How to Use B2B Social Media for More Efficient Lead Qualification

If you’ve read any of my other pieces on Social Media B2B, you’ll know that I live by the Listen, Connect, Engage model. It’s simple and highly effective for leveraging social intelligence to improve sales productivity and customer engagement success. Today, in the third part of the Social Selling Throughout the B2B Sales Cycle series, I will focus on the lead qualification process, where sales organizations can achieve massive productivity gains by quickly and accurately assessing the quality of inbound leads as sales-ready (or not, as the case may be!). [tweetmeme source= “insideview” only_single=false]

By tapping into social intelligence, the modern and savvy sales professionals can access more personalized prospect information, in less time. Through social selling techniques, sales teams tap highly relevant information to quickly qualify and rank inbound leads, driving a more efficient sales cycle, thanks to real-time business information. So how does this intelligence indicate hot or cold leads in order to focus the sales team and increase the relevancy of sales messaging?

Social Media: Selling’s Stethoscope
Not all leads are created equal – even inbound ones. Sales professionals have long been tasked with finding, vetting and ranking leads according to their readiness and ability to purchase. This information is the heartbeat of the sales opportunity, but has traditionally been buried in internal corporate documentation. However, social media proliferates such information as prospects’ share valuable insight through their social networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Sales professionals who understand how to connect with Customer 2.0 can easily access these details to streamline the lead qualification process. The key here is to identify the right decision makers to connect with by leveraging social connections, and listen to the prospect before engaging them with a compelling message. For example, social profiles indicate where an inbound lead falls in their corporate hierarchy and qualification to make business-purchasing decisions. Other validators like corporate updates on sites, including LinkedIn, highlight news of company acquisitions, expansion efforts or product initiatives – all of which equate to vital information about purchasing readiness.

One of the common lead qualification challenges is that the inbound leads are often are not the decision makers. They are typically lower down in the organization, responsible for research on potential solutions. The trick is of course getting to the decision makers as soon as possible. Here is a step-by-step look into how social selling can expedite the lead qualification efforts:

  • Determine where the inbound lead falls in the corporate hierarchy by validating title / position
  • If they are not the decision maker, identify decision makers within the prospect’s company
  • Leverage your social connections to identify a common SENIOR connection between you and the decision makers
  • Tap into social intelligence to listen to what the decision makers care about / talk about
  • Learn enough about your prospect’s current business challenges and needs to convince the common senior connection to agree to an introduction
  • Convert the lead to an opportunity!

Another common lead qualification challenge is that inbound leads typically come with a single contact. By leveraging social intelligence, sales professionals can identify many additional connections into the prospect for ‘expanding communication threads’ and qualifying the prospect’s likelihood to purchase faster – and moving the deal through the pipeline faster thereafter.

Results
Lead qualification, driven by social selling techniques, improves productivity across the sales organization. As social media expedites the lead qualification process and provides real-time information about a prospect’s likeliness to buy, lead qual teams assess the quality of the inbound leads more quickly and accurately. This enables the sales teams to focus their efforts on those inbound leads that are likely to convert into opportunities, and eventually into customers. In the next post of my series, I will discuss how social selling can expedite opportunity management, driving sales productivity and ROI as well as customer satisfaction.

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Social Selling Throughout The B2B Sales Cycle

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The impact of social media on brand monitoring, customer service and marketing is a hot topic these days, but there has been less discussion about one of the biggest areas of social media impact: B2B sales. The opportunity to capitalize on social media in sales is clear: if Customer 2.0 leverages social media to inform their purchase decisions, why not tap into the same well to inform our sales engagements? As customers evolve, so must the process through which we sell to them, right? [tweetmeme source= “insideview” only_single=false]

Engaging today’s socially-savvy customer involves far more than a grasp of the basic facts and figures about their companies, and requires a broader view that incorporates recent business events, social conversations and social relationships – in other words, social intelligence. B2B organizations have been slower to tap into social intelligence to connect with customers compared to their B2C counterparts, but this is beginning to change. Sales professionals are starting to seize the power of social intelligence to augment “what they know about who they know” with “when and where they should know” it to ensure they engage the right people at the right time with the right message.

For example, take TriNet, a successful and rapidly growing HR services firm that delivers payroll HR compliance to small and mid size businesses. TriNet has found that talking to prospects at times of change (e.g. new CEO/management, new funding, expansion, significant changes in hiring, etc.) critically drives their sales team’s success. Timely and in-depth knowledge of trigger events at their target accounts gives them compelling reasons to start conversations. With an incredible 70 percent conversation-to-appointment rate, TriNet has experienced substantial success.

