In a world redefined by a global pandemic many businesses are rapidly shifting toward a “hybrid business” model in which some employees work from home and others work in the physical office. For many employees, remote work has been easily facilitated by rapidly improving technology for virtual meetings, cloud-based applications and remote collaboration. But remote working skills alone aren’t sufficient to facilitate a return to normal for technology sales, where the culture for generations has been built on face-to-face meetings, handshakes, and a good bit of wining and dining. So what does a hybrid business model mean to sales, and is social selling the answer to meeting the challenge?
Long before the pandemic, many sales leaders were skeptical of social selling, believing digital relationships could never replace walking the halls and knocking on doors. While we’ve seen a significant shift in interest toward social selling in the last 18 months—along with endless coaching and training programs popping up to meet demand—we still see a lot of healthy skepticism from sales leaders, particularly around techniques and best practices. In this post, we’ll cover some of the basic realities around social selling, and useful approaches for both teams and for individual reps.
Tuning a Sales Organization for the New Normal
One of the biggest challenges for sales teams finding their way to a “new normal” is the ongoing uncertainty around public health guidelines. While your company may have a clear return-to-work policy, there’s no guarantee your customers follow similar protocols, or whether their workplace is subject to public health policies different from your own. To make matters worse, rules and conditions are changing so regularly the best definition of “new normal” is really “continuous disruption”. That, in effect, is what sales organizations need to plan for, and what a good social selling program will address.
For sales organizations, continuous disruption requires continuous adaptation and agility. Where your old selling patterns have been disrupted—like not being able to visit a customer—you need a process for continually testing new ways to stay connected and engaged. Similarly, you need to continually test your sales organization for skills that help you meet customers wherever they are right now.
A well-trained social SDR can navigate social networks to identify prospects, reach out effectively to engage, and transition qualified prospects to a traditional sales pipeline
Using SDR Teams for Social Market Development
One of the best ways we see companies investing in agility with social selling is through social market development: engaging new customers in new markets or segments, often through an SDR team. Market development lends itself to short, repeated campaigns that test your approach until you find a foothold, which is a perfect environment for trying out new social selling tools and techniques, from lead gen campaigns on LinkedIn to virtual roundtables or Clubhouse chats.
SDR teams are often comprised of junior members of the sales team, tasked with qualifying and developing leads among less strategic prospects, and working their way up toward higher value accounts. Typically on the younger side, SDRs are also more native to social media platforms and more comfortable with digitally-based relationships. A well-trained social SDR can navigate social networks to identify prospects, reach out effectively to engage prospects on social networks, and transition qualified prospects to a more traditional sales pipeline.
If you have seasoned sales reps uninterested in learning new social selling tricks, but with the relationships and experience to continue selling successfully through disruption, pair them up with social SDRs on a market development campaign. Have the team work together to identify prospects and addressable segments on LinkedIn, have the SDRs focus on social outreach to engage and qualify prospects, and then make introductions to set up more traditional meetings with AEs. The process of working together in parallel via social and traditional channels while problem-solving the approach to find new prospects is a perfect way to develop and share knowledge while building cohesion—certainly better than compelling your entire team to follow the same cookie-cutter social selling program.
The biggest pitfall to this approach is when sales development reps are trained as “door kickers” and try to bring an aggressive smile-and-dial strategy of reaching customers to social media. Aggressive approaches and automated communications don’t translate well to social media, which is one of the key culprits we see when social selling campaigns fail. Effective social market development campaigns most often utilize an inbound SDR approach, putting a compelling value proposition and quality content in the hands of rising reps eager to develop their role as a trusted advisor to customers on social networks.
You can develop trust and build relationships through digital social channels, it just takes a different approach, and in some cases, a different attitude and skill set.
Rules for Making Better Social Selling Connections
Like all selling, social selling is about building relationships and developing trust. Some sales professionals will tell you that’s impossible to do without meeting face-to-face, and for some products and some people that is certainly true. But millions of transactions happen every day without face-to-face meetings, and those numbers are only growing. You can develop trust and build relationships through digital social channels, it just takes a different approach, and in some cases, a different attitude and skill set.
