There are so many people out there giving advice on strategic B2B and social selling yet so few have achieved consistently in the heat of battle, survived jungle guerrilla warfare, lived in the desert of selling into the white space and adapted to embrace social manoeuvrability with old school battleship clout.
Read this article with confidence. I’ve personally won hundreds of millions of dollars of deals over three decades in multiple industries. I sold to IBM themselves at 70% higher prices than the incumbent competition and it was the biggest deal ever in the industry. My record was never broken and even more than two decades they are still a customer. I’ve won President’s Club in the telecommunications industry; earned Asia-Pacific Account Manager of the Year in the IT industry; sold the biggest deal in the world for a tier-one software company which earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in commission from a single deal. Just over two years ago I left the corner office as Managing Director and went out on my own to do consulting. Less than 90 days ago I truly embraced social and the results are shocking (case study by LinkedIn themselves in the next 30 days).
I want to help you define Strategic Social Selling, but first let’s define it without social. Before we can understand what good looks like, let’s look at the bad. This is reactive selling. The type of selling where you are disrespected and treated like a mere commodity, where they jerk your chain and bark orders to complete inane tender documents within unreasonable deadlines, to perform magical demonstrations with almost no time to prepare, where they won’t tell you who will be in the audience or what their roles are.
The illustration below shows the buyer’s journey in its varied forms but the defining element of reactive selling is that the customer is in the driver’s seat from beginning to end. They decide when to invite you in to their process and on their rules. There is inevitably a focus on price, assessment of features and functions, ratings of risk versus bang for buck; and you are blocked from talking with the real decision makers, instead being forced to comply with their process and timing. It feels like you’re flying blind. Many adhere to old adage: If you didn’t influence their tender, don’t bother responding… delete. But I have won business where we were late the party in government deals… it can be done.
REACTIVE SELLING IS FOR ‘COMMODITY PROVIDERS’
Strategic selling, on the other hand, is defined by being proactive in researching, targeting and planning. The best sellers seek alignment with the ideal prospective customer rather than attempting to raise the dead through extreme evangelism. The way they achieve this is by focusing on win review with their best customers to identify the triggers that caused them to invest in a solution. There is a very important distinction here – it is NOT about discovering why they bought from you over the competition; it’s instead about identifying trigger events that caused them to decide they had a serious problem or opportunity (before they decided who to invest with; you or your competitors).
Continue looking at the far right of the illustration below and notice that it is the completion of the customer experience. Sales people are wired to behave as if closing the sale is the end of what matters but in this model there is an entire group of new items extending to the right. For the customer, it’s where the risk begins and they want to buy from someone who cares about their entire lifecycle to deliver the outcomes they are seeking. Customer eXperience (CX) is the new sales model for driving sustainable competitive advantage. Sellers who take the time to do post-implementation reviews with ROI validation are the ones who generate the most powerful case studies and testimonials.
But there is another magical thing to also focus on to create ultimate buyer empathy, insight and alignment… it is the power of thinking about your customer’s customer. B2B2C is what you’re really doing. The sellers who genuinely care about their customer’s challenges and opportunities, to help them reduce costs, gain market share, reduce customer churn, improve customer satisfaction, and more; are the one’s who change the rules on the competition through the way they sell. It demands that sales people go vertically deep in industry segments and it requires substantial investment… this is where insight selling or Challenger ideation occurs.
PROACTIVE STRATEGIC SELLING IS FOR WINNERS
Now look to the left and notice the first [upward] red arrow. Differentiation occurs in the way that selling occurs rather than in what is actually being sold. The way we sell has always been more important than what we sell and in social selling its never been more important. The sales person and how they sell is the single biggest differentiator and Corporate Executive Board research proved it. The very best prepare fully, arrive early and engage at the most senior levels. They challenge the status quo with evidenced business insights while setting an agenda with an inbuilt bias within requirements toward their strengths. Finally, they embed their unique value in a compelling business case to overcome apathy and the status quo. They use risk as a weapon and fear as a positive motivator to position as lowest risk and best value. They create a strong focus on business value creation and risk mitigation while aligning with those who have genuine power within the power-base political structure.
