Over 75% of sales reps equipped with proper social selling tools outperform their peers, making it clear that the landscape of buying and selling has drastically changed. Social media is largely responsible for this shift, as it continues to blur lines between our personal and professional spheres. It’s critical for businesses to adapt to this new way of selling, and to do that requires reinforcement at all levels of the organization.
Jill Rowley, Chief Strategist at #SocialSelling & Startup Advisor to numerous tech companies, sat down with us for a Q&A to provide some insight into the rise of social selling. Having spent 52 quarters on quota as a top performing rep and Social Selling Leader at Salesforce & Eloqua, Jill has largely been a part of bringing awareness and strategy to this growing segment within Sales teams.
Jill Rowley, an industry leader in the social selling space, is partnering with Bambu to provide valuable insight and advice for executing a successful social selling program.
What do you think has been the primary force driving increased spotlight on social selling?
The main reason social selling has gained such increased attention is primarily due to a change in the buying landscape, ultimately leading to an entirely new and different type of sale. The root of this change is all in response to the changing buyer.
Now, keep in mind that industries don’t change a specific approach or strategy because they want to, they change because they have to. And when you look at it through the lens of the customer, this shift was an imperative one to make. Today’s buyer is digitally driven and laser-focused on tech—from the start of their research, to education about a product or service they’re considering, to reaching out to peers for advice, all the way to closing the loop and sharing their experience to influence the next buyer.
Let’s say I read an interesting article and share it on my page, but I also tag a colleague who might find the topic especially relevant. Now this post gains visibility not just to my network, but to the network of the person I tagged as well. With two clicks, the reach and momentum of this article skyrocketed. It’s easy to see how quickly this can manifest.
Our buying journey today is simply more serendipitous than it used to be with traditional selling tactics. The “pounce-and-pitch” or “smile-and-dial” approach won’t cut it anymore in Sales—our buyers don’t want that. They want to be educated, they want to be engaged and they want to be sold to in an unobtrusive way. Adapting to these new requirements calls for a complete overhaul to historic selling tactics.
What are some common social selling pitfalls you see among businesses? Any advice for avoiding these missteps?
The biggest mistake I see companies make is executing a “1.0” strategy in a “2.0” environment. “Social Selling 1.0” was our first attempt at creating a strategy that fit in this new, digital era. It was an approach centered around the use of new tools like LinkedIn Navigator, hosting lunch-and-learns, sponsoring webinars or podcasts—and all of a sudden, we’ve mastered social selling!
Not so fast.
While many of these tactics are still present in “Social Selling 2.0,” individually, they’re just fragments that together make up the larger picture—not the whole picture on their own. This change was a pretty significant one for businesses to come to terms with. Social selling quickly evolved to represent something beyond just pushing as much content as possible, on whichever channels possible. “Social Selling 2.0” became focused on thoughtful strategy and wholesome understanding of our consumers, rooted in the shift away from using content for self-promotion and instead for buyer education.
Social selling comes down to one thing: Know thy customer. If you’re selling into a company, you need to know what’s going on in the space at an industry-level, down to what’s happening a company-level, and even all the way into what’s happening at your primary contact’s level. Is the company growing? Are certain divisions struggling? Why? How many stakeholders are present in the average buying committee? You need to have an intimate understanding of your buyer and their industry, and this is something that’s only achieved with purposeful research.
Businesses that try to to force old-school tactics into new-school networks will fail every time. It’s imperative to continually iterate your social selling approach to evolve alongside changing buyer needs. This segment of the market moves quickly, but if you keep education at the forefront of your strategy, you’ll be able to stay ahead of what’s next.
How involved should Sales leaders be in coaching employees’ social selling efforts?
If you want employee behavior to change, leadership has to be the one to drive it—and drive it at scale. A change this significant needs to happen at a company-wide level, there’s no way around it. This is where alignment really comes into play.
If a few reps decide cold outreach isn’t working anymore, and instead want to try approaching the sale from an educational angle, all you end up with are scattered moments of social selling that neither leaders nor reps can properly manage—let alone grow. In order for social selling to be effective, it needs to be viewed as a cultural shift as much as it is a shift in skillset. This begins and ends with leadership.
Sales reps, especially at entry-levels, look to their leaders for just about everything in their first few years. They’re extremely impressionable as they transition into their careers, and this is an opportunity for Sales leadership to take that opportunity to coach. Instead of having reps memorize talk tracks, teach them how to think logically. How to be reactive. How to be agile. If Sales leaders can infuse common sense and business acumen in their reps from Day 1, the results will speak for themselves.
I can’t reiterate it enough, Sales leaders are the most important champions for social selling programs.
It’s clear that Sales needs to ultimately own social selling, but are there other teams that should be involved in the execution?
Yes, absolutely. Sales and Marketing specifically have to work together—this is table stakes.
Content is the fuel for social selling. But, just as there are different types of fuel, there are also different types of content—each one satisfying a unique need and filling a different void. Marketing is likely your best suited resource to create original content, along with third-party thought leadership content and buyer-centric content speaking to elements beyond just your product’s capabilities. Dynamic content is critical in social selling, and Marketing should be brought in to arm Sales with these valuable assets whenever possible. There’s a good chance that Marketing also has a better handle on niche industries and the content that best resonates within those different verticals.
