studies. It is important to see how other companies are taking advantage of social selling. LinkedIn and Sales for Life have good case studies for social selling.
  1. Competitors. One of the best ways to get the C-suite attention about your initiative is to look at your competitor’s plans and show them that your company is behind because our competitors have already launched this social selling initiative.
  1. Business case. It is vital to make your business case for social selling, not in promising immediate return on investment, but in documenting the process with a charter, what is in scope or out of scope for this initiative, who are the executive sponsors are, and what the timeline is for certain short-term activities. Executives at your company will want to know how well social selling can scale with a certain budget.

Following these five above tips and launching a small pilot can help you show some early results.

3. Show How Social Selling Integrates Internally

To ensure that your social selling program gets buy-in from key stakeholders, it is important to partner with others internally, especially leadership from departments such as sales, sales enablement, solution/product/services, human resources, and training.

Once you have identified the key departments internally, you should take the time to learn about how each department’s priorities and goals intersect with social selling. For example, at Forsythe Technology, we partner with our thought leaders in our pre-sales organization. We first started with our FOCUS Magazine authors. We also partnered with our pre-sales organization and select members of our human resource department to show them how social selling can help hiring managers and recruiters find candidates through social selling platforms like LinkedIn.

By getting input and partnering with other departments internally, you can share the budget. Here are five tips for justifying your social selling budgets. Sometimes other departments will contribute funds while some departments will just support the initiative. Social selling requires time and is an investment that will deliver more business benefits over time.

4. One Size Doesn’t Fit All

It is critical that your training for social selling is personalized and customized because each individual sales representative is different in terms of how much they know and understand about social selling. They also may be more of less digital savvy in terms of how much social media they use in their personal lives.

Personalized

Since one size doesn’t fit all, that is why I scheduled one on one classes via a Cisco WebEx with our entire sales team. It was important to personalize the social selling class to the skill level of the sales professional. It is important to show them the value of LinkedIn in a one-on-one setting rather than have them listen to an online course. While it doesn’t scale quickly, it provided more value to the sales team and helps spread the word about the value of using LinkedIn in meeting their goals. I summarized my 1 on 1 social selling class in this LinkedIn blog post. You should create content about your social selling class so your sale team can go back later and refresh what they learned.

One of the mistakes I made early on when I launched the social selling initiative at my company, Forsythe Technology, was to teach the sales professionals about all of the different social platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in a group setting. However, I quickly realized that our sales account managers needed focus on one social media platform to gain momentum. So I concentrated the social selling class on LinkedIn. It provided them with the most value and could show them how they could use the tool to be more productive in their daily activities and help them accomplish their sales goals. I walked them through how they could optimize their LinkedIn profile and how to take advantage of the tool. I also explain how LinkedIn inMails need to be customized and tailored to be successful. They also need to be helpful and not “salesy.” I also showed them how their connection requests should be customized to get noticed and so the other person who got the invitation accepts them quicker.

Customized

It is important that your class is customized so you can show your sales Tana how to play what I call six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Just like Kevin Bacon is connected with any actor or actress in Hollywood, a sales person is connected with anyone at any company. When I take them through the exercise of showing them how their network can be connected to any company by a 1st, 2nd or 3rd-degree connection, they instantly see the value.

I also walk through how you should check “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” on LinkedIn and how they should join certain LinkedIn Groups where their clients and prospects hang out. I emphasize that they should develop a social selling routine that works for them and enables them with tools like Google Alerts, If This then That, Newsle (now LinkedIn Connections in the News), Crystal Knows, and Charlie App.

5. Show the Power of Personal Branding

The next tip for a successful social selling program is to show your sales team the power of personal branding. If you look up the word branding on Google Trends, you can see the tremendous growth of the term. It has become more important in today’s social media world. Tom Peters in Fast Company quote sums it up the power of the power of personal branding:

Marketer for Brand Called You

Social networks like LinkedIn can help frontline employees such as sales professionals build their personal brand. By optimizing your LinkedIn profile, sharing relevant content about your industry, commenting with thoughtful insights to conversations in LinkedIn Groups, and liking or sharing other people’s content can help you grow your reputation and establish trust.

