Social media is having a profound impact on the sales profession. For decades, an important way to verify a salesperson’s claim to an extensive business network was to find out how many names, phone numbers and email addresses they had in their contacts lists. That’s old school now.
To compete for the best jobs, salespeople must have a strong social media network. Recruiters and hiring managers increasingly ask how many followers the candidate has on social media. This phenomenon illustrates the rising importance of social selling in the sales profession. It doesn’t mean that personal relationships and Rolodexes are less important. It does mean, though, that the high end of sales performance is increasingly driven by social media effectiveness.
Today’s most common start of the buyer’s journey is on the internet, and social media is capturing an increasing share of that market. While marketing departments are driving the growth in social ad spending, savvy sales executives can read the writing on the wall: they are integrating social media into their sales strategies.
Social Selling 1.0
In the first era of social selling, or Social Selling 1.0, salespeople built follower lists in social media accounts by creating attractive social profiles, following others, making interesting posts and liking or sharing other posts. The result was the occasional lead, which was then qualified and moved into the sales funnel.
But some salespeople broke far away from the pack. They built massive follower lists, sometimes in the tens of thousands, rivaling individual companies. They developed a regular stream of social media inquiries, and their close rates on these leads were very high. Why? Because their social sites conveyed a high level of expertise. Their posts were interesting and relevant. They were followed by influential people. They shared great posts from other influencers, and their comments on these posts were often insightful. So, when someone reached out to them with a business opportunity, the deal was theirs to lose. These salespeople represented the peak of Social Selling 1.0.
Social Selling 2.0
Whether you know it or not, a new era of social selling is in on the rise—Social Selling 2.0. High tech can now take social selling to a new level of impact. Social analytics, predictive modeling, NLP (natural language processing) and specialized social selling tools are further revolutionizing the sales profession. This category of social selling tech can help individual sales reps create more focused and responsive social networks that deliver better leads and increase close rates.
Many executives are unaware of the new technical advances in social selling. It is a major challenge just to keep up with the impact of social media on marketing or the rapid advances in CRM. Or, they are trying to integrate inbound and outbound marketing funnels and coordinate digital and traditional marketing efforts. Or, they are struggling to deliver promised ROIs on their current martech stack. No wonder the emergence of Social Selling 2.0 is not yet common knowledge.
But clever executives know this is the perfect formula for gaining a competitive edge. They can leap ahead of the competition by embracing Social Selling 2.0.
The Secret Ingredient: Analytics & NLP
The concept of social selling is now integral to digital marketing. So are AI and personalization or creating a responsive customer experience. Social has been a part of the marketing landscape for years now. The current challenge in social marketing is having a real, measurable impact on the lower funnel—the sales funnel. Social is increasingly a legitimate strategy for lead generation and business acquisition.
Social media plays a vital role in both B2B and B2C organizations. It’s the platform where customers pick and choose vendors, products, and business partners. It’s where sometimes your sales numbers are reflected in the number of positive reviews on your Facebook page.
Marketers are quickly adding analytics, predictive modeling, and NLP (natural language processing) to the martech mix, and it is revolutionizing digital marketing. The same is emerging in Social Selling 2.0. These technologies can help sales organizations ingest customer buying cues into a result-driven sales model. By combining social media with NLP and analytics, you can:
- Uncover from online conversations new insights about how your brand is perceived.
- Keep an eye on the competition and the messages they are sending.
- Identify who your best customers are and build profiles for them.
- Create targeted content that is tightly aligned with trending topics.
- Discover and nurture leads with a personal online presence.
While the first three benefits are native to most marketing strategies, the last two are still untapped by most sales and marketing departments. Further, with Social Selling 2.0, the first three tactics can be implemented for individual sales territories and salespeople.
Identify Trending Content with AI
AI that writes content is old news. But what about AI that brings to light trending topics from your industry, ranging from popular events that happen as we speak to hashtags, developments and strategies that create noise on social media? Once salespeople have a live feed of relevant online chatter, they can push content that targets specific audiences and topics.
Social Selling 2.0 is all about helping salespeople become subject matter experts on trending topics and events that are highly relevant to their target customers and prospects. But it requires an investment. The company needs to invest in social AI, NLP, and analytics. And salespeople need to invest their time to assemble and post daily, weekly or bi-weekly content pieces based on what their social media tech is guiding them to do in their target markets.
