Social Selling is about building authority and influence in your domain. Tim Hughes knows a few things about that. With over 193k Twitter followers, he’s a global authority on social selling, building your personal brand and helping people buy in the new sales landscape. In fact, he wrote the book on it: Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers (co-written with Matt Reynolds) is a must-read to immerse yourself in social selling.
Here are our key takeaways from Tim’s book:
- It’s a new world: Interruption selling is over
Tim lays it out pretty clear: dialling for dollars is not the way sales works any more (if it ever really was). We’re in a different landscape now – the new currency is trust, and its value is built through social networks. Buyers remove bias from the sales process by building relationships and finding things out on their own terms rather than through interruptions from salespeople:
“Businesses are now finding they achieve better results by asking employees to use social networks to research solutions to problems in a way that removes bias. [They do this] by going out into the social networks and using the hive mind, network effect, connected economy.” 5.4 people are involved in the decision making process for enterprise sales, “so you need to go deep and go wide”.
The result is pressure on the sales person who just wants to push their solution. That salesperson is “being squeezed out of the buying process – or rather pushed further down until they have to be included.”
- Build relationships with Changemakers
So to sell effectively, you need a social presence but trying to insert yourself clumsily too early in the process on social is like going to a party and trying to pitch to everyone you meet. Much of the earlier sections in the book focus on the importance of building relationships with “changemakers”. These the people who take initiative usually by tapping into social networks or asking others to. They are outward looking and disruptive. They aren’t necessarily the most senior people either – they are just as effective outside the traditional reporting structure. If you’re in B2B sales, you’ve met them – the mavericks who want to do something different. They’re the ones who make things happen, and you need to build relationships with them. Tim quotes Google’s “People in the Know” research: 48% of them are 18-34, and 24% are 35-44. And you know they’re going to be on social.
- Find Influencers and Build a Community
Social Selling means building a community of people who may include people that some day (probably not today) will buy from you. Tim quotes Dan Newman’s definition of a successful community: a tribe that will carry your torch for you. If you only carry it yourself, you’re just a person. You need people who will amplify what you have to say, sharing your content and making connections for you. This is not just a numbers game. While quantity of followers and people connected with you is vital for social selling, quality matters. You want to build an audience of engaged followers. As David Ogilvy put it, “Don’t count the people you reach, reach the people that count”. I liked the feedback one sales person quoted in the book received: “I’m able to build my knowledge by having you in my news feed”. If trust is the currency, that’s the gold standard.
Building relationships with key influencers is a vital activity as you build a community. Tim highlights the importance identifying the influencers in your field – some of these are likely to be the changemakers. They may not be celebrities, but they will have an engaged following. As he says, they may be more David than Goliath – but that’s going to make it more possible to build a relationship.
Find them, listen to what they have to say, share their content and over time build a relationship with them. That makes a huge difference to your own community. Tim makes an important point about influencers. There’s an inverse relationship between trust and control. You can control your PR and Marketing team, but they have low trust as an independent, authentic source. When they share their own company’s content, the response from the community . Influencers (like Tim) have huge levels of trust in their communities, but you have no control over them. You have to earn it every day with valuable insights: “When you build trust with people, they will also open their networks to you.”
- Be Authentic, Share Valuable Content
You build a community because you have something to say. And it better not just be “look at me, buy my product.” Social selling is about sharing insights and content with your community. As Tim says “People are hungry for real conversations and real relationships. It just has to be authentic, genuine and sincere.” Perhaps areas where sales is not traditionally thought to be strong. In this vein he points out the risk of just sharing your own content and your company’s blog. You need to be more than a corporate mouthpiece if you want to be genuine and sincere. You need to bring your own personality and insights. As he puts it: “I know it’s tempting to tweet or post articles your company wants you to post. But come on. If you think they’re boring, so will your audience. They will avoid you.”
He quotes the 4:1:1 rule for social selling, which says that for every 6 things you share
- 4 should be from third party sources (and that can include competitor content)
- 1 should be self-serving – promoting your own products and services
- 1 should show that you are a human – share something fun, inspirational, about your passions
If all you’re sharing is promotional content, you’re not going to win the sales war with your competitors: “The battle for attention is fought through subject matter expertise and thought leadership in a non-promotional format.”
- Curation is The Easiest Way to Build Authority
Following the 4:1:1 rule, you need to be sharing content that’s mainly not yours. In Tim’s view, “Content curation is by far the easiest thing to do when it comes to building authority and influence and this should be happening on a daily basis”. . This can be done on scale: “If you have 1,000 people in your network and your curate 10 links a day, they are not getting spammed each with 10 links a day, it’ll appear on their timeline and if they happen to look they will see it.” So the message is Don’t fear curating a lot of content – as long as it’s useful.
- Social Selling means sharing ideas – even if they’re not yours.
When you’re building a community, the point though is not to just share updates but to get engagement. Curated content, personalised with your insights, comments and questions are the way to do that. They attribute value and worth to you – even if it’s not your content that you’re sharing and commenting on. This helps you build thought leadership.
Should you Share competitor content? Tim’s view is yes: “If it helps educate the buyer, then great. My role is to support the community or to get us on the short list. Who wins the deal and how is not my concern.” That’s a great example of taking the long view on social selling.
