Managing B2B Social Selling Opportunities

Today, in the fourth part of the Social Selling Throughout the B2B Sales Cycle series, I will focus on the opportunity management process, where a B2B sales rep’s success is measured by how quickly and frequently they can convert an opportunity into a win. As with prospecting and lead qualification, effective use of social intelligence can significantly impact sales productivity and customer engagement success in this crucial phase. Social intelligence empowers sales professionals with deeper customer insights and a more complete view into the prospect by incorporating recent business events, social conversations and social relationships.

It shouldn’t be surprising that salespeople are much more effective at each stage of the sales cycle when armed with the right intelligence. After all, today’s crazy busy Customer 2.0 is unlikely to engage with a vendor unless they are given a compelling reason to do so. Relevance – based on deep understanding of a prospect’s current business challenges and based on common interests and/or connections – enables a sales rep to engage their prospect in a productive conversation in the first place. Relevance – based on a keen understanding of the relationship social map that may impact a prospect’s ultimate purchase decision – is also very much at the core of successful opportunity management.

Social Listening: The Key to Managing Opportunities
Sales professionals must continually listen to their prospects even after they convert their leads into opportunities. Fortunately, technology enables companies and individuals to listen to their customers and prospects in an automated, scalable way, streamlining the process of maintaining awareness of your prospects (otherwise, copious amounts of data from around the Web can overwhelm and distract a sales operation!).

Business events, such as mergers and acquisitions, cost cutting, litigation, leadership changes and new partnerships, can all play a major role in whether your opportunity runs into a stumbling block or not – as do any professional or personal events that directly impact your internal sponsor. Social media profiles provide valuable awareness about these key trigger events. They also arm sales professionals with the insights to better understand the needs and likes of key decision makers, allowing them to relate to the buyers in at much deeper and personal level. Timely awareness of these trigger events as well as any additional color that can be gained by listening to social conversations by and about your prospect deliver significant visibility into the progress of your deal. And ultimately, this social intelligence provides you with the leading indicators on the health of your opportunity and the likelihood of deal closure.

The strength of your relationship with your internal sponsors is another major contributor to success. By leveraging their expanded social networks through business colleagues, reference customers or friends, sales professionals can identify and engage with many additional connections within their prospect for additional communication threads and connect with higher-level decision makers. Stronger connections into your prospect help reps more effectively deal with any changes in the prospect’s business or leadership hierarchy and move the deal through the pipeline faster.

Social Selling = Winning
The recent CSO Insights 17th annual Sales Performance Optimization (SPO) study confirms social selling indeed delivers. Across the nearly 2,000 firms surveyed, sales professionals who leverage social intelligence outperform those who don’t by a significant margin. The nearly 51 percent win rate of those who embrace social selling compared to the under 46 percent win rate of the sales reps who only leverage traditional sales data (contact and basic company information) translates to a greater than 10 percent impact in revenue generation!

I will focus my next post on the final stage of the sales cycle, upsell and renewals, and discuss how social selling can deliver increased account revenue and improved renewal rates for your installed base.

In the meantime, I’m interested in listening to what you have to say about how social selling has impacted you’re your sales efforts, from prospecting and lead qualification through opportunity management. What are your success stories? Did you encounter any challenges in the process?

Examples of Social Prospecting for B2B Companies

I kicked off a series on the growing impact of social media on B2B sales. My objective for this series is to explore how social selling techniques can increase sales productivity throughout the sales cycle, and share real-life success stories from both large and small B2B sales organizations as emerging best practice examples. This post will focus on the first stage of the sales cycle: outbound lead generation, or better known in the sales organization as prospecting.

Lead generation is about discovering new businesses to target, as well as getting an in with existing target accounts. Of course, we all know the virtual impossibility of reaching today’s crazy-busy buyer by cold calling or sending form emails. Since Customer 2.0 is becoming smarter about the companies they are doing business with – and demanding relevance for any engagement – sales professionals need to level the playing field by becoming smarter about their prospects. Knowing who to call, when to call them and why they should listen to you, clearly improves prospecting odds. However, deeper customer insight can only come from a 360-degree view into the prospect that incorporates recent business events, social conversations and social relationships – in other words, social intelligence.

The Listen, Connect, Engage model is a simple and highly effective model for leveraging social intelligence to improve prospecting success. Listening to relevant information on what is being said by and about the prospect, sales professionals can augment what they know about who they know with when and where they should know it to ensure engagement with the right people at the right time with the right message.