So how can B2B sales professionals most effectively leverage new social selling techniques to increase sales productivity? We advocate a three step process, based on the following principles:

  1. Listen to your prospects and customers, so that you can understand their unique needs and business challenges,
  2. Connect with them through networks that are common between you and your prospects, and then
  3. Engage with them in a relevant conversation, anchored on how you can help your prospect improve their business.

Listening to the social conversations surrounding target accounts and their decision-makers can help sales professionals determine the best individuals with whom to begin a dialogue. Tuning in to these conversations can also provide peeks into the personalities and work styles of these prospects – something that is often visible in social media profiles.

Listen to prospects: Gain professional insights into changes in buyers’ environments
Change often triggers more change. As in the TriNet example, certain trigger events, such as leadership changes, new product launches, new office openings or mergers and acquisitions, can lead to buying opportunities for new products or services. While we can observe some of these trigger events through traditional news sources, social media adds an insider’s perspective that helps sales professionals get ahead of the curve. Social insights can mean the difference between losing a deal (or not even being aware of it in the first place!) to “catching a lead in mid air.”

Once you know who to call and what to say once you get him or her on the phone, you need to find the best way to connect with the prospect. Sales has always been about who you know, but social networking now allows you to connect with a broader range of people than you were able to reach without social media. When you take advantage of Facebook or LinkedIn, you can easily discover how you are connected to influencers at your target companies, and how to initiate “warmer” introductions with them. Armed with unique insights on how your products and services can address your prospect’s current business challenges and opportunities, you have what it takes to engage prospects in relevant conversations that are likely to result in a rich engagement – and hopefully a win.

Over the next several posts, I will explore effective social selling tactics for every phase of the sales cycle. I will also share success stories from both large and small organizations. I have broken the sales cycle into four stages, both because many companies organize their sales teams around these stages and staff accordingly, and also because different social selling tactics may be more appropriate through each of these sales stages:

  1. Lead generation (better known in the sales organization as prospecting) focuses on discovery of new businesses to target, as well as getting “in” existing target accounts. Knowing the right people to call, and making those calls highly relevant, certainly improves prospecting odds.
  2. Lead qualification is about assessing the quality of inbound “leads” to quickly and accurately classify them as sales-ready (or not). Determining where the contact falls in the corporate hierarchy is helpful, as are any insights that validate the opportunity. Speed and efficiency are key for lead qualification success.
  3. Opportunity management is about turning an opportunity into a win as quickly and as often as possible. Relationships certainly matter, as do a keen awareness of trigger events that may impact a prospect’s decision.
  4. Cross-sell and up-sell are about selling to existing customers by assessing any new or increased appetite for your portfolio of products and services.

As I prepare to discuss these topics, I’m interested in listening to what you have to say about social selling. What are your success stories? How have you implemented social selling in your organizations? What challenges did you encounter in doing so?

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How to Improve Your B2B Sales Workflow with Social Media

 

In my last post I defined social intelligence as a new form of intelligence that delivers a much broader view of the prospect. I discussed how in-context access to this intelligence will significantly boost sales productivity, enabling more successful outreach and engagement with the socially-savvy Customer 2.0. In this post I will provide three tips for implementing intelligence into your sales workflow (more specifically, directly into your CRM) and will elaborate on the effectiveness and applicability of social selling as an integral part of a business’ Social CRM strategy. [tweetmeme source= “insideview” only_single=false]

Intelligence Tip #1: Listen before you talk
Customers have increasing ownership of the conversation, but Social CRM levels the playing field for businesses by empowering engagement with customers within their preferred channels.

Social selling technologies and methodologies allow sales reps to:

  • Monitor what is being said about and by the customer
  • Analyze the relevant conversations
  • Automatically associate the findings with existing customer records
  • Use these insights to guide customer engagements going forward.

For example, by monitoring the blog posts and/or tweets of a prospect, the sales professional will not only be informed about what matters to the prospect, but also get a glimpse into their personality and style. Rich with insights about the prospect’s urgent business needs and challenges, the sales professional can then engage the customer at the right time with the right message – either via the traditional email/phone channel, or perhaps even with a response to their blog post or tweet. Of course, there is a lot of noise out there and not a lot of time to “listen,” which makes the use of technology, to identify what’s relevant to your sales team, critically important.

