How Do You Sell In the Social Era?

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Are you looking to improve or modernise the way you sell?

Do you want to learn how you can use the social web to help you sell more?

In this post I will discuss both the traditional and the new ways salespeople can work.

After reading this post you will have an insight into what the future of selling will look like. Hopefully you will start to see that there are alternative ways of working that will help you to help your customers more, which in turn will help you hit your sales targets.

£20 note fanned outA salesperson is often one of the highest paid people in the business. I believe unless salespeople change the way they work, they will lose the influence over the sales process, which warrants their high compensation packages.

 

What does a salesperson actually do?

Wikipedia explains the verb describing what a salesperson does:

Selling is offering to exchange an item of value for a different item. The original item of value being offered may be either tangible or intangible. The second item, usually money, is most often seen by the seller as being of equal or greater value than that being offered for sale

Basically a salesperson attempts to convince a potential customer that there is more value in what his company is trying to sell than what they are charging for it.

Imagine a world without salespeople? The world of business would stop. Right?

I want to share my perspective that the value a traditional salesperson has in an organisation is shrinking. I will begin by explaining the two types of salespeople.

What does a traditional salesperson do?

If you were to survey every salesperson in the world, these are the kind of activities they would include in their typical day:

  • Cold calling
  • Chasing people for commitment to the next step in the sales process
  • Qualifying if someone is a good prospect
  • Trying to convince a prospect they should buy a product
  • Trying to speed up the sales process so that the customer buys before the end of that month/quarter/year
  • Receiving leads from marketing (and usually complaining they are not very good!)

Watch this video to see how bad cold calling can be!

Trouble viewing? Click here > > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCQvdsm6nsg

How does a social business sell?

A Forrester marketing report said, in technology sales, two thirds of the customers’ buying process is done before they engage with the sales team. Even if the split varies in different industries the principle is the same. Traditionally customers would rely on salespeople to share information about the products but now customers now have many more sources of information to help make their decisions. Sources such as:

  • Blogs
  • Social networks
  • YouTube
  • Ratings and reviews
  • Comparison articles

What do people type into Google?

people are searching for answers not your product

People don’t start their buying process by typing into Google your company name or your product name. More often than not, they have no idea who your company is or what products you sell.

What they actually type are things like:

  • How do I do X?
  • How can I fix problem X?
  • What is X?
  • How can I improve X?
  • How can I cut costs in X area of my business?

Even when they have an idea of what they want to buy a lot of people will be searching for:

  • Product X vs. Product Y?
  • How much does Product X cost?
  • What are the pros and cons of product X?

If you choose only to get involved in the sales process when the customer is ready to talk to a salesperson, you are missing a big chunk of what has already influenced a customer’s buying process/preferences. That is assuming you even get a chance to be involved at all.

You need to influence the start of the sales process rather than just the end of it. You need to be the person educating the customer while they are learning about your industry and the types of products you sell.

Case study – O2 mobile network – How do I transfer data between iPhones?

o2 guru tv screen shot

Below is a great video from a mobile phone network in the UK called O2. They launched a YouTube channel call O2 Guru TV. It was a video help site designed to help anyone with issues relating to their mobile phones. A small percentage of the videos make reference to O2 specifically but do not promote O2 directly. They position O2 as a brand who are very helpful and a company who provides great customer service, even to people who are not their customers. The result is, that in a very competitive industry with high churn rate, they have a competitive differentiator. They are selling indirectly to their potential customers by showing them why they should do business with them.

The video below illustrates the concept. When anyone in the world searches “How to transfer data between iPhones?” this video is going to be there to help them.

Trouble viewing? Click here > > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuMYvHGL210

Case study – Blendtec blenders – Will it blend?

will it blend screen shotAnother good example is Blendtec. This series of Youtube videos started in 2006 when they wanted to make a video to show how good their product was. They created a series called “Will it blend?”. Since they started they have had over 208,000,000 hits on their YouTube videos.

Trouble viewing? Click here > > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rofgMueCOqo

This is their latest video comparing an iPhone 5 with a Galaxy S3 (as featured above). This has little to do with selling blenders, however a lot of people are thinking of buying one of those two phones and are searching for a comparison. Off the back of this video they have had a massive amount of exposure and at the time of writing have had nearly 5 million hits in just over a week. These videos are a bit of fun and do not necessarily result in direct sales. However if you were going to buy a blender and you are looking to make yourself a smoothie, then the fact that this blender can blend an iPhone, you can be sure it won’t have any trouble with your bananas and strawberries.

