The Basics of Social Selling: How to Educate & Engage your Buyers Early

Social Selling is simply no longer optional for salespeople, if you have not already done so then it’s time to grasp the nettle. I’ve mentioned many, many times previously that B2B buyers have evolved, they are active in the digital world. They spend time researching companies and their product offerings long before they launch an active buying cycle. If you are a salesperson and are not active in the digital world of Social Selling then you are at a disadvantage, ultimately having to work far harder to make quota. If you are a sales leader, its high time to invest at least a small part of your training budget in supporting your teams development as social sellers.

Social Selling is based upon the theory of Six Degrees of Separation … “everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world”. Putting this theory into practice and investing the time to cultivate your network will expand your reach and, done correctly, position you as a thought leader in the eyes of your customers and prospects ready for a time when they need you. These days just about everyone has a LinkedIn profile but far less are following a thoughtful plan to maximise social selling success, it’s time to work smarter !

How do I get Started with the Basics?

I believe that the three fundamental building blocks of Social Selling success are :-

  1. The Scale of your Network.
  2. The Relevance of the Content being posted.
  3. The Value of your Interactions.

The quality of each of these basic building blocks is critical, by investing a small amount of time everyday to improve each of these three areas anyone can improve their social selling skills.

Which Social Networks Should I Focus Upon?

If you are engaged in selling to business customers then the two most appropriate networks with the highest number of registered users worldwide are 1) LinkedIn, circa 347 million users and 2) Twitter, circa 288 million users and this is where you should start. The other social networks (Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat etc.) are primarily geared towards consumers which doesn’t make them ideal vehicles for cultivating strong business to business relationships. Most people prefer to keep business and personal digital lives somewhat separated.

The Importance of the Scale of your Network

The basic rule of social selling is this … the greater the number of connections or followers that you have the greater the reach of your posts and the higher the probability that a potential customer will read and interact with your post. However, while the size of your network is important, the quality and influence of your connections also has a huge impact upon your social selling success. While you should be focused on growing your network and adding to the volume of people with whom you are connected, size is not the only important measure. You should also strive to connect with influential people (as they are probably connected with other influential people) and people within the companies that are important to you as they will definitely be connected with others in those companies.

What Should I Post?

Your goal is to educate and engage potential buyers prior to them formally engaging in a sales / buyer relationship and that means that you need to work very closely with your colleagues in Marketing. It’s probable that your Marketing partners have developed a Content Marketing plan and are publishing numerous articles across all digital media. If you are in a position to use expertly prepared professional content then do so, post content on both LinkedIn and Twitter that is relevant to potential buyers. I define “relevant” content as something that adds insight and value to your buyer in their buying role. Content such as success stories, thought-provoking insights, how to’s, top tips, check-lists etc. all provide value to clients and prospects in your network helping you educate and engage them early. Avoid posting the latest maths problem, word-search or any other non business focused content. Low relevance, or put a little more bluntly, posting rubbish, will quickly see your posts “hidden” from view as your connections strive to keep their feed useful.

I would also highly recommend that you utilise one of the free tools that help you organise your posting schedule. Check out services from Buffer, Hootsuite, Oktopost or Sendible.

How should I Connect & Interact ?

There is an etiquette to social selling. My advice is this … pay it forward. Look to be helpful, offer people something of value and expect nothing in return. Stay focused on the bigger picture, your plan is to educate and engage over time so that your connections turn to you at their time of need, don’t expect immediate payback. When sending a connection request on LinkedIn always explain why you want to connect and ensure that your reasons are relevant to them. Just as in the physical world, connection requests without explaining the reason are poor form and may lead to you being ignored, as are cold messages trying to sell something without any understanding of the persons context. Always ask yourself … am I adding value before pressing the send button !

Twitter is a little different, you can freely “Follow” anyone and I recommend that you do. Seek out all of your prospects and customers, follow them and regularly read their Tweets to gain insight into their world. Twitter is often a great way to engage senior people, 120 characters demands that your messages are short, sharp and direct.

It’s time to work smart, in fact its past time, if you are not using Social Selling to educate and engage customers then you are already behind the curve. Being present is no longer an option, if you’re not actively social selling then expect your customers to be turning to your competitors who are. Dive in and explore what’s possible, your pipelines will be better for it !

Extrovert, Introvert or Ambivert and How it Impacts Sales Performance

Those of you who have read any of my previous posts will know that I believe the role of B2B salespeople is in a period of transformational change, the behaviors and traits valued so highly by Sales Leaders and the Executive Suite in the past are evolving to be replaced by a set of behaviors built upon the foundation of curiosity, insight and a deep desire to help customers achieve their desired outcome. (Take a look at my post here to see what I believe will be the cornerstone of skills for salespeople of the future.)

In this post I’d like to explore personality style and the impact it has on results in the new world of modern, professional selling.

