Social Selling: The Internal Pitch

CMOGuess where I have been lately? I have been talking to some of our senior leadership about building a stronger social selling practice at AT&T. While this may seem natural enough to some of you, others who have tried to have these conversations realize how difficult it is to get the ear of the corner office. Seminars and entire workshops have been devoted to demystifying how to get traction in the corner offices around Social. Here are three things that I did that seemed to work.

1. Use the power of social to get their ear
Instead of sending an email to the CEO or beseeching their admin to give you a few minutes on the calendar, try a Social approach. I connected with my executives via LinkedIn and then reached out to them via that medium. A sure way to get an affirmative to your connection request is to pay attention to your profile. Make sure it screams success and professionalism.
Once I connected, I made sure I posted blogs and postings around my ideas that they might see. I then sent a direct message asking if they wanted to see some of the posts around successes I was having using Social to sell. In a college logic class I learned the word “Tautology”. It refers to something that is true in every case because it is just, well…true! By exciting my own executives using a Social plan, I was showing them exactly how I excited our customers about our products and services using the same approach.

2. Don’t say social
Once I had my foot cracked into the large oak doors, I was careful to speak about my successes in terms of what I did to succeed, not what Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube did for me. I think we often make the mistake of trying to arouse interest around Social channels based on the size of their viewership instead of concentrating on what novel ways we can position our messages with real customers using those channels. Every executive has heard of Social Media. Every executive likely has an actionable plan around it even if that plan is moving at glacial speed and is not addressing the issues. One sure way to have your plan dismissed is by having it compete with an existing plan. I couched my ideas as a new way to reach customers that happened to take advantage of Social channels.

3. Prove your case and make a direct ask
My final point is some “Executive 101” that a mentor of mine helped me with before I went in front of my executive with the big ask. There must be some empirical evidence that makes you think your plan will succeed. Bring that out first. Tell the story and fill in the details on what happened and how the success happened. Use that success to make a big ask. Do you need budget? Resources? Support? The ear of another executive? Get to that request in the first 5 minutes and directly ask for it. This is what I did and the answer was a simple, ‘yes.’

Social media is a brave new world that is on the mind of corporate executives everywhere. By demonstrating the power of Social, couching your ideas for what they are and not as simply adoption of Social channels for their own sake, and getting to your point quickly, there is a high probability you will being hearing ‘yes’ too.

B2B Social Selling as easy as 1,2,3

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Is your Brand on Twitter? (Photo credit: The Next Web)

When I tell sales teams about the multi-million dollar deal I closed thanks to social selling it gets their attention. Up to that point, I get a lot of disinterested looks when I discuss engaging personally with clients and companies through social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.  Yes, I even get some eyeball rolling.  However, salespeople are capable of intently listening when money is at stake.  But just in case, I keep it easy for them by telling them the method for engagement is as easy as 1,2,3.

Step One: Build Persona

Many salespeople have larger than life personas to begin with, but when you look at them through the lens of their social sites they often don’t stand out as someone you would want to engage with. This is because they don’t rely on social media to communicate with their audience. Of all the business functions, salespeople rely on their in-person skills the most.  They enjoy one-on-one time with people.  Talking on the phone and conversing in writing are a distant second and third for salespeople.

So, I coach our sales teams to spruce up their on-line image as a first step. In doing so I tell them to be real, be credible and be alive. The first order of business is getting a good head-shot loaded onto Linked, Twitter, etc. It may cost money to get a decent picture, but a shot of you and Mickey Mouse from last year’s Disney vacation with the kids does not help at all.

Secondly, in addition to work experience,  I tell them to make sure to share something personal in their bio section that gives people a hint that they are flesh and blood. Telling people about your love of birding or old movies brings you to life in a way that no amount of documented awards and recognition can. Finally, I tell the teams they need to be ready to be consistently active on these social sites, but more on that in step 3.

Step Two: Get Connected

A beautiful profile on social media means very little if  you do not have an audience.   My tactics are simple and genuine to build a network full of real and like-minded people who you actually enjoy interacting with.  In LinkedIn I recommend first researching people of interest at your customer, in your industry and at  your employer. Then (and here comes the shocker!) DON’T ask to connect!  Instead, see what groups they belong to and join those groups.  Now you are not only unobtrusively attached to the people you want to converse with, but also with potentially thousands of their friends and associates.   Twitter is a bit more sublime, but the general idea is the same.  I suggest following people of interest and paying close attention to their activity.  My other tip is to grow slowly in Twitter.  Sure,  you can buy thousands of followers on Twitter, but what is the point? Again, the purpose of a network is to interact with each other and share ideas. Buying a group of friends has never worked and never will.

Step Three: Take Action

Now that you have a great profile and are connected to a receptive audience it is time to mingle.  Starting out with ‘likes’ on LinkedIn group content and ‘retweets’ in Twitter is a good baby step. The next step is replying and adding to the posts with your own ideas. The final step is posting your own content or finding interesting content for the group and post it. Note, this does not mean posting headlines from the Wall Street Journal! Everyone has seen that, try posting an article from a smaller journal or an article that puts a new spin on the front page news. The best kind of content is helpful insight that praises existing works or calls the reader to action to change how they are doing things today. This idea resonates well with sales people, because these are typical starting points for sales discussions.  Once you have been part of the dialog in a group or conversed with someone on Twitter, it is ok to ask for more from the relationship.  If the sales person takes her time and proves herself to be a thought-leader, clients are much more receptive to taking a meeting or giving an introduction to the proper budget owner.

Let me know what you think?  It may seem simplistic, but do you agree that many in B2B sales are missing these steps?  Would some training in going social help your sales team modernize and become more productive?  Reach out to the great staff at Savvy with more questions and ideas.

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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