I have written three other examples of how you can get more customers by using social media in my last blog post.

So how do the two styles compare?

From salesperson to product expert

The line between sales and marketing is blurring. Traditional selling will eventually fade away. The successful salesperson in the next few years will become more like an educator. They will be less sales-like and more a product expert. Salespeople need to think less about how can I sell this to a customer and more about how can I help my customer to understand the types of products, without necessarily even mentioning their product.

Productivity – How many people can you influence?

Salespeople are always busy doing something. Sometimes things which are productive and sometimes not so. If you use social channels and publish all the content you generate, every time you did one of the following tasks, you could reuse that content and create something you can share online.

  • Answer a customer question = Blog post instead of an email
  • Create a presentation = Upload slides to Slideshare and make into a blog post
  • Speak at an event  = Video the event, upload to YouTube, create a blog post
  • Have a good idea you want to share = write it in a blog or record a YouTube video and send the person a link rather than an email

Obviously you need to consider customer and company confidentiality but you may be able to make the advice more generic and in turn make it suitable for a wider audience.

If you were emailed a question, you could spend 30 minutes sharing your knowledge and giving your customer a great answer to their question in an email. If you were to put it in a blog and publish it on-line, then that 30 minutes would benefit many people rather than just one. It would also save you time next time a customer asks you the same question.

The article with the most page views on my blog was originally an email to a colleague giving him some advice on how to use twitter at a conference.

Collaboration

You are not alone. Although sales sometimes feels like a lonely job there are rarely situations where you are truly alone. You will have other people in the same role doing your job in other areas and/or other people who help you with your sales. Either way social can help. Instead of having to try to coordinate multiple people, to get the information and help you need via emails, phone calls or face to face meetings – you can use social. There are many different ways you can do this using a variety of different platforms. In essence you can create a virtual room where people can share knowledge, insight and documents. This will help the team come together to solve the problems the customer has, which will hopefully result in a sale.

Remember: None of us are as smart as all of us”

Can you sell without talking about your product?

gagged salesman

If your product has a unique benefit over the products it competes with, then you do not need to talk about your product specifically. If you wrote a blog or recorded a video about that unique benefit then the potential customer can decide how important that benefit is to them. You are just educating your potential customer and in the process helping to shape their requirements about what is important to them and what they need. If that benefit is not important they may buy from your competitor, but they would have done anyway. If it is important, when they are ready to buy, they will only buy from you.

From push to pull selling

Imagine you never had to make another cold call again? Imagine if every time you called someone they always took your call and knew who you were? This is the future.

I foresee a world where no individual will ever accept any unsolicited approach from anyone in any way. Facebook has developed EdgeRank to prioritise what information you see.

Facebook description of EdgeRank

The news feed algorithm uses several factors to determine top stories, including the number of comments, who posted the story, and what type of post it is (ex: photo, video, status update, etc.).

I can see this idea spreading outside of Facebook.

This idea has spread from the world’s largest social network to one of the largest free email providers. Google mail has begun to prioritise people’s inboxes by labeling certain posts as important. It figures out which mail is important based upon who you email regularly, which messages you open and reply to and what keywords are in those emails.

Content and information are a commodity. Cold calling, generic email shots, radio/tv/magazine ads and most, if not all traditional marketing methods, are not going to work.

In the future the only way to reach people will be by creating great content which is helpful, interesting, useful, educational or entertaining to your potential clients.

The importance and relevance of content and communications will dictate whether people read the information or not.

Not how you want to sell but how your customers want to buy

It is not how you want to sell which dictates the relationship, it is how your customers want to buy. A social business sells in the way people want to buy and not the way the company wants to sell.

Summary

If you can educate your potential customers well enough, although not all those customers will buy from you, those who do, will only buy from you.

I believe a traditional salesperson will become an order taker and be pushed down the value chain. Customers are now empowered to do their own research from both biased and unbiased sources. The need for a sales person to come along and give an opinion biased towards his own products is reducing.

I always remember a mentor told me many years ago when I questioned the value that marketing had vs. sales. I didn’t think you could earn as much in marketing as a salesperson can. He said:

If you run a business, what would you want? A product people wanted to buy or a product you had to sell?

Sales and marketing people need to understand that the old ways of doing business will not work in the future. I would advise you get ahead of the curve and change the way you do business, before the old ways grind to a halt.

I will leave the last word to Jeffrey Dachis who is CEO of the Dachis Group.

Trouble viewing? Click here > > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Bcx_Ra-gzs