The Future Of Selling: It’s Social

Written By: Brian Fetherstonhaugh

In the era of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yelp, buyers have as much control over the flow of information as salespeople. Buying, once a one-way interaction between an informed seller and a curious buyer, has become a conversation between equals, and the revolution in buying behavior is still ongoing.

To find out just what was changing, and why, OgilvyOne did research among 1,000 sales professionals in the U.S., U.K., Brazil and China.

What we learned: Social media has had an enormous impact on buying behavior with 49% of sellers seeing social media as important to their success. In fact, among the most successful salespeople, over two-thirds believe social media is integral to their sales success.

But companies are not adapting fast enough. Sixty-eight percent of sales professionals say they believed that the selling process is changing faster than their own organizations are adapting to it. Companies are not providing solid training to sales professionals in social media. In fact, many are actively discouraging the use of social media despite the fact that customers are buying that way. Nearly half of sales professionals surveyed believe their companies are afraid of letting employees use social media.

Many U.S. companies claim to have a social media strategy, but only 9% of U.S. salespeople say their company trains or educates them on the use of social media for sales. This stands in stark contrast to Brazil where 25% of salespeople surveyed receive training on social media usage. Thirty-eight percent of the salespeople we surveyed in China use personal blogs in their selling process while only 3% of U.S. salespeople do the same.

If salespeople are to continue providing solutions to their customers, selling must evolve in lockstep with buying. There are several significant initiatives that salespeople can adopt in order to remain the ideal partner to an interested customer. The one thing that unites all of these new ideas is the centrality of the customer. This new world of distributed information doesn’t loosen the focus on the buyer. If anything, it sharpens it.

1. New Buyer Journeys

Customers create their own buyer journeys. They take many steps without the seller’s involvement, and they may not always start at step one. A tremendous amount of action happens after the sale, especially when customers experience the brand and then share their experiences with others. Sometimes they talk with a few friends and family, or perhaps they will self-cast their thoughts to hundreds, thousands or millions of others through social media. Salespeople need to find out exactly where their customers are in their journey right now and advise them on the best way to get there.

2. A New Role for Content

Digital Bait In a disintermediated media world, customers are eager for professionally produced content, and we can use that desire to draw customers to our messages by creating digital bait. There are three main kinds:

  • Beliefs and Points of View – Put out what your company believes and what it stands for. Not everybody will like it, but it will attract the kind of prospects already aligned with what you have to sell.
  • Expertise – Customers and prospects are hungry for high-quality expert information. They want to be smart shoppers and be informed. They appreciate factual expert opinions about the category and about you. They will generate this information regardless, and you would be well served by having a hand in creating their narrative.
  • Invitations and Offers – You need to extend appealing invitations and offers to make it easy for people to engage.

3. New Listening Skills

Digital Footprints Customers and prospects are throwing off billions of digital buying indications every day. They signal their intentions through the search keywords they use, the blogs they read, the whitepapers they download, and the shopping baskets they fill.

They are leaving digital footprints for the savvy hunter to observe and act upon. IBM, for example, used digital traces to create sales leads for their software group. They studied the exact language that IT buyers used in their searches about software topics and then custom designed a whole raft of inexpensive “how to” videos around these topics. IBM posted them on YouTube and tagged them with exactly the same words that buyers use when they search.

4. New Marketing Skills

Behavioral Economics Behavioral economics studies why and how consumers make choices as well as the economic impact those choices have. It combines the rational and the emotional side of buying decisions into one view and can produce some surprising insights:

  • Creating a default option is one of the most effective ways to make a sale. With out one, human inertia stands in the way of selling.

  • Sometimes, increasing the price will increase volume, not reduce it.
  • And in another counterintuitive example, adding more choices will often result in fewer yeses, not more.

5. A New Way to Sell

Social Selling Selling is, now more than ever, a social enterprise. Great salespeople use all their allies to propel customers along the new buyer journeys to close a sale.

To launch the new 2010 Explorer, Ford created a community of advocates and enthusiasts on line. They shared their plans for the new model, previewed the car, and gave their fans first dibs on seeing and test driving the new model. They looped in dealers in 11 major cities, getting them excited about the new vehicle and ready to take pre-orders. Ford can boast of 10,000 pre-orders, eclipsing expectations.

6. A New Partnership

Selling is a Team Sport Just as sellers are collaborating with buyers in new ways, sales and marketing need a new arrangement. But who should lead and who should follow? Should marketing join sales in having a quota? Regardless of the uncertainties, one thing is clear: Successful selling requires new and deeper collaboration.

Great salespeople use all their allies to propel customers along the journey and close a sale. Sales collaborates with marketing; sales uses social media to create momentum; sales works with customers to create solutions.

Your 30-Day Plan Now, let us leave you with five things you can do in the next 30 days.

1. Walk in the Buyers footprints.

  • Write down the exact journey you followed to make the last three big purchases in your personal life.

  • What role did a live salesperson play?
  • What role did the media play, including search and social media?
  • Do the same for your business. Talk to the last three people who bought from you. Exactly how did they buy? –Write it down. Draw the journey.
  • Do you have an arsenal of great offers and a systematic way to personalize them?

2. Use digital bait.

  • Can you do a compelling 2-minute you Tube video?
  • Do you tell people what you stand for?
  • Are you providing true expertise and category insights for your buyers and helping them make good choices?

3. Sell something using social media. 

Maybe it’s something simple like an upcoming event or more complicated like a new product. The important thing is to try it and then to measure it.

4. Get Marketing and Sales in the same room. 

Take half a day and share a heart to heart session.

  • Are you on the same page?

  • What more can marketing do for sales?
  • What more can sales do for Marketing?
  • How can you turn the tennis opponents into a winning basketball team?

5. Join the new selling conversation.

This is the most important time in the history of marketing and sales. Buying has changed dramatically, and we as sellers have fallen behind so far. But our customers want us to catch up. They depend on us, especially as they try to navigate a confusing new world awash in more information than they can handle.

Brian Fetherstonhaugh is chairman and CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide.