Sales professionals are some of the earliest adopters and most annoying users of social networking. The problem is that most sales reps treat LinkedIn like a prospecting database for cold calling. It’s just too enticing when all your target prospects are out there showing off their company names, titles, areas of expertise, blogs, and opinions. You can use LinkedIn as a prospecting database, but it is probably the weakest and most professionally irritating use of the technology. To succeed at social sales, you must have something to offer beyond your product. You must be someone your customers want to know.
This is the fourth post in a series on social business designed to help B2B sales and marketing professionals make better use of social media by thinking in terms of social networking. This installment provides ten social sales lead–ership tips that will turn social media into a lead generation machine for your business by following the B2B Social Business Bill of Rights.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #1 | Activate Your Social Sales Network
B2B businesses still have rather spotty usage of social networking. Most B2B sales reps are on LinkedIn, but far fewer have active Twitter accounts. Depending on the industry, B2B prospects and customers are even less likely to be active social networkers. Social Business Right #1 says you must expand your social sales network, so take the lead and give your sales reps, prospects and customers a reason to get more social. Use social channels like blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to communicate with your customers and prospects. Encourage website registration using social networking accounts. And, create promotions and contests that require participation in social networks. Activate your company’s social business network by motivating its members to follow your company’s lead.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #2 | Capture Social Sales Contact Profiles
Upgrade your CRM to capture Twitter handles, LinkedIn profiles, blog URLs and Facebook pages in addition to the standard phone, email and fax. Does anyone still fax? Add these items to lead capture forms on your website and use data appending services to augment them. Your sales team can’t link up without the right social contact information any more than they can cold call without phone numbers.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #3 | Train Sales in the Art of Referrals
The most common social sales mistake is treating social media like a prospecting tool; it is a networking tool. Stick to direct cold calls and email for prospecting. The reason most sales reps struggle at networking is that they fail to understand the critical role of referrals in the art of networking. Sales reps are trained to hunt. Account managers are trained to farm. Networking is about gathering. Gathering contacts. Gathering useful tidbits of information. Gathering opportunities. Gathering things that you can share.
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Social Business Right #2 advises that you build your social sales community by being helpful. Sharing referrals are not selfless acts of kindness, because reciprocity creates social networking karma. Smart networkers look for opportunities to provide referrals to those people from whom they would like to receive referrals. They know who they want to meet and what those people care about. They identify opportunities that can be referred and opportunities to refer them. Networking requires a gathering sales discipline. It’s not something you go out and do once a month. It’s something you incorporate into your daily routine, because opportunity waits for no one.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #4 | Train Sales on Social Networking Tools
If your sales team masters the art of networking through referrals, then your social network training will become an entirely different experience. Approaching LinkedIn with the mindset of gathering contacts that you might do business with or might introduce you to someone you might do business with someday and looking for ways to share information, introductions and business opportunities will generate many creative ideas. This proper use of social networking contrasts sharply with the more typical sales prospecting default of searching on title and trying to link up with a product pitch.
Each social networking tool from LinkedIn to Twitter to a personal blog offers different networking capabilities and opportunities. Sales reps should select the ones that fit their respective business needs and professional styles. However, mastering the ins and outs of the features, functions and formalities of each tool is essential. For example, if you choose to write a blog, you probably need to know WordPress and SEO. If you choose Twitter, you need to know how to use handles and hashtags. If you use LinkedIn, you need to understand groups and updates. Despite all your good intentions of being a helpful business colleague, it’s a competition for attention out there and mastering social networking tools is essential to social sales success.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #5 | Prepackage Useful, Share-able Content
Social Business Right #3 asks that you should accelerate information sharing within your social sales network. Maintaining a library of incredibly useful, industry-specific tidbits of information in easy-to-share packages like like PDFs, PPTs, Web links, and so forth can be a big time-saver, because when opportunity knocks to share some useful information, you need to answer quickly and concisely. Marketing departments can help sales reps in a big way by making sure sales is plugged into the content marketing pipeline for both original and curated content.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #6 | Invest in Digital Media Monitoring
The timeliness of shared information directly impacts its usefulness. Therefore, it’s important to stay on top of what’s being said in your industry everywhere from Twitter to traditional news. Staying on top of industry buzz has become impossible to do manually by reading your favorite trade publications. Strong media monitoring tools not only keep you informed, but they can become a competitive weapon for the social sales professional, because people gravitate to those who are always in the know.
