Do you know that in 1895, in Ohio, there were only two cars in the whole state?
What makes this news so fascinating is that in spite of the fairly big area (44,825 miles2 or 116,096 km2), these two cars managed to pull of an incredible act: They collided head-on.
I mention this interesting fact is because in recent years traditional selling and social selling have collided and as the dust settles, it becomes as obvious as a ham sandwich that traditional “pitch, present, handle objections, close, close, close” approach is on life support and more and more people are getting ready to pull the plug on the life support machine and, with that, on traditional selling.
Well, no one can stop the wheels of evolution and no matter how many sales gurus earn their living by teaching old-fashioned, obsolete sales methods, no one can stop the new and more buyer friendly sales approach that we’ve come to call social selling.
How the Sales Scene Has Changed
Sometime in 2005, I almost got engaged by a Vancouver-based engineering consulting firm, helping management put together a comprehensive marketing plan, so they can go from hunting to farming type business development.
Eventually, luckily, I didn’t get hired.
I had a couple of meetings with them but it was pretty complicated to meet the key people because almost everyone was on a North American “tour”, visiting potential clients.
Yes, both engineering and business development staff members were on their individual tours, visiting large cities randomly dropping in on people whose names they’d scraped from the web or other cold lists.
No appointment, nothing. They would show up, with boxes of doughnuts and some coffee, to introduce themselves and see if they could squeeze some RFPs out of some.
After all, there was a contest. He who comes home with the most purchase orders – projects starting at high six figures, – will be promoted and get some money too.
Not much, because this self-proclaimed world-class industry leader hyper-innovative firm was on the verge of bankruptcy.
As the saying goes, change is the only constant thing in the Universe, and that change applies to sales trends too.
This brave engineering firm looked at change as changing the effort of doing what they’d always done.
Ever since the firm started in 1954, they’d got their clients by cold-visiting them.
The world has changed, but they doggedly maintained their cold-visiting approach to sales.
The fact that most of the visited buyers slammed their doors into those poor guys’ faces somehow didn’t even register and they kept doing it.
Then a few years later, one of their competitors bought the firm for pennies, disassembled it and laid everyone off. They wanted the firm for its database.
And that firm also realized that if you want to get the most out of a database, the one thing you never do is show up on their doorsteps unannounced.
Traditional Sales Has Given Way to Social Sales
We can define social selling as a sales process that uses social media platforms to connect, communicate, and engage and research to build up sellers’ “know, like and trust” factors to the point where buyers do business with them on their own volition and without sellers’ running the old-fashioned sales gauntlet of endless objections, haggling, etc. It’s an all-in-all more pleasant process both for sellers and buyers.
Sellers can sell at better prices and buyers don’t feel they are sold to.
And the numbers prove that too. According to Social Media and Sales Quota Attainment: The Impact of Social Media on Sales Quota and Corporate Revenue,
- In 2012, 6% of sales people using social media as part of their sales process outperformed their sales peers and exceeded quota 23% more often.
- 54% of our survey respondents have tracked their social media usage back to closed deals.
But the sad part is that despite the promising improvements:
- Almost 75% of the salespeople have received no training on how to use social media at all.
When we correlate the effectiveness of social selling and the reluctance of getting people trained on it, we can really confirm that social sales skill development is really a sort of unwanted step child in many organizations.
Many business leaders are concerned about what might happen if they get those people trained in social sales, and they leave.
But what happens if you don’t get them trained and they stay?
The former is a minor setback, but the latter is a major disaster with expensive consequences.
So, the sales scene has changed on two fronts. One is the skill set and the other is the approach.
The Sales Skill Set
In the pre-Internet age, the notion was that a good salesperson could sell anything to anyone.
This notion had created sales trainers who were regarded as gurus in their days, but are regarded as charlatans in today’s post-Internet era.
Back in the age of yore, all salespeople needed was lots of sales skills and a little product knowledge. With that, they could go out and land new business fairly quickly.
One of the main reasons for that was that salespeople had all the vital product information and buyers had very limited ways of obtaining even more limited information.
So, even though they knew they would be manipulated, buyers grudgingly agreed to meeting sellers.
Also, sellers knew buyers had no other ways of playing the game but by salespeople’s rules, so they’d become pretty skilled at counter-manipulating salespeople.
