HBR: 84% of B2B Sales Start with a Referral — Not a Salesperson

Are you socially engaged with your customers? How much time are you investing in social selling? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Laurence Minsky and Keith A. Quesenberry:

84% of B2B Sales Start with a Referral — Not a Salesperson

Outbound B2B sales are becoming less and less effective. In fact, a recent survey found that connecting with a prospect now takes 18 or more phone calls, callback rates are below 1%, and only 24% of outbound sales emails are ever opened. Meanwhile, 84% of B2B buyers are now starting the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.

Why are more and more buyers avoiding salespeople during the buying process? Sales reps, according to Forrester, tend to prioritize a sales agenda over solving a customer’s problem. If organizations don’t change their outdated thinking and create effective sales models for today’s digital era, Forrester warns that 1 million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by 2020.

The answer to the shift away from reliance on outbound sales could reside in social selling, the strategy of adding social media to the sales professional’s toolbox. With social selling, salespeople use social media platforms to research, prospect, and network by sharing educational content and answering questions. As a result, they’re able to build relationships until prospects are ready to buy.

This is different than social media marketing, where a brand engages many, aiming to increase overall brand awareness or promote a specific product or service by producing content that users will share with their network. Social selling concentrates on producing focused content and providing one-to-one communication between the salesperson and the buyer. Both strategies create valuable content from the consumer’s perspective and use similar social networks and social software tools. But with social selling, the goal is for the rep to form a relationship with each prospect, providing suggestions and answering questions rather than building an affinity for the organization’s brand.

Social selling makes sense for achieving quota and revenue objectives for multiple reasons. First, three out of four B2B buyers rely on social media to engage with peers about buying decisions. In a recent B2B buyers survey, 53% of the respondents reported that social media plays a role in assessing tools and technologies, and when making a final selection.

In addition, more than three-quarters (82%) of the B2B buyers said the winning vendor’s social content had a significant impact on their buying decision. A LinkedIn survey found that B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with a sales rep who provides new insights about their business or industry. Another survey showed that 72% of the B2B salespeople who use social media report that they outperformed their sales peers, and more than half of them indicated they closed deals as a direct result of social media.

Social sales content also gets salespeople involved earlier in the sales cycle, which means they’re more likely to define the criteria for an ideal solution or the “buying vision,” and thus, more likely to win the sale.

It doesn’t take a significant amount of time to get started in social selling. B2B salespeople only need to invest 5% to 10% of their time to be successful with social. Salespeople should begin carving out a small percentage of their daily time for social media. Regular interaction with a prospect may not lead to a direct sale this week or quarter, but could result in a significant win within the year.

Salespeople should also collaborate with their social marketing counterparts to make the most of their social efforts. Marketing can train salespeople in social media systems, processes, and best practices. According to a survey, 75% of B2B salespeople indicated they were trained in the effective use of social media. This training can encompass everything from working in specific social media channels to using corporate social media software, understanding the business’s social media guidelines, and orienting social media content around customer interests and needs, rather than on brand features, benefits, and prices.

What’s more, sales and marketing can collaborate on information to ensure that their efforts are aligned and to identify common goals and metrics that both teams can support. Since sales pride themselves on their one-on-one relationships with customers, they can discuss with marketing customer successes and concerns, changing customer needs, customer questions, and industry updates.

Integrating systems and encouraging transparency will also go a long way. Salesforce, for example, emphasizes the importance of improved communication between sales and marketing citing an App Data Room and Marketo study that found sales and marketing alignment can improve sales efforts at closing deals by 67% and help marketing generate 209% more value from their efforts.

One way to improve communication between sales and marketing is by creating a portal. BMC Software, a B2B IT solutions company, took this approach when they created BMC BeSocial, a secure portal where salespeople can find content created by marketing and other employees to share by posting immediately or scheduling for later. The portal also provides guidelines, tips, and frequently asked questions on how to use social media.

Carlos Gil, the Head of Global Social Media Marketing for BMC Software, and his team of content creators, social media managers, socially engaged salespeople, and other employees developed a well-articulated and tailored employee advocacy program. BMC then leverages LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to deliver a mix of content — everything from eBooks, whitepapers, and blogs to videos, news, events, and updates.

