Social Selling: Why B2B sales must rethink
What is necessary to actively and adequately pursue social selling in social media?
Salespeople will become more consultants, networkers, and influencers, due to increasing digitalisation in B2B – a fact of life.
The times of pure “order-takers” are over. However, do salespeople understand what is necessary to actively and sufficiently pursue B2B social selling?
While researching for this article, I came across a creative and equally apt quote on the relationship between a potential customer and sales:
“In the past, selling was selling, today it’s let them buy”.
The author is Andreas Buhr, a well-known speaker for in management and sales. The quote is the title of an interview on vertriebszeitung.de. His sentence soberly summarises the current situation in which salespeople find themselves in the B2B sector.
It is no longer just a matter of addressing potential customers via so-called “cold-calls”, i.e. unfriendly and unexpected acquisition-attempt by telephone, or by buying a list of potential sales leads. That was the sales approach of the past.
Today, B2B sales is increasingly taking place in social spaces, i.e. in social media. Here is where buyers, salespeople and decision-makers alike come together.
Purchasing managers, for example, use social media to support procurement choices. Buyers first carry out online research before making a decision. And social media significantly influences B2B buyers.
Critical reasons for social selling in B2B sales are, therefore:
– The majority of the purchase decision process takes place online.
– Social buying through B2B purchasing.
– Strengthening customer loyalty through communication in social media.
Success factors of social selling in sales
A 2019 survey of 802 companies from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland by the Social Media B2B working group shows that 93.3 per cent use social media in corporate and market communication.
The front-runner in Germany and Switzerland is the social network LinkedIn with 70.8 and 72.1 per cent, respectively.
Only in Austria is Facebook ahead. On a scale of 1 (low significance) to 5 (very significant), the most crucial success factors for involvement in social media in the B2B sector are:
– Exciting content (4.0)
– credibility (3.9)
– Continuity (3.7)
– Honesty (3.7)
– transparency (3,4)
This level of influence has clear consequences for distributors and manufacturers in the B2B sector. Namely, that sales will be thought and practised differently in the future.
Today, you will not sell any product or services to potential customers by just knocking at their door, no. Customers inform themselves thoroughly nowadays, and salespeople cannot ignore this fact. Buyers are therefore unmoved by seemingly great offers since they have long known what they want.
For salespeople who will continue to attach importance to good customer relations in the future, this means:
1. listening. And then
2. provide arguments.
In social selling, listening is done via so-called social listening, i.e. by reading what customers say on their social media channels, such as LinkedIn or Xing.
Sellers are required to look into the interests of customers, to find out what drives them and what they want. Only then can the actual customer needs be derived. It is necessary to build up an extensive customer network to achieve this.
This network must also provide relevant content that conveys credibility and makes the individual appear competent and reliable. Here, creative flair is required to “package” products and services in such a way that they address the needs and wishes of the customers.
That is not about clumsy advertising for one’s offers according to the motto “You absolutely must have this”, but about demonstrating expertise. Fast leads and quick deals are not a priority in social selling – what is needed is a long-term build-up of an audience in the social media or a network of potential customers. You can achieve that by the constant dissemination of content relevant to this network.
Best Practice: Social Selling at LinkedIn
The social networking service LinkedIn is a perfect example to show what is essential in social selling or what the prerequisites are for actively pursuing it:
1. build a meaningful profile
The profile description of a salesperson works like a digital elevator pitch: What added value do potential customers get from networking with this person?
2. deliver relevant and credible content regularly
A regular posting of contributions appropriate and exciting for the target groups contributes to the long-term development of a customer network. The content does not necessarily have to originate from within the company. It can also be news from the industry or your statement on a foreign article that you share on your profile page. Own assessments are a great added value for readers because they demonstrate expertise.
3. being in a permanent dialogue
Post left, comment, share. These are the four main activities that no salesperson can avoid in social selling. It would help if you planned a fixed time slot per day for these activities.
With the Social Selling Index (SSI); for example, LinkedIn provides a useful tool for keeping an eye on your social selling activities.
Social selling is changing the role of sales in B2B.
Social selling, if you like, turns the classic world of sales upside down.
The sometimes-strong ability to sell products and to use the traditional sales channels for this purpose is no longer sufficient in social selling. Salespeople are encouraged to leave their comfort zone as pure product sellers and lead hunters. Instead, it is a matter of positioning themselves as experts and consultants for the customer. Salespeople in social selling are also networkers, not market criers.
Digitalisation means that the classic approach to B2B sales – lead buying, cold calling, trade fair contacts – may not be replaced entirely, but to a large extent. In future, salespeople in B2B will become more like networkers, customer advisors and influencers.
Through content relevant to the target group, they create trust and credibility, which ultimately benefits the sale of products and services. However, social selling only works if salespeople show a sufficient degree of patience and perseverance. Those who only aim for a quick conclusion should perhaps not get involved in social media in the first place.
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