Thanks to the power of social media, the buying process has changed radically. Buyers have numerous opportunities to search for items, inform themselves, and get opinions. As a result, they pay less attention to vendors than they used to.
When buyers trust other people more than vendors, we need to sell differently. We can’t disturb customers with browser ads, spam them with blog posts, rely on a cold approach, or sacrifice the customer relationship for a quick win. Instead, we need to build relationships before customers are even in the market for a product.
We have to turn to social selling.
The term social selling is actually a little misleading because it’s less about selling than helping people buy. Someone who is not in sales is often in the best position to do that because they are part of a community.
At SAP we realized the value of the many relationships that employees have formed with other professionals. So we mobilized our workforce—not only the sales staff. Our social selling program has taught over 7,000 people how to listen on social media, how to add value in every interaction by answering questions and contributing, and how to never push themselves or their message.
These conversations create trust—the most valuable currency in the digital economy. When employees have established credibility and influence, they will be trusted when they offer their help. When a potential customer who is also a peer is in the market for a product, our social sellers are ready to guide them to a purchasing decision. But the process begins with paying attention to conversations on social media, learning who is listening to whom, mapping out relationships, and then tailoring content for each contact based on what they care about.
The results speak for themselves. Since January 2017, social selling has resulted in deals that are 155% larger across our general business segment and 360% larger for key accounts. Our sales teams are up to 30% more likely to achieve their sales quotas if they have a high Social Selling Index, as defined by LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which measures branding, networking, content, and relationships.
We can go further, however, by creating communities that connect the most passionate people in our ecosystem—partners, customers, and influencers—around topics of common interest, generating business value for them.
Find ways to connect liked-minded people so they find value in conversations, sharing information and their interests and solutions to their problems. If you can facilitate those connections and give those people a voice and influence in your strategy, then you can rely on your communities to become powerful advocates—credible, independent supporters of your products and your brand because they take an active part in shaping them.
Here’s one example of how to approach community building in the right way: An SAP colleague started a data analyst community in India that quickly attracted almost all the professionals with that job profile. They organized meet-ups and talks. The group provided a platform for people in this relatively new profession to gather and share information so they could stay ahead in a fast-changing environment. Within another community, about 15% of members who attended community events approached SAP for help when they heard about the success others had achieved by partnering with us.
In this environment, no one person has all the answers, so selling is the worst thing you can do. Instead, treat it as a privilege to participate in the conversation and listen more than you talk, learning about the industry’s hot topics and what your peers are struggling with. Your role is to help create real value though engagement with the community. That´s how you earn the relationship capital that will fuel your business success.
Becoming a social business takes patience. You won’t see quick results. But quick sales can come with a price tag on relationships that is too high to pay today. If you push someone to buy more than they want or to make a decision sooner than is good for them, you could damage your relationship and may lose the opportunity to engage with that person again.
In the digital and social economy, our competitive advantage is the customer experience, and our community-building efforts will be essential to creating the best, most memorable one. The companies that do it well will become winners because of the value generated within the community and the customer loyalty that follows as a consequence. This will differentiate them from others in their industry with similar offerings.
There are more ways we can invest in superior customer experience, however. Voice is emerging as a huge opportunity, for example, but it will also change almost everything we know about search. When you ask a question using voice, you don’t get the usual long list of browser results; instead, you get one result. That means you’ll have only one chance to get to the customer.
Artificial intelligence (AI) will be essential for search engines to ensure that the results match the context for the questions people ask and that these results improve over time. We’ll also see AI used for social selling, leveraging the enormous amount of data we have to predict and tailor the content our customers need, discover relationships in our networks, and improve our timing by identifying when customers have reached key milestones along the buyer’s journey.
Every customer creates their own journey now; our job is to help them along the way. By implementing social business strategies, we show the power of these practices. And we know that companies that aren’t shifting their mindsets from selling to serving are missing out, not just on immediate business opportunities but on future relationships as well. D!