In my previous post on how to sell in a social era I explained some of the differences between a traditional sales person and person selling in the social era. I mentioned that up to two thirds of buying process is done before you speak with a salesperson. With this post I want to go into a bit more depth and help you demonstrate the return on investment for whoever it is in your business that you need to get buy in so you can focusing in this area. This post will give you some ideas how you can demonstrate the concept to the following people to allow you to either spend more of your time in your current role or create a new role for you to help the whole company/department/team do it better.
- Managing directors
- Sales directors
- Sales managers
For the purpose of this post
I define social selling as: using the social web to help you sell your products/services
I define content as: material used to convey a message such as a blog, video, podcast ebook etc
Teaching vs selling
There is a phrase which I learn from thesaleslion.com post – assignment selling. The higher the value item you sell the more relevant this is.
The concept works like this. When a salesperson goes to a sales appointment they spend a great deal of their time trying to inform the customer what their product does and why they need one. If the prospect doesn’t know this information before you go to the call you risk wasting time your time with a potential client who is never going to be a customer.
Assignment selling works by giving some responsibility to the potential client to do some specific research that you ask them to do before you will go to meet them. You send them a link to an ebook explaining the answers to the top 20-30 questions you normally get asked on sales call or a video explaining similar things or at the very least a couple of relevant blog posts you have written.
If they do not seem interested or do not bother reading the content you send them, then they are not that interested in doing business with you and are just looking to buy on price. If you are selling a product which is more expensive or better than your competitors, then this customer is obviously not interested and only wants a cheap price.
Selling is what helps you hit your targets, keeps you in a job and pays the bills. Spending time travelling to your customers location and having a meeting with them to teach them about your product is not what helps you achieve your objectives.
If you can do the teaching with your content before you get there you can save you time to do the selling.
As a continuation of the teaching vs selling I want to elaborate how it can help improve your productivity. When you are in a senior position within a company you have the luxury of being able to delegate work to your PA or to your team. Most salespeople do not have that luxury. I want to explain how creating content can help you delegate parts of the process to your content, to enable you to do more selling.
This is the typical steps in a sales process
- Generate awareness for your product
- Generate leads
- Initial discovery of requirements
- Presentation of recommendation
- Evaluation of different options
- After sales support
All of these, with exception of negotiation, could be done to some extent or entirely with content. If you was to publish the answer to every question you ever get asked in a blog or a video and then bundle up the content to give to people at different points of the sales process you could automate almost the whole sales process.
Depending on the complexity of your solutions and how much customisation you need to do, you may not be able to present a recommendation. If you were to create content to fully educate your potential client then they may be able partially or fully figure out what they need.
Negotiation is one thing you couldn’t do with content. However if your content did a good enough job of demonstrating the value of your product or service then the potential client would understand the value as well as the cost and be able to make a decision as to whether they think it offers value to their business. If done well enough may remove the need for negotiation.
Increase credibility of salespeople
In a short space of time you can establish credibility as an individual. If you read my post why use social media it explains what you can achieve in a very short space of time. I know personally that blogging can, within a short space of time, escalate you to be viewed as an expert in some people’s eyes. It can help you gain access to share your content with a larger audience if you content is good enough.
If you wrote an article and it was featured in your national newspaper or industry trade magazine it would position you an an expert because you have had third party recognition that your content is of good quality.
There are varying degrees of credibility you can achieve which I have depicted below. You can easily create the first two on the ladder by writing an email or telling your marketing department to send out a communication. I think when you start to see content published independently for the world to see and find it, it gains credibility.
Although anyone can publish a blog or white paper, for you to put your name to an idea or theory and publish it, gives it more credibility. Most people would have more confidence that what you saying is correct because otherwise you may find you get some public criticism about the content. When you start generating high quality content you can start to submit content to third party publishers. If they like your content they will add more credibility by distributing it through their platform.
If you are seen as a leading opinion on your chosen topic then one day, you may be contacted by national press to give you thoughts/opinions on a story they want to run. This won’t happen very often but you need to build your credibility and profile before you would ever be found let alone asked to be part of any such coverage.
