I’m the opening keynote speaker at a social selling conference in Melbourne, Australia this Friday and I’m going to invite up on stage a social selling leader who embraces the phone and understands the importance of being Chief Example Office when it comes business development.
In his last role as CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of a large corporation, Rahul Kumar understood ‘social selling’ yet he personally made 150 calls a week (3 days with 2-hour time blocks) to new potential clients to build a pipeline for the company. He did this to lead by example for his team of 44 sales people and 6 marketers. Rahul never bought into the social selling schlock of ‘the phone is dead’ which is why he has been so successful. As preparation for our time together on stage I interviewed him and here is an edited transcript… every CEO, sales manager, and salesperson should read this.
How long have you been using social selling as part of your strategy?
I’ve been leveraging social selling as part of my sales process for more than 10 years now. I started social selling when I was introduced to the LinkedIn platform by a colleague and saw the potential immediately. Back then, I was the CEO of New Horizons Australia; a B2B training and consulting provider. I had the pleasure of introducing social selling to the team of 44 sales professionals and 6 marketers. I trained the teams on the relevant elements of both social selling and social media marketing.
Straight out of the gate, Rahul distinguishes between social marketing and social selling. They are two different things and many sellers waste huge amounts of time doing ineffective social marketing, thinking that they are ‘selling’… huge fail!
Why did you start Social Selling?
Even though I embraced the LinkedIn platform in 2007, it was during the GFC that I had to embrace social selling. The market was getting tighter and people were being let go from organizations big and small. We were selling B2B training and consulting services to IT and HR leadership, and we saw entire departments depleted. We had phone numbers of contacts but those contacts were no longer employed. We needed to rapidly create a new network of and LinkedIn proved to be an excellent platform. Also, a lot of companies were going out of business around that time and new businesses were commencing operation. Again, LinkedIn was the place we went to find net new organizations to work with. We saw rapid success and great cut through. We were able to engage with senior leaders and Startup CEOs immediately. We saw real success within 6 months of commencing our social selling journey.
You’ve mentioned LinkedIn a few times. To you, is Social Selling mainly about leveraging LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is a foundational platform in the B2B social selling landscape, however, it is by no means the only social selling channel there is. Twitter is an excellent social selling platform but underrated and under-utilized. YouTube, Google+ and Facebook also play their respective roles. Other than social media channels, there are various sales and marketing technology solutions that make up the social selling landscape. Your CRM, marketing automation platform, content sources, web browser, all play a role including content aggregators such as Feedly, Flipboard, Pocket, etc. Content distribution apps such as Buffer and Hootsuite play important roles too. The reason I mention LinkedIn upfront is because that’s where it started for me and I continue to see great success on the platform.
How do you define Social Selling?
To me, Social Selling in a B2B context is about Finding appropriate prospects, Connecting with these prospects, Educating the network with value added content, Engaging with the network and Developing the network (both qualitatively and quantitatively). The purpose of this social (selling) activity is to locate on social channels ‘who’ we must initiate relationships with, then initiate the relationship, nurture the relationship, monetise the relationship and repeat the cycle.
You defined Social Selling in a B2B context. Would you say Social Selling is different in B2B and B2C settings?
Absolutely. Firstly, I would like to point out that the words ‘Social Selling’ are without a doubt a misnomer, particularly so in a B2B setting. Yes, in a B2C landscape, direct sales can be achieved through social channels. Eg; A café offers a deal on Instagram and people purchase the deal; or clothing manufacturers promote a line of apparel through Facebook and people purchase the apparel. So in B2C settings, direct revenue generation can take place through Social channels. However, in B2B settings, the sale is often complex. If sellers attempt to push products or ‘solutions’ in social channels it usually backfires and burns brand.
Do you see Social Selling as a replacement to traditional selling?
Not at all. Social Selling is a set of tactics that today’s sales professionals must leverage. However, social selling must not replace what has been working well and continues to work well, such as: phone-based engagement, meetings, networking events, presentations, demos, discovery sessions, seminars, coffee catch-ups, etc. For some reason two camps have emerged – those who believe traditional selling is being replaced by social selling and those that believe that social selling is just a fad and/or irrelevant. There is little merit in remaining stuck to either side of the spectrum. Modern day sellers must leverage all traditional tactics that yield results. Equally, they must embrace the world of social and digital. It is not about Social OR Traditional. It is about Social AND Traditional.
