It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when products were just sold in a physical sense and salespeople were seen as the go-to experts before any sale took place.
But consumer habits change, often shifting due to technological advancements. Over the past few years, social selling has gained the attention of sales professionals looking to succeed in the altered customer purchasing landscape. With a predicted 2.55bn social media network users globally and consumers being 5 times more reliant on digital content than in the early 2,000’s, it's clear the digital space is here to stay.
An organization looking to drive sales has a raft of digital technologies to choose from to improve the selling power of a business. But, just applying and using these isn’t enough. There needs to be a digital selling strategy in place that guides the organization as a whole.
Despite its success in boosting the selling process, two-thirds of companies don't have a social media strategy for their sales teams. As one of the most powerful and effective branches of digital sales, social selling seems undervalued and underutilized. To rectify this, let’s go back to the start.
What is social selling?
In a nutshell, social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their target audience. Successful social sellers can be regarded as thought leaders by prospective customers as they provide value through industry insights, sharing expertise and offering solutions to common consumer questions through creating or sharing insightful content. Ultimately the goal of this tactic is to build trust with a customer until they are ready to invest in a service or product.
The contemporary idea of social selling dates back to around 2005 when the University of British Columbia carried out a study and discovered that where there are incidental similarities between a buyer and seller, it is more likely a purchase would take place.
Digital marketing pioneer Nigel Edelshain, founder of the phrase Sales 2.0 put this science into practice by using the principles of social selling to focus his techniques on winning over prospects by appearing before them, rather than trying to close a sale once in the room, through a pitch or in a meeting.
In today's connected digital world, people have more of a voice than ever - and customers can find out pretty much anything they want about a product or service from each other, with a few clicks of a mouse.
Recent research by Price Waterhouse Cooper found that 78% of consumers were influenced by social media in some way when purchasing, while nearly half said that reviews, comments and feedback on social media influenced their buying behavior. Of course, this trust and reliance on digital networks makes it easy to discover negative information about a business on the web; but, there is also enormous potential to influence a consumer's buying decision in a positive way through social selling.
Why is social selling so important?
Today's consumers are savvy and are less susceptible to traditional sales techniques. With 90% of decision makers never answering a cold call it's no longer good enough to adopt a one size fits all mentality to your organization’s online sales plan.
It's essential to tailor your sales team’s efforts to the individual. Essentially, a big part of social selling is thinking about things from the customer's perspective and approaching them with a warm intro, rather than a cold, impersonal pitch - and it's an essential and valuable skill.
When it comes to selling, the most important thing that the internet excels at is developing relationships. Alongside relationship building, it offers the opportunity to establish trust with existing and potential customers and ultimately drive sales.
The success of the tactic has been reported by influencers such as Forbes, with 78% of salespeople that use social platforms outperforming their non-social media using peers and 23% exceeding their quotas.
To compete in the digital landscape, IBM decided to adjust their selling strategy to meet the needs of today's consumer.
By working with the Digital Marketing Institute, IBM evolved the way in which they sold their IT services to consumers through a customized digital selling program that trained the company's insider sales team to reach potential clients using the power of social networks.
The results were incredible. Globally, 80% of sellers revealed that the bespoke Certificate in Professional Digital Selling will or has increased their selling abilities, while 84% felt the program will help them perform better in their job.
Due to the success of the program, IBM intends to have their entire global workforce trained in the social selling program by the end of 2016.
Another company that has reaped the rewards through social selling is LogMyCalls. This savvy call tracking company has often been acclaimed for their fresh content marketing strategies, which include case studies, webinars, and other well-placed digital techniques.
However, when the company decided to take a social selling standpoint and launched their '150 Blog Posts in 50 Days' campaign, they saw a huge increase in leads in just 90 days. In fact, these smaller, more focused socially friendly pieces of content yielded LogMyCalls a colossal 400% increase.
The rise of social apps available to consumers seems set to grow with more niche social networks such as Cucumbertown (for cooks and chefs) and Doximity (for doctors) emerging and as a result, organizations will focus their training efforts to help maximize their ROI in the social sales sector
The Future of Digital Selling
While social selling has gained momentum amongst sales professionals, digital selling is still in its infancy and offers huge opportunities for organizations wanting to excel online. With social selling focused on social assets, digital selling involves leveraging digital assets. These include activities such as sales automation, CRM, online presentations, digital documentation etc. By creating an organizational structure around content and an environment to measure its consumption, buyer interest and purchasing intent can be guaged and influenced to convert sales.
In short, digital selling is an important component of the sales process, while using social networks provides scope in increasing revenue. If your company doesn't want to get left behind, training your staff to understand and harness the power of digital technologies will generate leads by enabling them to branch out to consumers on these (seemingly endless list of) platforms, while giving them the autonomy to be as creative as possible with the new tools they have been given.
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