For those of us in the new world of inbound marketing, the idea of social selling is not new. In fact, several marketing automation and sales automation providers have bought or created systems to aid in real time conversations.
But have salespeople really caught on? Beyond the vendor anecdote or testimonial, can we really say salespeople have embraced social selling? I personally have yet to see this with most of my clients.
David Meerman Scott suggests this revolution is not yet complete. On August 27, he released his latest book, The New Rules of Sales and Service. I suspect many of you have already read his bestseller, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, which is the basis for concepts like real time marketing. David offered me an advance copy of The New Rules of Sales and Service to review and I am excited to share with you some of his insights as well as how social selling can work with marketing automation.
The book is a great guide for salespeople, especially sales vice presidents, who want to understand this new world of social selling and service. David describes this new world with a series of compelling anecdotes, illustrating how real time sales and service work, and why it works. The principles work at large and small organizations, and David shows how with detailed stories and interviews from around the world.
Salespeople should view this as advice from a fellow salesman, not a marketer. David started out in Sales and moved into marketing only to go back into sales for himself. (This is a path I followed as well). The New Rules of Sales and Service is an important new Sales manual, akin to yesteryear’s Cold Calling Techniques That Really Work, How I Learned the Secrets of Success in Selling, and How to Win Friends and Influence People. The principles of interaction are much the same, but today the tools are different and the starting point is different.
If you read David’s blog often, you will be familiar with many of the ideas in the book. There are a few new stories here that highlight how real-time Sales and Marketing work. So the book may not be the best buy for you, but it is a great gift for your favorite salesperson, sales team, or business owner. The primary benefit for the reader is that the lessons of the past several years are packed into 248 pages instead of 10,000 articles scattered throughout the web.
“Just as online content is the primary driver for successful marketing and public relations, online content is quickly becoming a dominant driver for sales and service as well.” – David Meerman Scott (Scott, 12)
The book takes what the leaders of content marketing and marketing automation have been saying since 2006 and gears it toward how salespeople think and what they do. Since the book covers a range of sales stories, the guide should resonate with Sales, just as much as it can for marketers too. The best part is David provides clear instructions for how a salesperson can take advantage of these new opportunities to close deals.
Key lessons from The New Rules of Sales and Service include:
- People (Consumers) control the Buying Process and while Marketing may know this already, Sales needs to know it too.
- The Buying Process is the new normal – not the Sales Process, so stop selling and start helping. As David noted, when he is ready to buy, most sales people assume he knows nothing about the industry or product. I’ve experienced this too, even when buying marketing automation. At the B2B level, salespeople should help connect the Buyer with the Solution, providing confirmation of the narrative as well as additional details and customizations only a one-to-one conversation can make.
- Authentic storytelling creates content that your audience will care about and connect with. Sales and service people should act and speak congruently with this narrative.
- Big Data can help collate and analyze patterns in buying behavior that can help Sales adapt to needs and the Buyer.
- Real time engagement is critical. Sales happen now. Buyers ask questions now. Failure to respond to my email or Contact request means that I go find your competitor. Real time Sales also means being “agile,” which is another way of saying, “Be at the right place, at the right time.” Of course, being agile requires finesse, lest the effort is misperceived.
“While marketing is the provision of content to many potential customers, sales and service are now about the provision of content to buyers one at a time based on their needs.” (Scott, 11)
Thus Sales is content on a one-to-one basis, personalized for each situation as Greg Alexander of Sales Benchmark Index put it. I would go beyond that to say salespeople bring the marketing narrative—the authentic story—to life, confirming to the Buyer the reality of the company story. Because people buy from people–people they like–the salesperson provides the detail that cannot come through in marketing copy or manuals. The salesperson also is responsible for guiding the Buyer to a Yes or No, and closing skills are still highly valuable, and useful.
David reminds us that Sales’ stories and actions must be congruent with the company narrative. He uses the example of a hotel asking him to re-use towels to save the environment, except the hotel has a giant atrium that costs a fortune to cool in the hot summer. Likewise, if your narrative is one of unparalleled luxury and you hire the classical smarmy used-car salesman, it is unlikely you will see many repeat buyers. Thus your narrative, culture, and people go hand in hand (see Zappos). Over the years, I have noticed that many of the best sales people are former Buyers or Users who are enthusiastic about the company, its narrative, and message. Such sales people find it easier to connect with Buyers because they “lived it” and “have been there before.” Remember that the next time you hire a sales team.
Marketing and sales content is about teaching others enough about what you do so they trust you and want to take action of some type, even if it is to do nothing. Buyers will remember you taught them something useful. Both Marketo and HubSpot taught me much about the new way of Marketing and I will remember that fondly whenever I use those tools or discuss the topic with others.
While the book is aimed at entrepreneurs and business owners, the savvy sales or service leader will read it too. This real-time mindset should always be from the top-down because staff often feel they need permission to embrace new methods. The stories come from a range of owners and managers, yet I was surprised that a number of anecdotes came from people in Marketing, and several stories appeared in earlier works like New Rules of Marketing and PR and Real Time Marketing and PR. From my work in marketing automation, it is true that Marketing often is responsible for delivering the new social or data tools to Sales. At the same time, having the Marketing perspective could mean Sales teams ignore the core message of this important book.
