How do get started with social selling? I recently had a chat with Tim Hughes, UK Commercial Industries Business Development Director at Oracle UK as well as a social selling evangelist, avid tweeter and blogger.
Have a listen to the podcast embedded below, on iTunes or keep reading for an abridged transcript of our conversation. Questions by me, answers by Tim.
How did social selling come about and why is it important?
Well, we’ve seen a big change, not necessarily so much within the selling process, but within the buying process. Most people now, whenever you want to buy something, you go to Google and you do a search. Quite often, people actually are actually making decisions and purchasing online and are going ahead and doing that based on from that search. And they’re not actually involving a salesperson.
So for example, I recently bought a car. And when I went through that process of buying a car, if I go back 20 years, I probably would have spent lots of weekends going out and seeing car salespeople, sitting in front of them where they’ll tell me about the features and functions and whether they had electric windows or whatever. And now what I did is I went on to Google. I actually went on to a number of their websites, so I actually configured things. And by the time that I actually got to see the car salesperson, really what I wanted to do was understand where I could get parts exchanged from my old car and to strike a deal in terms of what I’d actually buy the new car for. So the sales cycle certainly, in terms of that area, and lots of products and services, are shortened.
Some of the research says that something like 72% of buyers are going through a process, and when they get to something like 50%, 60%, 70% – I’ve even got figures that show 80% of the way through the buying cycle – it’s only then that they actually engage with the salesperson. Going back 20 years ago, it would have been a 20% of the way through the buying cycle. Some research indicates that 25% of B2B salespeople jobs won’t exist in 2020. And what will you be replaced by? You’ll be replaced with a search engine.
Is there a risk that salespeople will become order-takers?
The risk is that salespeople become order-takers or salespeople don’t exist. And what salespeople have to do is that they have to respond to that change. And the way they respond to that change is to become more specialist or become more knowledgeable to set themselves as a way when a customer says, “All right, I want to go in and buy a car,” and you’re going to Google and search, there’s an argument that B2B salespeople now actually need to be involved in search engine optimisation to be on the first page of Google. A lot of salespeople are used to get pushed back at that point, and I don’t mention it any further.
But there is an argument to say that as soon as somebody wants to buy your service when they go into Google or whatever mechanism that they’re doing that, you need to be attracting those people. And there’s a number of ways that you can do that. So I also see social selling is a way that we can use technology ourselves to enable the sales process. So we’re not saying we’re going to change things or changing it. It’s not a sales methodology per se, but it’s using technology in a way that enables us to get in front of people quicker or get into accounts quicker.
I was involved in a project to roll out social selling across 600 salespeople in Western Europe at Oracle, and this is really off the back of our own workings and our own case study. And I’ve spoken to a lot of people, and quite often, at this point, people put their hands and say, “Well, we’re not a big tech company,” or “We’re a consumer goods company,” or “We’re only a small company.” And I think this is actually applicable to companies big and small. Because if you’re small, you don’t have the budget and, therefore, why not use technology as a way to punch above your weight? In terms of growth hacking, there’s things here that you could do to enable you to get leads with a very minimum amount to spend.
What are the 5 pillars to social selling success?
First and foremost I recommend that you get in on LinkedIn. While you can use the free version, I do recommend you get the professional addition because you get access to the Sales Navigator. If you’re looking to get hold of the people and looking and searching for people, then the Sales Navigator will help you. You’ve got to move away from the traditional, “I’ve set up my LinkedIn profile as a way of attracting recruiters for my next job” and actually create what I would call a bio-centric profile.
So you need to think about your product and service and outputs, what is it that it actually does? Does it increase revenue? Does it improve profit? Does it enable you to reduce stock? What is that end point you’re going to do? And that is what you need to be looking at, building your LinkedIn profile around.
And if anyone goes to my LinkedIn profile, what you’ll see is that I don’t have a job title like Master Principal Consultant. The job title is what I do, and it’s what I do in my online world. I have a picture because if you don’t have a picture, you’re like a spammer. And you have a description of what you do. And again, this is about an output, and this is not about that you make a hundred calls a day. It’s about what the output is and this fact that you’re creating leads or appointments for people. So it’s a way of moving the LinkedIn profile on, and it’s a way of getting to position. And if somebody is in a position that they’re looking to buy something, you should be, and your LinkedIn profile should, in effect, be coming up on the searches that they’re doing.
If you went to that media, video, Powerpoints, you’re posting on that daily in terms of interesting articles, people are going to go, “Hmm, that’s an interesting person. I need to talk to them.” And I also talk to people about… Even if you’re not using it for demand generation and you’re going to meetings, most people now, when you were interested in me, the first thing that you would have done was go into my LinkedIn profile. And you would have made a decision about whether Tim was interesting and whether Tim was interesting to have a webcast with purely from my shop window, which is at LinkedIn profile.
So my LinkedIn profile obviously worked in that particular case. It is your shop window to the world. And how you create and what you put on there, I don’t want to labour the point about it, but don’t come across as too much as a corporate suit. Also, think about what it is that you want other people to think about you. So you’re loyal. You’re trustworthy. You are a family man. You’ve got old cars. You’re into crochet or whatever it is. So make sure that the LinkedIn profile is about you as a whole and about you as a total person, not that you work for a particular corporation or a particular company. It’s got to be everything about you. So that’s the first step or pillar that I recommend that people look up.
