Why Social Selling is Critical for your Business Growth – Interview with Amar Sheth
74% of today’s B2B buyers do most of their research online before even contacting a salesperson. Moreover, 84% of B2B buyers now initiate a purchasing process after a peer referral, both online and in person.
With ‘social buying’ becoming progressively common, wouldn’t it be better if you are present where the decision-making is happening?
This is where social selling comes into play.
I recently spoke to Amar Sheth, VP of Customer Success at Sales For Life on the emergence of social selling and the need for salespeople to start developing long-term relationships with potential prospects – the key to closing more deals.
Amar Sheth is a prominent influencer in the social selling space and has trained thousands of people worldwide on the topic. During this discussion, he shared several valuable insights into how you can use social selling as a powerful growth tool for your business.
Here’s what Amar told me…
Peter: How would you define social selling?
Amar: For me, social selling is all about the ability to build relationships with potential buyers that ultimately translates into pipeline and revenue.
If the goal of sales is to generate revenue, which obviously it is, there’s a step before that – which is the relationship. As the world becomes more digital and transactional, sales is becoming more automated and going online. In such an ecosystem, the ‘relationship seller’ is going to become the next focus area for the sales industry.
That’s what social selling is all about. It’s the ability to find, engage and build relationships with prospects using social media as the platform.
Peter: If you are using LinkedIn to just identify prospects, does that count as social selling?
Amar: When you think about social selling from the LinkedIn perspective, it would be a false premise to assume that just because you use LinkedIn – or any other social media tool to promote your brand – you’re a social seller.
One huge mistake that salespeople make is to use LinkedIn as a list building tool. They make use of LinkedIn’s advanced search features to generate a list of potential prospects and then try to sell to them in the traditional way.
So they’ll identifies a prospect, find his profile and then hit the connect button.
Sometimes, they’ll write an intro message or a customized note with the invitation. Other than that, there is no real relationship building or one-to-one communication happening between the salesperson and the buyer.
Then what are the chances that someone you barely know will connect with you and even buy from you? Next to none, right?
Using LinkedIn to build a list and send a mass market prospecting note to all your connections doesn’t work. That is not social selling.
Peter: For an effective social selling strategy, what are the two or three things you’d ask a salesperson to do differently?
Amar: Irrespective of whether you use the phone, email, social media or a combination of all three, there’s one trait that salespeople need to build – the ability to become a knowledge resource.
This is the simplest way to stand out on social platforms and get the attention of your prospects.
Automation is happening across the world, across every single industry. What does that mean? It means entire industries are going to get disrupted. It also means prospects will stop buying from salespeople who are not differentiating themselves.
When the market is moving towards rapid automation, where less and less humans may be needed to complete jobs, how as a salesperson can you stand out?
You have to become content hubs. You have to become knowledge experts. You’ve to go out and start foreseeing trends or at least forecasting through trends. You’ve to start talking about issues, ideas and business objectives that your customer or potential customer may not even be thinking of yet. Most salespeople aren’t doing that.
The other thing that I’d do to stand out as a salesperson is become an authority in my industry.
Let’s assume you’re in the industry of selling networking devices like Assisto or Juniper. How do buyers differentiate you from others? As a salesperson, you need to understand that when a prospect agrees to meet with you, it’s likely that they have already done a significant amount of research. We measured it for our business and we know that approximately 42% of the research is done even before the very first phone call.
As a salesperson, how can you bridge that gap? If you’re not involved from the beginning, if you’re not adding insights up front, then the chances of you winning the deal is low. In fact, there’s a study by Forrester that says: 74% of buyers will choose the salesperson that’s first to add value.
You might be selling networking equipment, but your buyer may not even need the solution that you’re providing. Your job as a salesperson is not just to use LinkedIn to identify them, but really to invest time in educating them.
As a salesperson, you’ve to understand that you’ve to make a deposit into the bank of your prospect, with time. You’ve to invest time into people. You cannot get around that.