For salespeople and other socially engaged employees to get started, they sign up to BeSocial with their LinkedIn account and then select and share content curated by Gil’s business unit. The BeSocial portal makes social easy and fun, offering badges to gamify the experience, which provides an incentive to share. The portal and program are working. Social media is helping to raise awareness, increase percentage of mentions or share of voice compared to competitors, and drive global demand for BMC products and services.

After all, social media is too important to be left to marketing. In fact, a recent study found skilled social media sales professionals are six times more likely to exceed quota over peers with basic or no social media skills. It is time to get started with social selling and meet your prospects where they’re spending their time. Your organization could be halfway there if marketing has already made the shift to integrating social media into their strategies. When marketing combines their long-game with sales short game in social selling, it can be a win-win for both teams — and for your overall business.

 

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HBR: Know the Job Your Product Was Hired for (with Help from Customer Selfies)

Are you focusing on the wrong thing? Are you creating customer stories from what your customers are designing and building? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Clayton M. Christensen and Bob Moesta.

Know the Job Your Product Was Hired for (with Help from Customer Selfies)


In what world is a Snickers bar competing with a kale salad?

When a healthy fast food chain recently asked customers to share selfies of them posing with healthy, on-the-go snacks, it received some unexpected pictures – including ones of customers holding Snickers bars. “We focus on organics and cool new macronutrients, and our consumers are into quinoa and kale and bean sprouts,” Alex Blair, who owns four franchises of Freshii, a Toronto-based chain of healthy fast-food outlets, told the New York Times. “But some of these photos were so far from that wavelength, it’s really helping us kind of realign with the mass market.”

True customer insights – the kind that can drive breakthrough innovations — come from these kinds of surprising individual stories. Classic market research would tell us that most of us aspire to make healthier eating choices – but the subtleties of when and why we actually do (or don’t) tell a far more important story to marketers. A Snickers bar might be a perfectly acceptable (even preferable) alternative to a kale salad when you’re running through the airport trying to catch your plane. Or you’re about to jump into a game of pickup basketball and your stomach is growling. Those kinds of use cases can even frustrate sophisticated data-mining techniques.

Over the past two decades, we’ve watched great companies fail time and again with innovation – and waste billions on go-nowhere R&D efforts — because they’re focusing on the wrong things. Rather than looking at specific customer use-cases, they chase the false sense of security offered sophisticated algorithms or market surveys, or they focus on technical improvements rather than customer needs.

Yet customers make the choices they make to bring a product or service into their lives not because they’re dying to purchase something, but because they have what we call a “Job to Be Done” that arises in their lives. They’re struggling to make progress with something – in particular circumstances.

Jobs to Be Done are, like customer stories, complex, and nuanced. To create products and services that customers want to pull into their lives, you have to identify not only the functional, but also the social and emotional dimensions of the progress your customers are trying to make. This means both drilling deep and looking wide; even the most experienced innovators can miss rich opportunities that are buried in the context of understanding a job if their focus is too narrow.

Great customer insights reveal the unexpected. Though it’s a nascent practice, the use of customer selfies is an attempt to get at the real “job” customers are hiring products to do. The idea is that selfies provide clues that bridge the gap between what customers say and what they actually do. Customers might unknowingly reveal something authentic and true about themselves through the simplicity of the choices they make in a selfie – and even provide insight into how they perceive the product and its potential competitors.

Of course, a selfie is far from a candid ethnographic moment. It’s a specific picture, with a specific composition, that the subject has chosen not only to take, but to share. By its very nature, it depicts how that person wants to be seen by others. But that, too, can provide valuable clues for piecing together a full picture of a customer’s Job to be Done. Both business strategies and academic theories are built – and made stronger – by our ability to recognize things that we cannot yet explain.

Many of these surprising or even anomalous use-cases can serve as a useful wake-up call — to an overlooked opportunity or a flawed assumption. When a consumer shows us an image of how they might hire kale in one circumstance and Snickers in another, it challenges us to think differently about how our products help customers make the progress they seek – not just what we expect them to seek — in their lives.