What do you attribute to the rise of Social Selling?
It depends on the vertical the sales professional works in. It also depends on which industry sector you sell to, which functions you sell to (IT, HR, Finance etc.), what job titles you sell to and the types of products/services you sell. Primarily though, social selling’s rise has happened due to a change in the buying landscape. B2B buyer behavior has changed and continues to do so. Social Selling is the necessary response to the change in buyer behavior – they are digitally aware and have ready access to a plethora of information. They access that information along with several points of the buying spectrum, relevant to where they are on that spectrum, at that moment in time. The salesperson in not even involved yet opinions are being formed and preferred suppliers are being identified. B2B sales professionals are ‘having to’ include a social/digital response to the evolving buying landscape. I repeat this is not a case of B2B sellers wanting to do this. They are having to do this. The buyer is well and truly in control. The buyer is digital in nature and is leveraging technology (Search Engines and Social Media) from initial research, to learning about a product/service, to peer research for advice, etc. For a sales professional to have the ability to influence, social and digital tactics are now extremely important. More millennials occupy decision-making roles and they bring their social savvy to the business environment. Sales’ ability to leverage social will become increasingly important.
Why should organizations consider launching a Social Selling program?
B2B facing organizations are already leveraging social and digital tools and platforms from a marketing perspective. In order to win share of voice, share of wallet, influence, gain competitive advantage, achieve growth, etc.; a more holistic approach is needed. Sales too must leverage social and digital channels to find prospects, educate them, engage and develop relationships. There is already critical mass in the number of professionals on platforms such as LinkedIn and the new generation of leaders are millennials. They are extremely socially savvy and their buyer behavior is very different to the leaders of yesterday and even today. Tomorrow’s executive buyer will engage more on digital landscapes than physical ones. Organizations must execute on digital transformation of the sales business unit. They are doing so successfully in many other business units but sales seems have been left behind on much needed transformation.
Who can benefit most from Social Selling?
Ultimately Social Selling is about professionals leveraging social channels to advance their organization’s interests. Social Selling tactics can be leveraged by the CEO, by executives, by senior management, by sales leadership and of course by sales professionals. We are all in the business of making our business’ succeed. This is what Social Selling allows each and every business professional to do.
Is Social Selling now mandatory for a company to stay competitive?
Without a doubt. We hear some executives say: “We have plenty of business from our existing clients.” This confuses me. Should we not be focused on growth? Should we not future proof our enterprise? Why learn a set of tactics when the business is in dire straits? Isn’t the best time to gain a competitive advantage when you are ahead already?
How do we measure the return on Social Selling?
Just as you would measure any other sales activity. Just as you would measure dials and return on that activity, or how many meetings did a BDM have in a quarter and what did that yield. Just as you would measure the win/loss ratio of proposals. Social Selling is a measurable activity. It can be measured. It must be measured.
When it comes to Social Selling success, what barriers do you see?
There are many I could lists here but I will list a few: Poor vision on part of leadership, archaic thinking, inability of sales leaders and senior sales professionals to change, poor change management, goals are not established, improper training, social gets pitted against traditional selling when it should be part of traditional selling, Old habits die hard; sales factions often think that what has worked well will continue to work well, indefinitely.
I hear sales professionals often say that they don’t have time for Social Selling. Your comments?
A sales professional who has been properly trained in the art and science of Social Selling needs merely 30 minutes a day to execute on Social Selling tactics. Sales professionals often make phone calls for 30 minutes that yield no return – and that is to one or two contacts in one organization. Salespeople can take 30 minutes out of the day before the customer contact block commences to execute on a robust social selling routine that can touch an entire network.
How much of a commercially minded leader’s time should be invested in business development time?
That depends on a few variables: the organization’s lifecycle, the vertical they play in, their market position, their strategy, etc. Having played a Sales Leader role, a CMO role, a COO role and a CEO role, I can tell you that my business development activity as a CEO produced the best results. I am of the opinion that CXOs are in an excellent position to lift their organization’s brand and build sales pipeline. They often get more cut through than some of the best sales professionals on the team. Through their business development activities, they can help their frontline sales professionals uncover new territory and advance further in accounts. Just like in team sporting endeavors, you see captains step up and lead from the front, so too, in the B2B sales setting, I humbly believe that leaders must be commercially minded and lead from the front.
