What’s the role of social media in B2B selling?

Christian Maurer, a Paris-based Consultant, Trainer and Coach, writes…

From my own experience, I know that using social media can eat up considerable time, especially in the discovery phase. It is thus legitimate for a sales leader to be concerned about whether the time salespeople spend with social media is time well spent to interact with prospects and customers in a way that generates the revenue streams expected from them. Leaving sales people to their own devices in terms of how to integrate social media into their work practice is the least effective approach and will negatively impact productivity. I therefore want to propose a pragmatic, proactive approach sales leaders can take to tackle the challenge.

A pragmatic approach to social media

For the purpose of this discussion, social media can be understood as a number of different continuous 24/7 networking events in separate venues (platforms), each with its own flavor and attendance. As with classical networking events, the question is probably not so much whether to attend such events at all but to choose the events providing the highest return on the time invested for attending. Common sense would suggest to go where prospects, customers and respected opinion leaders for your target markets are “hanging out.” So why should this guidance not be used for selecting the social media best suited to enhance relationships with your clients?

Where can I meet my audience?

This screening of suitable platforms obviously takes time. It should therefore not be left to the individual sales person. Rather, task a social media savvy individual or a small team within your organization with finding out where your target audience can best be met. If you have a millennial (generation Y) person in your team, I would delegate this task to him/her. You would not only minimize productivity impact on your team, but at the same time create a valuable learning experience for this individual or small team. A millennial most likely takes it for granted that social media is the first choice also for building and maintaining professional relationships. Through this screening task, they could discover the accuracy of their assumption. If the targets cannot be found there, then obviously they will see that they need to learn some other methods if they want to be successful in their selling role.

For this screening process, it is also important to use a wide definition for “social media,” It is not only “Facebook”, “LinkedIn”, “Xing”, “Twitter” etc. There are many more specialized communities having their own sometimes very sophisticated platforms. In my filed of interest “The Customer Collective” is an example of this category. “Sales Management 2.0” is another one in my space who uses “Ning” . Most likely you will discover that there is more than one platform that needs considering.

How to use the platforms?

Knowing where your audience is alone is not enough to let your salespeople loose on social media. There is still too much of a danger that individuals might waste their time; not only in the initial discovery of how to use the medium, but they might also develop sub-optimal habits that become time wasters in the long run.

Figuring out the right use is a much more complex task than the screening process. The sophistication of those platforms creates a lot of overlap functionality, especially when several platforms are relevant to reach your audience. Each platform tries to offer a wide range of functionality because their primary purpose is to generate captive audiences which attract advertising dollars.

Millennials or social media enthusiasts are not the best suited people for this task. Here pragmatists with a broad business perspective, but at the same time sufficiently detailed knowledge about the platforms to be used, are needed to reduce the complexity to a palpable level for the individual sales person. Chances are that such individuals cannot easily be found within the organization, or building the expertise internally will take too long, and you will need some external help.

Conclusion

The best way to ensure that social media does not distract your salespeople is to take a proactive role. Figure out how best to use it specifically for your organization, and then give clear guidelines to your people.

Christian Maurer is a Paris-based independent Consultant, Trainer and Coach who helps B2B organizations increase their sales productivity by improving Sales and Marketing Effectiveness. He is a member of Top Sales Experts (www.topsalesexperts.com), an accredited Funnel Coach with align.me and is the author of the blog “The Ultimate Sales Executive Resource” (https://ultimatesalesexecresource.blogspot.com). For comments, feedback and enquiries, he can be reached at [email protected]

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