 

HBR: How More Accessible Information Is Forcing B2B Sales to Adapt

How technology and social media are changing the way customer buys? How are you changing to meet these new purchasing habits? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

How More Accessible Information Is Forcing B2B Sales to Adapt

Over the past 20 years, information technology and digital channels have changed the way consumers shop for products ranging from cars to homes to electronics. Those forces are dramatically changing the way B2B companies and their customers approach buying and selling, too.

Business buyers are more connected and informed than ever before. Sellers must respond. For buyers and sellers alike, this creates complexity, anxiety, and opportunity all at the same time.

From the buyer’s perspective, information technology and digital channels provide access to information and enable self-sufficiency. When a buyer wants to learn about virtually any product or service, an internet search yields thousands (if not millions) of results, including online articles, videos, white papers, blogs, and social media posts. In addition to supplier websites that showcase specific solutions, there are likely to be online sources (ranging from the self-serving to the unbiased) to help buyers learn and compare solution alternatives. Buyers can also use self-service digital channels for new or repeat purchases and for training and support. Using information technology and digital channels, buyers can take over many steps of buying that salespeople once cherished as their source of value.

Buyers are at different levels of self-sufficiency: any single buyer can be at one level for some purchases and at a different level for others. Sometimes buyers prefer to eliminate the salesperson completely. According to one corporate technology buyer: “Our supplier’s customized self-service purchasing portal makes it easy to place reorders, track shipping, and return products hassle-free.” Other times buyers seek help from salespeople. The same corporate buyer relies on salespeople when evaluating new technologies: “It’s more efficient to work with a few trusted salespeople, compared to spending hours on my own sifting through all the information and misinformation that’s out there.”

Because of the diversity of buyer self-sufficiency, the traditional methods sellers use to customize their selling approach for customers are no longer enough. Considering factors such as customer potential and needs is still relevant. But today, customer knowledge/self-sufficiency is a growing driver of how customers want to buy. At one end of the spectrum are the “super-expert” customers, skilled in gathering information from many sources and self-sufficient in using that information to make purchase decisions. At the other end of the spectrum are the “information-seeking” customers, who want help with examining and evaluating the plethora of information. Many customers are in between these two extremes, or are at different points at different times or for different purchases.

Smart sellers match their selling approach to the customer’s level of buying knowledge and self-sufficiency. For example, when leaders at Dow Corning observed in the early 2000s that some customers wanted an easier, more affordable way to buy standard silicone products, they created Xiameter, a brand that includes thousands of less-differentiated products sold exclusively through a low-cost, no-frills, self-service online sales channel. Customers who desired a higher-touch approach could still purchase products under the Dow Corning brand name, which also includes specialty silicones backed by research and technical services.

As sellers need a more customized approach to reaching customers, they have a big arsenal of data and technology at their disposal. Systems (e.g., CRM), tools (e.g., data management, analytics), infrastructures (e.g., mobile, cloud), and information (e.g., big data) give sellers knowledge about buyers and enable sales force members to make smarter decisions. And sellers who once connected with customers primarily through personal selling can now use an array of digital communication channels to supplement or supplant face-to-face sales efforts.

Consider the impact of information technology and digital channels from the seller’s perspective. Here are examples from several industries.

  • Finding banking customers: “Social media allows us to cost-effectively reach out to more prospects and showcase our services.”
  • Understanding specialty chemicals customers: “Big data and analytics help us improve customer targeting and achieve more cost-effective deployment.”
  • Acquiring advertising customers: “We now have richer demographic information to help us create more powerful sales messages, resulting in more sales.”
  • Serving and growing business logistics customers: “Our salespeople use a business review app to guide quarterly account reviews with major customers. By sharing data about performance and cost savings, these discussions enhance customer value and retention.”

Information technology and digital channels can help sellers become more effective and efficient, but they can also be a source of disharmony and confusion if implemented without thought. Too many sellers have wasted millions of dollars on sales technologies such as CRM systems and data warehouses that never lived up to their potential.