And then buyers and sellers were off to the races bamboozling and hoodwinking each other as much as possible.
Buyers were trying to get as much as they could for as little as they could and sellers were trying to give as little as they could for as much as they could.
We’ve all heard about underhanded stories like the one published in Computer World (8 May 2006, Don Tennant: Rotten Effort), in which a Microsoft saleswoman, posing as a software licensing expert, threatens a client on false licensing issues. The client had to ask his attorney to deal with the ambitious douchebag saleswoman.
Using product knowledge, salespeople used to sell product functions.
When the buyers said they needed CRM, then CRM vendors lined up and peddled their “robust”, “best of breed” and “world-class” CRM packages through dog-and-pony presentations. And they got price-shopped by procurement agents.
Today, buyers are reluctant to meet sellers. They know most sellers have nothing valuable to offer, so there is no reason to meet them.
Savvy sales professionals have realized that the more “boardroomy”, as opposed to “producty”, English they speak in their communication with buyers, the more chance they have to meet real boardroom dwellers and the better they can avoid price-obsessed procurement agents and budget- and authority-less mid-managers who have been “tasked” to hire XYZ professionals on their bosses’ behalf.
This approach requires salespeople to become somewhat familiar with their clients’ subject matter areas and beef up their financial skills. No, they don’t have to become full-blown accountants, but must have a good understanding how money inflows and outflows effect the financial holy trinity – balance sheet, P&L and cash flow statement.
When listening to product pitches, executives want to hear about increased profits, reduced costs and other boardroom-calibre key performance indicators (KPI) and how sellers’ products can move the needle on them in desirable directions.
The other side of the modern sales equation is…
A New Approach to Sales in the Modern Era
The old hunting type sales approach was that salespeople would chase and hound buyers and once thy catch them they pound them with more or less “me too” type sales pitches until buyers give in and buy. Well, very often this is the only way to get rid of overzealous salespeople.
So, what do smart buyers do nowadays? They barricade themselves behind layers of gatekeepers and procurement agents.
In 1998, a visionary woman named Faith Popcorn wrote in the Popcorn Report that the trend in the 90s was ‘Cocooning’. What she meant was that people wanted to be left alone by predatory marketers.
It’s easy to conclude that if people were “cocooning” in the 90s, 20 years later, they build fortresses with moats and surround themselves with armed guards as a protective measure against aggressive salespeople.
In the first 57% (Corporate Executive Board’s study) of the buying process, buyers don’t even talk to salespeople. Yes, that’s bad news, but the silver lining is that the same people are eager to “consume” and “digest” sellers’ information that can help sellers in their decision-making.
So, sellers have learnt that if they want to sell to this new breed of buyers, they have to stop chasing and start attracting and engaging buyers.
It’s a drastically different approach, and even today, many sales, marketing and business development managers are not ready for it.
But we shouldn’t despair.
American economist and Nobel Memorial Prize winner, Paul Samuelson’s words, “Funeral by funeral, science makes progress.”
Slowly but surely the old dogs will die out and that’s when progress can really put the pedal to the metal.
The roles have changed. 20 years ago, it was sellers who selected buyers and started chasing after them. Today, it’s buyers who make the selection and communicate with certain sellers until they’re ready for the next step. So, gradually…
The Dawn Of Social Selling Has Cracked
So, as the rooster croaked to signal the crack of dawn of social selling, we can observe a few changes, and the biggest one is that selling has seized to be a purely commercial activity and it’s become a social activity first and only then a commercial activity.
It’s similar to how dating has changed over the centuries.
Our distant ancestors would just hop over to their neighbouring caves, pick the best-looking people, take them home and the deal was done.
But today we have this fiddly process of courting, wining and dining.
Now, selling has changed in a very similar way.
So, social selling is when salespeople, using valuable information, create the proverbial wining and dining experience for their target markets and “court” them hoping that buyers appreciate the courting and engage in doing business with those sellers.
Yes, it’s a hit and miss game because buyers do business with you on their own volition and you can’t force them.
Initially your social selling is like a casino slot machine: Lots of misses and only a very few hits.
But then, as you get better at the type of content you serve and the process of serving it, your social selling turns into a vending machine: Lots of hits and only a very few misses.
