Most B2B decision makers approach a business buying decision just like they approach purchasing decision in their personal lives. We shop for clothes online. We browse through our next property online before we visit the bricks and mortar, in person. We assemble our future vehicle on those nifty auto configurators. We order that next pair of wireless headphones, that television, those books etc. – all online. This is modern day consumer behaviour and it is not going to revert back.
Online, we are connected to the world’s largest marketplace. These buyer habits that were born in our personal lives have permeated – and continue to infuse – into our professional lives. The online research and procurement convention has migrated from online shopping for personal products and services to online research for professional products and services.
We are predisposed to eat at a café based on that Yelp review. We read a Facebook post by an ex-colleague regarding how good that hotel in New York was and we book that very hotel, triggered by the post and affirmed by some reviews on Trip Advisor. Again, This is modern day consumer behaviour. This is not about B2C or B2B. This is about H2H (Human to Human).
When we started our business (Resonate), my mate and business partner, Girish Verma (GV) and I made several business purchasing/leasing decisions for products/services. This ranged from Real Estate to Accountants to Lawyers to Recruiters to IT Service Providers to Software Providers etc. Looking back at those decisions today, they either commenced on social/digital channels or social/digital channels affirmed our vendor of choice. And yes – these were all B2B decisions.
We did not just ask the people in our ‘personal’ social networks regarding their experiences with a brand or a service provider. We equally consulted people in our ‘professional’ social networks as to whom they recommend for a particular product or a service.
According to Global Research Firm, IDC; ‘75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level or VP level executives use social media to support their purchasing decisions.’
Your business has changed. The businesses of your clients have changed. Our business has changed. The businesses of our clients have changed. It is not an exaggeration that every business, irrespective of the industry sector or geography it operates in, has changed (or is changing) at a rapid pace. Why? The buyers have changed. Buyers have access to more information than ever before and they are leveraging this information to make business-critical decisions.
Buyers now leverage search engines and their professional networks on social channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even Snapchat. Yes, I am talking about B2B buyers leveraging ‘Insta’ and ‘Snap’ in their buying decisions. They research and learn about successes or failures of particular solutions, challenges or pitfalls in their implementations etc. As the number of millennials in the business landscape, particularly in decision making roles, increases, this predisposition will increase proportionally.
Savvy sales professionals appreciate that the buying landscape has transformed and they have adapted their sales strategy and tactics to align with the new landscape.
In fact, according to research by LinkedIn: ‘90% of top performing salespeople now use social media as part of their sales strategy’.
Social Selling must become a default practice for every forward-thinking B2B Salesforce. Other data points support that the buyer has changed and the need for rapid Social Selling adoption is further fortified. To cite a few:
- Buyers control the journey: ‘ 57% of the Buyer’s Journey is now done before a sales professional is involved ( CEB ).’
- Buyers research online: ‘ Accenture’s State of B2B Procurement Study finds that 94% of B2B buyers conduct some degree of research online before making a business purchase.’
The buyer behaviour associated with the above statistics has triggered progressive companies to adopt new sales tactics that are more aligned with the shifting buying landscape. Sales professionals who have control of their pipeline have seen the positive role that social and digital tactics play in filling the top of the sales funnel. Sales and marketing teams in forward-thinking firms create resources for buyers that enable the buyers to engage with the firm proactively. This enables qualified opportunities to arrive ‘inbound’ at the middle of the sales funnel – way before a sales professional even knows that an opportunity exists.
I can personally attest to witnessing several relevant and qualified opportunities surface in the sales funnel because of my social activity and content sharing on social platforms. Our Head of Sales and Customer Success, Joe Barnes, will confirm similar experiences.
We commenced Resonate as a business on April 01, 2017 and within the first two-quarters of existence, despite not having a website, we were receiving at an average about three relevant opportunities quarter way through the sales funnel, each week, purely owing to our social and digital selling tactics.
As recently as last week, we received an inbound call from a sales leader in the IT services space. He was interested in gauging whether social selling could work for his organisation. Even though I have been connected with him on LinkedIn for about a year, it was a simple post by me, on LinkedIn, in which I asked ‘Could Social Selling be for your business’, that led to him contacting me. He stated that my several posts about social selling (on LinkedIn) over the last year, was one of the main reasons he contacted me. The numerous Infographics, survey data, articles, blogs, short and long posts gave him the confidence that we knew enough about social selling and could assist him and his organisation.
