Curated by @SimonCockingA guest blog by Simon Porter, VP Midmarket Sales, IBM Europe  @simonlporter

There are any number of impressive statistics about the growth of social media, of the main social platforms and of the level of social media activity, but what does it mean?

First of all, it is important to point out that for businesses social media is primarily a marketing and sales tool. It should therefore form part of the marketing mix in a clearly defined marketing plan and be a part of an integrated sales plan. On its own it will most likely be totally ineffective – in the same way as an isolated piece of advertising on its own is.

Nor should it be seen as a substitute for communicating and engaging with customers and prospects, but as an additional and cost effective method of doing so. Social Selling has the potential to dramatically boost your ability to identify new prospects, connect with new clients and reach entirely new markets – I have found that from personal experience. As defined by the Aberdeen Group social selling is the utilisation of three techniques: Social Collaboration, External Listening and External Participation.

I’m frequently asked to justify why social selling is worth the time. Some organisations promote social selling and provide social selling training for their sales teams, including IBM. Others still see it as a distraction, and believe that the sales team should be closing business rather than wasting time with social media. Think of it like the telephone – this has been a fundamental tool in the sales person’s kitbag for many years but was once seen as an unnecessary distraction. Social business is like the telephone in the early days – it’s a fundamental tool for the sales person of the future.

Overcoming this misconception is critical: social media and social selling can accelerate finding, managing and closing business. Indeed if you are selling solutions that involve Cloud or indeed Social or Mobile technologies then if you’re not social selling, you’re not engaging with your prospects at all. Also, the millennial generation have grown up with social tools, so as they become a larger part of your and your customer’s workforce this is how they work. While traditional selling involves reaching out to customers where you think they are or want them to be, if you get social selling right, you’re reaching people where they actually are, and you have them reaching out to you as well.

There are many studies available that demonstrate why you need to evolve your traditional methods to include social media, such as the fact that 60% of purchasing decisions have already been made, prior to a sales person being invited to the discussion.

Someone out there is educating and providing insight to your clients – if it isn’t you then it is probably your competition. 72% of sales people who use social media outperform those sellers who are not using social media. And companies that have a social selling team are 36% more likely to achieve quota.

If you still need to be convinced then please view these links:

Below are a few key reasons why I believe social selling should be a priority for all B2B sales organizations:

  1. It’s proven
    This time last year you could potentially argue that social selling was still new and unproven, but not any more. There are countless individual and team examples of how social selling is having direct impact on closing deals, finding opportunities, increasing the velocity of deals closing and more. At the end of last year, a company followed me on twitter (@simonlporter), I engaged with them to discover that they were a target prospect, and within 3 months the team had closed a large contract. This was a company not on any target list provided by marketing and had not been a client of IBM previously.
  1. The leads are the same, but come at a fraction of the cost
    Some of the best tools are free. You can simply use tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer to find buying signals from prospects you care about. There are also many paid tools that can be used to find and engage leads via social. Even the paid for tools can be used to attract the very same customers at a fraction of the cost of paid search and other digital campaigns.
  1. Your competitors aren’t there (yet)
    It is still surprising how many companies aren’t using social selling yet, even in the IT industry! This will change over the coming quarters, but right now your customers and prospects are sharing buying signals and pain points via social (including complaints about an incumbent product or service) and you may well be the first and/or only person to respond.
  1. It reaches prospects earlier in their buying cycle
    Once someone is ready to buy, you might be too late. If someone gives an explicit buying signal, more people are likely listening (and the prospect is most likely to be reaching out more actively and to more potential solution providers). But on social, you’ll hear about pain far before the prospect may think to research a solution. That puts you in a fantastic position to deliver immediate value and preference, not to mention higher conversion to sale
  1. You get to solve problems vs. sell solutions (a great position to be in)
    At the end of the sales cycle, you get to sell solutions. But before this you need to earn that right to do so by solving problems first. Only by identifying and quantifying problems that the prospect may or may not have known that it had do you earn this right. It provides first-mover advantage, and this is where social channels allow you to do much of the work up front.

  1. It doesn’t require a big following or a big social presence
    You don’t need tens of thousands of Twitter followers, nor do you need to be publishing 10 times a day to be relevant. While I would encourage you to publish regularly and to try to drive up your following, social selling isn’t actually about talking, it’s about listening. And listening means you spend far more time looking for other people’s buying signals vs. publishing your own. However you need to be focused – only a small fraction of what happens online matters to you. Use tools such as Hootsuite to spend your time listening to relevant people, looking for relevant social signals, and waiting to respond by providing the right value in return.
  1. It scales infinitely
    You can literally identify and nurture an infinite number of prospects via social. You are no longer gated by how many people you can call, or how many you can keep track of via Post-It notes, calendar reminders or even your CRM system. That scalability makes the efficiency and ROI of social selling incredibly lucrative.
  1. It gives your sales reps more control over relationship building
    The signals you’ll find via social are all over the place, and most of them won’t have anything to do with work. But that’s a good thing. Get to know what your prospects care about at work and at play. What else has their attention professionally, and how does that relate to what you’re selling or enabling? Also note what makes them tick elsewhere – family, football, whatever? Get to know how to build relationships, preference and velocity with your prospects.
  1. It increases velocity of engagement, preference & purchase among prospects.

As long as you’re authentic and focused on the customer-centric problems that ultimately lead to change and purchase, you will convert faster and at a higher rate than traditional prospects.

  1. You cannot opt out: If you’re not an active social seller then you’re a bad one

Even if you’re not an active social seller, you’re already being judged by your social profile. Prospects that you meet in more traditional selling situations are already checking your social profile and making judgements about you based on what they see. If you aren’t present or have a poor profile then it will reflect badly on you.

What can you do to get started on your Social Selling journey?

 

Start by ensuring that your social profile is in order:

  • Step 1: Establish social identities on the primary platforms: LinkedIn and Twitter (or Xing in the German speaking world).
  • Step 2: Refine your social presence (it is your personal shop window) – here is a great Infographic to start you off for LinkedIn
  • Step 3: Define who you want to be and what you want to say. We all have different areas of expertise (mine are #ibm, #smb, #midsizedbusiness, #cloud and #analytics), areas of interest (mine are #cloud, #mobile and #social) and personal interests (I happen to be an enthusiastic #runner, #diver and #sportscar driver). These traits define you – sticking with them will help you to come across as authentic.

Familiarise yourself with the best tool for the job:

Start to listen, and try some analytics and intelligence too:

Focus on what is important to you:

  • Step 7: Identify the prospects, contacts and influencers that matter to you and follow them. And for each group of target prospects or each focus topic you can then set up separate Twitter lists and use Hootsuite to track them. See the useful tips here http://blogs.salesforce.com/company/2014/04/twitter-lists-social-selling-resource-gp.html
  • Step 8: Focus on the signals that matter to you and to your prospects. If you are able then use some professional listening tools to refine this.

Finally get involved and make it part of your everyday routine:

  • Step 9: Start building your presence by posting interesting material, and more importantly by responding to and replying to what others post – social media is not about broadcasting, it’s about interaction. You will soon start to leave a trail of content and interactions that will bring prospects to you, rather than you always having to go and find them for yourself.
  • Step 10: Organise your routine in order to allow some time every day to be active. I start the day with a coffee and a 15min dose of social! You can use the automated features on tools such as Hootsuite to keep you active even when you are busy elsewhere – see http://blog.hootsuite.com/hoottip-schedule-pending-post/ and then keep going!

It just remains for me to wish you luck.  It is easy once you get the hang of it and you’ll quickly start to appreciate the value that it can bring to you and your sales teams.

 

 

 

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