During my one on one class, I show them why a successful personal brand is important to our company brand. I reference my 10 steps to a successful personal brand. I explain how the profile is the first thing that a prospective client will see and that it important to make a good first impression with a professional image on a white background (we provided free professional headshots during our annual sales kickoff meetings).

I explain that they should add a summary section and that their summary should be written in first person, not third person. During my follow-up email, I provide them with helpful articles such as how to write a LinkedIn summary, 3 brilliant LinkedIn summaries and 4 highly effective LinkedIn summary templates for sales reps.

If we have time during the first call or follow-up calls, we discuss LinkedIn’s new social selling index (SSI) and what that means for them. I provide them with the link to get their SSI score and how there are four ways, according to LinkedIn, to improve your social selling index:

  1. Establish your professional brand 
  2. Find the right people
  3. Engage with Insights
  4. Build relationships

For sales professionals that have LinkedIn Sales Navigator, I show them that LinkedIn has included the SSI on their home dashboard. I encourage our sales professionals to explore LinkedIn Sales Navigator to see if they think it is worthy to upgrade.

6. Have a Plan for Follow Up and Reinforcement

A class is a great start but reinforcement is the key to making your social selling program successful and making the program stick over the long haul. According to Aberdeen Group research, companies that reinforce post-training achieve better business results. Ongoing education and reinforcement is critical to long-term success and keeping your sales team up-to-date with the ever-changing landscape of social media and LinkedIn. For example, what will Microsoft do with LinkedIn after acquiring them?

During the one-on-one class, I explain how the participant should set up calendar reminders in their Microsoft Outlook to share articles or block out time for LinkedIn. I tell each person that they may want to build in some time for these tasks when they are working on sales administrative tasks like filling out their weekly timecards or updating opportunities in Salesforce.com.

I also make sure that I have a follow-up email ready to send out immediately following the class that provides them with helpful links so they complete their “homework” that I assigned them during the class such as adding a summary section or adding their certifications or adding their professional headshot. In the follow-up email, I include an eBook from LinkedIn about the power of social selling in the buyer process, my personal blog post of the social selling class in article format, and 101 proven power words article may be helpful to reference for keywords in their summary and experience sections.

Once the class is done, it is important to establish a feedback loop with the team to learn how they are doing with their social selling. For example, I have participated in our new sales rep training classes and I schedule follow-up classes with sales reps who are interested in learning more about social selling. For example, two sales representatives want to meet with me monthly to give them the latest and greatest info on social selling.

To help with reinforcement, some social selling tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, PeopleLinx and TrapIt can help with these efforts. To find other social selling tools, you can check out some of the top social selling tools.

It is critical to have milestones and timelines in place as well. This could be included in your charter or strategy on a page we discussed earlier. They help with ongoing goal tracking and reinforcement so your program doesn’t lose its momentum.

7. Establish the Requirements for Success

Forrester Research recommends organizations shouldn’t rush into metrics since these metrics could create unintended consequences and pressure on your sales team. Once your social selling program is up and running, you can understand what types of metrics are working and then create some more sophisticated measurements when your organization social selling program has matured. However, I would recommend establishing some type of criteria for success. There are four important metrics worth examining from the beginning. They are sales, training, network (in terms of the growth of the sales team’s network on LinkedIn) and sharing (in terms of content).

Metrics

There are four key metrics of a successful social selling program: sales growth, training goals, network growth and content sharing.

Since social selling program is an investment, it will take time for your program to pay off and your metrics may change. However, the social selling program should have a baseline for initial metrics so you can see how the social selling program is performing. The metrics should be aligned with what we discussed earlier about how the program integrates internally. There should be at least one of the metrics that the departments mentioned earlier care about.

8. Help Sales Become Students of the Game

One way marketers can help sales is to help them become “students of the game.” When I mean student of the game, I mean being a perpetual student that reads, thinks and writes about their industry and profession. To help sales, marketing can show sales how they can follow their ecosystem of companies important to them on LinkedIn. I recommend the ecosystem consist of the following:

  1. Partners
  2. Competitors
  3. Analysts
  4. Clients and Prospects

There are also helpful resources for sales to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in social selling, sales and their industry. I recommend resources such as Sales for Life, HubSpot Blogs, SmartBrief, and LinkedIn Sales Solutions.

