From a modern buzzword to the most disruptive sales concept since the advent of “The Challenger Sales” methodology: Social Selling is a reality and works for many professionals around the world, not only on the sales side. When using social media started on the consumer side and Social Selling embraced in the corporate sector, it is time for Small Businesses to adopt and to lead in their niche.
Daniel Disney, one of the leading Social Selling experts in the UK, has recently been asked if this concept was just a fashion and would go away. In this video, he compared it with the wide adoption of smartphones with nearly nobody going back to feature phones like the good old Nokia & Co. No doubt, Social Selling is here to stay.
The other widely visible discussion is the question if it would replace other well-known instruments such as the phone. I see it as a complementing element in the sales repository. Similar as email never replaced the phone, Social Selling has been added into the arsenal of the successful sales professionals. What counts is the situational usage of the right tool in a winning combination towards the relevant audience.
Social Selling is actively used mostly in enterprise and corporate organisations who were the trendsetters. Most employees of vendors and providers use LinkedIn actively to engage with their tribe by constantly improving their personal brands and sharing relevant content, recently added by short videos. Prospective contacts within buyer committees, procurement departments, technical resources and the C level have an active presence on LinkedIn as well. Australia as an example enjoys one of the highest adoptions of LinkedIn with 4.4 million active users; that is more than half of their registered members.
The world of sales has changed dramatically during this decade. The informed buyers reach out to potential providers only in the last mile of the buying journeys. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) once defined this moment at 57% of the time between acknowledging a problem and implementation of the new solution. SiriusDecisions stated that 67% of the buyer journeys are now done digitally. Already three years ago, an Accenture study confirmed that 94% of B2B buyers conduct online research before making a buying decision. It is important to align sales processes accordingly knowing that those buying journeys are meant as plural not following strict one-way routes.
Larger organisations use a multi-channel approach to write about their activities on social media and on their company blog, often handled by their marketing or PR teams. Today it needs seven to ten different contacts within an organisation to build the group of relevant stakeholders in a complex IT solution. Most of them are active on social media and can be attracted accordingly with different messaging per function. Experts like Guy Lambert provide invaluable tips how to use these principles.
The adoption of Social Selling within smaller companies seem to be far behind – a missed chance. Every country defines the barrier between the segments differently. In Australia, Small Businesses are defined up to 19 employees, Mid-Market between 20 and 199 and Large Enterprises above 200 employees. Lawyers, bookkeepers, photographers, mortgage brokers, financial advisors and consultants often work successfully by an established face to face network, word of mouth and embracing referral organisations such as Business Network International (BNI). Owners of those companies usually have a profile on LinkedIn, but in most cases don’t use the tool on a frequent base.
Social Selling is an ideal prospecting instrument to draw the trigger back within the buying journeys and to establish interest at a much earlier stage. Finding potential clients, surrounding them before engaging and further educating them with relevant content of well perceived value will position the provider as a thought leader in the respective space. This is successful when an established online relationship moves from a digital conversation into scheduled meetings or phone conferences. In my opinion, the term should rather be called “Social Engagement” as the pure sales activity starts afterwards. Quoting successful practitioner Rahul Kumar of Resonate Business Ignition:
“Social Selling is the art and science of leveraging social and digital to advance the sales and business agenda.”
Small Businesses can use Social Selling as well if both sides are more active than just having an online resume. What is needed to close the gap towards the enterprise experts?
Many people especially in Small Businesses see LinkedIn just as a digital CV and only update their profile in case of a job change. To use it successfully as an active engagement tool, it should be written for the benefit of the reader. Professional photos and background images are no brainers. Many are struggling with the headline just saying “Managing Director at company XYZ Pty Ltd” instead showing the value provided to targeted potential clients (in my case “Helping small & mid-sized enterprises protect their data in the cloud”). The summary should elaborate that further with examples and show both the personal branding as well as the professional company benefits for potential customers and business partners.
LinkedIn is not just a passive representation of individuals and companies, instead it is also a blogging platform. Small Business leaders should list a couple of self-written long format articles about relevant topics for the audience. It is worth to reach out to respected experts in this field such as Sue Ellson, Sue Parkeror Jillian Bullock. They help to turn the dead profile of today into a winning personal brand to engage with prospects tomorrow.
