A Guide to Social Selling, with Tim Hughes

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg


It’s time to catch up with our good buddy and social selling sorcerer Tim Hughes again. We previously discussed the 5 Pillars of Social Selling, this time we talk about organisational impact, change makers and Tim’s new book.

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.

What do you do Tim?

I don’t like to use the word expert, but people quite often place that on me. I’m an expert in social selling and social media. I’ve been involved in social media now for seven years, and I started while I was involved in a project to roll out social selling three years ago. And I’ve been blogging on that and writing about social selling now for three years. My book is available on Amazon now; Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers. All of the things that I’ve been doing over seven years has gone down into this book. The book really is about how organisations, how salespeople, and how marketers can use social to sell, and use social, in effect, to generate leads and generate revenue.

What the book isn’t, the book isn’t about personal branding. One of the things that when Matt and I pitched the book to our publisher, Kogan Page, they did a lot of research and they went out and they said, “Well, there’s about five books on personal branding. If it’s about personal branding, we’re not interested.” That was kind of a defining moment for me, because it wasn’t about and it wouldn’t be about personal branding. It’s about how you can use influence, community, work with a connected economy and the way that the society has changed, and how you use all those things to enable you to connect with people, connect with buyers early on, and ultimately sell deals.

How do you use social networks purposefully to build trust and a high quality community?

The fact that people are now using mobile more than anything else, and people are spending more time actually researching things. There’s a research that came out recently from the marketing agency, The Octopus Group, which actually shows that sales buying cycles are getting longer. Because people are spending more time actually researching the products, and there’s far more products and apps, and the whole thing is getting far more complex.

But the actual sales cycle is getting shorter. I don’t want to sound ageist, but it’s that the research shows that if you’re looking at people up to about the age of 40, those people, generally about 35% of them, rather than go to Google when they want to actually buy something and then go to a corporate website, people are actually going and connecting on to the social networks. So they’re looking at social media, and they’re looking at Twitter, and they’re looking at LinkedIn, rather than necessarily taking Google or going to a particular brand’s website.

But it’s an age thing in the way that people are doing that, just in case people are looking and listening to this and saying, “I always go to the website.” It can be different people in different places will use different things, but it looks like people are starting to use social as the way of kicking off that purchasing or the reviewing process.

Should you create content to resonate with those people doing research?

Yes. A lot of people come to me and say, “Tim, you post some really interesting stuff.” For me, that’s a really flattering thing, because what I want to do is educate people. And that’s what brands, salespeople and marketers should be doing. So if we think about the traditional sales funnel and the way that people have traditionally sold, is that you’ve probably already spoken to the people. There’s already a lead, there would have been a meeting, and you take that person through a process where, say, software, you’ll do demonstrations and reference visits, and it’s all defined and you follow that process.

What we’re talking about here is above the sales funnel. I think there should be a new term, whether it’s the marketing funnel, or what I actually call “the relationship funnel”, which is where the people that we’re trying to sell or market to probably don’t know about this already. Or they may be in a position that it’s even above that, where they don’t even know that there’s not even a need for anything that we do.

What your role in the way that you can use social is to build a community and network with those individuals, so when they actually come out and buy, they actually come to you. Because what you would have done is that you would have nurtured them. For example, you find somebody, a contact, connect with them on LinkedIn, and then nurture them. You do that just by putting out content that is interesting. By the time they actually want to buy, what they will have done is that they’ll think, “Oh, Tim Hughes, he’s an interesting guy. He knows all about this subject. I’ll go and have a conversation with Tim and see what his opinion is.”

From a sale perspective, if you’re a good salesperson, the fact that that person has come to you, then you could actually close them down before the competition. Suddenly one of the things that I always tell people, especially around using LinkedIn and Twitter, is that unless you’re getting inbound, so people are coming to you and saying, “That’s interesting, Tim. We’re thinking about buying this. Can you come and talk about this?” if that’s not happening, you’re probably not doing it right.

Personal branding is kind of interesting, but you need to be using it for your own competitive advantage in your own ability to create stuff. You said something earlier on about sales and marketing leaders. I think the feedback I always get, I used to attend a lot of meetings with sales and marketing leaders where they say, “Tim, social selling and personal branding is all very well, but where is the leads?” I’ve taken out any swear words.

