Q: I keep hearing the term ‘social selling’. What does this mean and how is social media impacting the traditional sales cycle?
A: Most sales experts mistakenly believe that growing buyer access to social platforms and collaborative websites has substantially shortened the sales cycle, when in fact – the exact opposite is true. With billions of Facebook likes and comments per day, millions of LinkedIn actively monthly users, and thousands of Tweets sent every second, the sales cycle has actually elongated. Prior to the social era, buyers had no choice except to be “visible,” and turn to salespeople for product information. Fast-forward to 2013, and you’ll find a digital marketplace brimming with “invisible” buyers who increasingly use social networks to conduct pre-purchase research. Social selling has rapidly gained influence as a powerful B2B strategy for building customer relationships, as well as generating sales opportunities.
Today’s invisible consumers easily hide behind the anonymity of digital searches and content in order to access unlimited information on products. Without ever subscribing to a service or providing their personal contact details, they effortlessly leverage crowdsourcinng recommendations and reviews from their desktops, tablets or mobile phones. Using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, consumers can expertly self-educate themselves like never before. In fact, it turns out that 77% of B2B buyers conduct product review research before ever contacting a salesperson. More than that, buyers look at an average of over 10 digital resources before ever making a purchase!
The advent of social selling has given rise to “Customer 2.0,” or in other words, consumers who come equipped with an arsenal of knowledge, both good and bad, about a company, its products and its competitors – before even speaking with a salesperson. Rather than being influenced by a company’s marketing message, this new breed of consumers first turns to online user communities to read recommendations, evaluate vendors, and ultimately make their buying decision. Social media conversations have surpassed the power of traditional sales and marketing tactics, and today, occupy a substantial role in both the marketing and sales funnel processes. In this new reality, blogs, forums, peer reviews and social media platforms have become “go-to” resources, enabling consumers to independently discover endless information – on their own.
As the traditional sales cycle process erodes, organizations must fundamentally alter their marketing strategies, and quickly adapt to the social selling ecosystem. Taking advantage of this dynamic environment will enable them to gain real-time insight into consumer discussions, better understand individual needs, and engage relevant communities with valuable, useful information. Social media has fostered a setting where target buyers, prospects, and customers are freely offering information about themselves, products they purchase – and feedback on them, every minute of the day.
Social selling has created a world where B2B buying decisions start, progress and reach the closing point without any face-to-face meetings. During a recent webinar, Tom Martin, author of The Invisible Sale, remarked “Companies and their sales forces are really starting to discover and become interested in social selling. Although many sales departments still lag behind, we’re starting to see a real shift as more salespeople realize the power of social media content as a sales tool and a way to create prospects. As we approach 2014, we’re going to see more and more companies adopting social selling in greater numbers.”