Peter: This is really interesting. Jill Rowley (A Forbes Top 30 Social Selling Influencer, who also happens to be a partner at Sales for Life), told me something similar – you have to make a deposit first. What can companies do to build a process of creating thought leaders among salespeople?
Amar: I think it just starts with the ability to read more and be mindful of the trends. Let me give you a personal example. I use a tool called Feed.ly – it’s my favorite. Feed.ly is a content aggregator – it puts together all the blogs, articles and publications that I liked and read, in one central repository.
Salespeople are busy and while they may want to read more and get to know about new trends in your industry, it may not be possible. So they can use tools like Feed.ly to see what’s new and quickly digest it. Companies can create a process around such content aggregator tools to help salespeople be on top on news and trends in their industry.
Number two is the act of sending it to your prospects. If you don’t have fancy tools to share content super fast, go old school. Literally, print out articles that you find, photocopy them, and mail them out to people.
Do these two things – know information that your potential customers will find useful and then provide it to them in a way that is easy for them to digest.
If you develop the ability to educate and speak with your prospects articulately, you win. That’s the key.
Peter: Does social selling get faster results than traditional selling?
Amar: Many salespeople, starting social programs, expect quick returns. The reality is a bit different. Sure LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and all the other social tools that you use will speed up the process but actual results will come only when you personally get involved and invest time into your buyers.
Let me give you an example. One salesperson on my team, with a decade-plus experience in ERP sales, was losing deals even after sending proposals with pricing cheaper than the competition.
When he called those prospect to do a win-loss analysis, they told him they’d bought from another company whose sales guy – let’s call him John – had been educating and building a strong relationship with these buyers for months before they were even interested in the product.
John was taking articles from magazines, publications, newspapers etc., and creating a monthly newsletter for all his prospects that were customized to their interests. He was snail mailing this to his prospects. He’d let them know about things like a new manufacturing trend coming up in China, or a new machinery that would disrupt the market or a potential new government regulation that may affect them etc.
John was in effect social selling. It wasn’t using online tools but he was technically social selling. He was educating his prospects.
John was adding value way before there was even a need. That’s the best way to start adding value. You need to take a very long-term view. Also, companies need to figure out how they can give their salespeople leverage to think long term and create that value.
Peter: If I wanted to sell you something and I wanted to do it through the social selling approach, how would I use LinkedIn to demonstrate my thought leadership and build a relationship with you?
Amar: You can do it through your ability to share content and provide information. If I am your prospect, you don’t even have to connect with me on LinkedIn. You can find my profile, see what I’m doing, leave smart comments on my posts or share something that’s relevant to get my attention.
There are so many ways to use LinkedIn to make me realize that there’s a guy named Peter Banerjea. That’s not hard. But 90%+ salespeople still don’t do it.
These methods have always existed on social. But I think ultimately salespeople have to consider writing their own content. You need to be able to demonstrate your authority and your expertise through content.
It is very hard to convey value and expertise and authority in a 30 seconds call or in a 2 minutes call or even a 5 minutes call. You need to educate them continuously, even when you are not directly spending time with them.
You can do this by sharing third-party content through Feedly, but it’s more important to be the thought leader and creator of original content. You educate people, you earn their respect and then they’ll talk to you.
Peter: What’s a simple process to start social selling at a company? What are the main steps that I should be thinking about?
Amar: The first thing, if you are going to be on social, is to understand that it needs to become a part of your overall sales process. If you have a process for salespeople to use the phone and email to nurture potential buyers, social has to be integrated into that. That’s something you have to do right away.
Secondly, you need to consider what’s the outcome of social. Why do you want your salespeople to be on social?
You need to be able to answer these questions: Am I just doing this because my competitors are? Am I doing this because I genuinely have a business objective where social will help? You need to figure that out.
Thirdly, you need to figure out how you’re going to educate your buyers and what kind of information will you use to educate them.
As Amar Sheth says, social selling requires you to make a deposit before you expect any returns. But the returns from this investment are substantial. Most salespeople are yet to adopt social selling, so if you begin to adopt it, that gives you a huge competitive advantage!