Success for sellers requires many sales force changes beyond information technology and digital solutions. To start, salespeople need new competencies. Customers are no longer interested in meeting with “talking brochures,” so salespeople must do more than share product information. They must adapt to each customer’s level of knowledge and self-sufficiency. They must use email, social media, webinars, video conferencing, and other tools judiciously to maximize their own productivity and make things more efficient for buyers. They must help their companies coordinate customer outreach across multiple communication channels to ensure buyers get a well-orchestrated and consistent message.

For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, gone are the days when the majority of physician education occurred through face-to-face contact between salespeople and physicians. Companies are now tracking individual physician communication preferences and are reaching out with the combination of face-to-face visits and/or digital methods (e.g., websites, email, podcasts, virtual detailing, video conferencing, mobile apps) that best meets each physician’s needs. Salespeople need competencies as orchestrators who can ensure an effective and efficient connection.

Developing new sales force competencies is just a start. Sales leaders must also reengineer their sales forces by implementing changes across the entire range of sales force decisions: roles, size and structure, hiring, training, coaching, incentive compensation, performance management, and sales support systems.

The Thank You Economy

The Thank You Economy by garyvee
Image by turoczy via Flickr

I read The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk. The book is a good refresher on business strategy. Below is an excerpt from the book with my links on his topics.

 The Thank You Economy

Being self-aware

Mentally committing to change

Setting the tone through your words and actions

Investing in your employees Retailers Should Invest More in Employees

Hiring culturally compatible DNA, and spotting it within your existing team

Being authentic-whether online or offline, say what you mean, and mean what you say

Empowering your people to be forthright, creative, and generous Leadership Tips to Get You Started

Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

Infographic on how Social Media are being used...
Image via Wikipedia

Below is an article from Open Forum. Are you using social media to support your community?

Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

via OPEN Forum Articles by ShelIsrael on5/3/11

From ShelIsrael:

A few weeks ago I wrote about United Linen, a professional laundry service. Looking back, I think there are some valuable lessons small businesses should learn from they way United embraces and supports their community.

United shows a commitment to its physical community in various ways. For example, they began posting hometown team sports scores through their social media channels, and more recently, they started promoting the local symphony orchestra. During winter, United gets road conditions from their truck drivers and reports back to residents.

In short, United uses social media to report on and champion their local community. They’ve chosen a wise and valuable strategy—one that you might consider taking with your business.

Small business has clearly embraced social media. We see all sorts of cases of how little guys in corner stores or home offices have defied geographic boundaries by going global. But most small business is not going to go global. They depend upon people who live within a few miles of their store or office.

The question becomes: what should you talk about? Because let’s face it, there’s only so much you can say about your dry cleaning service or your homemade pie.

However, your customers and you probably share many topics of interest. Every town, city or neighborhood has all sorts of local events, issues, problems or reasons to celebrate. Your neighbors and customers talk about them over the counter in your shop, in coffee shops, dog parks or over backyard fences.

These issues are what make your community special—they are the community passion points. A century ago, most communities created town commons, where people gathered to discuss, debate and occasionally brawl over local issues.

People like to do business with people who share their interests. They would rather have an easy conversation then get bombarded with marketing offers and a few very large companies have figured this all out.

Dell Computer, for example, has 8000 employees who use social media as part of their jobs. They are discouraged from using the conversational tools to be overly promotional, and instead are encouraged to mix in mentions of their hobbies and personal interests.

“We discourage shilling,” Richard Binhammer, a senior member to the Dell social media team, told me.

Binhammer’s approach make sense. A smart sales person almost never starts a customer conversation with, “Hey, are you going to buy something? They are more likely to discuss weather and ease in to any possible transactions.”

In social media, you will almost always do better by conversing than by aggressive selling, and you will probably sell more goods and services if your team talks with people about what interests them rather than what you want to sell.

There are local passion spots wherever you do business. And the ability of your hometown to have a public, accessible venue for discussion has been in atrophy in recent years.

Local newspapers and broadcast stations have been on the wane. Those that have survived have very often cut staff and local coverage. The result has been that many communities suffer a local information void waiting to be filled.

Thanks to social media, local merchant or professional can fill this void in local community information and promotion at low cost and with a little investment of time. The result may have more lasting value to your business position than any e-coupon. The result may also increase the number of people who use e-coupons when you post them as well.

