Opinion

Why Asia should embrace social selling

Greg MooreIn this guest post, Greg Moore wonders why more brands in Asia are not embracing social selling, and has a few tips for those that are about to take the plunge.

Social selling is the hot topic that everyone in sales and marketing is trying to understand. “What is it and how can I use it to benefit my business?” is what most people are asking.

Social media is transforming the way in which buying and selling gets done. Buyers now intentionally engage sellers later in their buying process. Research from independent firms indicates 57 per cent or more of the buying process is complete before the buyer is willing to engage with a seller. That is both an opportunity for you, and a threat to you if you don’t provide enough information via social media channels during that first 57 per cent of the buying process.

Social media plays a key role in assisting buyers with their evaluations. It provides buyers a forum to interact with other buyers in online groups, or research the credibility of a business, a product, or even the seller. But that is not the sole source of their information. Corporate websites must have clear messaging that makes understanding your solutions simple. Achieving some level of differentiation without being too wordy is clearly a challenge most organisations have not yet figured out. Buyers may attend conferences or networking events to seek out the opinions of others that may have already purchased a product or solution, or worked with a particular supplier. Bottom-line: there are numerous ways buyers are choosing to evaluate suppliers, products and services that do not involve meeting with a sales person.

So what does all this mean for sellers? There are two main take-aways:

1. Sellers must find where their buyers are in their early stages of evaluation and be prepared to act as a micro-marketer and influence (not sell) these buyers. Or, work with their marketing counterparts to do so.

2. Sellers must be prepared to have a more sophisticated commercial conversation at the point the buyer does finally engage. In Huthwaite’s Q4 Global Sales Study 85 per cent of respondents said a higher level of business acumen is needed in the sales organisation.

This makes sense when you consider by the time a buyer engages a seller, they have fully researched the supplier, the solution, and potentially the seller. So the conversation the buyer is seeking is about business impact, business value, and return-on-investment.

Research from the Sales Management Association provides some insight about the use of social media:

  • 96 per cent use LinkedIn at least once a week
  • 80 per cent believe that their sales force could be more productive if they used social media
  • More than 50 per cent expect to increase their engagement with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter

And yet, a staggering 66 per cent of companies do not have a social media strategy for their sales organisation.

If sales and marketing professionals are not trained on the proper use of social media, and the message and personal branding guidelines from their employer, they will be ill-equipped to influence buyers in the appropriate way during the early stages of the buying process, and the messages received by the buying community will most likely be inconsistent and incongruent with the brand and value proposition the employer wishes to communicate to its target buyers.

By this point, it would seem my main message is the importance of sellers embracing social selling. It is not. My main message is the importance of understanding buyer behaviours. When we know where to find buyers, when we can effectively listen to what they are saying, only then can we also effectively meet their needs and win their business. This is true across all touch points with customers. If you can’t sell offline, you can’t sell online. While there are some key differences in approaches as stated in this article, the fundamental importance of listening to buyers and understanding their needs remains constant across all platforms and touch points.

Anecdotally speaking, I have observed that sellers are still not getting the full return from their investment of time in social media. It has not led to the same number of meetings, opportunities, and revenue that some traditional “pick-up-the-phone” approaches continue to have. Therefore social selling remains an ambition rather than a reality, and improving ones selling skills (both offline and online) is important.

But I remain optimistic that times are changing. Aberdeen Research Group published a study in 2013 that indicated those that effectively used social media reported 7 per cent greater customer renewal rates, 12 per cent greater sales forecast accuracy, and eight per cent more of their sales reps achieving their revenue targets. This is enough for any sales leader to pay attention as they seek to help their sales teams succeed.

To help you make ‘Social Selling’ a reality in your 2014 sales results, I would advise the following:

  • Create daily routines that fit into existing sales process with a healthy mix of online and offline selling activities
  • Search / Listen / Share – in that order!
  • Develop your personal brand and become a micro-marketer. Whether you know it or not, your customers are researching YOU, too!
  • Know who your target buyers are, and where to find them online
  • Create value for those buyers by providing thought leadership. While you eventually want to get paid for your expertise, in the early stages buyers are looking for you to freely inspire and educate. Only then will you be rewarded with an invitation to discuss a tangible sales opportunity

Greg Moore is Asia Pacific managing director of sales and marketing performance firm Huthwaite

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