When your sales team is on the phone making a series of cold calls, or sitting in front of a screen creating a pitch deck or sending a follow-up email after a customer meeting, it’s easy to conclude they’re being productive.
Watching them scrolling through Twitter or liking posts on Facebook, however, and you may be inclined to think they’re slacking off.
But are they really?
It may be slightly disconcerting to think that Facebook and LinkedIn are closer to their 20th birthday than their 10th. But they are, as such, an entire generation of business professionals – and prospective customers – that have grown up on social media. It’s been part of their lives forever, and the desire to have conversations digitally, and source news and information online, is ingrained.
The reality is that social media is now a legit sales platform and long before a prospect is ready to purchase, they’ve gotten to know your company and its products through a variety of ways. Social media included.
“Prospects often use social to research before buying,” says Tom Williamson, Head of Social ANZ at Salesforce.
“The foundation of selling anywhere, including social, is to know your prospect and build trust through small, positive interactions.”
And that’s exactly what social media enables your sales team to do.
Social plays an important role in the research phase as a reminder that making a purchase is not something that happens in isolation. Rather, it is a series of steps through which your prospective customers need your support.
It could start with a link shared by one of their friends, peers or coworkers that takes them directly to your site. It might be stumbling across a blog post from your company that they find useful. Sometimes they might ask their network for product suggestions, and your firm’s wares are among those mentioned.
This is all part of the customer journey. The salesperson can invest time in making cold calls or emails after monitoring social media activity, but the more effective, genuine and social media-savvy approach is to get actively involved as such conversations unfold.
"[Sales professionals need to] leverage social to build credibility and get invited into a buying cycle", says Phil Cleary, Sales Director, Sales Enablement at Salesforce.
"Share curated content, your company's content or your insights/opinions in your areas of expertise, with the intention of genuinely helping your prospects".
Sales and marketing strategies are often informed by developing a target customer persona – the key traits that represent the needs, challenges and other characteristics of those who make purchases.
But personas can only take you so far. Social media is a great way to do a bit of field research, observing what prospects say, and how they say it, in a public environment.
Instead of simply resharing their content, liking a post or making a generic comment such as “Great post!”, a sales professional should interact on social with questions or comments that reflect a genuine interest to get to know them better.
You don’t want to pummel someone on social with questions, obviously, but good sales reps often have a great ability to network and socialise. Now it’s a matter of using those skills on social media channels.
A customer or prospect might have downloaded an ebook or attended a webinar. Even if a rep follows up by phone or email right away, however, they might not be quick to respond.
If they’re sharing their thoughts about their business priorities on LinkedIn, on the other hand, reps can remind them of a key piece of advice from the ebook or webinar that they could use.
If they attended an event your company hosted, you could tag them in a Twitter or LinkedIn post that summarises the key takeaways.
“Find a way to be ‘the signal amid the noise’ by being creative and providing value in every interaction,” says Tony Hughes, Sales Enablement, Keynote Speaker and Bestselling Author.
“Earn the right to ask for access to discuss how you can help with your product, service or solution.”
This is not likely to be something that converts into a sale right away – just as you wouldn’t expect to close a deal immediately after meeting someone at a cocktail party or networking event.
This is about getting to know someone better and letting the relationship evolve naturally.
Email and phone are still very legitimate means of interacting with customers. But ask yourself – how many emails do you have in your inbox? How many voicemail messages do you actually listen to, never mind return?
If prospects spend time on social media, however, sending them a direct message (or sliding into their DMs) could be a better way to develop the relationship.
Bear in mind that it’s up to an individual whether their DMs are open to others, especially if you’re not following them, or vice versa. This is also not a place for relentless follow-up. If they don’t respond, try another channel.
However, you may be surprised at the high response rate you get.
If you encourage your sales team to make use of social media with these kinds of approaches, monitoring their performance and coaching them in their day-to-day becomes easier.
Should social media be part of your sales strategy? If you want sales to continue growing, the answer is a resounding “yes” – as long as it’s done properly, and with a thorough understanding of its role.
There also needs to be a thorough understanding of how it complements more traditional methods of selling.
“Social selling is no panacea,” warns Tony Hughes.
“The selling comes from conducting buyer research, creating introductions, securing referrals, monitoring for trigger events, and then leveraging social channels for engagement.
“But social alone isn’t enough, you need to include emails and text messages to break through. And don’t neglect the original social selling tool – the phone. Never underestimate the power of a real human voice.”
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