Successful selling has historically been predicated on one key ingredient: a strong relationship with the customer. Think about local shopkeepers: they know their customers’ shopping preferences and, based on these preferences, are able to upsell or cross-sell other products with considerable success. Why? Because there is a level of trust, or intimacy, that underpins that buyer-seller relationship which makes loyal customers open to such recommendations. But that intimacy takes time to build up.
The same is true in B2B sales: deals are often made on the back of strong relationships between vendor and customer, but casting the net wider to find new leads or forging new relationships can be challenging. Add a global pandemic into the mix and suddenly opportunities to physically engage and build relationships seem thin on the ground.
Help is at hand, though, in the form of social selling which, despite its slightly misleading title, enables sales execs to use social channels to engage with potential leads, build relationships and trust so that, when the time is right, they’re open to information about products or services. It’s about engaging at the right time and with the right information.
Sounds simple, but there’s an art to getting it right
I spoke to John Aloy, Head of Strategic Sales, Public Sector, O2, about his experience of social selling and how it has helped his team build relationships and outsell peers
Q: How would you define social selling?
A: I think the term ‘selling’ is very misleading. It’s just not true. Nobody goes to sell something over Twitter or Facebook. Social selling is really social engagement. It’s about creating relationships, which enhances your ability to sell to that individual at the appropriate time, but for the main, you are not actively trying to sell them anything. If you do it right, it’s about taking peoples’ corporate persona and extending it to their lives outside of work so that you’re turning the conversation from a job role into an actual human relationship. People buy from people.
An analogy might be that it’s like being a good dinner party guest: you should be yourself, understand enough about your fellow guests to tell stories that you think would interest them, but don’t just talk about yourself, ask questions of them, too, and engage with their answers. It’s a two-way street.
Q: Is social selling a nice-to-have or a must-have for a modern day sales person and what role do you see social selling playing in the customer journey / sales journey?
A: I think it’s changing. Historically it was possibly seen as a nice-to-have in terms of the importance of it being a part of what you do, but I think now, more than ever, with the situation we’re in, it has become critical. But there’s no doubt social selling is here to stay.
Face-to-face meetings and events have been taken away, so sales execs who were more used to face-to-face direct interaction with customers now need to find new ways to build those relationships. And it’s not just the meeting itself that’s missing, but the opportunities that were wrapped around those meetings: that chat while you walk from reception to the meeting room, that cup of coffee following a meeting; this was when relationships were built, but I think social selling is a good replacement for that, and it can help you maintain that personal relationship, if you get it right.
Q: What’s the key to getting sales to engage in social selling?
A: I think there are two key elements to getting sales teams involved in social selling
- They need to understand what’s in it for them. If they can’t see the benefit to them personally, they will not do it. It has to have a direct impact on them.
- People need to understand that it’s not just about the message that you give out, it’s about how you receive the messages that your customers are giving out and how you respond to those via those social means. The best way to encourage people to engage with your content, is to engage with theirs first. Understand what their content is, like what they’re saying, engage or disagree with what they’re saying, but the key is to engage. Create that dialogue. That’s how you build up that two-way relationship.
Q: What successes have you had with social selling and how do you see it supporting you in your role?
A: Social selling has helped me enormously both from a personal perspective in terms of elevating my own profile, and a commercial perspective. I found that ‘unicorn’ that no one really believes in: a social interaction with someone that directly led to a sale 3 weeks later. Simply by checking in on the welfare of a customer who had been affected by adverse weather led to a call from their HR team which led to a significant sale. So it is possible.
But mostly social selling has to be measured in terms of engagement and certainly since using Agent3’s SoSell app I’ve seen an uplift in engagement. My posts are getting more likes and comments, which in turn is raising my profile as a result. I’m seen as a thought leader on certain subjects and I believe this is because I’ve focused on sharing strong opinions on certain topics over a long period of time. As a result I’ve had invitations to go and speak at events: traditionally on stage, but now virtually, of course.
The point is, these are topics I feel strongly about, so I engage with them a lot, I talk about them and now people come to listen to me talk about them and I’ve consequently built up credibility in those fields. It’s about authenticity and having that ‘right to play.’
Q: How do you ensure that you’re socially engaging vs purely selling and which behaviours do you look to encourage in your team?
