Using content in an effective and timely way is key to getting your social selling activities right.
This is because the essence of social selling is building up a relationship with your target audience, while subtly reinforcing your brand without bombarding people with sales messages. In today’s sophisticated consumer environment, such an approach is simply a turnoff and will no longer cut it.
Claire Spillane, finance director at Westermans International, which specialises in welding equipment, explains the rationale: “It’s all about interacting with existing and potential customers and building trust. But sharing content is also a great way of building brand awareness - even if you may never actually sell anything directly using social media.”
But not just any old content will do. As Jess McGreal, marketing manager at Carabella Gifts points out, to make social selling work, your audience has to be interested in what you have to say and, ultimately, they also have to have faith in you.
“Creating content your potential prospects will find useful or enjoyable is key to success. It humanises brands, giving them a personality and allowing them (if they’re lucky) to become an industry thought leader,” she says.
It can also help them differentiate themselves from their competitors.
So because of the clearly pivotal role that content has to play in supporting social selling activity, we’ve come up with some guidelines to help ensure yours stands out from the crowd:
1. What do I need to consider when developing a content marketing plan?
First of all, says McGreal, it’s important to understand that there is no “magic formula or step-by-step guide” to coming up with effective or appropriate content as each business is “individual, with its own proposition and buying cycle”.
As a result, there is little point in trying to copy a pre-prepared content model or approach that you happen to have stumbled across during an internet search. “Sure, you need to look around for ideas and see what the competition is up to, but your company’s content marketing needs to be tailored to its customers,” she advises.
This means that sales professionals need to share information that is of interest to their target audience – even if it has nothing directly to do with their brand. Such information could include industry news, third party reports or independent research.
“People follow people who share things and can help them, or that they enjoy. But that’s not the end of it,” McGreal says. “Sales professionals also need to develop their own voice and not be a robot copying and pasting branded updates.”
Blogging about the industry in which you operate is one simple means of doing this – and is also a useful means of sparking conversations too. “Have you noticed that all your customers are facing the same issue? Then write a blog about it and don’t be scared to add in your opinion,” McGreal recommends.
Another approach is to take part in LinkedIn group discussions, Twitter conversations or any other pertinent forum in which your target audience may be found. But before jumping in with both feet, it is vital that sales staff monitor and listen to what is going on in the social world in order to get to grips with hot topics of the day.
Equally important is that they have access to pertinent content as and when they need it – whether such information has been developed internally or aggregated and curated from approved third party sources by the marketing department.
It is here that a content marketing strategy can prove beneficial in terms of planning, production, promotion and measuring the effectiveness of your activity. Lindsey McInerney, head of digital transformation at Hootsuite in Europe, the Middle East and Africa outlines her approach to the matter:
- Define and set your content marketing aims and ensure they support and are aligned to your business objectives.
- Establish your target audience and gather as much information as you can about them to understand their characteristics and interests.
- Define what kind of content will help you achieve your goals.
- Create a content execution plan. This should include a weekly and monthly content calendar so that sales pros are clear on what content and marketing campaigns are coming up.
As Gavin Hammer, founder and chief executive at Sendible points out: “Content marketing is where sales and marketing connect and overlap in order to provide customers with the right content at the right time.”
To this end, his sales and marketing teams hold a strategy meeting each quarter to decide on which two industries they should focus and establish what content it is necessary to develop or find.
2. How can I ensure that we exploit our content most effectively?
To ensure your sales team makes the most of the content at their disposal, social media training is essential. This training should cover everything from how to use the top social media platforms to clarifying your brand’s social guidelines, which includes advice on tone of voice.
Another important consideration is finding ways to make it easy for sales personnel to collaborate with marketing in order to understand which approaches are working and which aren’t – the aim being to repeat things that do and call a halt to those that don’t.
McGreal says: “My top tip would be to keep a close eye on your analytics – website, email, social. Monitoring your analytics platform in detail, and drawing up monthly – or even weekly – reports will really help you understand what drives viewers to your site and what they want to read.”
Even basic activities such as monitoring clicks on bit.ly URLs, website page views and bounce rates can provide you with useful data so that you “can shape your content accordingly” and tweak things if necessary, she adds.
But part of the secret to success is simply ensuring that sales people go online daily and actively engage in conversations. Which means commenting/liking or re-sharing things rather than just broadcasting company messages.
As McInerney points out: “Potential buyers want to see that sales professionals are knowledgeable in their own right, not just outlets for marketing campaigns.”
But they also don’t want to be bombarded with too much content or feel like they are being stalked. This means that, in the case of individuals, making contact every week to 10 days should suffice. Mixing up different types of information, whether it be a video, case study or ‘five ways to do something’ article, should also make the interaction more compelling.
Moreover, advises Hammer: “If it’s good, meaningful content that you know someone will enjoy reading, customise it to make it personal rather than generic. You need to come across as being unbiased so providing impartial advice works really well.”
As Spillane says: “No one wants you shoving half-price offers at them. You need to be engaging and give customers the ‘oooh and aaah’ factor. So if you find some information that you like, share it. It’s as simple as that.”
3. What key challenges are we likely to come up against?
Getting social selling right is tricky and is something that few brands have managed to do successfully to date due to a number of factors.
Firstly, it is not easy to create engaging content that cuts through the huge amount of social noise out there. Because the sheer volume of content on each type of social network is huge, it means that any content marketing campaign not only has to be “targeted and relevant” to its audience, but also “authentic and useful”, says McInerney.
A second pitfall is trying to force each member of the sales team to become a brand advocate whether they want to or not. “Lots of people are interested in social and making this kind of scheme optional allows people who are really passionate about it to get involved,” explains Carabella Gifts’ McGreal. “Forcing people to update their Twitter account everyday on top of their everyday jobs can easily lead to resentment.”
The third and most testing difficulty, meanwhile, is encouraging members of the sales and marketing teams, which are notoriously averse to each other and have very different goals, to play nicely.
But doing so is vital because getting them around the table to hash out a plan based on realistic goals that everyone can agree on and implement together will make the difference between success or failure. “If sales try and rush into this alone, it won’t work. They’ll end up detaching themselves from the brand, which is dangerous. It’s like going in blind,” concludes McGreal.