In “How B2B Sales Can Benefit from Social Selling,” an article I wrote with Keith Quesenberry for the Harvard Business Review, we cited a LinkedIn survey that “found that B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with a sales rep who provides new insights about their business or industry.” We also found that the earlier the sales rep engages with the buyer in the buying process, the more likely it is that he or she will win the sale.
By that logic, it makes sense to focus on the top of the funnel when developing content for social selling.
But this focus on the top could be getting in the way of achieving your overall sales and brand building potential.
Some common mistakes of social selling
There are two main pitfalls teams experience with social selling.
1) With a focus on being the first to the conversation, salespeople can fall into the rut of staying near the top of the funnel, continually feeding more and more high level information and insights to their prospects, rather than using the initial engagement to lead them toward transactions with deeper insights.
After all, generating this “high-level” content such as best practice information (which are more likely common practices than “best” for individual companies), news and trend reports and general guidebooks is easier. It is formulaic, it enables marketers to recycle studies, and it can be programmed so you can reach more prospects with less effort.
2) The sales process is often seen as a numbers game. The more you engage, the more leads you have, the more likely you’ll find one who is ready to buy.
Optimize your prospect’s sales journey
Rather, you might want to first optimize the end of the prospect journey – the close – and then work your way to the beginning or top of the funnel. This is a key recommendation I made with William Rosen in our book, The Activation Imperative: How to Build Brands and Business by Inspiring Action.
Rory Sutherland, the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Group UK and who graciously provided the Foreword to our book, supported this approach with an article he wrote (and we cited) that said, "[I]f your POS is only 50% as good as it could be, then your advertising—however brilliant—will only be working at 50% capacity."
In other words, if you boost the close rate at the end and then work backwards, optimizing along the way, you are able to greatly boost your sales success. This is important because you only have so many hours in the day and need to prioritize your efforts.
Your goal here is to make the final decisions as easy as possible for your prospects, so they already know the options they need, understand any technical implications, and have a roadmap for integration and implementation.
Rory, in his same piece, compared the approach to the way traffic planners work. The goal: to find and eliminate the bottlenecks.
In terms of sales, this means identifying the points along the path-to-purchase where process slows down, opening your company up to competitive actions, and the key off-ramps, where your competitors can sway your prospects toward them.
Take some inspiration from academia
The academic side of me (I’m also a marketing practitioner) gives me an additional perspective. When designing any educational program, we first identify the knowledge and skills one should have at the end of the course.
We then reverse-engineer, working at the introductory levels, and identifying points along the program or course where we should introduce information or a skill, where we should reinforce the knowledge or skill, and where we should extend each.
Learning, including any behavioral change, is constructive. But we must know what we are constructing before we can build it.
Likewise, by identifying the sales bottlenecks as well as beliefs and knowledge you want in your prospects at the close, you can better create and implement the appropriate social selling sales and/or marketing approach and tools.
You provide deeper insights and more complex information at each key inflection point along the path closer to the sale, rather than merely staying at the top of the funnel with your marketing and sales content.
The guide for guiding your prospects
Once you have the most likely paths and the needs at each key inflection point for your prospect along the journey, reframe the question from “how can I best close the sale during my meeting, phone call, email, social media exchange, or other interaction and close the sale” to “how can I add authentic value and inspire my prospect to take the next step?”
By reframing the question, you will have the insights you need for developing effective content at each step.
Yes, you will still need to ask for the sale, but it’s the holistic value you create with your social content and sales interactions that keeps prospects engaged, and helps them realize the ultimate value of the products and services you are selling.
Try the approach today, because it could set you up for a great start to your sales efforts!