Outbound B2B sales are becoming less-and-less effective. In fact, a recent survey by Forrestor found that connecting with a prospect now takes 18 or more phone calls, callback rates are below 1%, and only 24% of outbound sales emails are ever opened. Meanwhile, 84% of B2B buyers are now starting the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.
Why are more-and-more buyers avoiding sales people during the buying process? Sales reps, according to Forrester, tend to prioritise a sales agenda over solving a customer’s problem. If organisations don’t change their outdated thinking and create effective sales models for today’s digital era, Forrester warns that one million B2B sales people will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by 2020.
Add social media to the sales mix
The answer to the shift away from reliance on outbound sales could reside in social selling, the strategy of adding social media to the sales professional’s toolbox. With social selling, sales people use social media platforms to research, prospect, and network by sharing educational content and answering questions. As a result, they’re able to build relationships until prospects are ready to buy.
Related: Sell Like A Human
This is different to social media marketing, where a brand engages many, aiming to increase overall brand-awareness or promote a specific product or service by producing content that users will share with their network. Social selling concentrates on producing focused content and providing one-to-one communication between the sales person and the buyer.
Both strategies create valuable content from the consumer’s perspective and use similar social networks and social software tools. But with social selling, the goal is for the rep to form a relationship with each prospect, providing suggestions and answering questions rather than building an affinity for the organisation’s brand.
Social selling can support the achievements quota and revenue objectives for multiple reasons. First, three out of four B2B buyers rely on social media to engage with peers about buying decisions. In a recent B2B buyers survey, 53% of the respondents reported that social media plays a role in assessing tools and technologies, and when making a final selection.
In addition, more than three-quarters (82%) of the B2B buyers said the winning vendor’s social content had a significant impact on their buying decision. A LinkedIn survey found that B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with a sales rep who provides new insights about their business or industry. Another survey showed that 72% of the B2B sales people who use social media report that they outperformed their sales peers, and more than half of them indicated they closed deals as a direct result of social media.
Social sales content also gets sales people involved earlier in the sales cycle, which means they’re more likely to define the criteria for an ideal solution or the ’buying vision,’ and thus, more likely to win the sale.
Align sales and marketing
It doesn’t take a significant amount of time to get started in social selling. B2B sales people only need to invest 5% to 10% of their time to be successful with social. Sales people should begin carving out a small percentage of their daily time for social media. Regular interaction with a prospect may not lead to a direct sale this week or quarter, but could result in a significant win within the year.
Sales people should also collaborate with their social marketing counterparts to make the most of their social efforts. Marketing can train sales people in social media systems, processes, and best practices. According to a survey, 75% of B2B sales people indicated they were trained in the effective use of social media. This training can encompass everything from working in specific social media channels to using corporate social media software, understanding the business’s social media guidelines, and orienting social media content around customer interests and needs, rather than on brand features, benefits, and prices.
What’s more, sales and marketing can collaborate on information to ensure that their efforts are aligned and to identify common goals and metrics that both teams can support. Since sales pride themselves on their one-on-one relationships with customers, they can discuss with marketing customer successes and concerns, changing customer needs, customer questions, and industry updates.
Creating a win-win for your business
Integrating systems and encouraging transparency will also go a long way. Salesforce, for example, emphasises the importance of improved communication between sales and marketing citing an App Data Room and Marketo study that found sales and marketing alignment can improve sales efforts at closing deals by 67% and help marketing generate 209% more value from their efforts.
One way to improve communication between sales and marketing is by creating a portal. BMC Software, a B2B IT solutions company, took this approach when they created BMC BeSocial, a secure portal where sales people can find content created by marketing and other employees to share by posting immediately or scheduling for later. The portal also provides guidelines, tips, and frequently asked questions on how to use social media.
Carlos Gil, the Head of Global Social Media Marketing for BMC Software, and his team of content creators, social media managers, socially engaged sales people, and other employees developed a well-articulated and tailored employee advocacy programme. BMC then leverages LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to deliver a mix of content — everything from eBooks, whitepapers, and blogs to videos, news, events, and updates.
For sales people and other socially engaged employees to get started, they sign up to BeSocial with their LinkedIn account and then select and share content curated by Gil’s business unit. The BeSocial portal makes social easy and fun, offering badges to gamify the experience, which provides an incentive to share. The portal and program are working. Social media is helping to raise awareness, increase percentage of mentions or share of voice compared to competitors, and drive global demand for BMC products and services.
After all, social media is too important to be left to marketing. In fact, a recent study found skilled social media sales professionals are six times more likely to exceed quota over peers with basic or no social media skills. It is time to get started with social selling and meet your prospects where they’re spending their time. Your organisation could be halfway there if marketing has already made the shift to integrating social media into their strategies. When marketing combines their long-game with the short-game of sales in social selling, it can be a win-win for both teams — and for your overall business.
© 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp.