3 Tactics for B2B Selling in the Social Media Era

The Lake Superior Whitefish made the customers smile (in 1994)

The Lake Superior Whitefish made the customers smile (in 1994)

Have you ever wondered how to use social media with your sales force in business to business selling?

While much has been written about selling to consumers using social media, far less has been said about how to sell to businesses, particularly Fortune 500’s, using social media. One of the main reasons is that Sales departments and salespeople seem to be stuck in their familiar ways. They operate much the way they did 25 years ago with only minor differences: Now we have email and PDF’s instead of letters and the US Postal Service…we are not talking huge leaps in modus operandi here!

I still remember my first business lunch at the windowless Berghoff Restaurant in downtown Chicago. My boss, told me to invite the CFO of a manufacturing client who was on the cusp of buying a new voice mail system from us. After a nice lunch of Lake Superior Whitefish, I handed him one of my firm’s brochures on phone systems. He looked at it for a minute or so before agreeing that he should also ask my company to supply a bid for replacing their antiquated phones. I thought to myself, “I love sales!” And so it went for many years and many fine meals. But I think there is a huge change taking place in B2B selling…a change that not everyone is noticing or capitalizing on.

Has your business been wrestling with how to best use social media in B2B selling? In my role at AT&T, I have been working with our sales segments to modernize how we interact with our customers. Specifically, we are discussing how to train our sales force on how to use their personal brands. Here are a few of the ideas we are working on:

1. Social sharing is the new brochure.

Sharing content with customers via a social network is rapidly taking the place of using marketing collateral and even prospect-generating presentations. No buyer has time for all the emails and meetings anymore. They are stretched very thin and time is precious. However, they still become enamoured with the firms and individuals who help them get their jobs done. Reaching these buyers via the public social media they subscribe to is an obvious answer. But just reaching them is not enough either. Sharing useful content is equally important. Here is how it works. A saleswoman who sells Cloud Solutions shares with her network an independent survey about how similar sized companies are adopting Cloud Solutions. On his lunch break, an IT director of one of her customers reads the posting and prints it to use in a meeting with the CIO that afternoon. Once a Cloud strategy is agreed upon that salesperson will be called first. Possibly she will be contacted via the social media she posted on as the buyer associates her with the informative article she placed there.

2. Create influence.

It was said on a Hootsuite/LinkedIn webinar I attended that on average 60% of the buying cycle is completed before a salesperson is even contacted. The vendors who helped form opinions and influenced the buyers were big winners. Other vendors who waited to get on the golf links with the same buyers lost out. One big reason is that buyers have become impervious to email and phone calls. Yet, these buyers still have networks they rely on to form opinions about vendors and technologies. Furthermore, in my industry, IT purchasing is becoming more decentralized. Getting introduced to new department heads who hold budget can be tricky. In both instances the strategy is the same for the sales team: post interesting and usable content and search for, follow and interact with customers on the social sites.

3. Connect with the social media literate today.

There is still a window to very personally connect with executives and vice presidents who are embracing social media at our customers today. These opportunities will close as more and more is done via social media. Striking up an on-line conversation has become the best way to build a relationship. In fact, it is now much easier to do that than trying to create one at a lunch appointment that keeps getting postponed due to workload.

What other tactics are working for your business as you try to modernize B2B selling using social? Why do you think it is taking so long for B2B sales to embrace social media?

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