Ditch the cold calls and get to grips with social selling

3 Aug 2016

Brian O’Connell, IMI associate teaching social selling as a lead generator

The old-world sales model of cold calling has fallen out of favour and sales leaders must adapt in the era of social selling, writes Brian O’Connell.

Social selling is not a mysterious snake oil that one needs to be wary of. It is also not a magic bullet that instantly erases obstacles in the sales cycle. Instead, it is a knowable, repeatable process that requires investment, training, patience and attention if it is going to pay off.

For sales leaders, it is about designing a more proactive and creative approach to reaching new customer markets.

Future Human

Inspirefest 2017

All selling is social

For both buyers and sellers, we are in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to interact with one another and to take action outside the traditional framework of sales. In fact, the traditional sales funnel that we are all painfully familiar with has been turned on its head. Did you know that it was first drawn in 1924? We have to question if it is still relevant today.

Look at how much change has gone on in the world in the past five years. In the past decade, change has accelerated at dizzying proportions. We are in a constant state of disruption. Just when we think we’re getting to grips with the new, it’s already old.

The most significant change in our world is that digital connectivity has put power in the hands of the buyers. Instead of being passively influenced by marketing and sales, they actively search, research and compare.

Social selling customer acquisition chart

This same digital connectivity is now providing salespeople with a multitude of new ways for lead generation, account management and connecting to buyers. Social selling sounds simple but maybe it is time to ask yourself: are you using these new sales avenues as much as you should be?

Widespread impact

As social selling grows in importance (and it is growing), it will not only affect individual salespeople but whole departments. SMEs, PR companies and large businesses will feel the effects of the shift in attention to this new sales process. The question that businesses need to ask is not how do we enhance our sales team but how do we socialise our business as a whole?

Across the globe, successful sales organisations are including social selling as a sales-enablement tool in generating new leads, engaging customers and as a means to increase sales productivity.

The reality is that old sales processes and methodologies are dying. Cold-calling effectiveness is declining and cold outreaches to prospective buyers have limited returns.

To prepare salespeople for the new generation of connected buyers, business leaders need to consider how they build the social capability into their sales efforts.

These selling statistics may help reinforce why this sales activity is proving so compelling.

  • 72pc of B2B buyers used social media to research their purchase decision (Demand Gen Report)
  • 79pc of salespeople that use social media outsell their peers (Forbes)
  • 53pc of buyers said they seek peer recommendations before they make a purchase (McKinsey)
  • 65pc of buyers feel the company content (content marketing) had an impact on their final purchase decision (Forrester)
  • Three-quarters of B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before ever contacting a sales representative (Forrester)

‘Digital connectivity has put power in the hands of the buyers. Instead of being passively influenced by marketing and sales, they actively search, research and compare’

Out with the old

Social selling is about moving salespeople from old-world selling into the social-selling world. To get sales teams to switch from the world of cold calling to the world of value selling across the social networks.

Companies need to leave behind the ‘interruption sales model’, where salespeople bluntly call prospects indiscriminately, to a sales model where the salespeople share and inform their prospects with insights to earn their awareness.

A Forbes research article on social selling states: “78.6pc of sales reps using social media as part of their professional outreach outperformed those that were not”. The same research indicates how salespeople using social networks as a tool were also more successful at exceeding their sales targets.

Sales teams embracing social media won more often, and lost less. The top three social selling platforms were LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. However, there are many more social networks and forums where lead generation is thriving.

Before you utter the words, ‘social selling does not apply to our business because our target segment does not use social media that much’, consider this: your buyers or potential buyers may not use social media but they do consume it, from articles on forums or LinkedIn to white papers published online or industry research shared. They read and are influenced by peer comments that, by default, raise their awareness levels of brands or companies. The social-selling statistics listed above prove it.

There are many industry-specific social platforms or forums that will work for most sales efforts regardless of industry type.

Dramatic shifts

Independent research by Gartner and Forrester suggests that, by 2020, 80pc of the buying process will occur online without any direct human-to-human interaction. Industries that rely heavily on sales teams today may not require any direct phone or face-to-face sales engagement with customers five years from now.

‘By 2020, 80pc of the buying process will occur without any direct human-to-human interaction’

While these dramatic shifts in buying behaviour are now well documented, many of today’s organisations continue to over-rely on traditional marketing and sales channels to reach, engage, convert and expand their customer relationships. The cost of this failure to adapt could be huge.

Social selling doesn’t replace sales

Using the social networks to sell requires salespeople and content marketers who can stand out from the noise and low-quality social conversations. Sharing relevant content, insights and useful information can make any salesperson stand out from other suppliers, and present you less as the ‘interruption’ salesperson of the old world and more of a quality connection for the future collaboration.

It is important to set the expectation that no company is going to sign a contract through a Twitter direct message. Social selling does not replace sales. Sales leadership must embrace social selling as a means to build buyer relationships and nurture leads, to become the trusted adviser that helps get you into the final sales presentations.

Social selling is the way to start and build relationships with prospects away from bland sales emails and blunt cold calls. When used effectively, social selling can help generate a warm sales lead, generate an invite to make a sales call, nurture relationships, help acquire more customers and, ultimately, drive revenue.

By Brian O’Connell

Brian O’Connell is an IMI associate who teaches on the Social Selling as a Lead Generator programme. He has over 25 years’ sales, sales management and marketing experience and has held director positions in sales and marketing with both Dell and Oracle.

A version of this article originally appeared on the IMI blog