Social selling is one of my B2B Marketing and Sales team’s top inquiry topics. We’ve also helped numerous clients plan and execute effective social selling programs. Given this and the recent report that Mary Shea just published, New Tech: B2B Social Selling Tools, Q1 2018, I thought now would be a great time to touch base with Mary and have a chat about what she’s seeing in this space.

Caroline: Let’s start with the big picture. How does building a strong presence on social benefit sellers?

Mary: Great first question!  Just as there are different types of sellers, there are also different types of social sellers. I find that social sellers typically fall into the following categories: celebrities, experts, and social novices. Not every seller needs to be a celebrity, but you want to be out there engaging in a channel-appropriate way, building and growing your digital network and establishing yourself as a thought leader, curator, and/or connector.

For salespeople who can do this, the benefits are profound: You have better and faster access to your clients, you’re able to have more authentic and empathetic interactions, and you’re able to “listen and learn” to increase your ability to be highly consultative.

Caroline: Social is becoming a more important channel for all types of B2B sellers. Why? And why now?

Mary: Social selling has typically lagged other social marketing initiatives. But we’re now seeing B2B sellers of all types have tremendous success when integrating social into their process. B2B social sellers outperform peers who don’t use social by 72%.

I think this is happening for three reasons:

First, social allows sellers to meet buyers where they reside — digitally and otherwise. Modern buyers are digital-first buyers. Our research shows that 92% of B2B purchases start with search; 68% of B2B buyers prefer to research online, on their own — that’s increased 15% from two years ago; and 62% of buyers say they can develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list based solely on digital content. So it’s about meeting buyers where they are.

Second, B2B buyers are pretty fatigued with established channels, and they’re desensitized to generic messaging. Social channels are more vibrant, and gaining access to your buyers is easier through them.

Finally, social, when done right, can foster truly authentic connections and personalized interactions. Think of it this way: By 2020, Millennials will make up half of the global workforce. Today, 85% of Millennials are members of a social networking site, and 73% of them say they already participate in product or service purchase decisions for their firm. So there is limited resistance to or suspicion of connecting socially.

Caroline: Are all kinds of customers and prospects on social? What about those organizations who really focus on the C-suite?

Believe it or not, all your customers are on social. In North America, you’ll find customers on LinkedIn and Twitter; in other areas of the world they may be on Xing or WeChat.

Ninety-one percent of B2B buyers are now active on social, and 84% of senior executives use social to support purchase decisions. They go to peer review social sites, they engage with their digital networks to learn about a new partner, they follow industry analysts and influencers, and they actually research and evaluate their sales person digitally before agreeing to meet them in person!

This is one reason why sellers need to pay attention to their digital presence and brand, across the channels that matter.

Caroline: Obviously, no one is actually going to close a deal on LinkedIn or Twitter, particularly sellers of large, strategic deals. So what’s the role of these channels in the sales process?

Mary: With the exception of highly transactional sales, of course no one is going to close a deal on Twitter. But I would argue that no one actually closes a deal on the golf course, either. But playing 18 holes with a client or prospect can be an important part of the overall relationship strategy, especially when working deals with long cycles.

Social is really no different, it just takes less than 4.5 hours. It’s about engaging and interacting in meaningful ways throughout the relationship and buying cycle. In all likelihood, you can’t meet with a customer every week, but you can have a digital handshake with them or do a digital good deed for them as frequently as you want.

So think of social across the buying cycle in terms of influence. As an example, one of our clients does a great job of tracking social’s influence across the buying cycle, and for a multimillion-dollar deal they had 112 social touches over the course of the 12-month cycle.

Caroline: Wow, 112 seems like so many, but that’s really just shy of 10 per month. And when most of us are on some form of social media daily, it’s not hard to get to that level at all, is it?  So what are the best practices for getting started?

Mary: There are a number of things sellers can do to begin. First, they can build their brand and create a digital presence on the relevant channels for their territory and geography. In the States, that’s LinkedIn and Twitter. When creating your profile and thinking of what type of content to share, remember that LinkedIn is no longer about trying to attract a recruiter but rather about how you work with clients and how you help them. And Twitter — while still professional — is a medium where the nuance of the channel allows for a bit more of who you are as person to shine through.

Next, I recommend sellers compile a list of relevant thought leaders, industry analysts, and key clients and follow them. I find a lot of salespeople are still a bit unsure of how to engage on Twitter, so I recommend they follow, listen, and learn. Before they know it, they’ll be comfortable engaging.

Then, start to share ideas and content. If marketing partners package up content and recommend channels for sharing, that’s great! And if sellers are unsure about creating their own content, a great way to begin is by curating other people’s content.

And this may go without saying, but one thing for sellers to remember as they get started on social for work — avoid topics such as politics, religion, and reality TV.

Caroline: Mary, this all makes complete sense. In many ways, this is less about selling than it is simply about building relationships and maintaining them by providing ongoing value, isn’t it?

Mary: Absolutely!