In our previous post we discussed how the sales cycle has sped up due to improvements in brand and product content being available on the web. Another important element is the rise of social media giving customers a quick view of what their friends, peers, colleagues, or other purchasers think of the product or service in question. Be it social media or web content Francois Muscat at WSI Digital Marketing aptly points out that “the internet is the go-to tool for initial research” (p30, Digital Minds 12). Given the availability and speed of information, it is no surprise that sales cycles have sped up, but the decision making process itself – has not changed. Customers still step through the marketing model phases, but now with the twist of having instant access to information.
Social Selling for Success
Social selling has become a very popular and important tool for success in sales. A recent Sales Benchmark Series study highlighted that “You are almost 5 times more likely to schedule a first meeting if you have a personal LinkedIn connection.” As a result there is an intense flurry of sales activities on platforms like LinkedIn. We are seeing a major push that thousands of salespeople are taking, to hunt for as many new links as they can create on LinkedIn. The study figures came from sales agents who had connections on LinkedIn as relations already established. Sales is about establishing a trusting relation with clients – such that purchases can be made with confidence.
Having been contacted by over a dozen sales agents in the past few months, I am noticing a trend. What follows is the story encapsulating what I am observing from the social selling efforts made to win my business. My case is anecdotal, but I do not think it is isolated. To protect the guilty parties from embarrassment (never my intention), I will call the individual in question Linda – working for fictitious company, Sock Inc.
Social Selling the Sock way
One cold morning in February, Linda looked at my profile on LinkedIn, then reached out to me to connect. Her LinkedIn profile was fresh (very little content), and her title was CTO of Sock Inc. Fortunately, Linda was smart enough not to just send a standard connection message, but to actually customize it to suit me and any of 3500 other generic marketing executives. Her message said something to the effect of thank you for stopping by the booth at a conference I attended over a year ago, and that she was looking forward to connecting. Being such a long time ago, I could not quite recall whether I had actually stopped by, but it was a plausible reason for being connected. Since she had the role of CTO, it pacified my concern about connecting to a sales representative whom I would expect to immediately take the opportunity to pitch me on their product or solution.
Unfortunately, my concern was justified. After connecting, Linda immediately sent me a note inviting me to a 10 minute conference call and/or to review her services on a webinar – after which I could purchase the service immediately for a special, one time only discount.
Since it was impossible for Linda to have typed a response to me almost instantaneously, I was left with the feeling that Sock had an automated and highly impersonal LinkedIn response system. Great, I am corresponding with a bot, or Linda just has an automated process to feed me canned responses.
Sales = Real Relationship
From a sales perspective there was no REAL effort at establishing a relationship with me, the prospect. As a customer, I felt that Linda lied to me, as the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) title was used but it was clear that Linda is a salesperson or contributing to the sales process. Any credibility Linda had based on being a technology executive with a sales neutral title, was immediately destroyed. A final point is that Linda tried to completely bypass the buyer journey jumping to the finish line in one step. Sure she had mentioned that the phone call and webinar would be the preference generating step. She did not jump directly to trying to sell me, but the inclusion of a special one-time only discount… seemed to indicate that a sale was expected from this conversation or webinar attendance. To be fair to Linda, she tried to jump through the journey process in one single step in her response by telling me that the call would garner my consideration, the webinar will convince me to prefer Sock’s product offering, and the one-time only discount will seal the deal in a sale… right then and there.
You must admit this is an impressive effort, and Linda seemed well prepared to snag some foolish customers. Sadly, given that Linda is selling B2B (business to business), with a product worth thousands of dollars per deployment – going from “I have never heard of your company” to “OK I will buy one” – might not be done in a single quick maneuver.
Social Selling is NOT Cutting Corners!
Linda should have known to spend a moment to raise my awareness of her firm. She should have conveyed that her firm is not a scam operation, or fly-by-night shop that will take our money and vanish before delivery. She also did not draw my attention to my pain points making me consider the benefit her product could offer. If I had no pain points which the product addressed, then naturally I would not be interested in purchasing her solution. By misunderstanding the social selling paradigm, she thought she could immediately get an in-person meeting with a corporate executive and get right to the preference phase… or better yet land the contract in one single contact. Social selling does a great job of speeding up the process, NOT bypassing it.
Astonishingly – Linda is not alone. Over a dozen sales agents have attempted similar jump to the finish line approaches by connecting with me on LinkedIn.
Social selling is a new and important paradigm we must leverage in sales and marketing to draw in more business for our firms. However, social selling does NOT mean you can bypass the buyers journey, or skip the customer relationship building phase.
Smart social selling means creating an intelligent strategy that guides the buyers decision journey, and uses both social media and digital marketing to establish, and strength the relationship. Clearly Linda had put some thought and preparation into her plan to engage me. What if Linda had approached it with the strategy of developing the relationship, instead? Had she taken a more strategically intelligent approach, I wonder if I would have considered her discussion request – rather than using her as sales disaster example.
Next Blog Post: Social Selling the Right Way
For our next blog… let’s take a look at how Linda could have used Social Selling correctly. By setting out a smart strategy – Linda could improve her prospects and make social selling a major success. However, social selling is not free. It takes work to make it work!