I’d made a mistake. My mistake was to tell a sales guy about Social Selling. What did I expect? After all, he represented one of the top organisations in a small field of solution providers, for a particularly niche market. Understand that context: top of a short list, serving a niche market.
Of course he was going to say no! And given the state of affairs in that particular niche in the travel industry, I could’ve guessed that getting leads was not his problem. Hint: it's about connecting one of the last remaining ecosystems on earth to the internet. His problem was (to quote) to, “manage the amount of business we were already getting”. So he was “focused on conversion and retention rather than acquisition...”.
I’d of course heard a version of this before. From the likes of a C-level exec of a world-renowned entertainment brand. At that time, I’d asked him if he’d considered the strategic use of social media for his sales and marketing efforts. His answer was literally “Everybody knows us!”. To which I responded, “Then why do you have a sales team?”
“Oh, because their focus is B2B…we want to attract more corporates to hold events with us…” was his answer. I said simply, “OK. So… not everybody knows you, or chooses you…?”
“But social media is…is…not serious. We are <insert exquisite brand name>. I don’t think I could ever trust my sales people to be let loose on social media!”, was his response.
“But your sales people are making cold calls and visiting potential clients aren’t they?” I asked.
“Yes but that’s different!” he insisted. “How?” I persisted.
“Well…look, you used to be with Singapore Airlines right? Would SQ ever allow its sales people to post about the brand on social media?” he triumphantly asked.
That did get me thinking for a second. And then I told him this: “No, they wouldn’t. But this isn’t posting about the ‘brand’ on social media. This is about being social. It’s not about advertising. It’s not about regurgitating corporate spam or posting flowery accolades about your employer. It’s about being human, relatable and social. It’s about building relationships on a global digital platform where all your partners, suppliers, clients, and frankly, even your employees, are already hanging out. That’s what this is about. And this – by the way – is exactly what your sales people are doing, face-to-face, when they visit potential clients. Right?”
We have not met for drinks since.
Social selling is the digital revolution of our time
Sometimes I feel that all the rhetoric around AI, machine learning, digital transformation, blockchain etc. has blinded and deafened us to one of the very real digital revolutions of the times – the pervasive, addictive, daily use of social media. Don't believe me? See this:
We know from published data that 58% of the world is connected to the internet and that 83% of all internet users are social media users. We also know that nearly 100% of social media users access social media through their mobiles. In other words, everyone is on social.
From a B2B perspective, there's been loads of research done about how the buying (and renewal) journey has changed, particularly in the last 5 years. The biggest deal is that the buying journey is anything but linear, and actually quite a slog:
As if slogging wasn't enough, you also need to interact with enough people at each stage to have 3 football teams by the end of it, with reserves:
And it's not just any interaction mind you - because I'm sure it's easy enough to feel comfortable with sending your sales reps on their cold call marathons and office visits. Buyers actually want to be educated and shown actual outcomes based on peer reviews:
Ok set aside the stats and surveys. Pick any good salesperson and they will tell you - from years of doing business - that relationships and trust matter a great deal. They will be the first to spout the truism that "people buy from people". They may also concede that in a B2B scenario, case studies and peer reviews are the B2C equivalent of our friends, families and influencers recommending a product or brand to us.
If we know all of the above, then why do we still ignore the strategic (potential) value of social media? Why do we think it was little or no role to play when every data point out there tells us otherwise.
The 3 most common misconceptions
Let’s deal with the most common objections:
1. Social media isn’t serious (i.e. “professional”).
Yes, clearly. That’s why the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Wiener, Tony Fernandes, Elon Musk, Jack Welch, Indra Nooyi, - I could go on and on (and on) are all using it! They’ve clearly made their billions and are now happy to be less than serious on social media. Right?
Here’s the real reason(s) for you thinking it isn't serious (or professional):
- you are afraid.
- you don’t have a strategy.
- you don’t want to create your own content and be the ‘face” of it.
- you don’t know how to make it work.
Pick one or any of the above.
Social media can be described in many ways. Here’s the one that’s relevant: it’s social. Think of “social” as how you are when you attend the birthday party of your colleague’s daughter, or the wedding of your most important client’s son. Or when you attend an industry conference and you’re interacting with everyone at the pre-conference cocktails. You are still YOU. You’re still “representing” your brand, even if you’re there in a personal capacity. But you’re being social.
