The sales profession is undergoing its first radical change in perhaps thousands of years. Sales practices and techniques have been essentially unchanged since the 1890s, when the founder of National Cash Register, John Patterson, developed the concepts of territories, prospecting scripts, quotas and sales conventions.
Today, a new method of selling, called social selling, is revolutionizing the way sales is done. Social selling takes the old technique of the relationship sell and supercharges it using online social media. It’s no longer who you know that counts. It’s what you know about your prospects and how much they know about you that wins. This is especially important in business-to-business (B2B) sales.
Forrester Research has identified another trend, called the Age of the Customer, that is transforming the old way of doing sales. Their research shows that “business buyers are more and more likely to prefer to interact, engage, and even transact with suppliers digitally. This includes a growth in placing orders via eCommerce, which ultimately disintermediates the supposed role of salespeople in the field.” Consequently, sales people must add value to stay in the game. The salesperson’s ability to develop a personal brand, and to stay top-of-mind with his or her prospects, will increasingly be crucial to survival. Order-takers will be long gone when this transformation is complete. Salespeople who can become trusted advisors and assist prospects in making complicated purchases will thrive.
The US Census says there are around 9 million people in sales and related occupations in the US, or about 4 percent of the adult population. Other estimates range up to 15 million. As many as 3 million of these sales people sell to businesses. The profession turns over rapidly: There were 1.4 million job postings for salespeople in 2014. Yet although new technologies have sprung up in the last century—radio, telephone, television, fax machine, email, internet—they have generally been used the way they were back in John Patterson’s day: delivering sales success primarily by using these technologies to make large numbers of contacts each day, otherwise known as cold-calling.
The Social Selling Revolution
The revolution that is B2B social selling gives the salesperson new ways to find, reach, and influence prospects. We created The Infinite Pipeline Relationship Development Process™ to help sales people adopt social selling. The goal is to develop a community that will sell for you by creating and growing relationships.
- Find people in target organizations
- Look them up on LinkedIn
- Join the groups they are in
- See if they’ve posted in the group discussions and then comment
- Try to engage them in a conversation on the group forum
- When the time is right, suggest that you connect on LinkedIn
- Once you are connected download their contact info
- Email them periodically (don’t spam) with a bit of news or other information that they will be interested in, and ask for their comments
- Watch their activity and comment as appropriate
- When the time is right, ask to have coffee—concentrate the conversation on them. Don’t pitch.
Repeat. Continue to offer solutions.
This process takes a fair amount of work, and a lot of technological savvy. Salespeople need to understand and use various social media tools to socially-surround the prospect and guide them toward the sale. But sales people are typically not adept with complicated technologies. Their talents lie elsewhere, in relationship-building, persuasion, and negotiation.
The NextPhase Selling Sales MVP™ mobile app automates not only the social selling process but a good share of the lead capture, follow-up, tracking, and reporting. It makes the process simple, and as painless and easy to understand as possible.
Taking the Pain Out of Attending Conferences
There’s a third pain point for sales people that the app is tailored to relieve: conference attendance. B2B sales people routinely go to industry conferences, often several times a year, to meet with customers, prospects, and generally try to strike up relationships with B2B buyers.
More and more conferences are offering customized conference apps to help attendees find sessions, look up speakers, and navigate the show floor. The problem is, these one-and-done apps offer few tools to assist salespeople in meeting their goals. Existing apps don’t assist in lead capture, meeting management, or follow-up.
In addition, although salespeople typically have cell phones with internet access, many either don’t think to or lack the training to research prospects and clients on social media. Similarly, it can be challenging for salespeople to plan, organize, and schedule meetings on their cell phone calendars while at the conference.
Taking the Pain Out of Entering CRM Details
Even those who can meet these technological challenges may struggle to integrate prospect information into their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system once they return to the office. They are expected to enter all their contacts, meetings, conversations, and other information from the pile of business cards or names scrawled on napkins they brought back with them. Since they also need to catch up after being out of the office, often days or weeks go by before they find the time to do the data entry. Even more frustrating is the fact that, when they finally meet with their bosses to debrief, all the boss wants is a summary.
Taking the Pain Out of Determining ROI
There’s an additional pain point for the sales manager: determining the Return on Investment (ROI) of sending the salesperson to the conference. These decisions are usually made not based on data but on the gut feel of the salesperson and the sales manager. Even the task of including the salesperson’s expenses in the total conference cost can be difficult.
Taking the Pain Out of Following Up
Finally, there’s the problem with follow-up. A salesperson may have promised during the conference to set a meeting, or send a brochure, or contact a reference. The best salespeople will have dozens or hundreds of leads from a conference. Remembering all the commitments and finding the time to follow up can be a challenge. Add to this the requirements of The Infinite Pipeline Relationship Development Process: building your own brand while initiating and maintaining a relationship with your prospect.
A common way to nurture relationships with clients and prospects is curation: finding content (articles, videos, tweets) that deliver value and regularly sending them to the prospect.
Many salespeople use email and email newsletters to push content to prospects. One common problem with this approach is its lack of the personal touch, even if the email starts off, “Dear [Prospect Name].” Prospects know how to sort out the sales pitches from the interesting email by evaluating email titles and names of senders.
Effective curation depends on the personal touch. Rather than spraying the same message to everyone, good curation involves sending material of interest customized to the prospect’s interests via the salesperson’s personal email or through various social media channels. A LinkedIn InMail with a personalized note like, “Saw this industry article and it reminded me of what we were talking about at the conference” is much more likely to be read than the latest email newsletter from marketing. And it’s also much more likely to generate in the prospect respect and appreciation for the salesperson.
Watch for our next post, The NextPhase Selling Solution, which goes through our features in detail, coming soon.