What makes B2B sales professionals successful? Great relationships, built on trust and insights. So you knew that. But how do you build great relationships? In my experience working in and running B2B sales teams, they’re not based on schmoozing (thankfully). They’re based on being helpful, and putting your clients’ need for insights ahead of your need to sell. If your clients and prospects see you as a trusted source, and genuinely trying to help them even if they’re not ready to buy from you, you are building a valuable relationship.
That, as you probably know, is called social selling: sharing valuable content with your prospects and clients on social networks to build a relationship. It’s about being helpful, or as Lee Odden puts it, being “the best answer” for your audience.
Does it work? Harvard Business Review recently shared some stats on social selling:
- 75% of B2B buyers rely on social media to engage with peers about buying decisions
- 82% said the winning vendor’s social content had a significant impact on their decision
- A LinkedIn survey found that B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with a sales rep who provides new insights about their business or industry
- Hubspot reports that 72% of B2B salespeople who use social media outperformed their peers, and more than half of them indicated they closed deals as a direct result of social media
A personal example: At my last company, we ran a monthly newsletter. Every month, we shared our insights on trends in our industry, helpful tips and guides, by us and from others. Over 15,000 people subscribed and consumed our content on social. Sure, most of them never bought anything. That’s ok. Because enough times we’d get an email from someone saying: “I’ve been reading your stuff for years. It’s really helpful. I’m ready to talk about a project.” We built very profitable multi-year relationships with those buyers. They would never have taken a cold call from us. But we’d built a relationship based on sharing insights and it paid off.
Want to have that kind of relationship with your B2B audience? Here are three steps to smarter social selling:
1. Ask the Right Questions
Start your social selling by asking three questions:
- What are the latest trends in my sector?
Successful Social Sellers are the first to tell their clients and prospects what’s happening in their sector. If there’s an emerging trend or development in your sector, an interesting guide or report, or a blog post that relates to their business, you want to be the one sharing it with your clients, prospects and wider social network. If you’re not doing it, your competitors will.
- What’s happening in my customer’s business?
You don’t want your client to have to tell you about their merger, acquisition or new product launch. You want to let them know you’ve heard about it, and offer something back: congratulations, comments, questions, offer of help, share content that might help them. Show them you’re engaged in their business.
- What’s happening in their competitor’s business?
It pays to be a little paranoid. You should be looking at what your own competitors are doing, of course. But successful sales professionals also track what their clients’ main competitors are up to. Are they writing interesting content, and your client should be upping their game? Are they launching a new product that provides a challenge or opportunity to your clients and prospects? Add your insights, and you’re adding value to the relationship.
2. Have a Social Selling Process: Seek > Sense > Share
Asking these questions will prompt you to seek out great content that’s worth sharing. That can be your own content, but you have to look beyond that. They’re probably getting that already if they follow your company on social networks or subscribe to your blog. And if you just share your own content, you’re being promotional. That’s not helpful. It’s better to think about it in three steps:
- Seek: Find content from multiple sites, sources, social networks and RSS feeds. This gives you a baseline of relevant content. Look for content that answers the key questions above. This works better if you’re seeking as a team.
- Sense: Don’t just flick on a link. Make sense of it and add some value. That can be a comment, a question, your own take. Every piece of content you share should come with a stamp of your personality. That’s how you add authority when you share third party content.
- Share: Decide who this is right for, and when and where best to share it. Is it for a select set of prospects or clients? Is it a general update, can you write more about it (and could it become the basis for a longer form article where you synthesise trends or insights). LinkedIn and Twitter are the main B2B networks for social selling – but don’t discount Facebook and others. Find where you clients are most likely to engage and target the right platform. You can use tools like BuzzSumo to check where content on your topics are most shared.
3. Manage Information Overload: Automate your Curation
Seeking sounds nice in theory, but there’s a real problem for social sellers: There’s much content, too little time.
- The Washington Post publishes 1,200 articles a day (yes, a day)
- Over 3 million new blog posts are published a day
- The amount of content on the web is expected to increase by 500% in the next 5 years.
- Google indexed 1 trillion articles in 2007, today it has indexed over 30 trillion.
We’re exposed to 74 GB of data every day, leading to what Mark Schaefer calls “Content Shock”, where the rate of new content produced significantly outstrips our capacity to absorb it.
No sales professional trying to hit a target has the time to sift through multiple sites, feeds and sources to find the right information. So how do you stay on top of it all?
Smarter Social Selling with Automation
The secret weapon in effective social selling is automated content curation. You need a reliable method to seek out all of the potential content that might be relevant to your audience, and to quickly sift it to decide what’s worth curating and sharing.
You could do this manually. For example, let’s say you’re trying to keep on top of Trends in Big Data to find content to share with your prospects. You could
- Create a Twitter List that includes key influencers on Big Data, monitor it for relevant content (though bear in mind you’ll see everything those influencers share, not just content on Big Data, so that’s a noisy list)
- Do a Google Search for the latest content (though Google has indexed 266 million articles on Big Data and counting)
- Monitor RSS feeds from key industry blogs and publications using an RSS Reader like Feedly
- Do a daily check of your preferred websites, blogs, publication
- Check influencers on LinkedIn and find relevant posts (again, not easy to filter and there’s a lot of it)
You could then filter down the most relevant content from all of these sources, pull all of that content into a spreadsheet or load into a tool like Buffer, and share with the right audiences. And repeat that task, every day, for all the clients and sectors you cover. Hope you don’t have any other plans for today.
Or you can automate it. Here are some tools to help you work smarter in social selling with automation:
1. Google Alerts
Set up Google Alerts to keep track of developments in your sectors. Simple and Free, though not always comprehensive and not always the fastest way to track information.
2. Scheduling Tools
Tools like Buffer and Hootsuite are useful for scheduling a batch of content in multiple social networks. You can build up a library of quality content and schedule where and when you want to share it. Depending on level and package, some of these tools will suggest content to you, though they’re not really designed for curation.
3. RSS Readers
Lots of sites still publish content via RSS, so it’s important to follow those feeds. Tools like scoop.it, Feedly are good RSS readers. Their limitation is that you only see content from a fixed set of sites and sources that use RSS (and that’s not most sites).
4. Curation Tools for Social Selling
A range of tools have emerged to support social selling which are more full-service content curation tools. Anders Pink, our tool is one of these (free in beta). You can set keywords, domains, RSS feeds and twitter accounts you want to follow, and get a customised briefing on the latest content from the sources you want, refreshed every few hours.
You can add comments to any article, and then share it directly from the tool to your social networks, or into a scheduling tool like Buffer. You can also set up teams so you can collaborate to find the best articles and highlight them to your colleagues, or invite in your clients. No need to waste time checking 40 different sites. Spend 10 minutes a day and find 3 great articles to share. You’ll quickly build a social selling habit and save hours.
Use a combination of these approaches to help you seek out the best content for your audience. Make sense of it with your two cents and your personal take. Share regularly with your network.
Want to learn more about content curation and how it supports social selling and continuous learning? Download our free book.
Start finding and sharing great content for social selling: Sign up to Anders Pink for free in beta.