So, we can boil social selling down to two main ingredients:
- The calibre of sellers’ content.
- Buyers’ overall experience of accessing and consuming sellers’ content.
They are like the two wings of a mightily majestic and bodaciously beautiful bird, like… hmm… the marabou stork, the officially recognized ugliest bird on the planet.
And unless you have your high-quality content and high-quality consumption experience in balance, your social selling efforts may report engine failure and crash land, condemning you to engage in old-fashioned selling.
Next, let’s discover…
How Social Selling Fits into The New Frame
When you take a closer look at social selling, you discover that it has four distinctive segments…
- Social listening is related to customer service and reputation management on your social media platforms. This is also the area where you find out about your target market’s afflictions and aspirations.
- Reputation management
- Retention increase
- Refunds reduction
- Content- and product gap identification
- Social influencing is related establishing and strengthening your “know, like and trust” factor on your social media platforms through distributing valuable content.
- Traffic increase
- Engagement increase
- Retargeting list building
- Social networking is related to connecting with influencers both in your own and your target market’s industry.
- Alliance development
- Media relationship building
- Social selling is related to generating sales leads from your social media platforms and converting them into sales.
- Sales lead generation
- Email list growth
- Customer acquisition
- Upsell and cross-sell
- Purchase frequency purchase
- Purchase quantity increase
- Harv Eker, a Vancouver-based personal development expert posits that the visible effects in people’s lives, like money, weight, health, etc., are the mere reflections of their mental, emotional and spiritual sates – the invisible causes.
Similarly, in social selling, the quantifiable KPIs are the reflections of usually unquantifiable causes from the listening, influencing and networking segments.
Where social selling often goes haywire is that managers try to quantify everything.
But in social selling, the traditional sales metrics need to be replaced by judgment and discernment.
The problem is that measurement requires only a measuring stick that any idiot can read, but a judgment requires knowledge and discernment. And that is something most traditional quota-chasing sales managers can’t even fathom.
And when listening, influencing and networking are missing from the equation, the prize-winning thoroughbred of social selling turns into a three-legged limping donkey of old-fashioned hunter type selling.
And what happens to the best prospects. Well, they flee for their lives. They don’t want to be sold to. They want to buy when they are ready but don’t want to be sold when sellers need money.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at some vital…
Social Selling Tools
Just as social selling requires a new approach, it requires new tools as well. These new tools make sure that the sales process is “gentle” and enjoyable and doesn’t degenerate into old-fashioned hucksterism.
- Social listening tools help to play the fly on the wall and learn what your target market is looking for in the kind of products and services that you sell.
- Social influencing tools
- Social networking tools
- Social selling tools
Of course, technology is only one side of the equation. The other side is the human element. If your sales and marketing managers are entrenched in old-fashioned selling and marketing, no tools can compensate for that shortcoming.
Having reviewed the required tools, now we can review the required…
Social Selling Metrics
He big difference here is that while in traditional selling, the main metrics are lagging indicators (effects), like quota, number of leads generated sales price, etc., in social selling, you have to focus on leading indicators (causes) that make the lagging indicators happen.
No matter how hard you monitor and document your quota, until and unless you change some of the leading indicators, paraphrasing the old Led Zeppelin song, The Song Remains the Same, the quota remains the same, and that number may make you a happy camper.
- Social listening metrics
- Reputation score
- Retention rate [%] = (Ce – Ca) / Cs
Ce: Number of customers at the end of the test period
Ca: Number of new customers acquired during the test period
Cs: Number of customer at the beginning of the test period
- Refund rate
- Product gaps identified
- Content gaps identified
- Social influencing metrics
- Site engagement rates
- Traffic by channel
- Offer awareness
- Retargeting list growth
- Social networking metrics
- Number of inbound links
- Number and description of earned media mentions
- Number and description of strategic partnerships
- Social selling metrics
- Number of leads/email list growth
- Offer conversion rate
- Buyer recency / frequency
What you can see among these metrics is that the selling indicators are not under your full control, but the indicators for listening, influencing and networking more or less are. Still, there can be unforeseeable factors, like uncontrollable natural forces, or “Acts of God” as the insurance industry fancies to call them, but still, they are much more controllable than the indicators under selling.