But there is more to #StrategicSocialSelling than an early engagement, proactive approach. Notice the second [downward] red arrow. This is where your activities in social result in you being invited to participate in the the most important part of the buyer’s journey. It takes a serious investment of time and real skill to operate at this level. The very best sales people today embrace this role and become micro-marketers to drive their own demand-generation machines.
And now… lets add the X-factor to Strategic Selling which is Social Selling 3.0. The term ‘Social Selling’ is a misnomer because in the context of business-to-business (B2B), the best social sellers don’t sell at all. They do not engage in digital spamming, interrupt marketing or push selling at any time. They instead use proven old school methods of selling on new school social platforms to deliver massive leverage, scale and amplification of their efforts. In the slide below I provide some examples. Yes, I know that the platforms referenced are not exhaustive but they are the most important in B2B. CRM encompasses social collaboration and there are many best of breed collaboration tools. The Holy Grail of sales enablement is in fact when it all comes together for deal coaching and this link provides my detailed blog on the topic.
At any given time, only 3% of your market is actively buying. 56% are not ready, 40% are poised to begin. – Steve Richard, Vorsight
Let’s explore the Four Pillars of Social Selling:
Pillar I – Social Listening: Are you segmenting and targeting your ideal buyers and putting feelers out to filter out their signal from the noise? This can be done with tools like HootSuite and TweetDeck. I’m surprised at how few sellers are creating basic Twitter Lists to listen by segments of 25 individuals or less that are actually practical to track. Stephen Covey said, ‘seek first to understand than be understood.’ You must first open your ears, heart and mind. Be present and make sure that you have a dashboard set up to glean every aspect of what your dream prospects are putting out into the social ether: press releases, white papers, reflections on the annual report, balance sheet, interviews, YouTube videos (subscribe to their channel), Tweets, Facebook shares, Google+ updates, Pinterest boards, Instagram, SlideShare and even search the first 15 pages of search results of Google with a fine toothed comb.
Measure twice cut once — English Proverb
Pillar II – Social Publishing: Don’t just blog – that’s Web 2.0. Take the plunge on LinkedIn Publisher into Web 3.0 – the web of context and social proximity. Understand the inter-relationships of your networks and network’s networks. Share your subject matter expertise and thought leadership on here daily. The network effects and engagement are without parallel. I controversially advocate moving your blog to LinkedIn where you’ll get exponential views, reads, likes, shares and comments. Basic math unveils this. Imagine you’re a rockstar with 200,000 followers of a traditional blog. Now let’s just say you’ve written the most compelling article ever and you manage to get a 5% open rate. That’s just 10K people that read it. But the reality is more like 2% that will actually read it – not just open it, skim it or star it for later. At 2% we’re at 4,000 people and that’s the grim reality of the blogosphere in 2015. Blogs are often reliant upon an email list, auto-opened in gmail or ignored.
By moving my blog to LinkedIn I’ve had many posts reach over 10,000 views, another climbed to 200,000. It’s rare to have a LinkedIn publish read over 1,000 times and what I notice on here is that engenders 400 shares in many cases and two dozen comments. I respond to them all thoughtfully. How do you become a subject matter expert in the vertical you’re selling into overnight? Paradoxically, writing everyday on here will do it. Parkinson’s Law states that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ I set the goal to produce the highest quality piece of content I could in LinkedIn Publisher every day for the last 90 days and many days the inspiration flooded me from following all of you, and I was able to put out more than that. Plant seeds and be curious…
The second huge way to amp up your social publishing, is to get in front of as many qualified buyers as you can and bring those insights and that pattern recognition back to what you write. As Andy Rudin calls it ‘mind the string.’ Start to compile a list of links as you peruse the internet so that you can cross-reference and backlink to them in your posts. I also keep an ever-growing Evernote file with thousands of topics; I’ll often mash up a few to craft a post. Other than becoming a great B2B writer by traditional means and cutting your teeth at GigaOm, becoming a phenomenal social publisher is more so about overcoming fear. If you got into a career in sales because brevity is your strong suit, you love picking up the phone and talking with clients – well, you’re probably already a top producer. I would suggest writing in LinkedIn as if you’re writing a letter to your biggest client helping to explain how your solution solves their technology challenge. You’ll notice you write volumes every day in email sharing your hard-won expertise and insight so carry that intensity and your authentic voice into social publishing. The fastest way to build compelling posts is mashups: newsjack a current event mixed with a sport you know about and mix in some business rules: bingo – an intriguing post based on your real world experience and strong opinions to polarize!