What role does the phone play in Social Selling?
The phone is still a pivotal sales tool. I have heard some factions use statements such as: ‘The cold call is dead’, ‘the phone is no longer relevant’, ‘no one is answering phones anymore’. This has not been my experience. I was making cold calls back in the early 2000s and I am still making them today. They landed well then and they land even better today because you can warm the call up through social listening and digital research. The Phone is here to stay. It is an effective and efficient medium for communication. It has been relevant for a long time and it will continue to be relevant. The best sales professionals are not having a ‘should I use the phone or should I leverage social channels’ conversation. The best sales professionals are leveraging both. When I connect with someone through social outreach I ultimately ensure that a phone call takes place. Social/digital engagement must lead to physical outreach (phone and meetings). Similarly, when I speak with someone at a networking event or make a cold call to someone and it lands okay, then I make it a point to execute on social outreach immediately.
One thing must be noted though; buyer behavior has changed. Buyers conduct online research for products and services and they research large components of information before involving sales professionals. For this purpose alone, having a very strong social/digital presence is essential. In some cases now in order to connect on phone, a credible and buyer-centric social profile is required.
Social Selling does not replace the phone. It provides great value to the sales professional because it allows the opportunity to warm up a call. What I find strange is when people make cold calls without any social research at all.
So there is still a place for the good old phone and the coffee meet?
Absolutely Tony. The phone is still a great instrument for sales professionals. Our Head of Business Development at Resonate, Joe Barnes executes on his 50 dials a day, 5 days a week. I execute on my 50 dials a day, 3 days a week. Social is part of our sales process. It does not stand in stark contrast. It does not oppose phones, email or meetings. Social complements these activities. Please also note that each and every one we speak with, we also commence a social engagement with and vice-versa. It is not about making choices. It is about leveraging social and traditional till social becomes part of traditional. The dial for dollars approach is becoming more cumbersome. Buyers want to be educated and they want genuine value-added engagement. They also want to purchase without being interrupted. So yes, the phone is still alive and well but why make a cold-cold call when you can warm up the call through social listening and social/digital research.
What are some common social selling mistakes you see businesses make?
The biggest mistake I see is when social selling initiatives are not led from the top. I am talking above sales leadership and at the CXO level. Social is a simultaneous top-down and bottom-approach. Social selling does not succeed if just one or two parts of the business are mildly interested. This is a CHANGE project. This is a TRANSFORMATION project. It requires leadership support. It requires Sales and Marketing Integration; not just alignment of Sales and Marketing.
Another mistake I see is organizational leaders and/or managers and/or sales professionals expecting miraculous results. Any worthwhile sales play takes time. Social is not a rapid fire tactic. It takes time to cultivate a digital territory, to find prospects, connect, educate, to develop the network, etc. Impatience is a sure shot way of failing.
I will share one more mistake I see organizations make. They think ‘traditional’ V ‘social’. The best way to succeed with social is to make social part of the new tradition. If social is pitted against tradition (phone, mail, meetings, etc.) then people gravitate to the path of least resistance or what they know. To win with social, it must be brought into the fold as an additional set of tactics; not as a competing tactic.
What is the difference between the Social Selling novices and the front runners in your opinion?
I see the novices are still defining ‘social selling. They are learning the tactics. They are still wondering if social selling works and whether it fits into their sales framework, they have a disjointed play. They push out content, they educate rarely, they engage intermittently and they develop the network inconsistently.
The social selling frontrunners are strategic. They are not asking what social selling is, why bother with it and where it fits. Their play is not disjointed; it is cohesive and unified. They understand the bigger picture. They know precisely which social selling tactics fit where in their sales cycle and how each tactic relates to the buying spectrum.
What role should Sales Leaders play in social selling initiatives?
Sales Leaders are the centerpiece of where social selling succeeds or fails. Sales leaders must skill themselves up in social selling tactics, execute on these, win with these and demonstrate the wins to their teams. They must master social selling, infuse social activity in the larger sales play and coach their teams on social selling and how to infuse it into the bigger sales play. Social selling initiatives are change management and transformation initiatives. These cannot yield results unless the leaders are on board and driving from the front. You want a sales professional to drive certain behaviors, start with the Sales Manager executing the behavior. Shared vision and purpose are core here, and alignment is vital. Random acts of social selling do not work. Merely sharing content for the sake of sharing content, does not work. An adhoc approach, whereby each rep is doing her/his own thing when it comes to social selling, cannot be managed by Sales Leaders. Leadership cannot afford to sit this one on the sidelines. Leadership must play a hands on role. Social Selling is as much a skillset acquisition as it is a cultural change. And we know that culture changes do not happen without the Sales Leaders getting involved. Sales leaders are indubitably the most important change agents for social selling programs to succeed.
