B2B Sales Pros Need to Create Demand with Content Marketing

b2b-demand-generationI recorded another video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but that really oversimplifies the process.

Today’s conversation is about demand generation. Tom smartly points out that no matter how much content you create or share, if you are not creating demand for your product or service, nobody will want to buy it.

Highlights of the Conversation:

  • Without demand, there are no buyers.
  • Use authoritative third-party content to create demand for your products or services.
  • Create hybrid content that “wraps” your own content in someone else’s authority.
  • Speak the language of your prospects and customers.

How are your sales teams using content to drive demand for your B2B products or services?

Photo credit: Flickr

Marketing Team Drives B2B Social Selling Success

My friend Tom Skotidas and I recorded a video conversation defining social selling. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation.

Social selling, or #socialselling, is a term that is used by lots of people to mean lots of different things. It is more than my definition of sales people using the tools and approach of social media. Watch the video to hear Tom’s definition.

Some highlights of the conversation:

  • Social selling is really a social marketing program for sales enablement.
  • It is a hybrid approach between marketing and sales.
  • Conversations about social selling should always start with marketing. Not only because they bring the strategy, the skills and the process to move the market, but they also bring the budget.
  • A well-executed program lets sales people connect more effectively, get more meetings and build more pipeline.

How do you define social selling?

Photo credit: Flickr

How B2B Professionals Can Use Content for Personal Branding

b2b-personal-brandingI recently recorded a video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is the first of several conversations that we recorded on the topic of social selling, but the topic really is broader than that.

The video below is about personal branding. If you are a B2B sales person, the conversation is perfect for you and gives you some things to start thinking about as you begin to incorporate social selling into your approach. But if you are a marketer, the concepts of personal branding that we talk about are appropriate for you too.

The big ideas we talked about are:

  • Building trust through awareness and familiarity
  • Modeling your personal branding consistency and positioning after known corporate brands
  • Understanding what success looks like in a personal brand

How do you approach your personal brand and are you consistent about it?

Photo credit: Flickr

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

Ways to Improve a B2B Cold Sales Call and Make it Social

b2b-sales-call-appointmentYesterday my cell phone rang and it was a Raleigh NC number that I didn’t recognize. I often get calls from numbers that I don’t recognize, but since I live in the Raleigh area, I answered this call.

“Hello, this is Linda from [company name]. I like to tee up a 10-15 minute call with [name], our CEO.”

“Can you say all that again? I didn’t understand any of that.”

“I calling from [company name] and I want to tee up a call with our CEO. It will only take about 10-15 minutes of your time.”

Since my number is out in the world from business cards, email signatures and contact databases, I was not surprised to get this random call on my cell phone. I also get calls from PR people pitching me on irrelevant stories for this blog. It was not clear to me which this call was, so I asked her.

“Is this a PR call or a sales call? What is the point of this call?”

She then proceeded to the next line of the script and briefly described what the call would entail. It had something to do with targeted leads and prospects. She did a terrible job explaining the product and phone call demo she was trying to schedule.

I still didn’t know the name of the company. I still didn’t know if this was a sales pitch or a PR pitch. Since neither of them were relevant to me, I told her thank you, but I was not interested. I hung up before she could respond. This is how I have always dealt with cold calling sales people that do not quickly demonstrate their relevance to me.

What was Wrong with this Call?

1. Linda was so unenthusiastic that I did not even understand her when she told me what company she was representing.

2. Her do-over was no better than the first time, and I still did not catch the company name or the CEO’s name. Because I didn’t recognize either name after two attempts, this was clearly a cold call.

3. She provided no context for the call. Not for how they got my name or what company they thought I represented. Did I sign up for something on a website? Did I meet them at a trade show? Did I drop my business card in a fishbowl at a restaurant? Did they buy my name from a list where I expressed an interest?

4. She was trying to schedule a call with no statement of benefit for me.

5. When I asked is this was a sales call or a PR call, she couldn’t answer me. All she could do was resort to phase two of the script, which apparently is where she provides some context for the call if I don’t automatically agree to talk to the CEO.

6. It is not common to arrange sales calls for the CEO. That’s more common with PR pitches.

Ways to Improve this Call

1. Linda needs to stop acting like she is reading from a script and get excited about her calls.

2. The script needs to change to incorporate a description of the company in the opening. Since this is a cold call, and I probably haven’t heard of the company, I can remain engaged in the conversation is I know what they do.

3. Add a mention of my company or position so we can determine if I am the right person to talk to.

4. Add a benefit to me. If this is a lead prospecting tool, let me know that companies similar to mine have increased their pipeline by 50% using their product, tool, service.

5. If they want me to talk to the CEO, which automatically makes me think the company is small, sell me on the experience and influence of the CEO so that I want to talk to him.

