The concept of a social selling strategy in your company may well be broadly accepted by your sales representatives, but the practicalities of implementation often work a bit differently.
Sales representatives often have a modus operandi that is decided on the spur of the moment, all with the aim of achieving their targets. They do not always have the time to step back and consider their tools. It is therefore vital to show them the benefits of social selling in practice rather than in theory. As SAP Social Evangelist Sylvie Lachkar says: “They appreciate the full value of the approach from the very first workshop and realise they can make progress very rapidly.”
Caroline Sautereau launched the first social selling training sessions at prepaid corporate services firm Edenred France in 2015. “There are three training courses for each sales representative. The first one provides an overview of social media, new user habits, and the strategy for a company’s digital and social presence. The second focuses on LinkedIn: how to develop an efficient LinkedIn profile and optimise sales reps’ presence online. The third course teaches them how to generate a file of prospects in five minutes.”
Geared to small groups (ten participants maximum), these very specific courses are spaced one month apart to give participants time to get used to their new work habits. “We also organise practical workshops between sessions,” adds Sautereau.
At the same time, Edenred charts and implements a sound content strategy. It creates original content in Manager Attitude, for example, which is a proprietary online magazine. “Manager Attitude is at the heart of our approach, featuring quality articles and useful documents available for downloading on a daily basis,” Sautereau emphasises. The company has also opted for a curation principle whereby everyone can add articles or information, and disseminated a curation guide in-house.
All content can be shared by sales teams through a social commitment platform. Says Sautereau: “This is where sales representatives come to find relevant content that they will then publish on social media. All sales representatives are free to share whatever they wish on LinkedIn or Twitter without going through the employer, but in compliance with the terms of their employment contract, of course.”
As with all new ways of working, there are always doubters. “Sales representatives often fear that we are going to tell them how to do their job,” explains Sautereau. “But once the first users see how easy it is to broaden their network, identify prospects, get in touch with people that are impossible to contact otherwise, and establish a real follow-up, things change. Some sales reps have become enthusiastic internal ambassadors who have taken – and continue to take – part in subsequent courses to share the success they have had in consulting with their peers.”
Social selling is no magic wand and social media is not going to replace telephone or email. It’s just another weapon in the marketing arsenal, adapted to a new context that fits easily in a day-to-day business strategy. The latter point is significant as it helps overcome the classic excuse of “I’ll never find the time to do all that”.
“How much time do your sales representatives spend on the phone every day to no avail? They will be able to devote that time to social selling,” adds Lachkar. One useful tip is to suggest a three-step routine: contents, targeting, interaction.
The results speak for themselves. The most successful sales representatives are those who use the social selling method. But Sautereau is quick to add that the concept does not work if sales reps are left to their own devices once they have been trained. They need support and guidance over the long term, from newsletters dedicated to social selling to coffee get-togethers where sales reps can discuss their experiences, problems and questions.
“Many sales people come to see us after their initial attempts, not with their apprehensions, but with their new expectations: how can they go further, find more contents, share them better, open up to new social media. Success breeds success,” concludes Lachkar.
Step-by-step guide to social selling
What are the implementation stages of a social selling strategy? Here’s a generic example that can be adapted to a specific reseller’s situation.
The background: you manage the sales team of a solutions provider to support corporate services; your targets are corporate services directors. You have decided to focus on one of their professional expectations – how to manage a whole host of small concurrent projects more efficiently.
This choice has now become the core of your social selling strategy. Ask all members of your team to adapt their LinkedIn profiles by highlighting in their résumé (CV) that the management of ‘massively parallel’ multiple projects is in your company’s DNA. They need to express their willingness to help those who wish to ask questions on the topic.
Proceed to develop a curation log for the multiple project management sector and share the contents with your team on a daily basis. Everyone will select the information that is most suitable for them, and share it on their respective account in ‘public view’ mode.
Create a website or blog on the concurrent management of many small projects. Articles featured regularly on that platform should be directly accessible, and therefore well listed on Google. Furthermore, they will be shared via the social media of every member of your team.
Cultivating a sense of sharing
Your teams finally share useful content, relevant to their audiences, on a regular basis and in a generous and transparent manner. By doing so, they boost the name recognition of your brand and enable your sales representatives to develop a reassuring, customer-facing front.
These sales representatives now have to go after corporate services directors on LinkedIn and ask them to join their network. All reps will thank those who accept their request to be connected and tell them that they share content on a regular basis which they might find useful.
After a certain period of time, sales representatives will have to contact the directors again, asking them what they think about the shared content, the curation log and the articles on your blog.
They will then try to be even more useful to their contacts by providing content with even higher added value, like a link to a free white paper, for instance.
The bond of trust with your contacts will be strengthened with each step along the way. As a result, sales representatives can soon suggest to discuss matters further over the telephone, or to fix a meet-up appointment.
In our final instalment of this How to… guide, Thierry Gillmann will discuss the dos and don’ts of social selling and summarise the key takeaways.
Thierry Gillmann is an advanced content marketing evangelist with an entrepreneurial background. He is CEO of Voicings, a French content consultancy boutique specialised in B2B and technology sectors.