For companies who are considering launching Social Selling what advice would you give?
- Be clear on the why: Organisations must be extremely clear on why they are launching a Social Selling program. Business goals, sales goals and Social Selling goals must be aligned. The why must be reinforced at each and every stage of the program. We find that when social selling programs lose momentum, it is the WHY that organizations need to turn to.
- Get leadership buy-in: Social Selling initiatives are change initiatives. They are transformation initiatives. They require the leadership to be on board. Financial resources may be needed. Adjustments to the way the salesforce works and goes about conducting its business might be required. Realignment of KPIs and Metrics are often needed. Change management is needed. Getting Social Selling right so that it can drive results requires leadership buy-in because it is about changing the habits of an entire team. Sales Managers need training and coaching. This decree can only come from the senior most echelons of leadership. You cannot have socially savvy salesforces reporting into socially unaware or inactive sales management.
- Train Sales Leadership and Management layer: The core driver of success in Social Selling initiatives is a skilled social seller leading the salesforce. You cannot have a sales leader who is not adept at Social Selling, lead a social selling salesforce to success. Sales leaders and managers must be trained at Social/Digital leadership. They must also be fluent in Social Selling tactics so that they can train and mentor team members who require skills reinforcement.
- Go all in: Social Selling programs are change and transformation initiatives. There must be up front commitment by leadership that and it must be a ‘we will go all the way’ initiative. Only then do Social Selling programs succeed. Don’t go in half-baked. Go in with complete commitment and conviction. It does not matter whether you start with a small group. It is not necessary to make it an organization-wide deployment from day one. I suggest that organizations conduct a pilot program and get Proof of Concept. Most Social Selling rollouts we are involved in commence with a pilot. Upon successful completion of the pilot we are engaged for the larger project. I see some organizations start obsessing over who should be involved in the pilot. They think millennials being the most socially savvy faction should be on the pilot to get maximum return from the pilot. I don’t believe the focus should be inward (as in who would take to Social Selling most). I believe the focus should be outward (as in which buyer segments are active on social channels and available to engage with and influence). You will have millennials in teams who are socially savvy but lack the track record and strategic selling skills. Then you will have seasoned reps who know the business landscape well but aware not socially savvy. We always suggest that pilots should include sales professionals from both factions.
- Comprehensive and Robust Training: For Social Selling adoption, a comprehensive and robust training program is mandatory. Sales leaders and managers must be skilled up on social & digital leadership and tactics. Sales professionals must be skilled up on a B2B facing Social Selling program. Leaders and managers must develop skills such that they can train, guide, mentor, coach for ongoing rep development. Important to note that Social Selling must not be trained as a methodology to compete with traditional tactics. It needs to be entrenched into the existing sales methodology. Social Selling activity must be recorded into the CRM. KPIs and metrics must be agreed upon and then the activity must be executed in-line, with consistency. Social Selling must not be a secluded play. It must be part and composite of the larger sales play. Social Selling is a defined and distinct set of tactics. It is a new way-in. It is a new way of working, however, it must not combat the existing way of working. It must complement the norm and help create a new norm.
- Patience: Social Selling does not yield immediate results. Yes, sometimes you will land on an opportunity cause you were digitally at the right place and at the right time. This happens on chance phone calls and those fortunate networking events too. However, social takes time. Your team will not see immediate results, however, your team will see an immediate impact. These are the social lead indicators. Your marketing team will also see some corresponding digital lead indicators. It takes some time for the social activity to become conversations and for opportunities to surface. The time lag does not suggest that Social Selling is not yielding results. It is also important to note that traditional sales (leveraging phone, email, meetings etc.) have a linearity. Social selling affects all parts of the business in a non-linear manner.
Thanks Rahul! I also discuss these issues in my new book, COMBO Prospecting.
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Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published on LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony’s award-winning blog. Also, visit Tony’s keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.