The next thing to do is some sort of listening. So it’s listening out on social media, whether that’s with listening on hashtags, listening about your brand, listening about people coming on saying, “I’m thinking about…”. For example, I’ve been interested in doing demand generation about video. And I’ve been on to Twitter a couple of times and said, “I’m interested in doing some demand gen. Are there any video companies that want to come and contact me?” There are people that are doing that. And as a B2B organisation, we use a tool to listen to certain things that are going on and the footprints that people are leaving out there in social media.
3. Marketing Automation
The third element that I recommend is that you start looking at some form of marketing automation. Now, marketing automation is a big step. It’s usually a big implementation. But the gains that you’ll get from that are usually pretty good. In terms of our return on investment, when we were doing… If I can admit that we actually have people that cold-call, if you actually are cold-calling people, usually we would get a response of about 5 in 100. Of those 100, another 25 would say, “Yeah, I’m kind of interested, but it’ll be another three or six months.”
What we do is that we put those 25 into a nurture program using our Eloqua product. And we nurture those now over a three- to six-month period. So generally what happens is that, while in the past, we had a 5-out-of-100 response, we now get a 30-out-of-100 response. So that’s a pretty good ROI, and that’s certainly something that you build up over time. But again, it’s not necessarily for the fainthearted.
The fourth pillar that I’ve looked up really is about influencers. So what is an influencer, and why would I care? In the past, generally, people would go out to third party organisations, probably Gartner, Forrester, IDC, and sought their opinion about whatever they were particularly looking at. And those organisations are still important. But there are people out there, bloggers like myself who have an influence. People like Ted Rubin, Brian Solis, Bryan Kramer, people like that who have an opinion and are also driving the debate forward in terms of social, social enterprise, the sharing economy etc.
So one of the things that you might want to do is actually contact those people. And why would you want to do that? When a buyer goes through the buying process, generally, they’ll go on and look at Google. They’ll make a decision, and then they will start talking to influencers, that maybe that they’ll turn to somebody in the office and say, “You bought an HCM system when you worked at AstraZeneca. What did you buy? Was it any good?” And I did that when I bought my car. I turned to people that had the make of car as me. But also, there’s people that they could be contacting that have an influence. So I actually get people that come to me directly and say, “What CRM system should I buy?”.
And from a sales perspective, you can move yourself where you can present not only your shop window in terms of LinkedIn, but you can start hacking the sales process that you’re starting to pick up people that are looking for your products and service as they move down up towards that 60%. So before they’ve actually rung you up, you’re picking those up. Not only will you be getting more pipeline, but you should be winning more because you were able to close those down ahead of the competition.
5. Enterprise Social Network
The final one is something that we’ve actually implemented internally, which is an enterprise social network. And it happens to be our own because we’re Oracle and we have one. But what we do with the enterprise social network is it’s a bit like an internal Facebook. So the amounts of emails that we now get has reduced.
We’ve done some measurements and we’ve actually worked out that the efficiency of employees has increased by about 25%. We have 100,000 employees worldwide, so we’ve gained something like 25,000 employees. And what we do is we collaborate, and we collaborate across teams. So whereas in the past, marketing used to sit in the silo and sales were in the silo, now we basically cooperate and work together. For example, every single marketing event, we create will be the equivalent of a Facebook group, and the people that need to be on that group get in there and they collaborate and provide their opinion. And we found that has been quite game-changing in the way that we work.
Can social selling reduce the sales cycle?
By using all of those five pillars, we’ve been out to shorten the sales cycle. Oracle’s been through a massive transformation and we’ve done that to ourselves because of the fact that the IT industry’s been through a massive transformation. Things like mobile, cloud, big data and social are changing the way that our customers are working, and changing our customers’ businesses, and it’s impacting on us as well. So we’ve moved from being an on-premise organisation to a cloud company. So we’re now the second biggest cloud company in the world with our sights on soon becoming the number one.
Our go-to market for a lot of our things is cloud. And cloud in a way, while in the past, people would have gone out and bought computers to run things. Now they don’t need IT departments. So for example, Soundcloud, that most people may know, is a user of our own product. They use our accounting system. And their IT department is totally focused on building the Soundcloud platform, which is kind of what they’re known for. But in terms of their back office system, it’s just like, well, why would I want to have an IT department and accounting system? I’m just going to put that all out into the cloud. So they use our cloud system to do that. And the changes mean that we’ve gone from probably 18 months’ sales cycles now down to probably about three months.
What are the challenges companies face with social selling?
It’s a change management program, so the challenge is, if you start talking to people about it, usually you go into a meeting and immediately they fold their arms and sort of say, “Well, social media, it’s for kids, isn’t it? You post pictures of your lunch. Why would that enable us to help our sales process?” So as part of a change program, what you have to do is you have to get the stakeholders involved and they have to buy into the process.
Luckily, I have a VP who is particularly IT savvy, and he was certainly up for that. I have a sales guy who’s dog’s got 2,000 followers on Twitter. He was quite an easy one to basically go to and say, “Well, there’s this way…” And gradually what we did is we showed there was success there and then what we did was that we built it out. I don’t think that you will probably ever get 100% of the people saying, “Yeah, I think this is a good idea.” But you will get, as you start building your apps and people see the success and they go, “Oh, okay. I think I’ll get involved in that.”
I just went to present it to a team just this week and they’re sort of saying, “Well, we got to do this otherwise we’re dead.” And I think people are seeing now that the whole thing is, you know, the tipping point has been reached. And most people can see that the argument for social media is being, one, it’s not putting pictures of your lunch, though you can do that. They’re seeing that there is an ability to get, to win business, to support your current sales cycles, to get leads, and all of those things that we’ve done for years in the sales process and make our number quicker.