Here are the top four links that I’ve found that completely changed the game for me in LinkedIn Publisher. I’ve taken a wildly data-driven approach architecting my social publishing blueprint from these sources like Dave Kerpen who has had the highest read Publish of all time with over 2MM views:
- 3,000 of the Most Successful LinkedIn Publishing Posts Analyzed
- The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post
- 7.5 Secrets to Winning at Blogging
- New Data: What Types of Content Perform Best on Social Media?
Pillar III – Social Research and Engagement: Challenger Sale leaves most readers with this burning question: ‘But how do I get upstream with insight?’ I know I need to ‘teach with new insight’ but how do I generate it? The world is crying out for a prequel rather than a sequel to Challenger! Social research will allow you to understand the precise moment when to strike. Passively monitoring the leads in the top accounts in your territory will bear fruit. A) You’ll start to notice patterns in what your prospects are posting that will influence the insights you can share. B) You’ll start to notice a consensus (near ubiquity) of challenges and strategic objectives both harmonic and dissonant to competitors. The differentiators in your suite of solutions emerge to be shared and amplified. C) With a deep understanding of trigger events, you can be there during the most powerful one: changes and transitions. Read Craig Elias and Tibor Shanto’s book ‘Shift‘ for the blueprint on this.
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. – Abraham Lincoln
Awareness and bad supplier triggers are often not enough to impel a change from the status quo. The best type of research you can do is on previous signers, buyers or advocates in past or current accounts that have now either been promoted, switched into a new role where they have the ability to disrupt a new company’s culture [and spend money – 7 figures – in the first 90 days] or are broadcasting a recent understanding of the emergent paradigm. Engagement is all about subtlety. Blasting updates at a Twitter handle can and will hurt you. Awkward connect requests or InMails that are super relevant but non sequitur out of left field will cause a ‘crickets’ response. Engagement has to be meaningful for them, not just formulaic and self-serving for you. My favorite email each week is the company leader that explains in the preamble how they are ‘personally inviting me’ or ‘wrote to me personally.’ Then I check the from address and it’s been spit out by a mkt-auto drip campaign! I wrote an entire post about the subtleties and nuances of how to move from ‘interesting to interested‘ here that very much speaks to the ladder of engagement and slowly warming up prospects from a simmer to a roaring boil in social media.
Pillar IV – Social Collaboration: It’s amazing what happens once you start to form digital bonds with a super network across the globe. You’ll attract thought leaders with radio shows reaching out to interview you. Bloggers in vertical industries will look to feature your writings to a broader audience. You may be invited to mastermind groups, to contribute to white paper studies by software companies, guest blog on other highly read sites, participate in social hangouts and even new speaking, coaching and training opportunities will emerge. This is all social collaboration in its highest form as you’re building a virtual network to brainstorm, become a master mind and push the entire industry forward. The best way to collaborate is to embrace open source – give your IP away freely (with attribution, of course) and co-create. Social collaboration is about an ongoing value exchange and creation of innovative ideas. Once you’re writing daily, open up an email address so readers can provide feedback and request topics. When a reader leaves a candid comment, ask questions to draw the conversation out further. Why do they disagree or feel passionately on the subject?
Social collaboration is the concept of synergy, the result of many minds coming together creates the mastermind in stark contrast to the bureaucratic hive mind of the closed water cooler confines of the traditional organizational hierarchy and strict command and control. Social media plays a democratizing role flattening the Earth into a global village of a vibrant knowledge economy advancing all industries.
Let’s say you’re building out a white paper or report. Look how PureMatter asked the top 50 social sellers that Onalytica rated with their analytics process what they thought the biggest challenge organizations will face as they look to implement social selling. This is the quintessence of social collaboration because it creates a feedback loop of new insight and collective knowledge sharing and brainstorming in real-time. Corporations can do this with their customer base. Authors can collaborate with their readers to push their work even farther forward and closer to the customer’s true reality. Sellers can collaborate with customers during the course of the decision phase of the buying process to further customise a solution that is bullet proofed against competitors. Further interacting with social to provide service and to garner and share key case studies is key. Nobody sells your product better than your satisfied customers and we must sell to our customers in their own words.