Before starting Resonate, I was the CEO of a national B2B training and consulting provider. I was responsible for several purchasing decisions and social thought leadership from service providers; recruiters, lawyers, consultants, even furniture suppliers played a significant role in my decision making.
The above-stated claims are not unique to me or to Joe or the Resonate business. Data from research houses and major corporations, globally, support this:
- ‘B2B sellers who embrace social selling are 72% more likely to exceed quotas than their peers who don’t ( Forrester ).’
- ‘62% of top salespeople attribute closing more deals to social selling, compared to 42% of all sales professionals ( LinkedIn ).’
BUYERS ARE NOT INVOLVING SALES PROFESSIONALS AS THEY ONCE DID
A few years ago I read the following stats by Forrester:
- ‘B2B buyers complete 67% of the buying journey solo, before engaging with a sales professional.’
- ‘63% of buyers are choosing the sales professional and company that was first to add value and insight in the buying journey.’
What do the above stats precisely mean, for Sales?
The first stat suggests that buyers are learning without Sales professionals educating them and they are progressing majority of the buying cycle without the involvement of Sales. Long before a Sales professional adds value via phone, or an email or in a meeting, the buyer has added value to their own selves, through research and through communicating with peers in their social and professional networks. Buyers conduct extensive research digitally (through search engines) and socially (through social channels) to select solutions to their problems or ways in which they can realise their vision. Their research also includes, towards the tail end, a short list of which vendors they wish to work with. Please note that buyers are travelling this journey alone – with no involvement from sales. This puts the buyer firmly in control.
The second stat suggests that when it comes to the selection of vendors, buyers choose the vendor that was first to add value, through insights. If your competitors are providing insights and perspectives to the market you serve, with their articles, blogs, videos, infographics etc, your buyers are being educated by your competitors and thus being influenced by them – and you are yet to make that first call.
The above stats assert that the Sales function cannot commence and progress ‘Sales’ cycles with the same degree of control they once did because the buyers have a new level of control and they are progressing ‘Buying’ cycles at their own pace.
Consider this situation: You have been engaged in a sales cycle with a client for several months. Calls, Emails, Meetings, Coffee meets etc. You have done the hard yards. You have completed an in-depth fact-finding mission. You understand the current scenario. You know where the client is trying to go. You know your product/service fits the bill. You have data points to impress the buying committee with. You have testimonials that will indubitably bring the opportunity over the line. After several months of engaging with the departmental heads, you manage to secure a presentation. You have the stats handy. Your ROI calculations are on point. You know you are the service provider most suited to this use case. You commence the presentation and the executive committee you are presenting to seem blasé and disengaged. You thought that you are providing them with fresh insights while in fact the executive team is well educated on your offering and that of your competitors. They know the price points. They have researched how much you discount deals by towards the end of the quarter etc. Furthermore, on the conclusion of your presentation, in the Q&A block, they come up with questions that throw you off guard. What you are unaware of is that a competitor of yours leveraged social, digital and traditional selling to educate the buyer in a more holistic manner. The buyer is fully aware – they know the pitfalls of your solution and the challenges. They also know the best practices that industry leading vendors offer.
You get my gist. Again – The buyer is in complete control.
So while you are there to ‘sell’, they have already purchased their solution. They are now merely looking for whether you are the vendor they will work with. Even if your solution is technically better, and your price point equally competitive, you will find it difficult to re-educate these decision makers and influence them in your favour.
REMAIN RELEVANT OR PERISH
Whether you an organisational leader, a sales leader, a channel rep, a BDM, an Account Executive or a Sales Development Rep, it is time you take an unbiased look at your approach to market. It is time for you to rethink your sales approach.
I don’t for a moment suggest that you rethink whether phone calls are effective or not – They Are! Cold Calling Works! The phone is still one of the strongest channels for winning at Sales. Social Selling does not replace cold calling. It complements it.
But, I sincerely insist that you rethink your sales approach. Are your phone calls as effective as they used to be? Could including social selling tactics improve the effectiveness of your phone calls? Are your meetings high in quality? Could social and digital research send you into meetings heavily armed with knowledge thus allowing for a higher quality outcome? Are the tactics that have served you well for 5, 10, 15, 30 years, still just as relevant and effective? Are your tactics efficient? Do they provide you with the scale and pace that you need to fill the sales funnel with net new opportunities?