9. Serve Up Great Content To Share

Your content marketing efforts are critical to the success of your social selling program. Jill Rowley, a social selling evangelist, sums up the importance of great content for sales professionals today:

Content New Currency for Sales

To ensure that you serve up great content to share with sales, it important that your sales team and subject matter experts tell your marketing organizations what questions clients are asking them so marketing can create content to address those questions. To understand the power of answering questions, you should learn from Marcus Sheridan. The New York Times wrote a great article about how he increased sales by answering customer questions.

Marcus Sheridan sums up the importance of content marketing well and how important it is to sales.

Marcus Sheridan Content Sales Tool v2

This quote from Marcus Sheridan explains how content marketing helps your company establish trust with your clients and future clients:

Content Marketing Date Around

To create great content, you should think about your content marketing efforts in how much effort it takes to produce your content. For example, there is heavyweight content, middleweight content, and lightweight content. To learn the difference, you should read is your content marketing worth its weight in gold?

We created our recent data center eBook in the mode of this heavyweight-middleweight-lightweight content model and it has helped us refine and improve our content marketing strategies and tactics. For example, we created teasers for the eBook in the forms of teaser articles, SlideShare eBook promotion, SlideShare data center tips, infographic, and excerpt articles to promote downloads of the eBook.

For middleweight content, we follow the rule of thumb that the ideal length of an article should be 7 minutes or 1600 words. All of our articles on Forsythe FOCUS Magazine website are around 1600 words. These guidelines and other best practices have helped Forsythe Technology strive toward being a media company and operate like a newsroom. To help your organization figure out how to best organize itself for content marketing, you should explore ideas presented by Altimeter.

Altimer Content Marketing Organization

The Altimeter group shows companies how they can organize for content marketing.

You may also want to think about content marketing like Progressive CMO Jeff Charney thinks about content marketing. He says that Progressive’s content marketing should have, “the breadth of ESPN, the innovation of Netflix, and the original content programming of HBO.” As the world of owned media (websites and blogs) becomes more important with the rise of content marketing, earned (press coverage and word of mouth) and paid media (pay per click or banner ads) are still critical to a successful marketing strategy.

10.  Provide the Best Curated Content

The last tip for creating a successful social selling program is to curate the best content in your industry like a museum curator finds the best art for his or her museum. To help you create a culture of content curation, you should explore resources like this to help save you time.

Museum Curator

Companies should think about their content curation like museum curators think about their art curation.

According to research that explored the curation vs. creation sweet spot, the optimal balance for companies is a 60/40 ratio of content curation vs. content creation. 60 percent should be content curation and 40 percent should be content creation. This research was based on analyzing 150,000 social media posts.

Sweet Spot of Content

Research has shown that the content curation-creation “sweet spot” is a 60-40 ratio. 60 percent of content should be curated while 40 percent of content should be created.

At Forsythe Technology, we launched our content curation efforts by developing the inFOCUS e-newsletter, similar to SmartBrief e-newsletters, that provides an executive summary of noteworthy articles for business and technology professionals. To create this monthly e-newsletter, we work with a company that used to curate content for the President of the United States. The company’s editorial staff monitors 12,000 newspapers, business publications, websites, national and international wire services, and other periodicals, to compile one easy-to-read monthly summary.

In summary, we have found that finding and sharing heavyweight-middleweight-lightweight content establishes Forsythe Technology as a trusted adviser and our sales professionals as value creators who provide helpful ideas. We realized that we didn’t have to create our own content every day to help our clients and future ones. Our content curation has helped our content marketing efforts.

Bringing it all Together

Launching a social selling program is just like launching other initiatives. It is important to start small, go slow and start building the business case internally. It is a great time to be a marketer since social selling is an evolution of your social media and content marketing strategies so it is critical to incorporate social selling into your existing strategies and tactics. Determine a social selling leader and core team to lead the initiative, create training, determine the internal requirements for success, and explore social selling tools to help you with reinforcement. By knowing your end goal and what you are trying to achieve with your social selling program, you can launch a successful program. Remember, content marketing and social media have become too important to organizations today to stay within the marketing department. Marketing is in a great position to enable sales with their digital marketing expertise and take the lead in successfully launching a social selling program.

What tips would you add to this list? How did you launch a successful social selling program at your company?

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