Ever seen somebody working at a company without a logo on LinkedIn? That happens either due to a wrong match or the company doesn’t have an own profile. At LinkedIn, a Small Business usually fits into the buckets 2-10 or 11-50 employees – but size doesn’t matter in representing their values in a professional way.
Current content for the own website blog can be shared onto the LinkedIn company page as well. What is expected from large corporations, can make such a difference for small businesses who are usually not perceived to be active.
After creating the profile already with a target client in mind, let’s refine that further. In general, your ideal customer profile “is a business that will find the perfect solution to their problems or needs in the products or services you offer”, as mentioned by book author Wayne Moloney. For the moment, we have two target groups: those individuals who have a visible presence on social media and those who are not there yet. It is possible that your existing customers fall mostly into the second group.
The search possibilities of LinkedIn allow certain filtering; the higher positioned Sales Navigator provides even more search fields to find the right clients. It is critical to look for new prospects on a regular base with ongoing social surrounding, not just at the beginning. Checking the social media presence of existing customers is a good way to find out if they are active at all or how they represent themselves to search for similar companies.
With a clearly defined audience, it is importance to create relevant content that resonates with them. It should be slightly wider than just talking about the exact same problem to also show the capability of providing more conversational topics. There are two ways: creating own content to show credibility and curating material of others which serves the same interests. Adding other voices is an important way to gain a reputation to care. As every book author reads from others, the complementing picture is more important than just focusing on own material.
Publishing on LinkedIn can be automated to ensure the posts arrive at the right time into the feed of the target audience when they are reading on LinkedIn such as the commute time or during lunch breaks. For those offering services across multiple time zones, this might need to be respected to find the best timing.
Using LinkedIn and Twitter can lead to distraction and addiction. It is important to free up a block of 30 or 45 minutes per day, ideally at the same time. In this block the activities should include finding potential clients (e.g. using different verticals per day), engaging with the network nurturing the established relationships, educating the tribe with relevant content either self-written or curated, and further developing the network. Jamie Shanks, the founder of the Canadian company Sales for Life, calls this routine “FEED” as an abbreviation of the above mentioned four key activities.
After a couple of weeks actively using the mentioned routine, the profile views and LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index (SSI) will constantly increase. That number on a scale from 1 to 100 captures the efforts of establishing the professional brand, finding the right people, engaging with insights and building relationships. More importantly though, first meetings with prospective clients will be scheduled out of this prospecting instrument. It might be worth to track the progress at least weekly if not even daily.
Once that works well, I suggest encouraging the other employees to embrace their social journey as well, not only those with sales function. Active employees should post the company’s activities (as reinforced by Sue Ellson) and therefore enlarge the outreach further. Potential buyers will research the colleagues anyway before or during a first meeting. So better for them to be consistent with a professional profile and own regular activities.
A bunch of other tools beyond LinkedIn and Twitter help with social for business. To show yourself as an expert, it might be useful to answer questions on Quora. Social Media Consultant Teddy Burriss answered more than 2300 questions within two years, gained traffic to his own blog for further reading and thus created business opportunities out of Quora.
Another way to position yourself as thought leader is the blogging platform Medium. Evan Williams, the former CEO and co-founder of Twitter, created Medium as a form of social journalism to publish longer texts than tweets with their initial 140-character limitation. The platform provides an easy start into blogging by connecting content with readers worldwide. Beyond the possibility to earn directly on Medium, it helps to test out articles or even series of content which can be leveraged afterwards into Social Selling.
In a recent tour through BNI chapters, I asked many business owners about using LinkedIn for their company. Most replied that their existing clients are not that active on social media, that’s why many are reluctant to go that path. So here is the opportunity: as their customers are missing out to find prospects in this changed world, Small Business leaders can use the own relationship building and referral capabilities to convince their customers that Social Selling works for them as well. Beyond promoting own services, act as an advocate for new ways of prospecting. When those clients become successful, they will return the favour following the Law of Reciprocity which Robert Cialdini defined 1984 in his classic work about the principles of persuasion.
As a conclusion, Social Selling can indeed work for Small Businesses when it is performed as a marathon, not a sprint. It requires more effort compared to large organisations as smaller companies usually don’t have own content marketing teams or tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Once the efforts result in first meetings out of digitally found connections, it can be further improved into a professional prospecting activity – which needs consistency and passion to achieve sustainable success.