The first step is internalizing the three cardinal rules of prospecting from the perspective of the customer, as noted by one of our own sales advisors, Mike McDermott:
- Don’t waste my time
- Take something off my plate
- Prove to me you can get the job done
Sure, your reps have memorized battle cards and playbooks, and have a drilled script with answers to every objection. But the overwhelming majority of outbound attempts fail at rule 1 because the reps bypass any meaningful prospecting research. Nearly every business presumes their solution is right for every customer they target, and won’t invest in the due diligence required to validate how their solution is relevant to the prospect they’re trying to connect with.
While you could train your SDRs to do meticulous research on named accounts before outreach, a simpler solution is to boost highly targeted posts on social networks and reach out to prospects that react. I hear managers complain all the time about only getting “likes and follows”. Well, those likes and follows are identifiable prospects that can be qualified for outreach, and the degree to which you’re generating them tells you how well your audience and message is targeted. The question isn’t how many likes and follows you get, it’s whether they’re the right people liking and following your posts, and what you do to follow up.
Focus first on making a meaningful connection with prospects based on your shared professional interests, not delivering a pitch.
Fundamental Skills for Social Prospecting
Whether you’re training a dedicate SDR team for market development or trying to train all your reps for social marketing fundamentals, there are a few best practices beyond the typical Top 10 list that we emphasize with all our customers.
- Optimize your LinkedIn profile for selling, not for finding a job. Prospects aren’t interested in whether you’re the top seller at your company or how much sales revenue you generated. In fact, too many of those details, or a clever job title summary that trumpets your selling prowess, may put them on defense. Prospects are interested about how much you know about the problem they’re trying to solve and how well you care about your customers. Join groups and add skills and interests that reflect a shared interest with your customers around the solutions you sell, and ask for reviews from satisfied customers you’ve helped.
- Prune your network. Most social network algorithms prioritize the content you post for placement in front of people in your network who are likely to find it interesting. If your network is dominated by friends from school or family members, your business-related content won’t travel far. If you’re not already following customers, add them to your network and start seeking out thought leaders and influencers with similar interests. That will improve the likelihood your posts will find a receptive audience.
- Share a regular cadence of content your customers care about. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and think about the challenges they’re trying to solve. Share objective industry posts that speak to those problems and solutions without trying to turn every post into a pitch for your own offers. Instead, embrace the role of trusted advisor and take an interest in trying to inform customers at least 3x more than you promote solutions. Yes, it takes some time and effort, but it builds credibility with prospects when they see you’re both informed and informative.
- If you’re working on a team, optimize your key phrases. When customers search on a social media platform, mechanisms similar to those that drive SEO determine the order of results. If several people in your organization use the same target key phrases on their profiles, they’ll typically rank higher in related search results than individuals with similar profiles.
- Focus first on making connections, not delivering a pitch. Receiving a pitch in a connection request or LinkedIn inmail is like receiving spam—it’s clear from the start your intentions are transactional, and it puts prospects on defense. Instead, focus first on just making a meaningful connection based on your shared professional interests. Once you make the connection, your cadence of posts as a trusted advisor will help nurture relevance and open opportunities.
Obviously this is just scratching the surface, but these are some of the key issues we focus on in workshops with sales and marketing reps. When we work with sales organization leaders, we also emphasize selecting for social media skills when hiring new reps, and using gamification programs and social campaigns through platforms like SocialRep to identify and elevate reps with a knack for developing meaningful connections and conversations with customers.
Building an effective social selling approach does take commitment and effort, but never has it been more clear that an investment in social media is an investment in the future of your sales organization. Whether by affinity or the necessity of remote working in a hybrid business world, more buyers are using the same tools at work that they use for personal purchasing decisions at home—they’re searching for solutions online, finding influencers who post content they find informative, and finding people with shared interests online who can help them make smarter decisions. It’s important that you’re able to meet them there.