Most social media channels originated as a place for friends and friends of friends to connect and share information. Adding marketing and sales into that felt like a stretch for the first few years. Quite a few companies blew millions of dollars of budget trying to figure out social selling.
There were – and still are – voices that say you can’t sell via social media. That it’s a platform to attract people into your sphere, then to sell to them through different channels. They say social is a good way to stay top-of-mind by being informative and entertaining, but leave the direct sells to places like email and a company’s website.
There’s a lot of good sense in this, though many companies have figured out how to sell via social. Features like Pinterest’s new buy button are pushing things further along every day.
But what about B2B? If you’re in B2B sales and marketing, you hear about all that B2C social selling and wonder if it could work for you. And when I describe social media as being “a social platform for friends and friends of friends to connect and share information,” does that not sound like a networking event or a conference? Why can’t social selling work for B2B, if done correctly?
It’s the “if done correctly” part that trips people up. Even the best of us. To help all of us be more effective at social selling (which has been proven to work, by the way), here are five social selling best practices, along with some of the most common mistakes.
1. Don’t pitch on contact.
Is there any better way to turn a new contact off than to immediately send them an overt sales pitch? I know everybody’s got to make their quotas, but this is not the way to do that.
People hate it when they log into their LinkedIn accounts and have connection requests from sales people they’ve never heard of. They hate it even more when those same sales people, who they agreed to connect with, immediately send them a request to “show you how our service can help you.” They’ve almost got it right with the “help you” part, but this is just too much too soon.
Sending a message with a free PDF immediately upon contact also sours things. We’ve been around the block, guys. We know the free report PDF is the beginning of a sales funnel.
People do this on Twitter too. And with the imminent increase in the length of direct messages from 140 characters to 10,000 characters, I fear this may get worse, not better.
2. Make only warm calls, please.
I have a confession to make. I have never, not once, ever given my real phone number on a B2B information request form. Not for webinars. Not for whitepapers. Not for free accounts.
I’m not apologizing for this. I just don’t want you to call me.
Pre-scheduled phone calls (“warm” calls) with people you know you want to talk to are fine. So are conference calls, video chats and remote meetings. That’s all good. But calling people out of nowhere forces the sales process. And guess what? It’s the information age, baby. We – the consumers – want to control the sales process.
We want to (and will) learn about your products and services when we want, at the speed the want. Maybe, sometimes, that will be over the phone. But most of the time, it won’t be.
3. Respond to requests within an hour.
Speed matters. That applies to websites, to social media conversations, and to lead responses. If you’ve gone through all the work of generating the lead and nurturing the lead, don’t drop the ball when they finally respond. According to David Meerman Scott’s infographic, 8 Ways to Ruin Your Chances of Making a Sale, you’ll get seven times the conversion rate from leads if you follow up with responses within an hour.
This is actually not too big of a surprise. If you’re from the email marketing world, you know that welcome emails and other triggered emails get dramatically higher engagement rates if they’re sent immediately, not “batched” together and sent a few hours later.
The expectation of a speedy response has shown up in a number of studies, including this one from Edison Research. It shows that 32% of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes, and 42% expect it within an hour. Given how pressured B2B decision-makers are, they would probably like their answers even faster.
4. Get really good at creating relevant content.
Want to be irresistible in B2B social media circles? Be a thought leader. Serve up interesting, useful, intelligent content every single day. Maybe even twice a day. But you can “cheat” at it, too. Curate it now and then.
Social selling has a strong streak of education to it. And while us buyers do want to control the sales process now, we love information. It’s just got to be relevant information. Send me irrelevant information, and you fall into the background noise. Send relevant information that’s just what I need to know right now and… well, I might just like you so much I’d get on the phone with you.
So how do you do this? You’ll need to segment or target your leads well enough to send relevant information to the right people. Then you’ll need to know approximately how they move through the sales cycle, and what information most successfully moves them from step to step through that cycle. And then you need to execute the whole thing, but still make it flexible enough to work in outlier situations.
One final word on this: Don’t overshare. Don’t blast your audience with updates. Be a curator – like a museum curator. Pick and choose the most interesting and valuable content you can find. Don’t just haul up an information dumpster and start tossing things out.
The recommended number of updates per day for LinkedIn is one. Not 20. For Google+, it’s okay to share three times a day. On Facebook, twice. Twitter, as you know, can handle an update an hour, but some research shows engagement falls off after the third tweet of the day.
5. Customize, customize, customize.
Whether it’s a cold email or a LinkedIn invite, don’t just shoot out a boilerplate message. Take the time to know the person you’re trying to contact with. This takes more time, but there’s a hidden benefit to it taking more time: You’ll be forced to focus on the prospects most likely to say Yes.
Before sending cold emails, spend at least 10 minutes looking at their company website, their Twitter feed and their LinkedIn profile. Try to include even one thing you learn in your email. This immediately sends a strong positive signal to your prospect. If you know them well enough to know what’s actually happening at their company, you might just know enough to help them.
This applies to social media communications, too. On LinkedIn, don’t just send the default invite. You’ll disappoint or annoy your prospective contact, and you’ll hurt your chances of them saying yes. Customize your invite.
Secret tip for getting more LinkedIn invites: Follow someone on Twitter first. Like and share their tweets sporadically for a few weeks. Then follow up with them on LinkedIn. When you send the LinkedIn invite, customize it (of course). Mention you’re following each other on Twitter. Not only do I get a far better connection rate with this, but for about every 40 connection requests I send, I also get a new client.
What are your social selling pet peeves?
What I’ve mentioned here is just a starter list of the most common mistakes. There are plenty smaller offenses I’ve missed. If any of your pet peeves didn’t make the list, please speak up! Tell us how sales people or marketers are pushing too far on social media, or online generally. Maybe you’ll show a few offenders the error of their ways.
Ready to get social? Be sure to check out the Essential Social Media Resource Guide. It’s got everything you ever wanted to know about Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and Facebook – and a whole lot more.