6. Unless they bought a list, or just mined some data from a list, let me know why they are calling me. Again, this is a way to engage me in the conversation. If the call is because I downloaded a content resource or registered for something at a trade show, share that context with me and I am more likely to accept the appointment.

Ways to Make this Call Social

1. Search for me on Google, Twitter and LinkedIn before calling me. My name on my business cards is the same as all my social profiles, so I am pretty easy to find. Learn a little bit about me so you can add context to the conversation that is relevant to me.

2. If you have one job, setting appointments, you need to come prepared to engage me in conversation. There are lots of things that I can talk about that you can learn from my social profiles. This makes me more receptive to your message.

3. Confirm that I fit your target personas by looking at my latest position. This did not seem like a product for marketers, but if she could make a connection with me as a way into my company, that is a step in the right direction. Very often you are selling to wrong people at the right company.

4. It is called social selling for a reason. Yes, it is about using social media, but it is also about being social. If you are engaging and friendly on this interruptive call, I will respond the same way. An attitude of “I can’t be bothered” presents that as the attitude of the company. And my response is that I can’t be bothered.

Have you responded to a cold call to set an appointment? What made you engage with the company, and what there any use of social media to help that engagement?

Photo: Flickr

Generate More Leads with B2B Social Media [Infographic]

Our friends at Inside View created this awesome infographic that gathers together many statistics, ideas and examples about using social media to help drive leads and sales for B2B companies. You can look through the stats yourself, but here are some to consider:

  • 61% of US marketers use social media to increase lead gen
  • 67% more leads per month are generated by companies who blog
  • IBM saw an increase of 400% in sales in a social selling pilot program
  • 55% of buyers search for information on social media
  • 75% of buyers likely to use social media in the purchase process

Selling Through Social Media to Close More Leads
Selling Through Social Media to Close More Leads
InsideView

What information in the above graphic is new to you, or do you think will resonate most with others in your B2B company? Oh, and how do you think that guy gets his hair to do that every day?

Drive B2B Channel Sales With Social Media Content

Social media works best for B2B companies when people connect directly around topics they are passionate about. Connections work even better when no one in the group is pushing a particular agenda. This allows the focus of the communications to be around joint learning, which draws crowds, versus thinly disguised sales pitches, which drives everyone toward the metaphorical door.

There is no group better to foster these learning discussions than a company’s channel partners, especially for those companies lucky enough to have built out strong channel partner programs. Channel partners know the niche and know the clients. They also have an independence that provides both authority and authenticity. These partners looked at all the solutions they could sell, and with their reputation on the line, chose to include your offering. When they enter a discussion, and a prospect checks out the channel partner’s background, the fact that they didn’t create a particular product makes it easier for them to be established as providers of valued advice.

While this is still a relatively new idea, some of the most innovative channel marketing managers are starting to support these efforts. For example, Lisa Caratozzolo at VMware has put together a visionary offering to support channel partner’s social media efforts, being launched February 14, 2012 at the VMware Partner Exchange show in Las Vegas (disclosure: VMware is a client). When describing why she put together this program, she said, “VMware sees a huge opportunity to help mobilize their channel partners on social networks. After all, our partners know better than anyone the substantial savings end-users get from leveraging VMware’s offerings, so the more they are out talking about the success they’ve had and answering people’s questions, the better it is for everyone.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t some challenges to getting channel partners involved in social media. As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, the key to engagement is to provide value to a community, and that usually starts with quality content. The challenge here is how to have the budget available to produce something of quality. Most channel partners don’t have the resources to produce videos, white papers and articles that will draw in and retain the audiences around a particular topic. This is where a supplier like VMware can make a huge difference.

Part of VMware’s social media program is to provide content to their channel partners on an ongoing basis. Partners provide filters and appropriate content is automatically pushed out to their social networks, as if they had written it themselves. This allows larger B2B companies with the resources to produce engaging content and for their channel partners to share it and follow up on the discussions that ensue.

The key is to know the channel partner community and build the infrastructure so they can establish themselves as topic experts in the relevant social networks. Your channel partners are part of your core team of social participants and you need provide them with the tools they need to succeed.

Is your B2B company providing your channel partners with social media content to support engaging with their prospects?

Social Media Supports Changing B2B Buying Landscape

B2B marketers understand that they are operating in a different environment for a variety of reasons. These include a tighter economy, more rigor around business decision-making and the growing importance of social media in all B2B industries.