According to CEB, the average size of a buying group is approximately 6 to 7 stakeholders. This means that your main contact is no longer the only decision maker. There are 5 or 6 other professionals (colleagues of your main contact) who are involved in influencing the buying decision.
Is your approach to selling, ‘single-threaded’? As in, do you build relationships with one key stakeholder (the main contact) or do you leverage a ‘multi-threaded’ approach and build relationships with the entire buying committee? Do you effectively nurture and influence the 6 to 7 members of the buyer group in your favour?
Are you leading the customer conversation? Are you aligned with the evolved (or evolving) buyer? If not, where does it leave your organisation? Eventually, where does it leave you?
If you work for a top-tier Australian firm in your industry or for a leading global brand … Business comes to you. Clients take your calls warmly. Your reaction to what I am suggesting in this article might be … “All of this does not apply to me”. Think again. It would not be the first time that an established firm’s business or entire business model was disrupted by a ‘Netflix’ or a ‘LinkedIn’ or an ‘Uber’. Think about what will change in the next 1, 3, 5 and 10 years. Is your sales approach geared to suit the evolving landscape?
Could you be putting yourself at risk of professional decline, even extinction, merely because of your inability to change your approach to selling?
Forrester suggests that by 2020, approximately One Million sales roles will become obsolete. The research states that order takers will decline by 37%, explainers (those who conduct demos to sell) will decline by 27% and relationship sellers will decline by 17%. If you sit in one of these categories, could you be part of the statistic over the coming years? Sales roles that merely provide answers to questions will no longer be needed. Sales professionals who educate and provide insights to shape the buyer’s thought process will remain relevant.
If you work for a large global brand and your business card (or corporate AMEX) has for long allowed you the luxury of opening doors or keeping them ajar, the landscape will increasingly change on you. Smaller, more agile firms are providing market-leading valuable insights and disrupting long-established experts. They can kick start aggressive marketing campaigns before their larger counterparts. They leverage social to penetrate accounts at the highest levels of office in the corporate hierarchy and they use ground-breaking insights to disrupt sales cycles of the big firms. So now the smaller more nimble and value-added players have entered the account and educate the buyer. How will you stand out? How will you swing it in your favour unless you were the one doing the educating and adding the value?
Please also note that it is not enough that you, the sales professional has embraced social selling, as a lone warrior. Sales Operations and Enablement need to come along on the journey. Your Marketing team must work with the Sales team in an integrated manner for Social Selling to work in your favour and deliver results.
Your Sales approach must positively impact the customer’s experience. Unfortunately, most B2B organisations approach social selling as an exercise in learning social tips and tricks or mastering the LinkedIn User Interface. Tips and Tricks are just that … short-lived tactics. They are individual steps to create a small win here and another advance there. In the bigger scheme of things, ad-hoc social selling tactics do not result in a sustainable and cohesive approach to social selling. This leads to inconsistent social selling behaviours which do not lead to an improvement in buyer-seller engagements.
SOCIAL TIPS & TRICKS DO NOT LEAD TO LONG TERM PREDICTABLE RESULTS
The buying landscape is evolving at a rapid pace. In many industries, it already has. These changes will affect your organisation very soon if they already haven’t started altering the course. Your savvy competitors are leveraging social selling because the buyer is leveraging social and digital channels to educate themselves and make informed buying decisions. If your response to this shift in buyer behaviour is to not make any changes at all or simply master some social selling tips and tricks, you could be heading for pain.
Social Selling hacks (tips and tricks) can get you initial stage buy-in for Social Selling, it does little for cause real and sustained change. Real and lasting change needs more. It needs buy-in, training, reinforcement, a fresh look at KPIs etc.
Please note – the longer you leave the adoption of Social Selling in your organisation, the more opportunity you provide your competition to have a free run into your accounts using social and digital channels.
Don’t let competitors gain an advantageous position of you. Become the disruptor. Do the disrupting. Invest in Social Selling. Include it in your Sales process. And do so now
RK (Rahul Kumar) is the Founder & CEO of Resonate.