Enhancing Social Presence
To implement Social Selling 2.0, there are a few key considerations to bear in mind. First, salespeople need to define their social sales persona. Second, companies need to build a social selling model supported by advanced technology.
1. What Is Your Sales Persona?
To answer this question, salespeople can start by thinking more carefully about why having a presence on social media is important to them. Sales professionals rarely gauge the importance of being present online. But there is tremendous potential in social media; from interacting with customers or prospects socially and pushing relevant and timely social content. The potential benefits include:
- Appear as an expert in your field.
- Position yourself favorably with a set of particularly valuable customers.
- Professionally represent your brand.
- Build a critical mass of meaningful posts and use them to create conversations with targeted buyers.
- Help prospects move through the digital portion of the sales funnel and increase their favorable disposition toward you along the way.
Once a salesperson’s persona is defined, the next step is to create an online business card. Here are some tips on doing it effectively:
- Have a professional photo. Like it or not, first impressions matter, so feel free to choose a corporate photograph that showcases your sales persona best.
- When creating your profile, use the headline and summary sections to reveal your skills and expertise. This is an open invitation for buyers to ask you questions and an opportunity for you to help them navigate a field that you master. Salespeople need to appear affable, open to conversation and fun, quick-witted, or clever.
- Set up alerts to keep track of your most important leads: job changes, promotions, published content. This helps you understand more about these contacts, especially their passions and hobbies. Then you can relate to them more effectively during the sales process.
- Post often and post relevant. Base your posts on industry trends, company content, industry benchmark reports, and ‘how-to’ videos. Always be in the know when it comes to the most consumed content: an infographic may be popular today, however tomorrow it could be something else.
2. Building an Advanced Social Selling Model
Technology plays a vital role in advancing to Social Selling 2.0. Most salespeople cannot create a highly responsive and tailored social selling model on their own. But with a modest investment in social monitoring tool licenses and an analytics resource, sales executives can lay the foundation for an innovative way to grow the pipeline. The basic Social Selling 2.0 kit to get this going is described below.
- Social Media Monitoring Tools. Some excellent social monitoring tools include Crimson Hexagon/Brandwatch, Synthesio, and Sprinklr. And there are many more. These allow you to capture online conversations on topics of your choice, from your competitions’ customer complaints to new buyer triggers. These tools can be set up based on your business needs, your products and services and are able to listen to worldwide conversations in over 10-15 languages.
- Predictive Modelling, Data Mining, Data Assessment. The best of these tools use AI or machine learning. They transform unstructured social data into meaningful information. NLP can be managed by experienced analytics professionals and then disseminated down to individual sales reps. There are many open-source tools that can also aid in getting this done. The end product is an individualized dashboard that displays close-to-real-time social media activity: customers that just said they are completely dissatisfied with your competitors services, someone who is searching for something similar to what you are selling, customer reviews about your brand, drilling down to who they are and how you could get in touch with them to make your pitch.
- Message and Follow-Up Cadence. The natural next step is to create a messaging strategy that speaks to how you can help buyers as they move through their journeys. Multi-medium messaging strategies work especially well. For example, use social media to identify targets and make initial contact, then follow up via email or phone to qualify and set up an in-person meeting, then close the business in person. If most of your sales are done via phone, then just use the first two steps. There is no secret recipe on the best social selling model. Often your previous customer behavior and closing patterns may indicate the best way to design the cadence.
- Reporting/Sales Tools. The reluctance to log all sales activities into a tool is more common than you think. However, this needs to happen systematically, so you can measure your results and realign the sales processes based on the analytics derived from your data.
There is no better time to advance your social listening than today. Your competition may already be upgrading their social selling model. More importantly, your prospects, existing clients, and other industry influencers are already engaged in social conversations. So, every minute you wait postpones your ability to influence those conversations by adding relevant insights.
A fully leveraged social selling model cannot be created by individual salespeople. It needs to be built and implemented with advanced social media technology, and through a coordinated effort between sales and marketing. Lastly, it must be founded on data-based projections on how improved social listening can increase sales and profits.