- Someone needs to be in Charge of Social Selling – and it’s not Marketing
The book is very pragmatic in the steps required to bring about a change to social selling in organisations. Tim has a clear view that sales, not marketing, need to own community building. He proposes role of a Social Community Manager (SCM) who
- Is Responsible for content curation across the sales team
- Is Responsible for building the community
- Is Customer facing
- Is Commercially aware
- Is a Changemaker in sales team
- Makes it likely that people will buy
- Drives and own social selling
- Develops personas for the target audience
The SCM should is aligned to the sales team and share their quota goals. The SCM works with marketing team but is clearly part of sales and helping with social selling efforts. Quite a disruptive approach – many organisations leave social to the marketing team and expect marketing to feed sales with qualified leads based on their social media efforts, but the need for sales in social selling is different from marketing’s broader awareness building goals.
- Look Back on LinkedIn
The book has a range of great tips for LinkedIn, here are just three:
- If someone looks at your profile, look back and thank them for making the effort and ask if you can help them in any way. He says he gets a 50% response rate. Great for building relationships with lurkers.
- Don’t send invitations to connect where you talk about yourself. Nothing is more off putting in an introduction than talking about you and your business. You need to listen first, and understand what people care about.
- Following through on that – look at your LinkedIn profile. Does it read like it’s written to make you appeal to a recruiter or future employer, or a customer? Make it the latter. So less about “I’ve spent 20 years selling B2B services in x” and more “We help customers improve efficiencies by 20% in these ways..”
- ..But Social Selling Is not just LinkedIn
LinkedIn is the key platform for B2B social selling and Tim includes a range of practical advice for developing your identity on LinkedIn (and other networks). But he’s careful to point out that LinkedIn it’s not the only network for social selling. Tim estimates that LinkedIn is just 30% of your social graph. You need to listen to and understand people’s interests and signals on other networks including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or wherever they hang out. He uses examples of learning about whether people are into cats, or vinyl, or whatever, and using that to build rapport – understand what excites and interests people as humans and provide them with useful content. It’s not stalking if it’s public information that’s there for you to find.
- Listen for Signals, Curate and Share Relevant Content
Tim talks about signals from people in your community and being an active listener. Rather than broadcasting content, you need to pay attention to the information that people are sharing. Here he draws a distinction between content marketing and social selling: “Content marketing is the equivalent of talking in the analogue world. Talking with context is fine, but the best thing a salesperson should do when they want to become a social seller is listen” Listening for signals is where you’ll unearth the insights that give you a compelling reason to connect and share something useful. Listen to your customers and prospects at a macro (company level) and at a micro (individual) level. Listen to competitors, analysts and trade bodies to stay informed and look for signals. These can include:
- Organisational change e.g. growth, merger, redundancies
- Leadership change
- Market change – what’s happening to their customers / competition
- External – legislation or regulatory changes
- Relationships – new partners and customers
- Strategic – change of direction or focus
- Tactical – new initiatives and reviews
- Events – awards, sponsorships, announcements, anniversaries
You don’t have to create new content to respond to signals. You can just note, congratulate, ask a question. It shows you are listening and thinking about them. If you have curated content that’s relevant to a signal from a prospect, share it with some commentary. Now you’re providing real value. And as you’ve probably figured out by now – do not start talking about your products and services: “This is about helping and teaching. Selling can come later”.
- Social Selling is a Change Process
The latter part of the book is full of great advice on helping your organisation see the benefit and pilot social selling with detailed talking points for CEO, CFO, Head of Sales and CMO – worth reading in full. He’s strong on sales and marketing alignment. While sales should own social selling, there’s much that marketing and sales teams can do to support each other on content curation and building communities, and getting a greater shared understanding of what a lead really is. If done right, you won’t get the ‘you never tell us about your events” situation.
- Metrics Matter
Tim suggests a range of metrics for a social selling pilot:
- LinkedIn: Each social seller should post once a day, build to 500 connections, like and comment on at least one more post a day
- Twitter: Each social seller should tweet at least once a day, more than 400 followers, get 1 mention/RT a day, and mention someone else once a day
- Facebook: Each social seller should post once a day, not more or it’s spam
- His advice for activity is not to batch and spray out updates – automation makes you look like a bot. Be wise to timing and frequency.
He recommends tracking a range of metrics in a social selling pilot:
- Number of leads from social selling (using a value or code in your CRM)
- Number of social media touches
- Value of pipeline from social selling
- Contract value of deals
- Sales cycle time
- Use Tools to Accelerate Social Selling
Tim recommends a range of tools to help you with the acts of social listening, sourcing content and amplification and scheduling, including
Influencer Research and Listening:
Scheduling and automation:
Measurement of Your Influence
(He forgot to mention one that wasn’t around when he was writing the book. But because Tim has taught us all not to promote ourselves we won’t mention it either )
14. Social Selling takes time – be patient
Social selling and building your community is a process of deepening connections – going from “I don’t know him/her to i’m having coffee with them next week.” Your objective is to get to the meeting/call. This takes time – “you don’t just press a button to grow a community”. You need to nurture it every day and find the right voice and rhythm for sharing with your community. I liked his line that this is “More Bob Dylan than X Factor” – be prepared to play in clubs with very few people in them to find your voice and build your tribe. Tim thinks it took him 18 months to find his voice on social. In our view he’s still quite Dylan-esque even if he’s got an X factor level following now…
Overall, this is a great book if you’re looking for practical and accessible insights on how to get started with social selling, build your influence and bring your company with you to a better way of selling. We highly recommend it.