NextGen Sales: Understanding Social Selling

by Giamanco, Barbara Wednesday, June 23, 2010
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There is fair amount of buzz about a concept called “social selling” (often used synonymously with Sales 2.0, a term coined and trademarked by Nigel Edelshain). Certainly some people will argue that sales, particularly B2B sales, has always depended on a sales reps ability to build a relationship with their potential buyer, which could be viewed as a social activity. Since successful selling has always revolved around relationships – who you know – it isn’t surprising that sales people focused on networking, establishing as many connections as they could, and leveraging existing relationships to close sales opportunities. Networks were generally cultivated through face-to-face business meetings, attendance at industry conferences, business association meetings, or through social and business clubs.

Along with the adoption of Web 2.0 and social media, comes a dramatic change in the notion of social sales. The first huge change for sales to get their head around is that social media has significantly increased the scale and reach of our relationship networks. Using tools like LinkedIn, Gist, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, the number of people that we maintain some degree of one-to-one contact and connect with via peer networks and groups has dramatically increased in the past few years. But something even more important has happened with respect to how sales are transacted these days. With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, the buying process has changed. Most B2B buying decisions now start; move forward and very often are closed online without a single face-to-face meeting.

Social Sales and Customer 2.0

This new technology enabled sales trend is sometimes thought to be merely the adoption of social media and online collaboration tools by sales organizations. Adopting social tools is simply one facet of the equation, because below the surface of this trend is a bigger, more fundamental change that has occurred in customer behavior and their buying process. Far too many sales organizations continue to employ sales strategies that worked for Customer 1.0. But now, Customer 2.0 has access to unlimited information about you personally, your company, your products, and those of your competitors.

Whether you like it or not, Customer 2.0 can and will ignore your marketing messages, because they prefer to rely on people that they know and trust and their peer networks to educate themselves, keep on top of news and trends, evaluate vendors independently, and make buying decisions. Conversations occurring on social sites have become more influential to the buying decision than your traditional sales and marketing tactics. Customers are controlling the conversation; they form their opinions about working with you without your involvement. Although you may be resisting, it is time to accept that this is the new reality of social selling.

What You Know About Who You Know

A better educated and more connected customer is driving the social selling process. The savvy social sales person recognizes and embraces the opportunity that this presents. Sales will always remain a relationship-driven business. Social sales people understand and leverage the power of “what you know about who you know.”

Remember that the new social customer demands a new approach from sales organizations. The need for comprehensive, real time data is imperative to sales professionals who must leverage the social web to actively listen, add value to the customer conversation and create sales relationships in new ways. Tools like Gist (integrates with Outlook) provides sales professionals with a way to quickly aggregate and view real time information about people in their network or people that they follow.
Your customer – customer 2.0 – expects your sales team to know at least as much about them as they already know about you. Do they?