Lots of companies (86% according to the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs) are using inbound marketing to increase visitor traffic to their websites and convert more visitors into leads, and marketers are increasingly ranking inbound marketing as more effective than traditional outbound marketing methods. In many companies (I would actually argue MOST companies), inbound marketing is seen as something that the marketing department does. While it definitely IS something that the marketing department should be doing, it is also something that the sales department should be doing as well.
Why should your salespeople be doing inbound marketing?
Because its the easiest way to reach prospective buyers early in their buying cycle, when your chances are greatest of influencing their purchase.
That’s what sales is all about, right? Getting in front of people and striking a deal.
While marketing departments can be very effective at generating leads for sales, there is still a lot that salespeople can do online to proactively develop their own leads and position themselves for greater success when that first contact is made. This is what is called “social prospecting” and, done properly, it establishes your sales team as a relevant and reliable source of information for buyers.
Most salespeople aren’t relevant to the customer or potential buyer until they need something. Think about it. They’re going online, doing their research, and they’re not engaging with a salesperson until they’re pretty far down their purchase path (what we call the “buyer’s journey”). When they finally do decide to contact a salesperson, the first thing they’re going to do is research the salesperson like you’ve researched them. Companies that practice inbound marketing aren’t the only ones that have access to lead intelligence. Your buyers have access to lead intelligence as well.
Social prospecting allows salespeople to stay connected with the marketplace, and to begin building a relationship with buyers earlier in the process – a relationship that goes beyond a vendor, towards a trusted advisor. Despite the incredible growth of the digital world, people buy from people, and social prospecting is an effective way to increase awareness of both the company brand AND the personal brand of the sales rep.
How To Get Started With Social Prospecting
There are a couple of things your sales reps will need to master in order to be effective with social prospecting:
- Your CRM: Understanding the CRM and actively using it to manage communications with prospects can make a big difference when a sales rep is using social prospecting.
- Lead Intelligence: Does your company use a lead intelligence or marketing automation product? Here at Quintain, we use HubSpot for marketing automation and Sidekick for lead intelligence, and the information we glean from both is invaluable in prepping our sales team for calls with prospects and qualifying our leads.
- Social Profiles: Before any sales rep begins to prospect online, they should ensure that their social media profiles (most importantly LinkedIn, which I’ll discuss in more detail below) are complete. If they’re successful with social prospecting, lots of the potential buyers that they come into contact with will research them online and social media is where they’ll start.
Once your reps have mastered these three things, the next step is for them to post and share valuable content that is relevant to the target audience they are trying to reach. While it’s easy for reps to re-post what their company has written or presented, the truth is that they need to do some work on their own. This is where it pays to have a good relationship and strong alignment between marketing and sales. The marketing department can help your sales reps take problems or questions customers have, or e-mail conversations, and use them to create original content that can be shared online.
Putting Social Prospecting Into Practice
What happens if your sales rep identifies a potential customer that is a great fit with your company’s targeted audience persona? They identify the company and the contacts and the next step is typically to make a connection with them. What if that prospect has a really good, active Twitter account? Wouldn’t it make sense to follow them on Twitter, see what they’re posting, and write a connection request based on that intelligence? What do you think the odds are they’ll be successful in connecting with them?
While your sales reps won’t connect with everyone, they are more likely to have an opportunity when they do their social prospecting homework.
The salespeople who are most successful with social prospecting are the ones who are actively posting and sharing content, and who consistently work to expand their networks. These two actions combined are prospecting magic. But it’s easy to make mistakes. Too many times, salespeople post content about their products or services. This type of content is considered self-promotional and if they’re sharing it in places like LinkedIn Groups, there is a good chance they’ll get flagged for moderation and/or get kicked out of groups. Once they get kicked out of one group, it’s like a ripple effect.
Before your sales reps start sharing content online, they should consider what they are going to share, who the audience is, and what their interests are. For example, if they’re sharing in LinkedIn Groups, they need to understand the rules of the group, understand why they are in the group, and then use the content they’re sharing to start conversations that help other group members solve a problem or answer a question.
Over time, if done well, social prospecting will establish your sales reps as thought leaders that prospects will come to for answers. It sure as heck beats picking up the phone and calling off a list, saying “Can I speak to the person in charge of …?” or sending cold emails out to people who’ve never heard of you before. Think about how many emails you get in a day, and how protective you are of your e-mail address. If you’re like me, you don’t want to get spammed. Your prospects are the same way, and you’ll be climbing a long, tall mountain if you’re cold calling in the traditional way.
These days, sales reps are getting pulled in later in the buying process because buyers are doing so much research online. While this may see like a bad thing, it is actually a fantastic opportunity for sales reps who recognize this shift and embrace the concept of inbound marketing, both at the corporate and the personal level. Those reps that put the concepts of inbound marketing into practice and use social prospecting will find that in many cases, buyers will pick up the phone and call them earlier in the purchasing process. If it’s not a call, this contact may come in the form of an e-mail, a tweet or a LinkedIn request. Regardless of the format, the end results is earlier contact with prospects, and a greater chance of ultimately closing the deal.
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