That said, while Marketing plays an important role in aggregating content and organizing a thoughtful strategy, the relationship between Marketing and Sales needs to be a two-way street—Marketing cannot execute social selling on behalf of Sales. Far too often, I see organizations assume that since Marketing owns social media, they also automatically own social selling.
This is a mistake. Social media and social selling have two completely different purposes, intended to create two completely different outcomes. As a result, the two need to to be executed separately.
By cultivating a relationship of collaboration instead of enablement, both teams position themselves to reap greater benefits in the long run. Sales reps won’t be able to transition interested prospects into a potential buyers if they aren’t at the helm of their strategy. In order to be effective in social selling, Sales has to ultimately own their program.
For companies that haven’t fully launched social selling, what are some foundational elements important for getting started?
Begin with a proof of concept and commit to it. So many companies get tripped up at the start, but you don’t need to launch social selling to the entire organization at once. While alignment is essential for scale and long-term success, you can start small and grow your program in a way that feels natural.
Try not to focus too much on internal demographics here—it’s not about rolling out the program to employees you think will be quickest to catch on, or employees you think need more time to adapt to change, but more about the external demographics of your audience. Shift your approach to be buyer-centric and look at it through their lens: Who are you selling to? Are there certain geographies further along in digital or social buying? Which platforms are they active on?
The most successful programs are rolled out with a mixture of skillsets. While one generation might be more familiar with technology or more comfortable pivoting, they might lack a diverse social network or strong business acumen, both of which can only developed with time and experience. Again, it’s about asking what your proof of concept looks like, and then committing to it from the inside-out.
Bottom line, you need money and you need buy-in if you want to change the habits of an entire team. In order to get social selling off the ground, there are tools and resources needed to support internal efforts that have to be worked into your budget. In other words, you have to make a business case for it.
Gaining executive buy-in begins by organizing your resources. This begins with Sales leadership and frontline managers. Your strategy won’t be effective if you have “2.0” salespeople reporting to “1.0” managers, so make sure the heart of your social selling program starts within your managers—from the way they coach all the way to how they measure success.
Training & Participation
Training and participation are absolutely critical for social selling adoption. You need leaders present at all ends of the spectrum—from coaching, to enabling, to reinforcing, all the way back to training. It needs to be embedded into your existing sales methodology and ingrained in existing sales processes. Integrate social selling with your CRM. Discuss and identify which metrics you want to track and how you’ll evaluate the program. Social selling shouldn’t stand alone as an isolated, one-off strategy—it should be weaved into every other component comprising your Sales culture.
One thing to keep in mind here though is balance. While it’s important to keep a pulse on your program’s performance, social selling is bigger than just “another avenue.” It’s an entirely new vehicle.
There are a variety of metrics you can look to that indicate how your social selling program is tracking. You can measure lead volume, decrease in cost-per-lead, increase in revenue, Social Selling Index improvement, ROI from training investments…there’s clearly no shortage of KPIs. That said, it’s important not to get too caught up in the numbers.
If you have a 6-9 month sales cycle, your team probably won’t recognize an immediate impact from social selling. However, this lag is not indicative of success (or lack thereof) and it certainly doesn’t imply that your efforts aren’t fueling buying decisions. This is where it gets tough to really, truly measure the effectiveness of this kind of approach. In fact, this is what makes social selling so different from traditional channels—it’s not linear, it’s fluid. The impact of social selling is recognized on levels beyond what we have the ability to measure, and it’s important to take that into consideration when reviewing your program.
How much of salesperson’s overall strategy should be dedicated to social selling versus other tactics?
Unfortunately, it really just depends. And it depends on a variety of elements—on your buyer, the makeup of your workforce, the nature of your industry…there are so many variables to consider. At the end of the day, social selling should comprise however much of a strategy the buyer calls for.
If a prospect wants to talk over the phone, jump on a call. If a prospect wants to DM you for more information, get on Twitter. If a prospect wants to engage via email, there’s your go-to medium. Go with what works, and when something stops working, make incremental changes to your strategy. If you’re consistently sharing articles on LinkedIn but not making any headway, maybe your buyers aren’t on LinkedIn—maybe they’re on Facebook. One small shift can make all the difference in social selling.
It can be difficult for sales reps to adjust to this new type of sale, especially if they’re set in their ways and tied to old habits. Social selling goes against everything the “old way” taught us—it’s not interruptive, but quietly helpful. It’s not promotional, but rather, prescriptive. It’s not about asking questions, but about starting conversation.
We no longer have to ask our prospects what keeps them up at night—chances are, they’re already talking about it. This allows salespeople to begin peeling back the layers before they even have their first phone call, which in turn, creates the opportunity to have much more meaningful conversation right out of the gate. The delicate balance sales reps have to achieve is how to manage time based on short-term goals while still finding a way to prioritize building long-term relationships.
And if you think about it, the true measurement of success isn’t in revenue. It’s in advocacy.
It’s about how successful you are in educating potential buyers, converting them into prospects and inspiring customers to then turn into your advocates. This is the key to success. Become invested in this metric. Garner excitement around it at a company-wide level, because advocacy is ultimately what powers social selling.