A: I think it’s important to have a framework of ‘golden rules’ and stick to them. So, for example:
- For every corporate post you share, I aim to share 10 pieces of third party content (although it usually ends up being more like 5-6) but the point is, you should weight your sharing more on the neutral content than corporate. Back to the dinner party guest analogy: no one wants to listen to someone talk about themselves
- Whenever I advise people within my own organisation, I always explain that this isn’t a once per day box tick job where you do it, share all your content in one go and then close it and forget about it for the day. Try to visit social media 2-3 times per day, at different times of day, do it in bite-sized chunks, share at the most 1-2 articles, and then shut it off and leave it there. Obviously if someone interacts with your content, then you interact back as quickly as possible but it shouldn’t be a habit like ‘I do my social media at 8.45am before my days starts.’ There are different times of day when you’ll catch different types of people. If you only ever do it once per day, you’ll never catch everyone you want to engage with.
- Engage, engage, engage. It’s a two-way street, remember. While tools are very good at getting the results you’re looking for, it’s also easy to assume that, once you’ve shared content via the tool, you have ‘permission’ to be done. You absolutely still need to make sure you carry on with other interactions because ultimately, the thing that makes social selling work so well is that when you’re engaging with another individual on a personal level, you’re actually giving them a dopamine reward. They will never get that dopamine reward from something you share. They get it from the thing that they shared and you interacted with and that’s what will allow that very professional business relationship to become one that is far more personal. It means that when you want to talk to them about business, they’re far more likely to listen to you so it’s *so* important that you dedicate that time to interacting outside of the tools.
- Keep delivering personal messages. If something is just a corporate voice (even if it’s other corporates) people find it much harder to engage with you. Anything that makes you human or shows your personality. It’s having something that others can use to relate to you as an individual, rather than to use a brand.
Q: How do you ensure sales users share relevant content and demonstrate an interesting POV rather than just broadcast corporate content?
A: This is where tools – such as SoSell – are invaluable. Tools can offer easy access to content in an appropriate timescale that is valuable to share. It would be very easy to spend ages every day searching for relevant content to share. That’s not the day job, though, which is why I think tools are a really great way of interacting. SoSell sends me content that has already been pre-filtered for topics my ‘audience’ is interested in, and even better, I *know* my audience is interested in these topics because SoSell provides insight which confirms this.
In terms of demonstrating an interesting point of view then, once the pre-filtered content has been received, I tell my team to do a quality check: does this content resonate with me, if it does, great, if it doesn’t, bin it. Even if the topic is right, if the article itself doesn’t resonate, leave it. It has to be authentic. If you wouldn’t share the content without the tool, then don’t share it just because the tool has sent it to you. Add your personality to the post. Be human.
Q: Having been involved in successful programmes, what are the common mistakes you see sales leaders and users making?
A: Firstly, pushing out content without engaging and interacting with other peoples’ content. This is a no-no. It’s like shouting into the open air. Secondly, pushing out too much content too rapidly. You need to be mindful of what you’re putting out and whether it’s the right time for the audience to see this.
Again, tools such as SoSell can help with balance of content, cadence, personalisation and timing. To see real results, you have to be regular, consistent and continuous. You don’t ever want to put people off, so don’t dive into it and go mad: click-share, click-share, click-share. Remember we’re trying to make it more human and it’s not human to go from not saying anything to doing hundreds of posts a week,
Q: There are a myriad of apps, solutions and approaches to social selling – what’s your advice to selecting the right ones?
A: The key thing is to look for a tool that’s going to provide flexibility and balance. Flexibility to share content that the tool suggests, but also content that is relevant to you, your audience or a program you might be running. Some tools are set up rather like an echo chamber: they just amplify the latest corporate announcements, corporate posts etc and aren’t geared up to offering that flexibility of content.
Secondly, one of the things I love about SoSell is that it provides a suggested curation of wording to share and it’s not just a blanket comment for everyone to use, which is really valuable. Previously, we had 3,000 employees at O2 sharing the same comment with a post, so it was quite obvious that a bot was involved rather than people expressing their own opinions. So make sure any tool you choose allows you to personalise.
Finally, timing is everything, so if you can find a tool that provides intent data, then you have the ability to know which accounts are interested in which topics at any given time via an alert system so it helps frame the comment or offer context.
Q: What three tips would you give to any sales leader looking to instigate or scale a social selling programme?
- Be clear in what you are looking to get as an output from the programme.
- Ensure any tool you use enables you to deliver not only on a specific set of outcomes, but also offers the flexibility to change course rapidly.
- Make it something people choose to make a part of their day, not something that is enforced on them. You have to have the authentic self come across. That won’t come from someone who is ticking their social media box.