Example: The Omniture business unit for Adobe
The Omniture business unit delivers Adobe’s highly successful online marketing suite, and has fully embraced social selling over the past two to three years. And, as a tribute to their efforts, they have recently won the Sales and Marketing 2.0 Award for Best Use of Social Media For Sales and Marketing. Omniture sales reps leverage social intelligence sources in every step of their prospecting efforts, from identifying who to target and gaining color on the personas of their targets, to staying on top of key business events about their target accounts to guide the timing and tenor of their initial engagements.

They leverage this deeper intelligence to make their prospect outreach emails and calls much more targeted and relevant. They take advantage of the wealth of prospect-specific information to showcase that they really understand their target audience, and that they have a solid solution to address their specific situation.

Results: Omniture’s results prove a solid ROI on their investment in social intelligence: More than doubling its prospecting effectiveness by penetrating around 30 out of every 100 target accounts, as compared to a 10-15 percent penetration seen before using this new approach.

Example: SuccessFactors
As the global leader in business execution software, SuccessFactors also experienced significant gains in sales productivity over the past few years by embracing many aspects of social selling. For example, SuccessFactors reps listen for key trigger events such leadership changes and expanding operations to surface reasons to reach out to prospects and engage them in timely and relevant conversations. Sales reps also effectively warm up their cold calls by finding new connections into their prospects by digging up how targeted individuals may be connected to friendlies inside SuccessFactors’ customer network through colleagues, common board of directors, previous employers or reference customers.

Results: SuccessFactors has seen significant improvements in both high-end selling – especially with C-level executives – and volume selling.

Listen, Connect, Engage
Both of these examples underscore how successful sales organizations can adopt social selling to significantly boost prospecting productivity: They listen for changes in buyers’ environments to uncover new buying opportunities. They effectively tap into their extended social networks to warm up cold calls. They engage in timely, relevant conversations with decision makers. Ultimately, they convince their prospects that they can positively impact key business issues and challenges – and they get in the door.

The next post will focus on the next stage of the sales cycle, lead qualification and discuss how social selling can improve the speed and efficiency of validating inbound opportunities. In the meantime, I’m interested in listening to what you have to say about how social selling has impacted your prospecting efforts. What are your success stories? Did you encounter any challenges in the process?

How to Improve Your B2B Sales Workflow with Social Media

In my last post I defined social intelligence as a new form of intelligence that delivers a much broader view of the prospect. I discussed how in-context access to this intelligence will significantly boost sales productivity, enabling more successful outreach and engagement with the socially-savvy Customer 2.0. In this post I will provide three tips for implementing intelligence into your sales workflow (more specifically, directly into your CRM) and will elaborate on the effectiveness and applicability of social selling as an integral part of a business’ Social CRM strategy.

Intelligence Tip #1: Listen before you talk
Customers have increasing ownership of the conversation, but Social CRM levels the playing field for businesses by empowering engagement with customers within their preferred channels.

Social selling technologies and methodologies allow sales reps to:

  • Monitor what is being said about and by the customer
  • Analyze the relevant conversations
  • Automatically associate the findings with existing customer records
  • Use these insights to guide customer engagements going forward.

For example, by monitoring the blog posts and/or tweets of a prospect, the sales professional will not only be informed about what matters to the prospect, but also get a glimpse into their personality and style. Rich with insights about the prospect’s urgent business needs and challenges, the sales professional can then engage the customer at the right time with the right message – either via the traditional email/phone channel, or perhaps even with a response to their blog post or tweet. Of course, there is a lot of noise out there and not a lot of time to “listen,” which makes the use of technology, to identify what’s relevant to your sales team, critically important.

Intelligence Tip #2: Find a reason to call
How do you find a good reason to call your prospect? Social CRM allows companies to aggregate both official and unofficial social information about customers and prospects without any effort from or distraction to sales reps. Relevant content from customer communities can be automatically pushed into a CRM platform, enriching static prospect data with social intelligence. Intelligent monitoring of social conversations enable sales organizations to gain visibility into potential sales triggers such as upcoming business expansions, management changes or concerns about existing vendors that would otherwise be not available through more traditional news sources.

If you’re a systems integrator, for instance, you might want to watch target companies for contract awards or planned implementations of products in your market. If you sell litigation support services, you may want to monitor for news related to SEC or FTC legal investigations. Of course, any unofficial chatter about how your prospect isn’t satisfied with a competitor’s product or service will also give a great reason to call to showcase your differentiation!

These insights may be the difference between losing a deal (or not even being aware of it in the first place!) to catching a lead in mid air. This in-context intelligence, presented within the CRM workflow, drives sales productivity and accelerates deal velocity.