Improve your closing ratio
There is a great example of how a sales cycle can be changed by using content to improve your closing ratio. The example is borrowed from thesaleslion.com post where he talks about how he has changed the sales process of his swimming pool company
1. Customer calls and asks us to come out to give them a quote.
2. We respond by explaining our process is different—we educate more than anyone in the world with our website, videos, blog articles, and eBooks—which gives consumers everything they need to know about us, our products, and what pool/options suits them the best.
3. Once a potential customer educates themselves through our content, they tell us the pool and options they want, at which point we send them via email an actual quote.
4. If the customer reviews the quote and agrees to its terms, we then go out to their home to confirm there are no hidden costs and write up the contract.
This process was designed around the fact that they realised that the typical closing ratio of their industry (30%) was improved to 80% if they could get their prospects to read 30 pages of their blog. They then made it their mission to build content into the sales cycle to boost the closing ratio.
Cynics may doubt if their customers would spend $50k on a swimming pool without meeting the salesperson but they actually found out more about the company and why they would want to do business with them than if they had met them couple of time.
Increase your profit margin
As part of a salesperson’s role they have to demonstrate the value in what they sell. More often than not the salesperson gets to the end of the process having spent a lot of their time on the deal. The price then gets negotiated down which devalues the product/service you offer and the time you have spent with that customer.
If salespeople could demonstrate the value of the product/service they are selling then they could demand the fair price they started the sales process with. This would rely on companies setting a realistic, fair list price.
If you are selling a product or service which costs more because it is worth it, then be proud of the fact you are better than everyone else in the market. Tell people you are more expensive and prove to them why you are worth the extra investment. The earlier you do this in the sales process the less time you will waste with customers who do see the value in your product to pay what it costs.
If you tell someone your product is £1000 and they say they only have a budget for £250 you can either suggest a cheaper product you sell or qualify out. You might go through the sales process and increase their budget to £500 but you will never get £1000. If they say they don’t see the value in spending £1000 on your product when you can buy similar products for £250 it is a different conversation. You then need to educate the potential client in the value your product can add to his company. They can then decide if they think the value proposition is right for their business. You can decide if you move forward or qualify out.
Help people buy and don’t sell = Build trust
Think of the last time you went to buy a car or a mobile phone or anything else where you speak with a sales person. Did they help you buy or did they sell? If you make the ultimate goal to help the customer and not to make the sale then you will begin to earn trust.
If you as a salesperson have the ultimate goal of helping a customer buy, then you are more centered around their objective of buying the right product/service than your objective of making a sale.
To gain trust you need to be comfortable to do the following
- Tell customers when your product is not right for them
- Be honest about the weaknesses you may have
- Recommend a competitors product if it is better for the customer
- Be transparent around costs
If you can do these things you may not win the battle but you will win the war. You may not get every deal but trust is something which you earn and it will help you sell when your products are right for the customer. It will help you get referrals from the people you haven’t sold to when one of their friends wants to buy something you sell.
Some great examples of content that builds trust are linked below
- Tackle commonly perceived problems with your products
- Talk honestly about comparisons between yours and your competitors
- Discuss your pricing up front to give customers rough figures
Understand who your customers are and what they want
This is one of the most common themes you would find if you were to google social selling. I think creating content is equally, if not more useful in the sales process and is a topic less frequently spoke about. A great resource in this area is the Social selling university.
It is a great idea to use the social web to research your potential clients. You can find out information about who they are, what they are doing and how you may be able to help them. I do not know one salesperson who would not want a good reason to call a potential customer at the right time with the right approach. Researching your customer through the information they share on social networks is a great way to do this.
Social research has limited use when your potential client is not active or has no presence on the web. These techniques rely upon mining information to provide some context around a contact.
I feel that generating content is a more universal technique that could help the sales process across a wider range of industries and customer types. If someone is not on social networks you could still email them the content or even print it off and post the content in hard copy.
All of this can be done without one call, meeting or email to a customer. They can do this research and find the answers they need before they even talk to you as a sales person. If done well you can influence the whole buying process and not just the last bit when they want to talk to a sales person.
The result is perfectly qualified leads, who are ready to buy or are very close. The deals you close will be more profitable, more forecast-able and you will close more deals. Sales people have more time to sell because they are only talking to people who want to buy and not wasting so much time.