Intelligence Tip #2: Find a reason to call
How do you find a good reason to call your prospect? Social CRM allows companies to aggregate both official and unofficial social information about customers and prospects without any effort from or distraction to sales reps. Relevant content from customer communities can be automatically pushed into a CRM platform, enriching static prospect data with social intelligence. Intelligent monitoring of social conversations enable sales organizations to gain visibility into potential sales triggers such as upcoming business expansions, management changes or concerns about existing vendors that would otherwise be not available through more traditional news sources.

If you’re a systems integrator, for instance, you might want to watch target companies for contract awards or planned implementations of products in your market. If you sell litigation support services, you may want to monitor for news related to SEC or FTC legal investigations. Of course, any unofficial chatter about how your prospect isn’t satisfied with a competitor’s product or service will also give a great reason to call to showcase your differentiation!

These insights may be the difference between losing a deal (or not even being aware of it in the first place!) to catching a lead in mid air. This in-context intelligence, presented within the CRM workflow, drives sales productivity and accelerates deal velocity.

Intelligence Tip #3: Power the customer community
Companies have a very difficult time standing on the sideline while others discuss their business (I speak from experience!). However, adding input or marketing propaganda into customer conversations can interrupt the conversation and cause customers not to share their opinions, or maybe even lash out at you for the sales-y pitch. For example, most LinkedIn and Google groups I engage in have a no sales pitch policy that is strictly enforced by the group leaders. And specifically because of this policy, there is a great deal of open dialogue between the members about companies, products, business trends as well as best practices.

Social CRM cultivates business and empowers the customer community by:

  • Allowing customers to openly discuss a product or company – whether this includes problems, compliments or general inquiries prior to purchasing
  • Uniting happy customers so that they can influence, help, and nurture each other
  • Connecting the business with unhappy customers, enabling rapid response to make things right vs. have issues spiral out of control and affect the opinions of the others in the community
  • Providing sentiment analysis on aggregated conversations that take place in the relevant communities – helping companies notice signals of readiness (pdf)
  • Notifying when conversations are hot for engagement, or cold for simply monitoring

What will your company do to easily tap into and make sense of this highly valuable social intelligence to accelerate the sales cycle? How will you leverage new social insights to deepen customer relationships and drive business success? Hopefully these three tips will set you on the right path.

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B2B Social Selling Meets CRM

I recently wrote about how intelligence is different, and much more valuable, than data for the B2B sales professional. I described intelligence as going far beyond the basic facts and figures about companies, and creating a broader view of the prospect, which incorporates recent business events, social conversations and social relationships.

In other words, social intelligence.

What do B2B sales professionals need to boost their productivity? The answer: easy access to this social intelligence within their workflow, at the point of need and at the time they want to engage the prospect in a relevant conversation. In-context access will render social intelligence an empowering tool for sales teams, instead of the distraction that it can easily become. [tweetmeme source= “insideview” only_single=false]

Social Intelligence: It’s more than just CRM
Naturally, this is where one would expect CRM to come into play because it is intended as the ubiquitous technology infrastructure to facilitate customer-facing interactions. Unfortunately – and to the disappointment of many sales organizations – CRM hasn’t delivered on its promise of significant sales productivity gains, or on its ultimate promise of synchronizing the business process between two key stakeholders (the sales professional and their target buyer). Instead it has remained mostly in the ranks of workflow automation. This makes CRM useful for automating structured processes and reports for management, but not for enabling effective relationship building or customer engagement.

I believe social intelligence, integrated into the CRM workflow, has the opportunity to move CRM beyond its current limited application (and thus adoption) into a highly effective customer engagement platform, and in the process transform selling as we know it.

Social Selling: Enabling Customer 2.0 Engagement
Adopting this new model of social selling is not optional for businesses, rather a requirement if they want to meet the demands of a new breed of informed, socially-engaged customer who has taken control of the conversation. Integrated social intelligence can level the playing field for businesses by making it easy for sales professionals to listen to and participate in the conversion in a timely and relevant manner for successful customer engagements. Put simply, integrated social intelligence is an essential enabler for businesses in the quest to successfully engage Customer 2.0.

Powered in part by new methodology and in part by new technology, the usage of social intelligence by sales organization is one of the three primary use cases of what many are calling Social CRM (the other two being marketing and customer support). While there is much debate about the ultimate definition of this next generation approach to CRM, here are a couple of good ones that support my point:

Of course, the success of a Social CRM strategy for sales requires much more than access to social information about prospects. It requires a fundamentally different selling process. As Wim Rampen states in a post at CustomerThink, “Implementing social tools, and doing absolutely nothing differently than before, would not make it…a Social CRM [or Social Sales] strategy.” We now have access to vast new avenues to gather customer data and insights, but how the data is aggregated, transformed into intelligence and integrated into the sales workflow are the primary factors in determining the success of a sales organization “going social”.

