“Customers don’t buy from glass buildings. They don’t buy from companies. They buy from people. Relationships are absolutely key.” – Kirsten Boileau, Director of Digital Startup, quoting SAP Chief Digital Officer Jonathan Becher
Speaking on Internet talk radio program Coffee-Break with Game Changers, presented by SAP, Boileau – who leads the social business and social selling initiatives for SAP – shared insights about the positive impact social networks are having on sales practices. Host Bonnie D. Graham led a lively panel discussion that included Boileau as well as Kurt Shaver, CEO of Sales Foundry, and Jim Fields, Vice President of Customer Experience Marketing, SAP.
Social selling has become such a hot topic that Coffee-Break with Game Changers is dedicating an entire series to exploring its various facets and promoting best practices for salespeople. If you missed this opening episode, originally broadcast on September 8, 2015, you can listen to a recording of the show. To listen to other shows in this series, visit the SAP Radio area of the SAP News Center.
Sometimes called Sales 2.0, the term “social selling” was coined in 2006 by sales trainer Nigel Edelshain of Sales 2.0 LLC. Though the term has been around for a while, experts like Boileau point to the increased level of comfort people have achieved with social networks to highlight why now is the opportune time for sales professionals to make social selling part of their sales toolkit.
Here are six questions taken from the panel discussion that every sales professional should know about.
1. Is social selling a brand new skill, or is it an old skill in sales – just revisited and repackaged for the digital age?
Think of it as a brave new world, albeit one where tried-and-true sales skills still apply.
“Social selling is selling using social networks. And social networks, in fact, are not even that new,” said Shaver, noting that big social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn have been around more than a decade. “More importantly, if we think of the second word in that term – selling – that’s been around a pretty long time. All those practices of rapport, relationship building, empathy, emotional intelligence, and networking – all of those things that are fundamental selling skills still apply in the social selling world.”
2. Why is there apprehension around social selling?
The term social selling was coined almost 10 years ago, yet it is only now gaining traction in sales organizations. What took so long?
The panelists agreed that social involves new technology and ever-evolving tools. It has just taken a while for people in general to get comfortable with how to listen and engage in conversation on social networks. One panelist pointed out also that salespeople in particular have a high barrier for what they will spend their time on and what tools they will begin to use to help them sell.
Besides noting this pragmatic aspect, however, the panelists tapped into an emotional raw nerve with their observations that salespeople have been afraid of two things about social networks: 1. making themselves vulnerable by saying the wrong thing, and 2. being unable to undo a social posting they later regret. In other words: What’s posted on social, stays on social.
“One aspect of it is the permanence,” said Shaver. “I think that there is some fear of looking stupid or not knowing what you’re doing. Or there’s that element of it, and I think that people have also seen in the media, where things can sometimes blowup in a negative way online.”
Shaver encouraged people to embrace social networking, saying, “People are sometimes so scared about social networking or they don’t think they know a thing about it. You can’t really break anything. So, get in there and take action.”
3. Are millennials better suited to social selling than senior salespeople?
You would be surprised. There are now five generations working side by side in the workplace today. For sales teams that may mean that established sales professionals and stars who have their own proven way of doing things are working alongside millennials who have grown up in the age of social digital connectivity. In some cases, early talent is providing a type of reverse mentorship for senior professionals by showing how to work with new social tools. “Cold calling and cold emailing are bottoming out,” said Boileau. “The [senior salespeople] see that social is having great success, so they are eager to embrace it.”
Panelists also reported instances when some of the early talent questioned the value of using social networks for business. It’s important to note that it’s the senior employees who understand the principles of sales techniques well and can show the early talent how social networks can be applied to sales and business.
4. What are the benefits of social selling?
Social selling comprises branding, listening, relationship building, engaging, collaborating, and selling. It is a sales-driven, lead generation technique that is best positioned at the start of the sales cycle. Social selling is especially successful for B2B salespeople who are interested in lead-gen activities with a goal of getting appointments with prospects.
Social selling is considered both inbound marketing, because it is a content attraction strategy; and outbound marketing, because it is a prospecting strategy. LinkedIn, for example, offers a database of 400 million professionals that can be searched and sorted. Most significantly, your name is always attached to your social communications, which keeps you in front of your customers and puts you in front of prospective customers as content with your name on it gets shared and liked.
The potential impact of 10-15 minutes of engaging in social conversation can have as much impact as making 100 cold calls, according Boileau: “I’ve seen some research around the statistics that [indicates] 2 ½% appointment rate out of 100 cold calls. You might spend 5 days doing 100 cold calls and only get 2 appointments. That’s just not a good investment of your time; whereas, you’re spending 10 to 15 minutes listening to what your customers are talking about and then making sure that you’re sharing relevant and engaging content to them and to your own network to build your reputation.”
5. Should salespeople have to demonstrate that they are social?
“Yes!” said the panelists. Panelists agreed that evaluating a job applicant’s social network should be included in the hiring process, and it should consist of checking not just the raw number of contacts, but also the quality of contacts filtered by industry or position. Every employee is a brand ambassador, proclaimed the panelists. Therefore, if a company has 10,000 employees and each employee has connections with 500 contacts in their various social networks – that’s access to 5 million people.
The panel was generally supportive of the idea of setting quotas for social networking activities, saying that salespeople are very driven to make their numbers and therefore will be motivated to achieve this set of numbers too. “I think salespeople do respond well to having quotas assigned to them,” said Fields. “For the ones who are working their way up the chain and trying to build relationships they can leverage into sales, I think that’s a very appropriate kind of a challenge to put out there for them.”
6. Will social selling go away in the future?
Yes and no. The panelists predicted that social selling will be so common that we eventually won’t really think about it as a separate business activity but rather as a regular part of routine work. Future technology systems will integrate social selling seamlessly. Salespeople will become savvier about listening via social networks and will consume this intelligence in more sophisticated ways.
To learn more, tune in to the series Social Selling with Game Changers, presented by SAP on the VoiceAmerica Business Channel.
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