You have the opportunity to provide your community with an online commons—a venue where local news is shared and issues can be discussed or debated.

Here are four ways to do it:

1. Be the local media company

Online journalist Tom Foremski has been talking a lot about every company becoming a media company. But his examples are usually about huge enterprises such as Dell Computer, Cisco, Ford Motors, etc.

Why can’t a small business do this for its hometown? Your customers are already telling you what they care about—why not report on what their local passion points are? Your loyalty to your community will spawn their loyalty to you.

2. Use video and pictures

Your community is filled with wonderful and provocative visuals and sounds. Take pictures at local events. Post them (note: if kids are involved get permission).

3.  Listen and report

Use basic tools such as Google Blog Alerts to monitor topics that interest your community. Use Twitter and Facebook to be the first to report on them. If it is a complex subject, blog on it—or ask someone in your community to do a guest blog on your site.

4.  Be a polster

When issues arise in your community, poll your audience. Ask for a yes or no response, but also host a venue for people who want to leave longer comments. I constantly ask questions on Twitter and Facebook, but I also set up a space for blog comments, where people can post long comments and perhaps debate each other’s ideas.

By becoming a community booster, you build loyalty and establish thought leadership. This can be devastating to a competitor.

I call the strategy ‘Lethal Generosity.’ Here’s how it works:

Start a campaign for safe streets, sending the local team to a post-season tournament or whatever is a passion point you share with your neighbors.

Next, invite your competitors to join the campaign to match—or exceed—any financial contributions you make. Do it online or in public.

What can your competitor do? There’s only two options:

Ignore you. But then it appears they don’t care about safe streets or the local team.

Match or exceed your donation. In either case, they are following your lead. You will get some of the credit for your competitor’s generosity.

And, in either case, you win.

Try it. I bet it will increase customer loyalty, bring in new business, devastate your competition and make you feel better about yourself.

The Dragonfly Effect

The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smithis an innovative book on how to take anything – a cause, a

The Dragonfly Efect
The Dragonfly Efect

product, a service – in social action in the new media. Below is an excerpt from the book.

A dragonfly travels with speed and directionality only when all four of its wings are moving in harmony. Metaphorically, then, the central body of the dragonfly should embody the heart and soul of the concept or person you are aiming to help.

The Dragonfly Effect is your road map to doing something purposeful, thoughtful, and well designed. Operating as “social change in a box,” it illustrates how synchronized ideas have been used effectively to create rapid transformations-and unveils the secrets to doing just that, step by step, so you can try it too. We’ll share how to effectively tap into human behavior, and we’ll explain how the four key principles-Focus, Grab Attention, Engage, and Take Action-work. Each of these principles is explored in its own chapter, or wing.

Focus + GET

The Dragonfly Effect relies on four distinct wings; when working together, they achieve remarkable results.

Focus. Identify a single concrete and measurable goal.

+

Grab Attention. Make someone look. Cut through the noise of social media with something personal, unexpected, visceral, and visual.

Engage. Create a personal connection, accessing higher emotions through deep empathy, authenticity, and telling a story. Engaging is about empowering the audience to care enough to want to do something themselves.

Take Action. Enable and empower others to take action. To make action easy, you must prototype, deploy, and continuously tweak tools, templates, and programs designed to move, audience members from being customers to becoming team members-in other words, furthering the cause and the change beyond themselves.

Cultivate Eccentrics

Cover of "Marketing Lessons from the Grat...
Cover via Amazon

Here’s a lesson from the book: Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History by David Meerman Scott

Cultivate eccentrics

Have you noticed that people who are passionate about something are eager to talk it up, just like fans of the Grateful Dead want to talk up their favorite band? Your job is to create an experience that’s unique, one that eccentrics will gravitate to, and one that they want to talk up.

ACTION: Build personality into your web site. Remove any content that looks similar to your competitors’. Delete what’s boring. Make sure your web site, blog posts, newsletters, and e-mails are unlike all others in the marketplace. Being unique will make you stand out. Build up the information (videos, blog posts, e-books, and photos) that appeals to eccentrics in your marketplace.