Two recent charts with survey data from Marketing Sherpa show a changing landscape of B2B transactions. The first shows the change in average deal size from 2010 to 2011. More than half of the deals closed by B2B companies are under $10,000, with the largest number of them (32%) between $1,001 and $10,000. This indicates that many of the larger deals, sometimes thought of as the hallmark of B2B sales, are not happening in the same numbers as before. It is easy to speculate that this is partially the result of the economy, and companies are just not spending the way they have in the past.
B2B-sales-deal-size

The second chart shows that the length of the buying cycle is shorter. This is defined from first lead inquiry to purchase. While the most common cycle is 1-3 months in both 2010 and 2011, the number increased in 2011. The number of responses of less than a month also increased. There were fewer in the ranges of 4-6 months and 7-12 months in 2011, and only cycles of more than a year held steady. This follows the first chart pretty naturally. If sales are down then the time to complete those sales is shorter.
B2B-sales-cycle

B2B Social Media Marketing Takeaways:
1. If you sell an expensive, complex product, it is more important than ever to embrace social media. With fewer sales in 2011, does 2012 look any different? This means that every customer and prospect is more important to your sales conversion. You need to work harder to discover new leads and work harder to retain customers. Social media can assist with both discovery and retention.

2. Consider expanding service offerings or other smaller sales to support larger customers. If buyers are not upgrading products or systems, they will require more support in the near term. Look for ways that social media influenced content (ebooks, custom videos) can support those relationships in the absence of enhanced paid support models.

3. One of things that we have learned about the buying cycle in the social media era is that prospects contact a sales rep after 60% of the cycle is complete. This means that a company no longer contacts you for general information, but they seek it out themselves from the web, including social media platforms. This makes a social media presence an important part of reaching prospects. Your B2B company needs to demonstrate expertise by sharing valuable information to be included in the consideration phase of the buying cycle. This is no longer a linear process and there are many stops along the way.

How have your B2B buying cycles changed and are you able to use social media to address these changes?

Approach Your B2B Social Media Strategy from Many Sides

Many B2B marketers approach their social media programs from a tactic entry point. There is pressure to get started. Sometimes that pressure is from above. Sometimes it’s from below. There can even be pressure from the industry and competitors. This is why so many blog posts about social media focus on the tactics. They answer “how to” questions. They help solve marketers’ biggest challenges. And the small ones too.

Social media succeeds for B2B companies when it starts from a strategic level where goals and metrics are tied to higher level business objectives. I feel like I say this all the time. Not just here on this site, but in my day job, in presentations and in our book. But it is still worth reminding marketers of this. The following articles all get you thinking about higher level strategies that you need to put in place. Even the LinkedIn article about new demographic data available in the platform, which seems very tactical, should make you think about your target audience and how to reach them. Those are strategic thoughts, or at least they should be.

Have you seen any other posts recently that have inspired your strategy approach? Share them in the comments below.

The Evolution of B2B Marketing: Why Generating Leads Isn’t Enough Anymore
from MarketingProfs
If you’re like most B2B marketers, you diligently plan and execute campaigns to drive new opportunities and, ultimately, increase revenue. But unless you’re ready to rethink marketing’s role, you may be throwing precious budget dollars out the window and missing opportunities to drive real customer value.
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Social, Content & Selling – a Chief Revenue Officer’s take
from Inside Sales Experts Blog
I recently participated in a conversation over at Focus.com: How can you create a culture where your employees feel comfortable creating content? The idea being, that the creation of content is now an organizational responsibility as opposed to just being Marketing’s. At one point in the dialogue, I was sick of hearing what all the pundits think (myself included) so I threw down the glove and asked a Sales Exec to chime in. Well, Alex Shootman the Chief Revenue Officer of Eloqua did.
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Lessons from a B2B Summit Coach: Five Steps to Cut through the Noise, Turn off the Hype and Create a B2B Social Media Program that Works
from B2B Lead Roundtable Blog
I am further convinced social media is one of the most challenging channels for B2B marketers to manage. It’s so unpredictable, yet there’s so much pressure surrounding it – everyone feels like they need to be on every social media channel or else. And there’s so many people claiming to be social media experts, but don’t just blindly follow their advice. You see, I don’t believe anyone can be a true social media guru because there are constantly new ideas, platforms and methodologies.
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ZMOT, and what it means to B2B marketers
from Velocity B2B Marketing Blog
What is Zero Moment of Truth and what do buyers do during ZMOT?
They google, of course. They learn about their choices online, read reviews, watch videos, etc., etc., etc. To big brands like Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola and General Electric, the new mental model defined by ZMOT has attracted a tremendous amount of attention. Research undertaken by Shopper Science indicated that ZMOT was even more influential on purchases than the original stimulus that starts a purchase decision, and the first moment of truth. Arguably, ZMOT carries more importance for B2B markets than it does for B2C markets, as the larger the purchase the more time for pre-purchase research.
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LinkedIn Becomes More Relevant for B2B Communicators
from B2B Voices
LinkedIn continues to be enhance its platform for B2B communicators. Last month the company announced that companies could stream news and information from its corporate page. That was a small change and a much needed addition. But a much bigger change has just happened.
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6 Steps to Socialize Your B2B Selling

