If you want to use social media to help build and nurture relationships with your target audience in order to support sales activities, then you’re going to need a strategy.
This is because without one, you’ll just be shooting around in the dark, trying to hit goals but not really knowing what you’re aiming at – or how much it’s likely to cost you.
Kimberly Davis, founder of Sarsparilla Marketing and developer of The Complete Marketing Magnetism System, explains: “To drastically increase your chances of success, you must have a strategy. It’s like having a map – you have to know where you’re going and how to get there.”
While this statement applies to all kinds of business activities, nowhere is it truer than in a social selling context. Here the focus is on the exact opposite of going for a hard sell. It is instead about adopting a softly, softly approach in order to build trust with potential prospects over the long-term.
“Social media is an amazing way to connect to people, but you can’t think of it as sales – it’s about having a conversation,” Davis says. “If you walked up to a stranger and said ‘buy this’, they’d say ‘get out of my face’, and it’s the same for social media. But if you open up a conversation and genuinely build a relationship, it’s an opportunity for connections and sales to come further down the line.”
In fact, she adds, sales will rarely appear from your first point of contact, but rather from the second or third layer down. “You have to be involved in conversations for people to remember you and then recommend you when the time comes,” Davis explains.
As to what is likely to happen if you approach such a venture in an unstructured way, according to Alana Griffiths, senior director at marketing services agency Harte Hanks, there are two key risks.
The first is that members of the sales team will simply engage in ad hoc, unpredictable activity using an inconsistent tone of voice because each will inevitably have their own idea of what they want to post on social media and when - whether it fits in with your brand messaging or not. The second is that they are, or can become, afraid to do anything in case they get it wrong.
“If you don’t make it clear to people in advance what they should be doing, you’re setting them up to make mistakes that could cost them their, and the brand’s, reputation dear,” Griffiths explains.
So in order to help you get it right, we’ve come up with a guide to enable you to create, and execute on, an effective social selling strategy:
What are the key considerations when developing a social selling strategy?
The first thing to bear in mind when creating a social selling strategy is that it should be developed by the marketing department and executed on by sales – which means that these two traditionally rather antipathetic departments need to find ways of working together cooperatively.
“Marketing and sales are yin and yang and so they must find ways to work hand-in-hand,” says Sarsparilla’s Davis. “It’s similar to a football team – it’s marketing’s job to move the ball around the pitch without hitting obstacles and it’s sale’s role to kick it in the goal. If either side don’t get it right, the other will drop the ball and it just won’t happen.”
The next consideration is to undertake lots of research – a vital foundation normally undertaken by the marketing department and one which, if skimped upon, is likely to see the whole house of cards come tumbling down.
The first thing to understand in this context is the industry and landscape in which your organisation is operating in order to understand potential opportunities and areas of focus.
The same applies in getting to grips with your target audience and what the “buyer personas” within it look like, says Elliott Harrison, a senior account executive at tech PR firm Wildfire. Other important questions here include:
- Do you have different kinds of buyers?
- For which burning questions/issues are they looking for answers/help?
- How can I best provide them with answers/help bearing in mind the core focus of my brand?
“Once you know the answer to those questions, it’s about giving people the answers they need – without them realising they’ve asked you,” Harrison says.
After the research is complete, the next step for marketing pros is to develop guidelines for sales staff. Pointing them towards management tools such as Hootsuite, which automate some of the more manual posting activities and provide audience analytics to help understand what has worked and what hasn’t, can also be useful.
Just as important though is creating a consistent feedback loop to provide both departments with easy ways to communicate, jointly track any opportunities and calculate returns on investment.
What key elements should be included in your strategy?
When devising a social selling strategy, it is important to answer the following questions and use them as the basis of your plan:
- What outcomes are we looking for? What goals are we working towards and which key performance indicators do we want to hit within what timescales?
- What do we expect our return on investment to be?
- Who are our prospects and what do we know about them?
- Which prospects constitute genuine leads and what does a “lead” in a social context look like?
- How can we engage with prospects in an authentic fashion?
- Which channels and communities should we use to engage with them?
- How should we roll our social selling programme out to best effect?
- What third party and internal content works for different channels, what is available, what needs to be produced and what sources are approved for use as third party opinions?
- Would a third party digital marketing services company be more appropriate to train sales staff in social techniques or do we have internal experts who could do it?
- What guidelines on issues such as messaging and how long to spend on social activities are required to support sales staff?
What key pitfalls are you likely to face?
For starters, it is vital to make it clear to all sales staff that getting involved in social selling is a voluntary activity – one that can help them do their job more effectively in today’s social age, but nonetheless voluntary. Making it compulsory when there is a lot of resistance will not end well, although introducing a pilot project to try and get wider buy-in can help.
Within this context though, the importance of providing interested parties with adequate training should not be underestimated, not least because experience of social, the business and the sales process itself will vary greatly across different generations.
Moreover, says Ioan MacRae, EU mid-market director for Avaya: “Recent research suggests that consumers are seven times more likely to interact with content sent from a personal social media account than they are from a corporate one. So providing your sales force with the training and tools to act eloquently and professionally on social media is crucial.”
Making it clear that social selling is first and foremost about acting in a social way and building relationships rather than simply closing deals is a primary goal here. But it is also important to educate personnel on what a “lead” in a social context looks like for your organisation. The same applies to what guise valuable “followers” and an ideal “engagement” are likely to take too.
But warns Harte Hanks’ Griffiths: “Be careful to manage expectations and make it clear that it’s not about making social the Holy Grail or you fail. So slowly build up expectations and find ways to keep the momentum going, but also be clear about what people need to be careful of and when they might realistically see results.”
Another useful approach is to provide sales pros, depending on their level of seniority, with at least some structure, particularly if they don’t have much social experience. So for example, offering advice on how much time per day to spend on such activity, how frequently to interact and what tone of voice is most effective is likely to prove helpful.
“Ultimately it’s about making it business as usual and part of the way the role is structured,” says Griffiths.
How can sales teams best execute social selling strategies?
Social selling is all about being in the same place as your target audience, understanding what their most popular topics of conversation are and interacting appropriately - whether that involves sales executives providing relevant content to add to the debate or offering answers to individuals’ questions.
“It’s about filtering out the noise and focusing on the information that your audience is interested in,” explains Harte Hanks’ Griffiths. “Ultimately, it’s about facilitating an exchange of information so that people buy into your brand and you build up trust.”
What it doesn’t involve though is bombarding people with content or spamming out blanket posts.
Wildfire’s Harrison explains: “Many marketing automation providers like HubSpot and Act-On allow you to blank post into a number of LinkedIn groups, for example, but this is not wise. You should begin with some manual posting and keep a regular eye on how quickly the group cycles through content and what the topics of conversation are to ensure your content is as helpful and organic as possible.”
Moreover, to avoid saying the same things as your competitors, look at how they operate socially and “improve upon that”, he adds.
In order to ensure that social activity becomes part of the daily sales process, meanwhile, it is important include it in the way individual’s roles are structured. So, a low-level sales person might have the number of cold calls they make reduced from 100 to 50, for example, on the understanding that they develop 10 new social connections each day.
It could also be worth introducing a competitive element around it, for instance, by identifying champions or introducing leader boards in order to reinforce positive behavior.
“Enabling people to take qualifications in social selling and recognising that sales people compete and are motivated by pats on the back and good scores will all help to ensure social selling becomes part of business as usual,” concludes Griffiths.