And what’s the meaning of being social? The obvious bits are that you’re friendly, that you communicate with respectful dialogue, you exchange ideas and information, etc. The less obvious bit is this: it’s reputation management. It's about you putting the right content out there, so that when people search for you (or your company/brand/product/service), everything aligns to tell the story that you would like be told.
Don’t believe me? How about you stop attending all those Friday afternoon office lunches, post-work drinks, weekend get-togethers with friends (you get the point) and then see what happens to your reputation. Exactly.
2. Everyone knows us.
Of course. That’s why you still have sales & marketing people, right? Bury your head in the sand all you want. You could be industry leaders, or challengers, or outright disruptors, but the fact is that your customers have choices. If they have choices, then knowing you really isn’t the point; choosing you is.
What you’re hoping is that because everyone knows you, you will be an automatic choice or at least the obvious one. Or that your customers will choose you every time. Or that “acquisition” isn’t the problem, it is “conversion and retention”.
Knowing you is table stakes, and choosing you means you're top dog. Very different. Particularly but not only in a B2B scenario, buyers are not dumb. They know the options available, but what they are hoping for is some wisdom and clarity amidst the deluge of information. If “conversion and retention” are your problem, it simply means your competitors are doing a much better job at engaging, providing insights and helping your clients, than you are.
Of course, it goes without saying that struggling to convert and retain could very well be a symptom of your underlying product and services not performing up to the mark in the eyes of your customer. Simply put – if your products and services are truly sh*t, then nothing is really going to help you other than to fix it. But if that’s not the case (as I suspect it isn’t with most companies) then it just means you haven’t primed and educated your customers enough to convince them to convert and retain your business. I hate to sound repetitive, but social media and the content you put out on it can truly be a game-changer in this regard because, remember all that helpful content that you diligently put out there? Well, it stays on social and the web 24/7 (even when you're sleeping), it adds to SEO effectiveness, and it keeps your brand top-of-mind, and it positions you ahead of your competition sustainably.
Don't think that's important? Have a look at how much time your buyers are spending not talking to you:
3. We just don’t have the time.
Let me get this straight: suppose I told you that all your customers – existing and potential – were attending a convention next week themed at providing more knowledge and understanding around your industry, what would you do? Of course you’d drop everything and be there, wouldn’t you?
So why can you not make time for social?
What you’re trying to convey when you say you have “no time for social media”, is that you don’t feel it’s useful enough for you to make the time for it. Your prioritisation of effort has not factored in the effective returns from the use of social media. Well, have a look at where buyers at each stage are spending their time:
And consider all the public examples of social media success across industries and most importantly, across business units within organisations.
Here are some alternative facts instead: what do you think your competitors are doing? Are you releasing white papers? Are you attending trade shows? Are you posting corporate adverts on your FB and Linkedin pages every couple of weeks? Are you basically alluding to what a great employer/what a valuable company/what a customer centric solution provider/what innovative solutions you have/how indispensable you are to various industries/etc etc etc. Well, guess what – you and your competitors are all swimming in the sea of sameness.
So when you say you don’t have the time for social media, what you’re really saying is this: you don’t have the time to differentiate yourself from your competitors. You don’t have the time to establish your own USP in the market with your clients. You don’t have the time to attend that convention and stand out from the crowd. You’re happy to be an indistinguishable part of the landscape, along with your competition.
Is it any wonder you’re struggling with conversion and retention, let alone sales?
It would be easy for me to persist and try to hard-sell what we do at DLA. But that's not what we're about.
(Incidentally, our mission is to enable end-to-end digital transformation through social media. We believe that social media has a strategic role to play in every organisation that wishes to be competitive. We’ve recognised that the world has changed; the way of business has changed.)
We live in an era where best-in-class organisations are outstanding at what they do across the board. “Sales” isn’t something only sales people do. Employee engagement isn’t the “job” of HR. Procurement, accounting and consulting services do not operate in vacuums as mere pencil-pushers, gatekeepers or rubber stamps; each department is part of a larger whole that tends to be connected socially.
As digital becomes ubiquitous, it becomes imperative that that we find ways of asserting our uniqueness online. This is ultimately our secret weapon, secret sauce, or superpower (take your pick) when it comes to selling, converting, retaining, hiring...and any other "-ing" that you might do as an organisation.
How about if we act like leaders and invite senior leaders to social media? As leaders we will have great personal brands, having senior people in our networks will enhance our standing senior people will be enthused by our insightful content. In my previous company, we did just that and during a bid process, the decision maker, a Finance Director “liked” one of the salespersons articles. We went on to win this bid.