In the past few years, Marketing teams have been exposed to a torrent of content exhorting marketers to install systems that deliver real time, high detail data to Sales. The idea that Sales should watch social signals such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. to find new prospects and engage early and often is not new. Service people have also been told to get on this bandwagon or risk angry customers taking to the public channels to air dirty laundry, causing permanent harm to precious brand reputations.
All of this is true. But it may take more than success stories to help salespeople move out of their old habits. While I love David’s work, I was disappointed that this book had similar weaknesses to other business books: a reliance on anecdotes with limited data sets. I would worry that limited data could weaken David’s point in front of some leaders who are used to counting Calls, Meetings, and Dollars.
David does share an interview with ADP’s Matt Petitjean where there was a comparison of social salespeople vs. a control group. The social salespeople “consistently outperformed the control group.” While I don’t expect a rigorous regression analysis of 2,000 firms, I thought there could have been more data and similar stories. It also would have been very interesting to hear from individual sales managers who are actively conducting social sales and compare their revenue results and experiences against their peers who are not. Perhaps a more data driven conversation with HubSpot’s Mark Roberge on social selling?
The final question David poses is “How long will it be before sales incentives change to move teams to be social?” For Service Teams, the incentive is to avoid very public complaints in social media. Sales should also pay attention to public venting because Buyers are looking at online reviews, complaint sites, and bloggers for advice before ever picking up a phone to contact the company.
“Sales managers are being held to old standards and processes so they don’t move to the new ways, same with SVPs who want to change, but got to where they are with the old ways…I’m sympathetic, because it’s difficult when companies are still measuring them using old-school metrics and holding them accountable to yesterday’s business process execution. I talk to a lot of them in the course of my business, and while many of them tell me they want to use social selling, it’s difficult to find the time because their company requires them to do countless other things that consume 100 percent of their capacity.” – Greg Alexander, Sales Benchmark Index (Scott, 242)
What might those new metrics and incentives look like? I considered what might be possible and like SBI’s thought that compensation plans should map to the Buying Process.
|Old Metrics||New Metrics||Notes|
|Cold Calls per Day||Connections per Day||Includes phone, social platforms, responding to inbound requests. Size of “Rolodex” or Network (suggested in book)|
|Call Time||Meaningful conversationsGoing above and beyondTurning detractors into promoters.||Challenge is in measuring this in Sales, not just Service.|
|Meetings per Month||Opportunities advanced||More concerned with concrete discussions, not intro calls.|
|Opportunities Created||Proposals sent||More concerned with concrete discussions, not intro calls.|
|Revenue vs. Quota||Revenue vs. Quota||Revenue is still #1|
In a previous role, I used many of David’s suggestions on real time marketing and social selling to empower my sales colleagues. I took the following actions, which David still recommends:
- Adapted IBM’s Social Media Guidelines.
- Training sessions to explain tools and how to engage.
- Added tools like Hootsuite and LinkedIn.
- Helped Salespeople get on social, even if it was just to monitor conversations.
- Created more content to share.
- Monitored my market and audience for ideas and content to share.
Did all of this work? Did sales go up dramatically in 6 months and was that attributable to social selling? No, I can’t say that. Social selling is a big mindset and habit shift for most decent salespeople. At least one of the salesmen said he was seeing more and more success by using LinkedIn, for prospecting and for sharing. I started a conversation in an industry discussion group on LinkedIn that lasted an entire month and brought in several luminaries in my space. That was pretty cool, but I can’t say it led directly to a sale.
Companies can go further and setup social monitoring systems (Hootsuite, Radian6) and loop in customer evangelists to participate in public conversations. Marketo does this well by inviting key customers to respond to questions about marketing automation and Marketo. When I participate, I always keep in mind what is best for the person who asked, and invite them to a deeper conversation. Sometimes (but not often enough), salespeople from Marketo and other firms join the conversation too. From the reactions I have seen on Twitter, firms have to be careful not to sell into these conversations, but to offer help.
From my experience, I would absolutely continue to do social selling and service. Being out there in the crowd is hugely important today and will be in the future. For my business, I am always out there: writing posts, participating in LinkedIn Discussions, answering Marketo Community questions, etc. Does each post clearly lead to money? No! Immediate cash is not the point. By participating, sharing, and occasionally offering deeper help, I make a good living. People know who I am and know they can ask me a question publicly or privately and get a helpful answer. I love that. All of my business since 2012 has been from social selling and inbound marketing. I know this works. But it takes dedication and time to pay off. And you have to keep being a useful member of the community by helping people, not selling to them.
I am confident that The New Rules of Sales and Service will be assigned reading for major sales teams, university entrpreneurship courses, and corporate training. If you want to learn more, you will have to go and read it yourself.
Next week we’ll talk about how social selling and marketing operations work together.
P.S.: David put together this fantastic presentation about the ideas within the book