But if the criteria for the first listening, influencing and networking are fulfilled, then there is a good chance the selling bit is on track to producing some impressive, bank manager-exciting indicators.
With that, let’s review…
The Main Social Selling Channels
In this section, we take a closer look at…
I’d like to give you one warning here. Many companies make the mistake of going “1 mile wide and 1 inch deep” on social media. That is, they jump on many social media channels and end up barely scraping the surface.
Pick one channel and go deep.
Set up a good profile and start interacting with others in your target market. Start posting and start responding to others’ posts.
When it comes to social media, consistency is crucial, so stay with one channel and go deep.
Pinterest is a rapidly growing visual search engine with an 81% female audience.
- 150 million active monthly users
- 60% new signups are women.
- 93% of the pins are made by women
- Median age of a Pinterest user is 40, however majority of active pinners are below 40.
- 30% of all US social media users are Pinterest users.
Some of the most popular niches are food, fashion, travel, beauty and design.
YouTube can be regarded as the video arm of the Google search engine, and is probably the most popular video platform.
In general, sales leads from YouTube are of high quality.
It’s more of a B2C than a B2B platform.
- 700 million active monthly users
- 68% of Instagram users are women
- 32% of all Internet users are on Instagram.
- 59% of internet users between the ages of 18 and 29 use Instagram and 33% of internet users between the ages of 30 and 49 use Instagram
It’s a preferred platform both for B2B and B2C buyers.
- 328 million active monthly users
- 24% of all Internet user men use Twitter, whereas 21% of all Internet user women.
- 37% of Twitter users are between ages of 18 and 29, 25% users are 30-49 years old.
In my experience, LinkedIn is a real B2B channel. Most B2C buyers are on the other platform, especially Facebook.
- 106 million active monthly users
- 40 million students and recent college graduates use LinkedIn.
- 57% of users are men and 44% are women.
- 13% of Millennials (15-34 Years old) use Linkedin.
It’s used mainly by B2C buyers.
- 01 billion active monthly users
- 53% of Facebook users are women and 47% are men.
- The average Facebook user has 155 “friends”.
- 74% college graduates are on Facebook.
- 82% of 18 to 29-year-olds online in the U.S. use Facebook.
- 79% of 30 to 49-year-olds online in the U.S. use Facebook.
It’s used mainly by B2C buyers.
- 300 million active monthly users
- 71% of Snapchat users are under 34 years old.
- About 70% of Snapchatters are women
- People under the age of 25 use Snapchat for 40 minutes on average every day.
- 45% of Snapchat users are between ages of 18 and 24.
What all social media channels have in common is that they are against direct selling on the platform. Yes, you can present valuable information and then whoever is interested will seek you out and do business with you. But no direct pitching.
And this change in the sales scene has given way to…
A Different Kind of Content Marketing
I may disappoint you, but content marketing is not new. Not at all.
A great picture wrapped in a great story.
And when people tell you that article marketing is a new thing, show them another of Ogilvy’s articles from the
1950s and 60s.
But let’s go back in time a tad more …
John Deere’s “newsletter”, The Furrow started in 1885.
In 1900, when there were only about 2000 cars in France, Michelin’s published 35,000 copies of its 400-page Michelin Guide, offering information on car maintenance, restaurants, hotels and travel.
The Ladies’ Home Journal started in 1883 as a supplement in the Tribune and Farmer, but by 1903 the demand was so high that it became an independent publication. It was America’s very first magazine with million+ subscribers.
These pieces of prove that content marketing is not a new thing but has been around for a while.
And the other part of content marketing…
Yes, The Writing Bit
When content marketing started in the early 1900’s, companies quickly embraced it and put their best writers on producing the type of content that would lead to sales, that is, increased revenue.
In his books, Ogilvy on Advertising and Confessions of an Advertising Man, copywriter legend David Ogilvy extensively wrote about that fact that well-written articles, that is, brochures written as articles, are more widely read than advertisements, and, as a result, more people end up buying the items they’ve just read about in those articles.
Direct marketing experts have been teaching their students for decades about the effectiveness of education-based marketing and they’ve made piles of money using it.
But then the Internet came and the writing part changed. Someone came up with the name of content marketing and the idea that anyone with two brain cells can write articles.
