We live in the Big Data era. The volume and variety of data available to marketers from internal sales records and public records, sophisticated marketing analytics applications, social media and a multitude of other sources is matched only by the staggering velocity at which this information grows and changes. According to Wired magazine contributing editor Clive Thompson, social media alone accounts for “some 52 trillion words every day….the equivalent of 520 million books.”

It is not only your marketing department that have access to this information, but also your buyers. The result is a major disruption over the past few years in the way that products are sold. Your buyers learn about your products, their market perception and what the competition is offering through social media and many other sources—not your sales reps. While that has forever changed the battlefield, marketers can make a huge impact on sales revenue using two very effective tools: Big Data and Social Selling.

Social Selling: How to Listen to the Data

If you intend to harness the power of Big Data, first you need to observe what the market has to say. With so much data and marketing intelligence available, it can be rather daunting to know where to begin a data listening program. Fortunately, there is no shortage of marketing analytics tools to help.

For structured data, the latest generation of analytics software solutions offers not just statistical data crunching, but also behavioral data analysis that marketing departments can use to discover answers to highly specific questions about individual buyers and businesses who may consider buying from you. It is now possible to query large data sets with behavioral analytics software and extract insights on subjects once considered very philosophical in nature. Now you can trace the exact steps buyers went through before they purchased, how much they spent, when, where and from whom.

Even with highly unstructured data —such as social media commentary and online marketplace reviews—marketers can extract valuable information from large volumes of data to help sales teams build revenue effectively. Tools such as Radian6 from Salesforce.com and HubSpot’s Social Inbox allow marketers to analyze tens of millions of blogs, forums, news publications and feedback reviews for mentions of a brand, industry or specific keyword.

The 5 Big Data Insights For Effective Social Selling

While there is no limit to the breadth and granularity of information that can be gleaned from Big Data marketing analytics, marketers should at a minimum be looking to gain the following insights from data listening:

  1. Who is buying: Buyers come in many shapes and sizes but generally can be boiled down to comprehensible “buyer personas” that marketing and sales teams can watch for, understand and serve.
  2. Buyer sentiment: Find out what the various buyer personas are saying about your brand and products (and those of your competitors!)
  3. What your buyers want: Find out what needs and products are trending and what buyers are asking for and complaining about online.
  4. What information sources they useAnalyze data to see which sources of information various buyer personas turn to, and which information is most influential upon their purchase decisions.
  5. The ‘Buyer’s Journey’: Perhaps more important than any of the other insights that marketers can deliver to sales is identification of the unique steps a buyer takes from inception to purchase. Knowing how buyers gather information, establish options and make decisions is the critical context that makes social selling programs tick.

Utilizing the five insights gathered from Big Data and Social Listening, marketing departments can now arm sales with the information, attitudes and interests of each buyer persona and provide highly relevant content that is in line with these insights. The CMO should engage the VP of Sales to develop programs by which sales reps learn how, where and when to connect with buyers and prospects on LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media marketing channels.

The ability for sales reps to reach buyers in a personalized way with the right content, in the right context, at the right moment is the secret sauce of sales. By listening to data, analyzing buyer behavior for key insights and arming sales teams with highly relevant information marketers today are in a unique position to reinvigorate the value that sales teams offer in the Big Data era.