7 Ways Your Sales Team Can Get Results with B2B Social Media

b2b-social-sellingAre your salespeople actively engaged in social media as part of their lead generation efforts? If not, they (and your business) are missing out on great opportunities for researching potential B2B clients, building new networks and uncovering prospects by investigating their social media profiles.

Here are ways to encourage your sales team to embrace social media:

1. Direct your salespeople to refine their profiles

Start by making sure they have social media profiles on the appropriate channels. The marketing team can help determine where your customers and prospects those platforms. Their profile pages need to attract potential customers. While including the basics on an individual salesperson, the profile should mostly focus on your business and the solutions you offer to prospects. Also include videos, PDFs and links to your business website in these profiles.

2. Schedule time for focused social media activity

It takes discipline to use social media properly (and avoid wasting time watching cat videos!). Work with your sales team to plot out a schedule of focused activity on various social media networks, whether it’s a half-hour a day or 2-3 times a week.

3. Generate content your sales team can use

Back in the day, salespeople handed out brochures or fliers to interest prospects. Today, it’s all about customized content marketing. So it’s up to you to ensure your salespeople can refer prospects to first-rate, problem-solving content on your business website. Not only will this draw more traffic to your site, it also supports the sales team’s efforts to position your business as an industry and thought leader.

4. Promote sales blogging

It’s no longer enough to feature a blog post from your CEO or CMO. Members of your sales team should also be blogging and steadily building a rich network of followers. Encourage team members to think about new ways to focus on prospects’ needs and business challenges by answering common questions that prospects ask in their buyer journey. They should also think and blog more broadly about general industry issues, rather than shilling for your business. Again, focus on solutions your sales team can provide and that will draw more interest from prospects.

5. Keep an active LinkedIn presence

For sales of B2B products and services, LinkedIn is probably the most significant platform for your sales team’s activities. Your individual salespeople’s LinkedIn profiles are the first place a prospect will check out, so as noted above, be sure these are up-to-date and contain the right messaging.

Also, each salesperson should be gathering new LinkedIn connections as frequently as possible. Have them build their network by reaching out to past customers, colleagues in the industry, friends and family members. It’s important to have a robust network of connections as part of your LinkedIn profile.

By joining and participating in LinkedIn discussion groups, salespeople will come in contact with a wide range of potential customers — though it’s important to remember these discussion groups are about specific issues, not a venue for blatant self-promotion. Encourage your sales team to answer questions that demonstrate their problem-solving knowledge. An interested prospect will often follow up on his own.

6. Use Twitter to make connections and follow trends

The businesses and prospects you want to connect with may be tweeting. Shouldn’t you and your sales team be listening? Twitter offers a wealth of opportunities for staying abreast of industry trends, which can in turn help your team anticipate future sales opportunities. Once your salesperson has become comfortable on the platform, he or she can reply individually to a prospect’s tweet, thus initiating a one-on-one exchange which turns a cold lead into a warm one.

7. Have a vibrant Facebook presence

Your business should already have a Facebook page. From there, encourage members of your sales team to create a Facebook group that relates to your business offerings and invite people to join. Once the group starts talking, there’s always an opportunity to send targeted messages to individuals within the group and get the sales process moving forward.

Being active in social media isn’t a substitute for picking up the phone or firing off an email to prospects, but it represents a dramatically different way of cultivating leads and enriching your sales pipeline.

Photo: Flickr

Topsy Turvy: The Shifting Relationship Between B2B Marketing and B2B Sales

We used to talk to a real person as a first step. To get familiar with the company. To learn more. To create bonds. Not now. Now we talk to a real person as a last resort when we’ve exhausted the supply of Zero Moments of Truth and have a query so specific only a human being can answer it.

This is most egregiously true in a category where the transactional stakes are often the highest: business to business marketing. In 2011 the Corporate Executive Board surveyed 1,900 B2B customers to uncover insights about purchasing behavior and found that customers will contact a sales rep only after independently completing 60% of the purchasing decision process. Sixty percent of the decision is made before the prospect identifies himself. Sixty percent of the decision is made before a call, or an email, or an entry into your lead tracking database. Customers are ninjas now. They are stealthily evaluating you right under your nose.

This has manifest consequences on the role of salespeople, whose job used to be to develop and nurture relationships. No longer. The role of the salesperson is now to answer specific questions capably and quickly, and to close deals that became possible due to the self-serve research performed by the customer. What does that 60% figure mean for marketers? A lot, according to the Corporate Executive Board’s Ana Lapter:

“The 60% mark is in that part of the mid-funnel that is critical in terms of driving the buyers’ consideration of a supplier for a potential purchase,” Lapter says. “Therefore, marketing needs to de-emphasize tasks like thought leadership and white papers, and focus more on advanced activities, such as diagnosing purchasing needs and identifying internal barriers to purchase.”

