Perhaps you've worked in retail and experienced the following conversation. Or more likely, been the buyer in a retail store:
Retail staff: "Excuse me (sir/madam). May I help you?"
You: "No, I'm just looking."
Have you thought about why you did that? Perhaps you didn't want to be "sold" to. Perhaps you didn't think the salesperson would not actually have your best interests at heart. Maybe you knew what you wanted (more or less) already and didn't want to be burdened by additional information.
Whatever it was, it was a sales process and engagement that you did not want (or need).
In a B2B situation, is it really any different? How many cold calls, emails and white papers have you created to no avail?
Let's consider the opposite side of the same coin: How do you think some of the most established firms win consistent business and keep clients for the long term? Why is it that some corporate partnerships endure for the longest time, or why do some companies (always) win procurement or supply tenders even though they were not the cheapest bid?
The answer lies in that tricky little concept called TRUST. Trust is essentially about aligned interests; Each party says the same thing: "your interests and mine don't need to be exactly the same, but I need to know and believe that you will help me achieve mine". In the corporate world, this is especially tricky when you consider the variety of products and services (sometimes competing for the same $), customer segments and branding priorities, just to name a few. That being the case, Spotify+Starbucks, Apple+Hermes or BMW+Montblanc should not have worked. And yet.
It is also tricky because it requires a fundamental shift in perspectives about business, selling and your customers. To quote that famous song from Aladdin:
A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us no
Or where to go
Or say we're only dreaming
(I know you've now got the song bouncing around in your head repeatedly - I'm sorry.)
You don't have to take my word (or Aladdin's) for it. Look at what Gartner is saying about the the new B2B buying process.
By the time your buyer engages you in a conversation, they are more than likely to be at least 57% down the buying journey, having already done research online.
Here's an even more frightening statistic if you're still an old-school bizdev or sales person: your potential buyers are spending at least 67% of their time (and potentially up to 83% of it) doing their own research without involving you directly in a meeting.
What has any of this got to do with Social Selling though? Bear with me as I bring you through my thinking.
1. It's about the Customer, not about you (the Seller). It might be a bitter pill for you (and your boss) to swallow, but you need to recognise that you and your competitors are essentially saying the exact, same thing i.e. "Our <<insert solution/product/system/service>> is the best/cheapest/whatever...call us for a free demo today!" Your customers have tuned out to these messages by now. Repeating them in your faux whitepapers, blogs, infographics and website isn't going to change their mind.
Think about it: customers who spend more than 60% of their buying journey researching, are a lot more well-informed that you could imagine. In fact, they are not only well informed about your products & services, but they have been in touch with your competitors (and probably know more about them than you do). Your customers also know exactly what they need and want (which is something you probably don't.) Who's holding the Aces now?
2. B2B buyers go through a series of processes and engage with a number of internal stakeholders before they commit to buy. In fact Gartner even suggests that number to be 6 or above, in terms of the number of people collaborating in a B2B buying scenario. This means that if you're still hoping your "relationship" with that Purchasing Manager or VP is going to seal the deal, you've got a surprise coming. Or if you think that the shiny new features and benefits from the roadmap are going to cut it, think again.
If a customer is well-informed, and their journey is likely to be a non-linear and complex one, involving multiple stakeholders, what do you think you need to be doing to continue to play the game?
3. Your customers need to be "enabled". Enabled with prescriptive advice and practical support. Enabled with the right information that enables them to complete their buying processes and to do their jobs. If you make their jobs and lives easier, they will value you more for it. "In fact, Gartner research found that customers who perceived the information they received from suppliers to be helpful in advancing across their buying jobs were 2.8 times more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease, and three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret."
If your customers are well-informed (likely more than you are) and they are on a complex buying journey, and you are enabling them, what does all this actually mean for you in sales, bizdev and marketing? Sure, it means you've got to be top of your game, precisely because you're only one of the channels (of information) to your newly-enabled customer.
But most importantly, it means that now sales and marketing have to work together seamlessly and simultaneously. Why? Because:
"Social selling is ultimately the art of curating and creating a customer-centric buying experience on social media." - me
It always begins with you, leveraging your authentic self to create an attractive brand that draws people to want to connect with you. You then use that to find, connect to and engage with your target audience. It’s the modern way to develop meaningful relationships with potential customers so you’re the first person or brand a prospect thinks of when they’re ready to buy. It's necessarily augmented by creating and distributing relevant content on social media that allows you to be seen as an expert, or as a go-to person in your field of play. It's a heck of a lot less intrusive and more meaningful than hundreds of cold calls and emails to uninterested, unqualified buyers.
And if you do this at scale, with the necessary strategy and discipline, you are precisely where you need to be in your customer's journey: in that sweet spot that is 60%-87% of the time your customer is researching online about their problem.
In that space, you are creating an attractive buying experience for your customers, rather than trying to actively sell your products.
Now, back to TRUST (nope I didn't forget!): who do you think your customer is going to trust more -
a. your competitor who's given them a few cold emails, cold calls, some cold coffee, maybe a cold whitepaper or two (that inevitably ends off with a full page of stats on why they're the best), or
b. yourself - with your authentic personal story, and hundreds of posts, blogs, shares and helpful tips and tricks about what's happening everywhere else in the world that your Customer inhabits.
DLA Empower our clients to use Social as their Primary Method for Communications, Sales, Marketing and Business Development. We have programmatic programs that are delivered locally and globally.
A new understanding of the B2B buying process is needed Sales leaders often attribute this lack of customer access to a failure on the part of sellers to deliver enough value as part of a typical sales interaction. However, in studying ways to address this access challenge‚ Gartner research found a different reality altogether. The problem is rooted far less in reps’ struggles to sell and far more in customers’ struggles to buy.