A white paper from IDC (“Social Buying Meets Social Selling: How Trusted Networks Improve the Purchase Experience” by Kathleen Schaub, IDC, April 2014) provides some eye-opening statistics for skeptics regarding just how much senior executives are using social media in B2B buying and influencing. According to the paper:
- 75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level/vice president (VP) executives surveyed use social media to make purchasing decisions.
- Online professional networks are the number-one information preference of buyers in the final stage of the purchase process.
- Social buying correlates with buying influence. The average B2B buyer who uses social media for buying support is more senior, has a bigger budget, makes more frequent purchases, and has a greater span of buying control than a buyer who does not use social media.
- B2B buyers find the greatest benefit of social media is gaining greater confidence in and comfort with their decisions.
The paper provides a wealth of data that clearly demonstrates how important social selling tools are becoming to buying and influencing among B2B businesses. The question then becomes whether your company, and specifically your sales reps, are poised to leverage social selling efforts?
Take Advantage of Social Buying and Influencing
Your Own Social Habits
Are your sales reps using LinkedIn and other social selling tools to build their own profile and history of knowledge and interest in topics related to your business and your customers’ needs? Are they sharing via LinkedIn and Twitter great headlines about your firm or concerns happening in your sector? Use your sales reps to extend the reach of your thought leadership efforts and promotional campaigns by encouraging them to develop and nurture their own networks and then share your content with them.
Your Best Customers’ Social Habits
Think about your best clients. Are they on social media, and if so, do you engage with them? Do you know what they’re saying about themselves, their needs, and their priorities? Does any of that concern the services you provide to them? Would you ask them to be an advocate for you and your business? These are prime people to become influencers through testimonials, retweets, favorable quotes, and reviews. Don’t overlook them, but also, be careful not to overstep boundaries or abuse the relationship.
Where Are Your Prospects?
This can be a fun exercise but requires thought and planning.
- Keywords — What do people search for when buying your products and services?
- Issues — What causes someone to want or need to buy your products or services?
- Trade industry groups — Who is already writing about these issues or services?
- How your products and services are used — Think about your range of customers and how your business fulfills their needs. Be sure to cover the obvious and not-so-obvious angles.
- Who typically buys from you — Think about job titles and roles, and try to find where they congregate online.
- Who might also influence those purchases — Who are your buyers’ bosses who may approve a purchase or colleagues that are needed to help implement (e.g., IT, HR, Accounting, etc.)?
Answer questions, such as these, to engage your buyers and prospects online while developing your sales reps’ personal brands and expertise.
Identify and Develop Visible Experts
A word of advice: Especially if you have large sales teams covering the same ground and issues, don’t have them tripping over each other in the same forums. Leveraging social media to find influencers and buyers should be a positive thing but can easily turn into a turf war among your sales reps. Hopefully, it won’t come to this, but if you must, be prepared to set boundaries and divide coverage of forums, and perhaps a hierarchy of experts, in order to manage and avoid internal conflicts.One way to prevent sales reps from tripping over each other is to identify and develop specific experts on various products, services, issues, industries, and the like. Over time, those experts will generate enough of an online social history to demonstrate their knowledge, wisdom, and interest. Look to your top sales reps and bona fide experts first, but if they’re too busy to engage online or unwilling to adapt, then look for a lieutenant to take the social reins.
Adapt or Die!
Well, not quite. But, you can’t ignore the impact and influence of social buying. And, you can pretty much guarantee that if there’s a void to be filled, if you’re not doing it, then your competitors will. Don’t be left out of the conversation — even if you’re a market leader.
- If you don’t have a formal process for monitoring and engaging in social buying and influencing, now’s the time.
- If you have such a policy, be sure to revisit it often to ensure that it remains current with ever-changing trends.
- Finally, this is a perfect opportunity for sales to get in sync with marketing colleagues to work in concert — and not against — each other.