Firstly, lets spend a few seconds thinking about the traditional persona of a successful salesperson, chances are you are using adjectives such as Personable, Friendly, Gregarious, Funny, Energetic, an Ideas person. You may also be using Demanding, Egotistical, Craves Attention, Shoots from the hip, focuses on new bright shiny objects etc. It will come as no surprise that the traits being described are those of an extrovert. In the old world, where information was scarce and the seller held the balance of power in the buyer / seller relationship, an extrovert, pumped up and energised by engaging with many different people, was often most successful. The persona of the brave, macho, selfish salesperson leading the charge and driven to overcome the enemy is one that many sales leaders continue to search for when hiring talent today.

Since my earliest days as a sales professional (over 20 years ago) I’ve personally struggled with this persona. I would not describe myself as an extrovert and if you needed to be strongly extroverted to be successful in your sales career then maybe I’d made a poor career choice. Experience is a wonderful teacher and over the years I’ve studied and learned what makes a salesperson successful. I’ve gained the confidence to go my own way, not follow the accepted route and ignore the general belief. Finally, science and research, has now vindicated my gut decision not to focus on hiring extroverts all of those years ago, the correlation between extraversion and strong sales performance is effectively ZERO (see Why Extroverts Fail, Introverts Flounder and You Probably Succeed).

I am a big fan of Dan Pink, his book “Drive” is one of the most insightful business books that I’ve read and I’m pleased to say his most recent book has had a similar impact on me. “Drive” confirmed, with science and research, that some of the counter-intuitive beliefs that I hold to be true, actually are. In “To Sell is Human” he’s repeated the feat and compiled data on the personality styles with the greatest correlation to sales success.

So here’s the good news … the personality style with the greatest correlation to sales success is that of the ambivert, the style that sits dead centre on the Introvert / Extrovert scale (see the chart). The people who are introverted in some situations and extroverted in others with the ability to flex between styles, this is where the greatest correlation exists. The bad news … the further you move away from the centre point the lower the correlation to sales success and as I explained at the beginning of this post, many of today’s sales leaders are still focusing on hiring extroverts.

Customers have changed, buying cycles have changed, salespeople are transforming and now sales leaders everywhere have the research to help guide their hiring decisions. It’s high time sales leaders evolved the traits and behaviors that they look for when hiring future stars.

When hiring sales talent in complex B2B environments avoid the extremes of personality. Prioritise and search for those people who are finely balanced, they have the curiosity and well honed listening skills associated with an introvert combined with the confidence and energy associated with an extrovert. Hiring is such a critically important aspect of building a successful sale team, all of the training and coaching in the world won’t help if you’ve hired the wrong people. You owe it to yourself and your team to spend a little more time searching for the traits that are scientifically proven to correlate with modern sales success and not those associated with the old world.

Salespeople … Be Your Customers Knowledgeable, Curious Coach.

In my previous post I discussed “Five Skills that Define the Outstanding Salesperson of the Future”, one of the skills I highlighted is what I like to call “being a curious and knowledgeable business coach”. In this post I will discuss this in further detail, highlight what this means for salespeople and how you should use this to strengthen your relationships with customers.

Research tells us that modern B2B customers do not engage a salesperson until they are circa 60% of the way through the buying cycle (see the HBR article : The End of Solution Sales). Lots of information that customers use to make a purchasing decision can be collected without engaging a salesperson. Researching solutions, ranking providers, benchmarking pricing and gathering reviews can all be completed before ever talking with a salesperson. Technology and the onset of social media has enabled this power shift towards the buyer and it’s a trend that is only going to accelerate.

These days, this is old news. I think even the most doubting salespeople will agree that the buyer journey has evolved and in order to continue to be deemed valuable salespeople need to change too. With such a short window of opportunity in the new buying cycle, how do salespeople make an impact and differentiate themselves from their competition ? The good news is that the individual salesperson, if they have the skills and behave in the appropriate way, can still make a hugely valuable contribution to their customers success. What’s more the length of your sales-cycles will reduce as customers are much further through their buying cycle before they engage, that’s an added bonus !

Here are my top three tips on how to make the transition to being your customers knowledgeable, curious coach :-