Marketing needs less top of mind awareness and more Youtility – marketing so useful, people would pay for it. Sounds about right to me.

Life Technologies Offers Self-Serve B2B Product Information Through Interactive Video

Global biosciences company Life Technologies operates in a business category not typically known for its cutting edge use of YouTube, nor its embrace of new marketing principles. But, in 2011, Life Technologies launched the most quintessentially useful video program with the best utilization of video annotations I’ve ever seen. (Annotations are words or phrases embedded in videos that serve as a call-to-action, and sometimes provide a direct link to other videos.)

Their “Interactive Selection Guide to Immunoprecipitation” is actually 42 short videos chained together with an elaborate annotation scheme, giving Life’s customers – working scientists – an easy, self-serve way to determine which products are the best fit for the job.

According to Oslo-based Andrew Green, Life’s Divisional Lead for Video and Interactive Marketing, the original plan was to create a customary, Web-based product finder. Realizing, however, that online arrays of pull-down menus and such are ultimately devoid of personality (and only passively educational), they decided to build it entirely in video, where they could better anticipate some of the questions customers might have, and actively incorporate them.

Mapping the content and determining how the videos would connect and branch was the most difficult part of the project, says Green – who sent me a photo of the wall-sized chart they used to plot it all out.

The videos have accumulated more than 75,000 YouTube views, extraordinary, given their extremely narrow customer target.

Smart B2B companies understand that providing self-serve information and giving customers and prospective customers the opportunity to find answers for themselves, without being burdened by personal, synchronous communication, isn’t shirking their duty as marketers; it’s become their duty as marketers.

Excerpted from Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype by Jay Baer, published in late June by Portfolio/Penguin. See YoutilityBook.com for other resources.

Photo credit: Flickr

More Ways to Connect B2B Sales Team with Social Media

With the coverage B2B social media has received in 2010, many salespeople have continued to hear more about social media from customers and trade media, and realized its marketing potential has become more than a passing fad. In a previous post I addressed the gap between B2B social media marketers and the B2B sales teams. I suggested creating regular social media updates, leveraging existing communication tools, tracking leads that come in from social media and providing monthly analytics to sales team members. As we get closer to 2011, here are three more ways to bridge this disconnect:

1. Make social media an extra touch point with customers

What do B2B salespeople care about? Ways to engage with their customers beyond the basic sales pitch. Social media is another conversation starter, and can often result in two-way communication that benefits both parties. Because of social media’s real-time nature, the sales team may find that social media creates an ongoing conversation with customers that previously wasn’t there.

Man your sales team with collateral that speaks to your B2B organization’s social media activities, even if it’s just a business card-sized handout that alerts customers to your social sites’ URLs and handles. On the back end, give your sales team talking points so they feel comfortable explaining how your company’s blog, Facebook or Twitter accounts work to support your business and its customers. In addition, make sure your B2B sales team knows that their customers’ retail store displays, social media activity and upcoming events are valuable data for your social media team. This information can be used to spotlight customers and their own efforts via social media, showing support, interest and recognition of customers and potential customers on another level.

2. Utilize sales teams’ field updates to complement their current efforts

Many B2B sales teams utilize regular weekly or monthly activity updates that keep the entire team up to date on each person’s activity, progress, successes and challenges. These documents can contain valuable information for the marketing side that will otherwise go unused, and should be used to gain insight into how marketing can support sales efforts as they happen. Knowing which customers the sales team is meeting with this month and getting on-the-ground updates not seen by corporate offices make for timelier and more relevant social media support.

Once PR and marketing is in the loop with these updates, establish a standard operating procedure for extracting information for use on the company’s social media channels. Because some information may be confidential or unconfirmed, put in place an approval process that satisfies both sides’ needs for timeliness and sensitivity to customer relationships.

3. Educate the team with hands-on training and real-life examples

Every B2B sales team is different – some will embrace social media for business and personal use, others will dismiss it completely and many will fall somewhere in the middle. But even if the team won’t be handling the company’s social media activities or using it to network personally, equipping your B2B sales people with the basic knowledge and understanding of what social media is and how it supports business can go a long way.

Create opportunities for everyone on the social media acceptance spectrum to get their fill. Have a Social Media 101 session that addresses the very basics, along with success stories from your industry or – even better – your own recent social media efforts. Then, offer up more hands-on training sessions that address personal usage and even set-up, and offer refreshers every few months. Everyone will get the training they are comfortable with, and can bring that knowledge with them into the field.

Are you using any new techniques that have helped you communicate social media’s value to your salespeople?