Intelligence Tip #3: Power the customer community
Companies have a very difficult time standing on the sideline while others discuss their business (I speak from experience!). However, adding input or marketing propaganda into customer conversations can interrupt the conversation and cause customers not to share their opinions, or maybe even lash out at you for the sales-y pitch. For example, most LinkedIn and Google groups I engage in have a no sales pitch policy that is strictly enforced by the group leaders. And specifically because of this policy, there is a great deal of open dialogue between the members about companies, products, business trends as well as best practices.

Social CRM cultivates business and empowers the customer community by:

  • Allowing customers to openly discuss a product or company – whether this includes problems, compliments or general inquiries prior to purchasing
  • Uniting happy customers so that they can influence, help, and nurture each other
  • Connecting the business with unhappy customers, enabling rapid response to make things right vs. have issues spiral out of control and affect the opinions of the others in the community
  • Providing sentiment analysis on aggregated conversations that take place in the relevant communities – helping companies notice signals of readiness (pdf)
  • Notifying when conversations are hot for engagement, or cold for simply monitoring

What will your company do to easily tap into and make sense of this highly valuable social intelligence to accelerate the sales cycle? How will you leverage new social insights to deepen customer relationships and drive business success? Hopefully these three tips will set you on the right path.

Using Social Media for B2B Data Aggregation and Sales Intelligence

The B2B sales and marketing landscape is changing in a variety of ways due to both the web and the social web. While companies are still generating leads and using some form of sales force to offer products and services to new and existing customers, more information is available to help that process. People are now publishing mountains of data everyday and making it freely accessible. While it used to be hard to get data about customers, competitors and industry, the problem now is that there is too much data and many people don’t understand what to do with it. Some of this data is personal, and might not seem relevant, but developing schemes for aggregation of data will help B2B companies understand their customers and markets.

This is not a discussion of tools to do this, but the beginning of a thought process. Sometimes we work out ideas by writing about them and this is one of those examples. I am throwing this out on a Friday afternoon to get you to start thinking about this can work in your business. This is an idea that I will develop over the next few paragraphs.

The best way to manage data is to put it in the appropriate buckets, whether that’s a spreadsheet page, database or even index cards taped to the conference room wall. With so much data, probably the only use for the index cards would be to define the buckets, and sometimes a physical representation of this is the best way to get a handle on it. So think about the kinds of data you have been tracking traditionally: sales by product, sales by customer, sales by salesperson or territory, tracking leads through the funnel to determine successful marketing tactics. Now how can that be recombined with social media data to gain a broader understanding of your market?

Start with your largest customer and find their relevant employees on Twitter or LinkedIn. Don’t just choose the marketing or sales people, but look for product managers, purchasing agents, and even finance or hr people. If this list is very large, you may want to skim it once a week, or even once a day for a significant customer. You are looking for company culture mentions, major events like expansions or layoffs, comments about new products or services they might be offering, conference attendance, even comments about competitors. This is not a quick process, but you are looking for data points that can be used as sales intelligence, but also mapped to sales data moving forward. This process will get easier, especially if you get feedback from those in the field who are benefiting from this data.

The social web data can be viewed in lots of ways that reveal other trends. What if you track all the product managers across your industry? As you skim through this data manually, or using keyword searches or monitoring tools, you will understand if your products are well-positioned based on what your competitors are working on. As a larger number of people are looking for recommendations online, if you are tracking these industry terms, you will better understand prospects’ needs. Suppose you start monitoring a location-based app like foursquare for geographic areas around your customers or competitors? See who checks in at the airport, or at that restaurant that the client always takes you to when you are in town. Compare these to your competitors’ salespeople. The more intelligence you know about the world of your customers and prospects, the better you can meet their needs.

Now that I have written through some of this, it feels a bit like corporate spying through Twitter, but it really is no different than seeing who is having dinner together at a conference. And yes, it may be a bit early in the adoption cycle to expect sales people to tweet their customer meetings, not to mention the checking in using a location based application, but start thinking about what is out there. Who tweets in your industry? Who answers questions on LinkedIn? Can you take that information and correlate to any of your existing data? Can it help the sales cycle? And don’t overlook published studies with data you can use for your own presentations, plus data in presentations on Slideshare.

This is not something that is easy to implement or expected to provide quick results, but will ultimately pay off once you can find a way to manage incorporating this data into your tracking. Please leave me a comment if this is something you could see instituting at your company, or you have ideas how to make this more manageable.