Inside and Direct Sales: Become a Trusted Advisor with Social Selling

marketingThe imperative to embrace Social Selling is taking many sales departments by storm. From social CRM systems to LinkedIn’s new Social Selling metric, businesses are grabbing hold of sales enablement tools and play books that emphasize social media. On the surface, a lot of what’s going on looks like hype—another flavor-of-the-month trend that may be forgotten when the Next Big Thing comes along. But below the surface, there are some very real and significant trends that are pushing sales out of its comfort zone. 

Cloud Migration Demands New Sales Skills

One of the biggest trends upending IT sales enablement is the rapid migration of business systems and applications to the cloud. In the past, large companies had data centers and small companies had server closets, all jam-packed with servers, routers, monitors and other equipment that needed to be replaced on a predictable schedule every 18-36 months. On every machine, proprietary software needed to be installed, maintained, patched and updated, again with predictable life cycles. Many sales reps could field incoming orders in the morning and play golf in the afternoon.

“Sales reps have to speak to new stake holders, with new messages and new areas of subject matter expertise.”

Now, companies large and small can rent applications and processing power like a utility, only paying for what they need, scaling up or down on demand, and switching providers without being left with a mountain of unusable hardware to dispose. This is a massive disruption that is impossible to understate. Where sales reps have spent decades talking speeds and feeds with IT procurement geeks on a rinse-and-repeat buying cycle, now they must deal with line of business managers who have little IT experience and care about business problems and solutions more than hardware performance. From a sales enablement perspective, that means sales reps have to speak to new stake holders, with new messages and entirely new areas of subject matter expertise, often competing with more vendors for a slice of a smaller pie. No small challenge for a sales executive to manage.

embrace Social Selling

Buyers are Increasingly Shutting Out Sales Reps 

Another significant disruption is a deepening backlash against interruptive and high-pressure sales techniques. In the past, when the best source of information about a product was the sales rep—information about performance capabilities, system requirements, pricing packages—customers had little choice but to open their door to the sales pitch. They knew it was all one-sided spin on the best talking points for the product, but listening was the price of getting the information needed to make a decision. 

Today, customers can find a gold mine of sales intelligence on the web, from product review sites to peer forums like Quora, Reddit and Spiceworks, where buyers compare notes on every product they’ve purchased and the outcomes they experienced, both positive and negative. Buyers no longer have to suffer the pitch to get the information they need, and in growing numbers they’re stiff-arming sales reps and shutting them out of the decision-making process. 

“Sales reps are seen less as trusted advisors than as order takers.”

Repeated research from universities and analyst firms show that buyers today are completing 2/3s of their decision-making process before they ever engage a sales rep—they see reps less as trusted advisors than as order takers. Our own research with sales reps shows that win-loss rates drop precipitously the longer the buyer holds off engaging with a sales rep. If a buyer has shaped their decision to the point where they’re only interested in price shopping, margins drop as well.

embrace Social SellingPushback

The easiest place to see the impact of this pushback against traditional sales techniques is in the erosion of traditional lead gen performance, particularly email and telemarketing. Open rates have plateaued at roughly the 20% mark for years, with open rates in IT at a dismal 7%, and click-through rates at 1%, according to Epsilon’s benchmark report for 2016. And those open rates, by the way, are calculated from embedded images loading in emails, which happen automatically for many users when they scroll past an email in the preview pane. So take even those numbers with a huge grain of salt. 

The question today is: How are you going to fill your fancy CRM system? The answer certainly isn’t going to be turning up the volume on processes that are no longer performing, and yet that’s the only solution many companies can see. Meanwhile, customers are embracing social media as a way to learn about products and brands and to shape their opinions and purchase decisions, particularly millennial buyers who are increasingly taking over management positions at large companies. 

So while social selling certainly has the hyped up appearance of a major market fad, there are strong fundamental underpinnings to this trend. And if you sum up the challenges undermining traditional approaches to sales enablement, there are a handful of imperatives sales executives must address to be successful. 

1. Sales Enablement, particularly in B2B markets, must move beyond a transactional mindset of order fulfillment to a mindset of consultative selling. Decision-makers are looking for trusted advisors who can help them better understand their business problems in order to make smarter purchase decisions with their money. Sure, you can continue to take a transactional mindset—”How much are you able to spend? How soon are you ready to buy? Next!”—but expect your numbers to decline as solution sellers attract buyers to competing alternatives. The later in the purchase decision-making cycle you engage, the lower you can expect your win-loss ratio to fall. 

“Focus on sales enablement that empowers your reps with timely, relevant and objective information.”

2. Sales Enablement must focus on getting reps engaged earlier in the purchase decision-making cycle. This is particularly difficult as decades of hard selling and hyped marketing practices have conditioned buyers to mistrust sales reps. The solution is not to help your reps pester buyers earlier in the process with the same sales pitch. You’ll only push buyers away earlier. The solution is to enable your reps to become trusted advisors—if not Subject Matter Experts in their own right, at least well informed reps with their finger on the pulse of what’s keeping their prospects up at night. The best way to get engaged earlier in the decision-making process is to focus on sales enablement that empowers your reps with timely, relevant and objective information that helps buyers find answers to questions about business challenges and available solutions.

3. Sales Enablement must provide channels of engagement that are relevant to today’s buyers and their preferences. Let’s face it: buyers are putting up more filters to sales and marketing messages, and flocking to social media where they can access more objective opinions from their peers. If you’re not finding a way to join those conversations in an authentic and sustainable way, you’re going to lose out to competitors that can. Your reps need a game plan not only for networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, but for other, more specialized channels like Quora, Reddit and various industry forums. Joining the conversation does not mean converting your email spam to LinkedIn spam, or your “email nurturing campaigns” to automated social syndication spam. There is nothing social about turning your social selling tactics over to an automated algorithm. Buyers see through those efforts easily, and it simply confirms you’re not a trusted advisor. Your reps need to show up to the conversation well informed and ready to help. 

“There is nothing social about turning your social selling tactics over to an automated algorithm.”

embrace Social SellingInnovation as a Channel Marketing Solution

Our approach to sales enablement focuses on putting all the information your reps need to be trusted advisors into a single portal, with ready-to-share information for social media that addresses each stage of the buyer’s journey. Our patented intelligence engine mines the web for targeted, high-quality content on industry topics, which we syndicate to a sales enablement portal and match with your own thought leadership, product information and promotions for reps to share. With integrated sharing tools for every social network, SocialRep makes it easy for reps to rapidly build a cadence of timely and relevant information on the topics your customers care about most, SocialRep will help your team rapidly develop a reputation as a trusted advisor, and a following of prospects interested in their insights and industry perspective. We have the case studies and metrics to prove it. 

Because our platform tracks all social selling activity in social marketing and social selling, sales managers have real-time visibility into leading indicators of sales performance. We provide social selling training for all levels of expertise; our sales enablement platform offers campaign management and gamification to drive directed sales behavior; and generated leads can be easily exported to CRM systems for follow up.

To find out more about our platform and programs, schedule a demo today!