The Changing Role of the B2B Sales Rep in Social Selling

Gone are the days of mass marketing and generic sales tactics. B2B customers today are savvier, less patient and have higher expectations for personalized communications to drive their purchasing decisions. Spam emails, newsletters and webinar invites are just about as effective as sending your prospect last week’s newspaper, and not surprisingly have low success rates.

Similar to their demand for more personalized sales and marketing outreach, buyers expect attention from people, not companies. One of Twitter’s most valuable assets is that it enables buyers to connect with a person rather than a corporate alias. Whereas the consumer once contacted a customer service hotline or bounced from call center to call center, today’s informed buyer knows the names, profiles and background information about company representatives from whom they seek information.

Out with the corporation, in with the individual
So what does this mean for the B2B sales profession? Now that buyers seek contact with individual people within a company, a corporate backdrop is less effective than a sales rep’s ability to connect on a personal level with their prospect. Tapping such buyer expectations is driving the social selling revolution. Social media and social networks are emerging as the new forums for sales people to build and maintain dynamic relationships with their prospects. This new level of social engagement is far from a fallacy, and it is shaping up to be the future of the sales profession!

As customers and prospects demand more relevant communication and personalized engagement from sales reps, two important factors must be addressed:

Sales professionals must get social
Those who are pushing sales through social media are reaping the rewards of integrating social processes into their sales cycle. After all, relevance comes from listening to your customers and understanding how you may be able to address their newest business challenges. There is no better place than social media to get the inside scoop about your prospects, nor is there a better or more informal way of engaging them at the right time, when they may be most receptive to your communications. Fortunately, jump-starting your social media presence is not difficult, and the immediate gain of information about your prospects will enable more personalized and timely engagement around their business needs.

Companies must break down corporate barriers and encourage autonomy
A prerequisite to the sales professional’s ability to dive into social selling is the removal of corporate barriers that restrict social engagement. This is not always an easy transition for major corporations, as the reputation of a company rests, even more so than before, in the hands (or rather posts and tweets) of its employees. Company execs can counter their doubt about tearing down this wall by setting loose restrictions and corporate guidelines for the use of social media as a selling tool and showcasing success stories. Take a look at this list of behavioral and etiquette guidelines for organizations for ideas on how your company may effectively tackle this important issue.

How is your sales team or company mastering the emerging art of leveraging social media as a business asset? The topic is one that will continue to evolve, but it is the companies that embrace new technologies that will see the greatest impact in the modern era of selling.

Successfull B2B Companies Will Be About Platforms Not Products

Today, I have an important question for you. A question so important that it could change the future of your business, or better transform the path of your industry. This post isn’t as much about marketing as it is about opportunity, though both are closely related.

What is your platform?

This simple question likely holds the answer you need to position your business effectively in this changing economy. Look at some of the most successful companies today, like Apple, Google and Amazon. They don’t succeed because they sell products. They are successful because they provide an infrastructure that supports the work of others. Apple’s gives developers an easy way to make money off their work by making it easy to sell software in their App Store. Google makes it easy for publishers to make money from their content with Ad Sense.

The Social Web Will Commoditize Industries

Today many B2B companies and industries exist because of vacuums. Think about it, most distributors exist because their pricing, service and organizational structure exist in a vacuum that customers and manufacturers can’t completely see and understand.

The Internet and the social web eliminate vacuums.

Think about what your industry would look like if all of the pricing, practices and product/service quality was all public and every potential customer could know it before they made a purchase decision. This is the future. The social web is becoming a catalyst that will force commoditization.

How To Survive In A Commoditized Marketplace

If I could pick one word to describe how the Internet has changed sales, marketing and business in general, it would be: platform. Think about all of the services you use frequently on the web: YouTube, Facebook, eBay, Amazon. These businesses have one thing in common. They are platforms. They serve to enable and create a sustainable economic infrastructure each community they serve. Looking at B2C companies you can see how many of them have begun adopting platforms for marketing and advertising.

In B2B platforms are less evolved, which means the opportunity for success is now. So many organizations are considering how to sell B2B products online that they are missing the bigger opportunity to create a platform.

The way to thrive in a commoditized marketplace is to own the platform.

Marketing As A Platform

Platforms are for more than selling products. Platforms are the next step in marketing on the web. Most B2B companies in their social media marketing are focusing on using platforms created by other people, which include Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The challenge for B2B companies will be to determine what their online marketing platform should be. When I talk about a marketing platform, I am not talking about a way to publish and push information, as much as I am referring to a way that current and potential customers can engage with the business as well as each other.

Questions That Will Guide The Platform Process

When discussing possible platforms for B2B marketing these questions may help to serve as a guide:

What ways do your customers communicate?

What topics drive customer engagement online?

What would help your customers improve their businesses?

What solutions can you provide customers that could generate interest in your products/service?

Platforms are here and they are not going to go away. Can you be successful without them? Maybe. Can you be great without leveraging platforms? No.