There is a challenge hidden in these 10 Social Sales Lead–ership Tips, and since most sales professionals love competition, I will make it explicit. The ultimate goal of the Social Business Bill of Rights is to light up your social business network with viral sharing of business referrals through social networking, from simple retweets to new prospects, partners and personnel. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell provides a straightforward formula for enabling virality built upon three key network players: connectors, mavens and salesmen.
- Connectors, are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.
- Mavens are information specialists, or people we rely upon to connect us with new information.
- Salesmen are persuaders, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills.
Presumably, a strong sales rep is already a salesman in the Tipping Point sense. The challenge then is this: can you become a social sales triple threat by being a connector and a maven too?
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #7 | Launch a Referral Reward Program
Operationalizing referrals throughout your social sales organization is no easy task. It requires new knowledge and new habits. By introducing a simple referral rewards program, you provide a vehicle to reinforce the habit of asking for customer referrals. It is a great misconception of customer referral programs that they drive referrals through monetary incentives and discounts to your customers. They do not. When a customer provides a referral, she is doing it in order to help her friend, not the salesperson or the company. If a customer is not happy with your service, she will not refer her friend regardless of the incentive, because it will make her look bad. The best referral programs provide a small reward to your customer (reciprocity, not an incentive) and an incentive to the prospect (which allows your customer to do her friend an even bigger favor).
The most important ingredient in driving customer referrals is never a reward or incentive. It is timing. You must ask for a referral when your customer is most willing to provide it. When she is happy with your service and feeling the reciprocity vibe of your social sales karma. While there are modern marketing tricks that can triangulate on the right time and place to ask for a referral through some online call-to-action, there is no tactic stronger than the sales rep asking for a referral directly after being told by your customer just how fantastically happy she is with your product and service.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #8| Increase Social Sales Productivity
Staying on top of every prospect’s and every customer’s social activity across multiple social netorks is an impossible task for most busy sales professionals. Therefore, it is essential to start investing in systems that boost their social sales productivity. Twenty years ago most sales managers would have scoffed at the idea of maintaining a pipeline of opportunities and simultaneous conversations with hundreds of prospects. Today it is routine due to the productivity impact of enterprise CRM systems. The social CRM systems of tomorrow will allow sales reps to hear and participate in thousands of conversations going on inside their social sales network, but outside of today’s enterprise CRM systems on the other side of the firewall.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #9 | Create Online Networking Opportunities
Now that you have your social sales reps all linked and followed, why not give them more opporunities to engage? Don’t let them just sit around waiting for that great article to share or contact to introduce. Create opportunities for your social sales reps to social network. Start a LinkedIn Group. Launch a community industry blog or forum. Create social networking events by integrating online networking into offline events. Or, just create social networking events, such as tweet-ups and contests. However you do it, give your social sales reps more online networking opportunities. More opportunities for online engagement mean more opportunities to strengthen online relationships.
Social Sales Lead–ership Tip #10 | Create Offline Networking Opportunities
Social Business Right #5 asks that you consistently work to convert weak ties to strong ties within your social sales network, so sooner or later you’ve got to take it offline. All the tweets in the world are still no substitute for thirty minutes over coffee. Help your social sales reps develop stronger business relationships by providing offline networking opportunities with prospects, customers and industry influencers. These can be as simple as a meetup at the local bar or as complex as a global annual user conference. As industry trade shows shrink in the wake of modern Internet marketing, there is a growing vaccuum that must be filled to satisfy the fundamental need of B2B professionals for face-to-face networking. Don’t forget to mind the gap.