So how exactly is social selling enabling a more successful outreach and engagement with the socially-savvy Customer 2.0? Next week, I will lay out three tips for implementing intelligence into your sales workflow, and will elaborate on the effectiveness and applicability of social selling as an integral part of a business’ Social CRM strategy.

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B2B Companies Must Keep Pace with the Customer 2.0

Social media has become the go-to resource for B2B customers – both to share feedback about companies they are doing business, with as well as to monitor discussions about products and services they are considering. The control of a B2B company’s brand is rapidly transitioning from corporate marketing departments to the customer-to-customer conversations taking place via social media. Just as shared positive experiences can drive new prospects to your business, unmanaged negative commentaries can spread like wildfire, incinerating your organization’s hard earned reputation. Not surprisingly, customers recognize their growing influence and realize the impact of their praise, or more importantly, their criticism. [tweetmeme source= “insideview” only_single=false]

This is the era of Customer 2.0. Businesses of all sizes are learning the importance of listening, rather than preaching, in order to acquire and retain their customers. Customer 2.0 is not interested in vague and impersonalized advertising and sales pitches. They are socially savvy and active, know how to connect with one another to talk about your company (more than half of active US Twitter users follow at least one company, brand or product) and possess little desire to maintain loyalty for a company who does not care for and accommodate their needs.

This new environment creates big challenges but also incredible opportunities for B2B sales. Sales professionals can no longer completely rely on traditional email and cold calling campaigns. The good news is social media is leveling the playing field for selling to Customer 2.0. Sales professionals can now gain timely and relevant insights about their customers as well as engage at a very deep and personal level – two huge boons to the B2B sales process. Thanks to social media monitoring and conversation, individuals within the organization have the ability (along with the responsibility!) of championing the identity of their corporate brand and uphold public reputations. The wall between the corporation and the end-user has been torn down; and sales professionals are on the front lines.

B2B buyers have evolved faster than their sales counterparts, and it is Customer 2.0 who is setting the social media trends, not the organization. Hence, companies must learn to accommodate the customer’s preferred methods of engagement. Many organizations have been doing just that for the past year and have seen tremendous rewards.

Although this new engagement model involves a mix of marketing, customer service and sales, sales teams must take the lead in this process. It is the B2B sales professionals who face the continual challenge of defining, learning about and meeting the needs of their customers. The savvy sales person has a new mandate of knowing how to use their social resources and take full advantage of the platforms at their disposal.

So, how will you take advantage of social media to keep pace with your Customer 2.0s? For starters, do not get stuck in of the interrupt-driven world of “sales 1.0.” Listen to your customers and engage in relevant conversations with them. And, stay tuned for more insights on the tools and methodologies you can easily adopt to improve the social selling IQ of your sales team – the rewards will surely follow in the form of higher sales productivity and shorter sales cycles.

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Converting B2B Sales Data into Social Intelligence

Given the explosive growth in business and social data, it would be natural to assume that B2B sales and marketing professionals have access to a wealth of new information to learn about and engage the savvy, social buyer we call Customer 2.0. However access to so much data comes with a hefty productivity price tag. Finding the relevant nuggets is a lot like looking for a needle in an ever growing haystack – not to mention the effort required to reconcile all the data inaccuracies and conflicts that inevitably arise from the multiple “sources of truth.” So the question for the B2B professionals should not be how they can gain access to even more prospect data, but rather how easily they can distill this mountain of data into actionable intelligence to engage their prospects in a meaningful manner. [tweetmeme source= “insideview” only_single=false]

So how is sales data different than sales intelligence?

Sales data, refers to the quantifiable facts and figures about prospects, including company and contact details as well as financials, that can be pulled from a variety of editorial or user-contributed sources. Online Sources of B2B Data: A Comparative Analysis (pdf) and its sequel (pdf), compares several B2B data vendors based on three criteria: volume (how many good contacts can I retrieve from this system?), completeness (can I get every field I want?), and accuracy (is the contact information correct?). One interesting takeaway from this analysis is that though there is a great deal of prospect-related data out there, it isn’t easy to assess accuracy or completeness of account or contact details given the preponderance of sales and marketing data sources.

