If you think “social selling” is just the latest marketing buzzword, then spend a half hour checking out the websites of the startups covered on TechCrunch on VentureBeat each day. Every one of these dynamic young technology firms, which are raising millions of dollars in venture capital funding, has one or more blogs and multiple social network accounts. This at a time when the most recent research by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth finds that blogging among the Fortune 500 is actually on the decline.
What these growing companies understand that many big corporations apparently don’t is that the terms of engagement with customers have changed. Forrester Research last year reported that three-quarters of B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before ever contacting a sales representative. Study after study has documented the fact that buyers don’t want pitches any more, and they have an unprecedented arsenal of tools to tune them out.
Increasingly, the only sales tactic that works is relationship selling, and relationships are inherently social. Panelists at the Social Tools Summit in Boston yesterday reinforced this message in a discussion of how social selling is changing customer relationships and transforming the role of sales rep into relationship manager.
“Each sales person is now a marketing department of one,” said Amanda Healy (@Amanda_Healy), senior marketing campaign manager at Tibco Software Inc. “You need to be constantly marketing not only your company but yourself.”
The sales process now begins with having a robust and professional profile in social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter, Healy added, because “Your first impression is going to be a digital one.”
And that impression may not necessarily be strictly professional. Depending on the prospect base, geography, demographics and other customer characteristics, salespeople might choose to highlight other aspects of their backgrounds or personalities to create a richer base for discussion.
For example, one representative of Dassault Systemes Americas Corp. chose as his profile photo a high-school snapshot of him in his football uniform. “Not everyone likes football, but for people in the Texas territory he was serving, it was a great way to humanize and set the stage for a story,” said David Gadarian (@DavidGadarian), senior manager of digital & social media marketing at Dassault.
Dassault is one example of a company that’s ingraining the disciplines of marketing into the everyday routines of its sales staff. Quota pressure is eased while salespeople are coached to be more adroit in marketing themselves. A concept it calls “digital gravity” shows salespeople how to leverage the company’s marketing materials to positively influence prospects. “It’s part of developing their own business brands,” Gadarian said.
Mature organizations will invariably encounter resistance from sales to the idea of doing things differently. The social selling value proposition has to be encapsulated in terms that stress the sales benefit. “When speaking to sales, remember that the mentality is always ‘what’s in it for me?’” Healy wryly observed.
Start with baby steps. Stress to sales reps that a full LinkedIn profile has benefits to them personally as well as to the company. “Even if you aren’t outright selling for your company, you’re selling yourself,” Healy said.
Find the likely enthusiasts and court them first. That may mean taking your social selling ideas first to employees in Silicon Valley or those who serve entrepreneurial clients, said Karen DeWolfe (@KarenLoueez), vice president of sales at AwarenessHub Inc. Highlight success stories and the mounting evidence that relationship selling works better than cold calls.
The fact is that there there’s really no choice. “To quote Doctor Phil, ‘You’re either on the bus or in front of it,’ DeWolfe said. “Social selling is networking and relationship-building across a broad universe, and if you’re not learning how use it, you’re going to be out of it.”