Sales & Marketing - Social Selling: B2B Sales 2.0 Has Morphed!

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March 31, 2011
Sales & Marketing
Carol Verret - carol@carolverret.com

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The term social selling is relatively new; the first reference listed on Google was March 2009.  However, that said, there are 226,000,000 pages on Google that mention the term. Yes, that’s million.  This author has been using the principles of social selling in sales training programs for several years, but the term only came to light recently. 

There may be a good reason for that. The first in depth and objective paper on this process came from Ogilvy One, formerly Ogilvy and Mather, in a paper written and published in Social Commerce Today in December 2010.  Brian Fetherstonhaugh, chairman and CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide, the interactive marketing and consulting arm of the Ogilvy Group,  published  [http://sellorelse.ogilvy.com/] an interesting research report on the future of selling.

The OgilvyOne report is based on surveys of over 1,000 sales people across the world.  The following graph may explain why the term is just beginning to be used in this country. 

Notice that the smallest percentage of sales people that believed social media helps sell was the United States, the lowest of any of the countries polled.  Note China had the highest percentage – can anyone say competiveness?  The report goes on to say that 91 percent of U.S. sales people indicated that their companies do not train them in the use of social media in sales compared to 78 percent in China.

It is interesting to note that almost all of the material on social selling, apart from the reference to OgilvyOne’s report, is contained on blogs.  This is interesting and appropriate in the fact that blogs are social media. 

So what is social selling?  Social selling represents a paradigm shift in the way sales people conduct their sales processes.   Previously it was a linear process: prospect, qualify, present, negotiate, overcome objections and close.  It has now become a circular process in which the prospect or customer and the sales person are now engaged with each other in the context of social media.

This is in large part due to the shift in consumer behavior and how they buy.   Axel Schultze and Andy Rudin in a whitepaper entitled “The Principle of Social Selling” subtitled “Not Your Father’s Sales Process – Social Selling Changes Everything” described this change this way. “Prospects don’t buy the same way. They ‘Google’ things, then ask their trusted networks, peers and friends and bring clear pricing expectations to their (buying) conversations.” 

In a blog post by Umberto Milletti, CEO InsideView [http://www.insideview.com/],  he characterizes it as developing social intelligence. Milletti writes, “Sales professionals are starting to seize the power of social intelligence to augment ‘what they know about who they know’ with ‘when and where they should know’ it to ensure they engage the right people at the right time with the right message.” (blog, Sales2.0)

So what are the elements of social selling?  Most of the references to social selling agree with these three:

Listen.  Listen to what your prospects and clients are saying on social media.  This serves two purposes: you can incorporate the key words that appear in conversation most often into your content and interaction with them. Second, you gather social intelligence defined as the triggers – circumstances or events that signal a prospect’s readiness to make a ‘buying’ decision.

Connect with them. Hang out in their social neighborhoods.   Select your fans and communicate with them or on LinkedIn join the groups that they belong to so that you get to know each other.

Engage.  Engagement is different from connection.  Engagement is when you enter in to social conversations about relevant topics such as business conditions in their industry, challenges they’re facing, and opportunities in their industry. 

All of the above are important differences in the sales process, but it is also important to know when to take the conversation offline – out of the platform.  When you perceive a buying signal or the conversation becomes one on one, it is time to suggest that you continue it via e-mail, phone or personal appointment.  Social media are not the places to have a buying conversation or close the business.

Social media is a powerful tool and opens up the universe of prospects to many that would have been either inaccessible using traditional sales processes or minimally far more difficult to locate.  It’s also free!   Managers need to accept it as a sales tool and not a diversion and to find ways of measuring social activity in sales reporting. 

The point is that social media is no longer just one more thing to do–it is becoming an integral part of the sales process. Those sales professionals that learn how to use it wisely will prosper in the upcoming recovery–those that don’t will wonder why their cold calling strategy is no longer working as well as it did in the past.

Carol Verret and Associates Consulting and Training offers services in the areas of sales, revenue management and customer service. She can be reached at (303) 618-4065 or by e-mail at carol@carolverret.com.

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