Optimizing Social Selling for Digital B2B Sales

Nearly 2,400 years ago, Aristotle famously said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” If only he could see us now.

In the era of living to share, people are more digitally connected and social than ever. As digital natives, millennials in particular are among the heaviest users of social media, with 85 percent claiming to do so.  Simultaneously, as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, millennials are also playing an increasingly significant role as IT decision-makers in commercial sales environments.

It is no wonder, then, that social selling — using social networks to search for and connect with potential customers — has become a critical component of many companies’ IT sales strategies. According to research by Forrester, just 2 percent of surveyed sales and marketing leads said they had no plans to implement social selling programs. In other words, everyone’s doing it, and there is ample reason why.

A report by Sales for Life found that 78 percent of businesses with consistent social selling practices achieved their revenue goals, compared with just 38 percent of non-social sellers. Research also shows that companies can achieve an ROI of $5 for every $1 invested in social selling.

To maximize social’s full potential, however, an integrated, thoughtful selling strategy is critical. Despite its ubiquity, social selling can backfire if mismanaged. These tactics can help channel partners harness its power to deepen customer relationships, generate new leads and add value to their sales:

Be authentic

Social selling is about building relationships, and relationships between brands and consumers today are as multi-faceted and dynamic as our personal relationships. While product innovation and reliability remain important qualities, authenticity and integrity are paramount. Today more than ever, consumers are holding companies to a higher standard. They want honesty, transparency, and to connect with brands that stand for something greater than the bottom line. In fact, the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study revealed that 64 percent of consumers now buy based on belief and will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on issues they care about.

Social media provides a conduit for creating a deeper dialogue with customers and prospects across a variety of platforms that is personal and authentic. That means taking time to participate in open, honest discussions about your products and services, and providing valuable insights and information about your social and corporate values. It also means listening and engaging with your prospects to better understand their needs and inviting input and feedback. Over time, this in turn will create lasting, trusted relationships.

Add value and insight

Today, more than 80 percent of executives and B2B buyers use social media to research vendors and learn about products and services before buying. It is up to sellers to put themselves in those spaces to be discovered, but it’s not enough merely to show up along the buyer’s journey. Contributing value and insights that speak to the business challenges of your prospects is crucial to establishing a trusted relationship and uncovering potential new leads. In fact, Corporate Visions found that 74 percent of buyers choose the sales rep who first adds value during the buying process. As such, identifying the platforms where your prospects are likely to be searching for information and engaging them there is key. LinkedIn groups provide one avenue to do this. A technology seller, for instance, might consider joining a group for “IT Decision Makers” where they could regularly contribute knowledge and expertise in order to build connections with potential buyers.

Continued, consistent engagement with an established connection or community is equally important. Offering timely, relevant content and targeted thought leadership to further educate and nurture customers and prospects throughout the buying process, is key to deepening relationships and staying top of mind.

Get creative

Consider SMBs (small-to-medium sized businesses) — the lifeblood of many channel partners. Historically, SMBs have been considered highly sought-after but hard-to-reach B2B prospects. With a little creativity and thought, however, social selling can help channel partners overcome resource and geography gaps to connect with new prospects in a meaningful way.

A great example of this is Cisco and NetApp’s FlexPod Brainteaser Campaign. Faced with the challenge of targeting engineers, architects and executives — a group of prospects they considered hard-to-reach — the companies devised a compelling social nurturing campaign designed to attract the attention of these prospects and create a point of entry for a more meaningful interaction. Armed with the knowledge that all members of their target audience were in problem-solving roles, the companies focused the campaign on brainteasers, to both intrigue potential visitors and play to their problem-solving nature. It became the highest performing social campaign for both companies and ultimately led to a more invested and engaged community.

Recalibrate often

Social selling is the gift that keeps on giving, hence its impressive ROI. It can help create relationships with potential customers, and when tracked and measured, social selling also has the ability to generate a wealth of information about your brand and your prospects, that can help you better reach your target audiences.

Utilizing social media analytics can help you better understand your audience and when to engage them, which platforms are most effective for your purposes, which content drives the best results, and even what’s working for your competitors, all of which can ultimately help you create a more effective long-term strategy. Getting the most from analytics, however, requires a commitment to continued learning and refinement based on what you’re seeing.

Even with all of the added benefits of digital B2B sales, it is important to remember that social selling is not a replacement for traditional selling. Rather, it is a complementary tool that applies social and emotional intelligence through human touch. In effect, social selling amplifies the strategies already at play and helps inform new ones based on what the data reveals.

“Like” it or not, social selling is the key to creating better relationships and learning from your customers in a digital era, while making your selling processes more efficient and effective.

Stephanie Dismore is senior vice president and managing director, North America, at HP Inc. In this role, Dismore is responsible for leading all aspects of HP’s market strategy and managing the multibillion-dollar P&L for the company’s largest geographic region. She also oversees direct and indirect sales engagements across HP’s portfolio of products and services, for commercial, consumer and public sector customer segments for the region.