So, companies started hiring cheap content writers, especially from third- world countries, and started flooding the Internet with lots of low-quality literary We’ve all seen garbage like this…
“CP is well known site. It is best writing site. It has cheap content writer. The writers are highly skilled on our site. Our experts will solve all your biz issues. You just need to get cheap aid of our writers.
Our writers give out class work. They write top class content for the sites. Our content is always unique since we write from scratch. You will find our work ideal in all means.”
The idea that any idiot can write, hence writing has become a cheap commodity.
As a side note, it reminds me of Scotty’s comment in Star Trek…
Scotty: “All systems automated and ready. A chimpanzee and two trainees could run her.”
Captain Kirk: “Thank you, Mr. Scott. I’ll try not to take that personally.”
Today when the Internet is flooded with useless content, some companies start paying attention to quality content. The gradually ditch their “content experts” in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Zululand and start hiring proper content writers who, besides speaking English, understand the culture of the country where the content gets published and have a dollop pf business savvy.
What they also understand is that since in social selling direct pitching is a no-no, they need the kid of content that includes the elements of subtle persuasion that advances content consumers towards the decision-making point where they decide whether or not they buy the product/service the article mentions from the same company that’s produced the article.
And this has led us to…
Authoritative Content with The Right Blend of Substance and Style
When you look at content, you can divide it into four groups.
Quality content is made up by longer, thoughtful, in-depth “crafted” articles written by content artisans who care about what they create.
Useless content is made up by short, thoughtless, superficial “churned” articles written by content factory labourers who don’t give a flying fig about what happens to their masterpieces.
Well, they may not, but Google does more and more, and factory articles get more and more penalized.
So, they are the two extremes.
In between you have the insomnia-inducing academic papers. They are very high in substance but are presented in a horrible manner.
Mind you, academics are paid for word count. The more verbose they are, the more they get paid both in prestige and money. They don’t really care about who reads or even understands their writings.
And you have impressive looking content. Well, the written version of motivational speakers, talking about the most mundane nonsense in a highly stylish manner.
The goal is to get rid of useless content and turn impressive-looking content and academic content into quality content.
Let’s start with length.
Stop it! Right now! How dare you?
I’m talking about the length of the content piece not the length some other pieces. That’s your business alone.
According to SerpIQ, the ideal length of a content piece is around 2,500 words.
And that’s from the search engines’ perspective. From the visitors’ perspective, you need some illustrations that support your content and footnotes as third-party evidence for your claims.
Ideal word count for other social media platforms are, as per Kevan Lee of Buffer Inc.,…
- Twitter: 100 characters
- Facebook: Under 40 characters
- Google+ headline: Under 60 characters
- Headline length: 6 words
- Paragraph width: 40-55 characters
- Email subject line: 28-39 characters
- YouTube: 18 minutes
- Title tag: 55 characters
- Domain name: 8 characters
And here is Matt Raglan’s (Twitter @mattragland) excellent Infographic summarizing it all.
We’ve all heard the phrase that people like to buy but don’t like to be sold to. It’s always been true, but with the arrival of social selling, it’s true about a million-times more than before.
Let’s just look at the two processes and how distinctive they are.
Selling is all about attempting to convince others, often using less than straight shooter methods, that they should want or need sellers’ products/services regardless of whether or not they actually do. The process often involves hard-core scaremongering, heavy-handed closing techniques, disrespectful objection-handling and strong haggling. Buyers frequently experience buyer’s remorse after.
By contrast, buying is all about willingly and voluntarily buying products/services that buyers want or need, and gladly paying sellers’ full prices for them. Buyers leave transactions feeling satisfied and fulfilled with their new purchases.
What social selling has accomplished in a few years is what consultative selling tried to pull off years ago, but some trainers of traditional sales mascaraed as consultative sales experts and ruined the process.
Today, with a few exceptions, buyers treat consultative sellers as if they were the bottom of the sales profession, that is, used car salespeople and realtors.
But one thing is sure. Social selling is here to stay and unless sellers change their sales approach, they will be left behind and pushed out of business.
To help you find the most appropriate social media platform(s) for your social selling effort, please read How to Find Profitable Social Media Platforms for your B2B Business. Among others, you discover
- How to define your ideal audience
- How to use specific buyer persona information
- How to identify where your audience spends time online
- And much more…
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