The five pillars of social selling in the enterprise

Businesses must learn how to harness social sales to stay ahead of the curve.

TORONTO, CANADA: If companies wish to attract next-generation buyers they must learn to harness the power of social selling, according to a social media sales advocate.

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Speaking at the Asigra Cloud Backup Summit in Toronto, Canada, Chief Evangelist of #SocialSelling Jill Rowley told attendees that most companies are in the infant stages of social selling as a concept. Instead of harnessing powerful tools such as social networks to engage with consumers and bring more sales leads to fruition, the majority of firms only leverage social media in "random bouts" and do not train sales staff to effectively exploit the network and engage consumers in a worthwhile manner.

As such, there is currently little of the exploration and regulation necessary to establish social selling as a key business strategy.

In short, the enterprise is falling behind in a rapidly evolving and increasingly digitized selling space. It is no longer enough for businesses to rely on selling techniques which have been around since the 1800's, instead, modern-day firms must adapt sales strategies to research their consumers and build long-lasting relationships physically and digitally.

Social selling is one such strategy -- and by placing communication and customer experience before sales pitches, corporations can keep their client base loyal and attract new customers through modern-day means. Ignoring social sales techniques, however, will lose firms potential business by not adapting to changes in today's consumer markets and what the latest generation of customers expect.

The mobile and social technology realms are no longer emerging; instead, they are now merging. There is no dividing line between both due to the explosion in mobile device adoption and the rising popularity of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The Millennial generation acts as a catalyst for this change in the technological space; being digital natives, Gen-Y expect to have immediate access to information and digital ways to connect to others.

As a result, Gen-Y -- of which will account for 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 -- is the primary reason why businesses should care about harnessing social networks to boost sales. In what Rowley calls the "world of mouth," purchase decisions have changed from an emphasis on brand and marketing, and now individual research, experience, immediate access, empowerment and peer recommendations play an important part in the process.

"People don't buy what you do. They buy how you do it," Rowley said, pointing to the fact social media networks can be used by businesses to connect, engage and communicate with their customer base. The experience matters, and you are more likely to secure customers who have a personal and positive experience of a company through digital means.

Millennials, in particular, expect this level of service nowadays as they have been brought up with these communication channels -- whereas other age groups are still "learning how to fit these elements into their world," according to Rowley.

However, if "serving is the new selling" and companies are still only dabbling with a social media presence, what can the enterprise do in order to effectively adapt sales strategies?

According to Rowley, there are five main pillars which act as the underlying principles of social selling, of which the former Salesforce executive defines as a way for a company's salespeople to position themselves as "relevant, influential and credible sources of information" online -- which in turn gives them access to a wide buyer pool. If a sales representative creates a digital persona which appears to be a "source of insight and value," buyers will be more likely to listen -- and will make purchase decisions based on these digital relationships.

The first principle is establishing this credible digital character. Whether the profile is created as a LinkedIn profile, Twitter account or Facebook page to start with, enterprise sales staff need to manage their digital reputation with the same care as their physical one. If a sales employee paints their profile as revenue and target-driven rather than focused on service and expertise, potential customers will be less inclined to establish a relationship.

However, if the professional profile resonates with a client and uses keywords important to them, sales employees will better represent themselves and their company -- and therefore potentially become more attractive to buyers.

See also: Gen-Y social media mistakes to avoid in a new business

The second pillar is to "always be connecting." In other words, if employees tap into the heart of social networks and establish themselves, in order to maintain this presence, staff need to keep things current. Valuable and interesting content should be shared across networks, not only to keep profiles ticking along, but also to maintain a credible, knowledgeable character that potential clients feel they can trust. Profiles should be treated as valuable sales tools in themselves which need to be constantly updated and connected to customers.

In addition, relevant content should be spread across social networks to engage new buyers -- as well as reconnect with the old.

Another important facet of social selling is the use of social networks to research customers. Social networks are built on identities, relationships and activity, and as Rowley says, "it's not just who you know, but rather what you know about who you know." If enterprise staff use social networks as tools to research buyers, they are more likely to build relevant bridges to connect to them -- and, therefore, generate additional sales leads.

Finally, enterprise sales departments should consider measuring engagement and making the vast pool of data related to customers and social networks work for them. By measuring meaningful metrics and monitoring the quality and engagement levels on networks, business strategies relating to modern customer experiences and connection can be improved through this feedback.

Sales as an industry changed with the emergence of the Internet. Retailers suddenly found themselves on the same playing field as their rivals as commerce became established through a digital global platform -- and so tactics to entice consumers must change.

If a customer is able to independently research products and services -- often knowing what they want before stepping foot into a store or contacting an e-commerce website -- customer loyalty can now not simply be bought through pricing and pitches. Instead, the key to securing clients lies in using modern methods to communicate effectively and provide a good customer experience.

As Rowley says, "Your sales force is on the brink of extinction. They have been replaced by search engines and social networks. It's time to adapt or die."

See also: Gen Y chasm: The risks of banning social media

Disclaimer: Attendance at the summit was sponsored by Asigra.

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