Back in 2011 Google released a study called “Zero Moment of Truth.” The purpose of the study was to better understand the informed consumer who was able to create buy/sell parity by using the vast resources of the web when making their buying decisions.

The results were overwhelmingly supportive of the idea that the Internet is changing the buyer’s journey. The primary drivers of this change was the amount of content that companies were creating that allowed buyers to become informed without the direct involvement of a vendor.

For those less familiar with the Zero Moment, here are a few of the highlights of the 2011 study.

  • On average shoppers engaged with 10.4 unique pieces of online content during the buyer’s journey
  • 50% of shoppers used a search engine to get more information on a product or brand
  • 38% did comparison shopping online
  • 36% checked the brand/manufacturer’s website
  • 31% read online endorsements, reviews or recommendations.

Now this was nearly 5 years ago. Fast forward to today and all of these trends have become more pronounced as our internet usage is on the rise and the amount of data being created is doubling every two years. (The term “Big Data” may ring a bell?)

When Google analyzed content consumption in 2011 they found that the increase to 10.4 that year was double the amount being consumed in 2010. If that trend had continued in ’12, ’13 and ’14 then we would be looking at an internet where a consumer could be looking at 80 pieces of content during their buying journey. And while that number may seem absurd, it isn’t completely unrealistic. Especially when the variable of social is added to the equation.

Zero Moment Goes Social

In the last few years what may have changed more than anything else has been the impact of online influence in the buyer’s journey. Notice in the above study I mention that 31% of buyers read online endorsements, reviews or recommendations.

Well since 2011 the growth of social media usage has been triple digits with the largest networks like Facebook hosting over a billion users and weekly time spent online averaging over a day for many Americans.

In short we are online, on social media a lot. And it is influencing our decisions.

The Role Of Influence On Buying Behavior

Did you know that according to a Nielsen study that 84% of people are directly influenced by what their social network has to say about a product? Meaning, that if their social network likes a certain product or service they are more likely to buy it?

Furthermore, buyers aren’t only reading a lot more than they used to during the purchase journey, but the are also highly influenced by the content that they are reading.

In another study done by Nielsen they found that buyer’s in every stage of the journey were influenced by content. Early in the journey they would be influenced by industry thought leaders and experts and then later in the buying cycle that influence would move to the brands that they have short-listed. What also became evident in this study was that brands seeking to build awareness will struggle if they only use brand messaging and internal resources to do so. It was with this in mind that it became evident that companies that want to build greater awareness, affinity and sales will need to adopt social selling. Begging the question, how do we get on board?

Taking Your Company Into The Social Selling Promise Land

For companies trying to get on board with Social Selling, it really comes down to launching a program that is manageable and realistic for companies but keep in mind the important of sharing content, making regular meaningful connections and being consistent in your approach.

In a recent Entrepreneur Magazine article, I presented the following 9 steps to launch a social selling program.

  1. Get your sales team on board. Make sure you introduce them to the premise of social selling. This means spending time mining data and information that helps them understand how social media may help them connect to customers and can lead to sales.
  2. Take baby steps. Sales executives often need some simple tactics such as how to use social media or content. I usually recommend a very simple program where the sales execs share three to five pieces of content a week via LinkedIn or email with at least five different customers and prospects. Make sure the customer gets a personalized message that says why the content is being shared and why it matters to the client. I also recommend setting up a follow up in the email that spells out an explicit action, like a follow-up meeting.
  3. Show results. Wins don’t have to be just sales. I advise clients to track conversations and appointments generated from the tactics I suggested above. For instance, have the sales person mark down responses to their social-selling tactics, coffee or other meetings that they may have led to and then of course any revenue opportunities that can be directly correlated to the efforts.

Once you got you sales team on board, here is how to customers excited about social selling.

  1. Have your ear to the ground. Keep an eye out for content that is useful for your clients. Generally the content should be on topic and with some good tips or actionable items. Note that these may also be good for future clients and prospects.
  2. Keep track. When you find useful content, it is a good practice to keep an Excel or Word document where you keep the article titles, links and main topic. Also, look to software that can help keep track of metric, like views, clicks and time spent examining the content.
  3. Find connections. Look for opportunities to pair the content with specific clients. Keep tabs of this in your document to know what you sent to an individual. Over time you should build an aggregate of useful content that helps provide more clarity to your message and your customer needs.
  4. Make it meaningful. Deliver the content with an email and a simple message that helps the customer or prospect understand the topic and why you think it is important. Often referring to a previous conversation where the topic was discussed.
  5. Include a call to action. Make sure the client needs to take some sort of step. Some examples include a follow-up call or a meeting, where you can discuss the information.
  6. Be consistent. The response rate will likely not be 100 percent but that doesn’t mean clients aren’t reading it. With so much information out there if you can be the person that consistently delivers solid content then you will be front of mind when buying decisions are being considered and made.

Bottom line is that each passing year there is more content, more data and more social influence on not only what we buy, but also the way we buy it. For brands seeking to stay ahead of the trends, social selling isn’t so much an option, but a core strategy for building your brand and staying in front of the buyer that isn’t reaching out and asking for help; a group we sometimes call the invisible buyer, but nonetheless a group that may very well represent the majority of consumers.