I recently read through some Social Media statistics relevant to Australia. Did you know that nearly 8 million Australians are on LinkedIn, that 5.5 million Australians are chirping away on Twitter, and that a mammoth 15 million of us routinely use Facebook to keep up to date with who is doing what? For a (relatively) small population, we have a fairly momentous population sample deeply ingrained in digital (social) engagement. In our personal lives we shop on Amazon for books, we buy our groceries through the Woollies online app, we binge watch Netflix, we Spotify, and we Google absolutely everything to quench our thirst for knowledge. The world has well and truly gone social. Along with the shift to digital waters, consumers have moved their buying habits to digital landscapes. Organisations that sell products/services to self-funding consumers have been leveraging digital marketing and sales channels for quite some time now. In the B2C world, ‘to be (social) or not to be’… is not even a question.
Despite this, in the B2B sales world a rather traditional person-to-person approach is still utilised. And why not? Buyers want to work with people they have met, they know and trust. Sellers know only too well that relationships are essential to success in sales life. B2B selling careers are built on track records, which in turn are heavily based on networks. And I mean physical networks – in-person, coffee drinking, beer-o’clock meeting, going to the rugby, relationship oriented – networks.
For centuries, from the origins of markets as we know them today, buying and selling in a B2B context has taken place in person. Traditional buying-selling dynamics are well entrenched globally. Face to face meetings allow us to gauge people, and get an appreciation for who they are. A short phone conversation cuts short the dozens of emails that would otherwise happen. A handwritten thank-you note lends a personal touch that is impossible to replicate with an email or message. The tried and tested format of professional B2B selling has worked well for a long time.
On one side of the B2B selling equation, we have the sturdily cemented foundations of a rather traditional approach. On the other side is the rapidly growing world of digital and social selling. Should we leave the tradition behind and migrate to digital frontiers?Orshould we remain fixated in tradition and continue the road warrior approach to B2B sales?
In my humble opinion, the answer is not in picking one over the other. Rather, through my experience of building the New Horizons Australia salesforce over the last 12 years, I have learnt that merging the two methodologies is the way to go. Sustained sales success does not come from completely abandoning the traditional and embracing the social/digital model. Nor does it come from focussing 100% on social/digital channels and divorcing the tried and tested. The real solution to achieve continued B2B sales success is the amalgamation of the traditional with the disruptive; of tried and tested with the new; of phone/face engagement with social/digital engagement.
And no, ‘social selling’ is not the realm of digital marketers. Digital Marketing is. Yes, Marketers play an extremely important role in the success of a social selling program, however, social selling is relevant to sales teams, sales leadership and business executives.
At New Horizons Australia we have successfully brought together the worlds of traditional selling, and social/digital selling. Allow me to give you some tangible examples of how we have merged these ecospheres:
- Finding new potential customers to work with: We find potential client firms we want to work with, on social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter (amongst others). We attempt to gain deep levels of knowledge about the prospect client: we browse the company’s website (the ‘About Us’, ‘History’, ‘Key People’ sections in particular), we study their LinkedIn and Twitter pages and learn from their recent posts, we research Google for any relevant information about the organisation. This digital information is then transferred to our CRM where it becomes organisational knowledge. This also lays the foundation for our traditional selling strategy in the accounts. Conversely, we look at the clients that are in our CRM system and we do the social/digital analysis on them to ensure that we have a thorough (and current) understanding of the clients. It works both ways, the social/digital information must be converted to traditional data stores. Equally, what sits in the traditional data stores must be analysed through a social/digital lens.
- Finding new contacts to work with: Just as social channels can be leveraged to find new prospect client firms, so too are they a great resource to find new contacts to work with, be they contacts in net new companies or in existing client firms. LinkedIn and Twitter are great resources to find out who works for an organisation. We compare the customer workforce as per social/digital channels with our CRM’s understanding of the client workforce and their organisational chart. Herein we spot the gaps between what we think makes up the organisational workforce of our clients and the ‘actual’, ‘current’ workforce. Again, it is in balancing the traditional organisational knowledge with the social/digital information stores that a more holistic version of the customer workforce is arrived at.
- Engaging with people: We no longer use a monocular approach to client engagement. We use a combination of traditional (phone / email / meeting) outreach and digital (LinkedIn / Twitter / Google) outreach. We ensure that we observe the rules of LinkedIn as far as outreach goes. The last thing you want as a sales professional is to be banned by LinkedIn because you are spamming people on the platform. Where a direct connection is not feasible, we follow the contacts on social platforms and set up digital alerts to learn about them in real time. When engagement is restricted to just the traditional methodologies because, you miss out the advantages of social/digital efficiency. When only social/digital is leveraged, you repudiate the value that speaking with people, in person, allows.
- Educating our clients/prospects: We believe in adding real value to the businesses of our clients. In order to add real value, educating is an important activity. We use traditional (seminars / workshops / events) and digital (webinars / white papers / blogs) channels to educate our network. We publish and share content – blogs, news articles, and the like. In particular, we avoid any outright push of our products/services. Instead, we make sure the content we share adds value to our network. In the process we have established ourselves as thought leaders in our industry. The education of clients/prospects happens in person and through social/digital outreach. Missing out on one of the two approaches, halves the opportunity.
- Strengthening relationships with existing customers: We practice account management and social account management. Yes, ultimately, it is account management and the end goal is to maintain high levels of contact with existing customers and develop the strength of relationship. When traditional and social/digital channels are simultaneously, the quality of account management improves. Furthermore, the social/digital channel allows greater efficiency and scale. This reduces time spent managing accounts and achieves high quality account management on the run. Not only do we see value in traditional account planning, account reviews and milestone assessment but we equally see value in leveraging social and digital mediums to manage our relationships with our clients.
- Developing networks: To build a network it is important to leverage the traditional (networking events, chambers of commerce, contacts of contacts etc.). It is equally important to leverage social channel to build networks effectively and efficiently. The in person network building still holds value because people do business with people and an auditory/visual connection furthers the bond. However, in the time poverty we all face, social/digital channels allow a scale that in-person networking cannot achieve.
Summarily, we don’t believe that traditional selling is dead. We also don’t believe that the cold call is dead. Our experience of selling New Horizons’ products/services over 16 years in Australia, the last 10 of which have involved social selling in one format or the other, tells us that the cold call is now warmed up through social research. We believe the profession of sales has yet again, evolved. Just like the entry of email, the web, smart-phones or video conferencing didn’t render all older sales engagement styles, dead. So too, social and digital selling has not killed traditional selling, it has complemented it. Social and digital selling is definitely the latest chapter in the book called “The evolution of B2B selling” and it is a chapter that must be read by all B2B sales professionals.
We, as an organisation, have learnt a lot about Social Selling. We have 45 sales professionals who leverage social/digital selling each day, including myself. We were the first company in Australia to embrace the LinkedIn Sales Navigator platform. We have received the LinkedIn BOSS (Best of Social Sellers) award. I have personally been recognised by LinkedIn Australia as a top three social seller.
In conjunction with our good friends Jamie Shanks (CEO of Sales for Life) and George Albert (COO of Sales for Life) New Horizons Australia has brought to ANZ, the globally recognised ‘Social Selling Mastery’ program. Please note that Sales for Life is a globally recognised and awarded leader in the social selling training sphere. We are proud to have been picked as their partner in ANZ to develop social/digital selling skills in the ANZ region.
RK (Rahul Kumar) is the Founder & CEO of Resonate.