A social approach does not alter the fundamental ingredients for B2B selling success: building trust and cultivating relationships. However, it does enable new selling tactics along the sales process that align more naturally to the changing behaviors of customers and prospects in a networked world.b2b-social-selling

1. Create the Foundation for Social Selling
A prerequisite for social selling is identifying your target accounts and contacts. Do you know the full set of customers and prospects in your sales territory? Can you find those accounts in the CRM system? Do you have at least one relevant contact associated with each account? Even leading sales organizations leave money on the table because of an inconsistent and incomplete view of their sales universe. One B2B organization, which prided itself on sophisticated CRM and sales workflow processes, was able to increase its sales universe by 60% by identifying eligible accounts not entered into CRM, removing inactive and duplicate accounts, and ensuring that the right reps were assigned to the right accounts (e.g., Hunters assigned to Prospects).

2. Connect with Your Target Contacts on LinkedIn and Twitter
LinkedIn profiles are chock-full of rich context (e.g., schools attended, prior jobs, LinkedIn Groups) and predictive business triggers (e.g., event updates, conferences attended). What percent of your active contacts in CRM are you linked to? Start by connecting to your closest relationships first, adding a thoughtful and contact specific note in the invitation. Going forward, invite contacts to link after your first meaningful meeting or call. LinkedIn profiles offer a direct gateway to Twitter handles. This is a major benefit as Twitter handles are otherwise difficult to obtain and often do not clearly indicate a person’s full name (e.g., Lattice Engines CEO Shashi Upadhyay goes by @shashikup on Twitter).

3. Profile Your Contacts with Social Data
The key is to focus on the five most important profiling elements that matter most for your business (e.g., industry group participation, recent promotion) or selling style (e.g., buyer’s favorite sports team). This information should be captured in your CRM contact record. Create alerts to track profile changes and update your records on a monthly basis.

4. Account and Contact Targeting
Successful reps align their selling time to the account opportunities with the highest likelihood of conversion and/or highest likely deal value. Listening to posts (e.g., in LinkedIn groups) from employees at your target customers and prospects can surface customer needs and sales opportunities. Reps can do this on their own, but companies can help automate this process and help prioritize the most important insights.

In addition, B2B companies can apply technologies that synthesize activity on social media networks. For example, companies with stronger social media footprints (e.g., more connections, more postings) are typically more likely to be in growth mode and are often more open to technology-based solutions. Data culled from social networks should be an essential component of the full array of internal and external data sources that companies should analyze to help their reps align selling time to the top account opportunities. Laser-focused on the highest-priority accounts, reps now need to identify and connect with the right decision-makers and influencers.

Social networks, like LinkedIn, are rapidly becoming sales staples for generating new connections and warm referrals. Sales Intelligence solutions extend the power of social networks by enabling a sales team to pool together each rep’s connections into one collective network on an opt-in basis. Reps benefit by accessing more contacts at their target accounts, connected by their trusted colleagues.

5. Gaining Access to Purchase Decision-Makers
Once accounts are ranked, the toughest part is actually getting through to decision-makers. Your buyers are highly busy professionals, inundated by meetings, projects, email and endless to-do lists. On top of their work priorities, they are solicited daily by a myriad of vendors seeking a sliver of their precious time. So, when your contact finally picks up the phone, you have 30 seconds to pique her interest. A sure way to blow the call is to drone on about how great your company’s products are. What does work is immediately demonstrating a thorough understanding of the customer’s business goals and how you can help them achieve success. Set aside one hour weekly to review what your contacts are saying in their social updates, in their tweets and in groups.

6. Building Trust-Based Relationships with Each Customer Interaction
Social networks make it so much easier to stay top-of-mind in between formal phone calls and meetings. It’s as easy as sharing a weekly update on an important event in your industry or liking a post from one of your contacts. The subject matter should be educational and informative with no trace of a sales pitch. In addition, nothing accelerates sales cycles like demonstrating how similar companies have succeeded with your solution. The power of social selling stems from the ability to help reps demonstrate peer success. Sales intelligence software automatically identifies these peer reference cases. Reps benefit because they can apply proven tactics and collateral used by their colleagues to close similar deals and because they quickly and automatically share the most relevant and compelling success stories with their customers.

These six steps are an excerpt from the whitepaper Social Selling: What’s Really In It for B2B Sales. Download it to learn more about social selling.

What has your experience been using a social approach to B2B selling? Please share your thoughts below.

Photo: Flickr