Intelligence, however, is about making sense out of this ubiquitous and sometimes conflicting mass of data and turning it into actionable insights to engage the prospect. In other words, intelligence is about synchronizing “what you know about who you know” with “when and where you should know” it to ensure you engage the right people at the right time with the right message! The Web is providing billions of new data points and opportunities to gather unique insight via social communities, search queries and purchasing behaviors. Opportunities to gather data are abundant, but what is truly important is how a company, or sales rep, will learn from such information for the purpose of increasing sales. Intelligence goes far beyond the basic facts and figures about companies and creates a broader view in the prospect that incorporates recent business events, social conversations as well as social relationships. It becomes the essential piece of the social selling puzzle.

Data can also be misleading. A statistic, without context, may throw a company in a tailspin if applied before cross-referencing other pieces of data that influenced the specific finding. David McCandless, data journalist and author of The Visual Miscellaneum, recently named his speech at TED, The beauty of data visualization (I highly recommend watching this presentation). David emphasizes visual data and data comparison for greater intelligence, rather than static and out-of-context analytics.

Community + Data = More Clutter

Online communities provide platforms for customers and prospects to pose questions and gain new insights into the products, services and companies they are considering. As people become more comfortable sharing information online than ever before – even when this means visiting a company’s community to express their angst with the vendor’s product – data about companies, people and products proliferate.

This of course provides sales reps the opportunity to monitor such communities, listen to conversations and pull data about which products, initiatives or personnel are – or are not – successful. However, the number of social communities is enormous, and continues to rise as global adoption of the Internet increases. A better solution must be put in place for easily accessing and making sense of this data to accelerate the sales cycle without costly productivity impact to the sales and marketing organizations.

Social Intelligence

The solution: Social intelligence. With such an abundance of data, companies that find the most resourceful method of distilling relevant intelligence from available data are those that will reap the greatest rewards. Of course, companies have begun realizing this, and vendors are answering the call. The question is not “if” but “when” your company will join the intelligence tea party. Whether the solution is infographics that extract trends and patterns from data or technologies that aggregate online community insights, or augment traditional business insights with social perspectives, organizations must realize the massive productivity promise of social intelligence.

What are your plans for shifting your sales and marketing organizations reliance on static data – and turn them into productive consumers of dynamic business and social intelligence?

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The Changing Role of the B2B Sales Rep in Social Selling

Gone are the days of mass marketing and generic sales tactics. B2B customers today are savvier, less patient and have higher expectations for personalized communications to drive their purchasing decisions. Spam emails, newsletters and webinar invites are just about as effective as sending your prospect last week’s newspaper, and not surprisingly have low success rates.

Similar to their demand for more personalized sales and marketing outreach, buyers expect attention from people, not companies. One of Twitter’s most valuable assets is that it enables buyers to connect with a person rather than a corporate alias. Whereas the consumer once contacted a customer service hotline or bounced from call center to call center, today’s informed buyer knows the names, profiles and background information about company representatives from whom they seek information. [tweetmeme source= “insideview” only_single=false]

Out with the corporation, in with the individual
So what does this mean for the B2B sales profession? Now that buyers seek contact with individual people within a company, a corporate backdrop is less effective than a sales rep’s ability to connect on a personal level with their prospect. Tapping such buyer expectations is driving the social selling revolution. Social media and social networks are emerging as the new forums for sales people to build and maintain dynamic relationships with their prospects. This new level of social engagement is far from a fallacy, and it is shaping up to be the future of the sales profession!

As customers and prospects demand more relevant communication and personalized engagement from sales reps, two important factors must be addressed:

Sales professionals must get social
Those who are pushing sales through social media are reaping the rewards of integrating social processes into their sales cycle. After all, relevance comes from listening to your customers and understanding how you may be able to address their newest business challenges. There is no better place than social media to get the inside scoop about your prospects, nor is there a better or more informal way of engaging them at the right time, when they may be most receptive to your communications. Fortunately, jump-starting your social media presence is not difficult, and the immediate gain of information about your prospects will enable more personalized and timely engagement around their business needs.

Companies must break down corporate barriers and encourage autonomy
A prerequisite to the sales professional’s ability to dive into social selling is the removal of corporate barriers that restrict social engagement. This is not always an easy transition for major corporations, as the reputation of a company rests, even more so than before, in the hands (or rather posts and tweets) of its employees. Company execs can counter their doubt about tearing down this wall by setting loose restrictions and corporate guidelines for the use of social media as a selling tool and showcasing success stories. Take a look at this list of behavioral and etiquette guidelines for organizations for ideas on how your company may effectively tackle this important issue.

How is your sales team or company mastering the emerging art of leveraging social media as a business asset? The topic is one that will continue to evolve, but it is the companies that embrace new technologies that will see the greatest impact in the modern era of

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