  1. Cultivate strong role acumen : You need to be relevant, this means understanding your customers job in detail. Process, outcomes, measurements, challenges, competitors, winners, losers – you name it, you need to know about it. You must have a sufficiently deep understanding of your customers job that you could effectively step into their shoes. This is hard and it demands that you specialise and focus, you ought to be able go deep and still be comfortable with the conversation. This moves past having a vertical market specialisation, this is about truly understanding the challenges of a role within a vertical market, being able to genuinely empathise and then share insights on how to get to the required outcome. You will not be able to achieve this if you are unable to specialise, you must create a way of gaining a sufficiently deep understanding not a broad yet shallow one.
  2. Be an inquisitive sponge : Read, listen, study, watch, discuss, comment, learn and repeat. There is no shortage of content, insight and learning available to salespeople today. How you do it is down to individual preference and learning styles, but make no mistake, you should soak up every piece of available insight about your customers role, company, and market that could give you an edge. If you don’t feel that you have the knowledge to successfully step into your customers shoes then find ways to develop yourself until you do. Commit to the this, don’t wait for others to provide the opportunity for you to learn, be proactive, seek out ways of improving your domain expertise.
  3. Live the Values of a Coach : The definition of a coach is “someone whose job it is to teach people to improve”. I believe that a sales persons role is to teach people and therefore companies to improve by utilising whatever it is that you are selling (and sometimes by avoiding what you are selling when it doesn’t fit). Coaches first and foremost watch, listen and learn. They ask challenging, thought-provoking questions that help people simplify and break challenge’s down into manageable chunks. A coach guides and supports people on their journey to improvement and will always look at situations through the lens of “improvement”, they will not hold back or avoid giving difficult advice if it would help obtain an improved outcome. Next time you prepare for a customer meeting, take off your salesperson hat and put on your coaches hat, how does that change the way you prepare for your meeting ?

Buyers have changed, buying cycles have changed and they won’t be going back. Salespeople now have a choice, change and stay relevant to your buyers or stubbornly stick with what worked in the past. Change is never easy, it takes hard work and dedication, yet this is exactly how the top 1% of salespeople get to be a member of that exclusive club … will you choose to be one of them ?

Five Skills that Define the Outstanding Salesperson of the Future

If you have a spare minute today, do a quick search of social media and take a look at the volume of articles posted discussing the future of selling and how the role of the salesperson is changing. Headlines such as “1 million B2B Sales Jobs will Vanish by 2020” grab your attention and strike fear into many. There is no doubt that the role of a salesperson is evolving but are things really as bad as the headlines suggest ?

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that buyers have changed, the buying process has changed and the balance of power between the buyer and salesperson has radically shifted towards the buyer. Buyers are more informed, have faster, easier, access to knowledge and are well-connected to experts in their industry. All of this ensures that buyers are much farther through the buying process before they even consider engaging a salesperson and when they do, they often know exactly who they intend to engage.

In this context it’s easy to understand how the historic persona of the salesperson who is a brave, hard charging, lone wolf capable of breaking down doors to find and close the deal is no longer relevant. The days when salespeople where able to engage buyers in discussion around commodity products sold in a transactional manner are gone forever to be replaced by fast efficient technology that enable buyers to self-serve and complete the buying process without ever engaging a salesperson. If you are a seller in this type of commodity, transactional market then I’m afraid you will either change or become extinct. My advice, take steps to develop yourself and find another role soon, before the decision is made for you.

At the other end of the seller spectrum the future is very bright. I believe the need for professional salespeople who are thought leaders, able to add value throughout the buying process and take pride in helping their customers be successful will continue to grow. The traits and skills of individuals who operate successfully in this context are however very different to those that have proved successful in the past. So what are some of the traits and skills needed for future success :-

Collaborator : the successful salesperson of the future will be an outstanding collaborator, someone who thrives on working WITH their customers, in sequence with the buying process and helping enable the customer to buy. (Note: while I said working WITH customers that does not mean that you always agree with their point of view.)

Thought Leader / Educator : expertise in content marketing, an active presence on social media and a willingness to participate in networking discussions are a prerequisite for today’s salesperson. The ability to create a close partnership with colleagues in Marketing is important. The successful salesperson spends more time educating and developing their thought leadership to engage potential customers very early in their buying process, sometimes years before they have an active requirement.

Curious & Knowledgeable Business Coach : Salespeople will have a deep understanding of their customer, their customers industry and issues effecting their customers business. They will have specific domain knowledge, be curious and capable of asking insightful questions that drive their customers business forwards. A coach is someone who is accountable for helping the individual being coached develop and perform at a higher level, this is a great description of the successful salesperson of the future.

Generates Referrals & Recommendations : Salespeople of the future will pride themselves on collecting recommendations and referrals from delighted clients. Word of mouth and introductions from happy customers will be the pre-eminent method of lead generation. Traditional “Cold Calling” morphs into “Warm Calling” and proves to be far more effective.

Closing is the Natural Conclusion : Great Closing skills that manipulate a client to buy outside of their buying process are no longer deemed a strength. Salespeople of the future will close deals as the natural conclusion to the buying process where knowledge and insight has delivered value from the start and differentiated the salesperson from their competition.

The profession of selling is going through a period of radical change brought about by technology disrupting traditional processes, like many other professions. I believe that we are at the “tipping point” where selling will become regarded as true profession and the standards, skill levels and ethics of those employed in sales roles will be of the very highest level. Darwin’s “Origin of Species” quote describes the salespersons current predicament perfectly It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”