I recently heard Joseph Pine speak about his book The Experience Economy, in which he suggests there is a hierarchy of economic value: commodities, goods, services and experience.
In a business-to-business environment, the idea of experience may be synonymous with solutions: the combination of products and services that addresses a customer’s business needs in a way that is engaging and allows the customer to achieve their business goals.
As companies move up this solution hierarchy, selling becomes progressively more complex. Either the solution complexity necessitates greater specialization and a team-based selling approach, and/or the seller needs to engage multiple stakeholders within the customer organization through a multi-threaded approach to actually make the sale. When selling solutions, the sales process extends beyond the close with continued engagement to help the customer realize value from the solution sold while creating the opportunity for future sales (up-sell or cross-sell). Thus the sales process is no longer one-to-one, but multi-threaded (or many to many). Think about the number of stakeholders engaged when a company considers implementing a new CRM system: for example, the number of people and interests in sales, marketing, service, IT, finance, etc.
In addition to engaging multiple customer decision makers and influencers, the selling team must also engage internal stakeholders. For example, the selling team may need to involve product management, production, operations and services as well, particularly when the solution is co-created with the customer.
This multi-threaded sales process requires a sales approach that is social. Many would correctly argue that this has always been the case and wonder why “social” is such a buzzword. With social media, networks and collaboration platforms, there are new methods to discover, build and nurture connections and engage customers (and internal stakeholders)—at scale. The Social Media Sales Quota Survey indicates that nearly 80% of salespeople who use social media to sell outperformed those who don’t. Thinking about sales teams performing in bands (bottom 20%, middle 60%, top 20%), usage of these “social tools” may make the best sellers, the top 20%, even better. From our point of view, social tools will also enable the middle performers in the sales organization (the middle 60%) to increase their productivity, which may have greater impact on the organizations results.
Sales leaders must consider three approaches to more effectively enable their sales teams to engage in a social way:
- Pay closer attention to customers: To understand customer needs and engage in a relevant way, sales teams should take advantage of social networks and monitoring tools to understand customer needs and gain critical insights on how to best engage. These tools also help the selling team gain valuable insight and create connections to avoid “cold-calling.”
- Improve internal collaboration: Before engaging customers socially, the sales team must be coordinated. Social collaboration tools can help organize the selling team, improve identification and sharing of best practices, and recognize and reward the selling behaviors required for effective team-based selling. For example, Dell uses its internal collaboration tools to enable reps to gain guidance on specific problems and get assurance about their decisions—leading to improved up-selling and cross-selling.
- Engage in a meaningful way: With greater customer insight and a range of engagement methods, the selling team can connect in a more relevant, authentic and meaningful way. Engagement within and through communities can lend credibility to the seller and allow for multiple perspectives to be considered. A good example of this is IBM’s use of “rep pages,” Twitter accounts and video—to put a face on the relationship by allowing reps to showcase expertise and interests. By taking this approach, in a social selling pilot, IBM’s reps were able grow their LinkedIn connections by a factor of six and their network by a factor of 24.
Is social selling a silver bullet? Not likely, but as part of a well-executed and social process, it will certainly improve the productivity of the sales organization.