How do you scale a social selling strategy across an organisation?

A lot of people come to me and say, “I read all your articles, but my manager thinks that social’s for kids and for taking pictures of your lunch, and that you can’t actually use it to sell. What can I do?” That’s a very common question that I get.

You can start actually predicting the way that the organisations are going to react to a work. People that read the book, and because of that, they can actually start managing or doing the things they need to do to start going on that journey. I don’t think there’s actually an accelerated route. Because usually what happens is that you start off with, it’s only for kids, and then what you get is random acts of social.

This is not a bad thing, which is where people actually realise that you can use social. And what that will do is say, “Right, us as a small team, either one or five of us, are going to prove this out. And then what we’ll do is, we’ll go to the management and we’ll show the ROI. Then what we’ll do is we’ll get the stakeholder buy in, and then that actually helps move the process or moves up the scale.” So that’s what we talk about, and how you move from then random acts of social to actually getting stakeholder buy in. But also what happens quite often at that stage is that when organisations realise that there’s this tsunami of social taking place, what they try and do is actually grab hold and try and control it. So there’s a number of people out there certainly who have got very quite high brands, who have had to leave organisations partly because they got closed out, and the organisation just couldn’t grasp that what they need are these evangelist people.

The whole point of the book is not to actually talk about social necessarily in terms of theory. It’s about practice, and how do organisations take this opportunity and drive it through the organisation? We’re quite open and honest and say, “You actually need particular individuals to help you do that.” Because social selling is a strategy. It’s a change program. And the only way that you’re going to take it through the organisation and stop people going back to the old way is because none of us like change. We always like going back to what we did before. The only way that you can do that and explain it, and train people, and get people to understand how to post and why you post this, and why not to post that, and to drive it, is to have a person who understands social, who has a business acumen to drive it through the organisation and take charge of that. What I see too often is kind of a special project that we’ve got Fred and he’s not really up to his job, so we’ll give him the social selling job to do. That’s like, “Well, you don’t really get it, do you?” People then often say to me, “So where do we find all these individuals?” It’s like, “Well, you go on social.”

Because there’s actually lots of people. I know big organisations that have got people that have got… there’s a number of people that have become friends of mine, who when we wrote this chapter, we kind of wrote and it said, “This is what the attributes of this social community, a sales community manager should look like.” It was kind of from them and the things that they did that I actually built the attributes of what this individual that should be within the organisations, and this is what they should look like.

I think those people should be around probably for the next five years, because social is constantly changing. As you said, there’s new platforms. Should we be doing streaming? Should we be doing Blab? Should we be on Instagram? Should we be on Snapchat? There needs to be a certain amount of realisation. Let’s stick to what we know, but we need to maybe do an experiment in this area, because for some people, Snapchat will work, and for some people it doesn’t. But we need to have this person who heads this up who drives it through the organisation.

What’s your take on employee advocacy?

I read a report today that says that 70% of brands broadcast online. They don’t actually engage with anybody. Certainly if I look at my LinkedIn stream, a lot of it is corporate stuff being put out by employees. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re IBM, you’ve got 400,000 employees. You connect your corporate marketing to all of those 400,000 employees. You’ve got an awful lot of share of voice and you’re pumping out an awful lot of content. But social isn’t about broadcast, and it’s not about pumping out content. Social is about engaging, and social is actually about building your own influence in your own community.

Crap content is crap content. I’m not saying IBM’s content is crap. I’m just saying it’s just a generic term. If you’re putting out engaging, interesting content as an employee, the can or cannot be about your company, then that’s great. This one video that’s out there on YouTube, this girl gets on the stage and said, “I was out. I’m working on projects. I’m in Geneva, and I’m out having dinner. And I tweet about it.” What that means is that you’ll get people going, “Wow, she’s in Geneva. That’s brilliant. I’ll fancy some of that.” Immediately, what they’re doing is that IBM is able to tap into the employee advocacy of their Millennials. They’re able to tap into that particular talent pool purely by this person putting out a tweet about her dinner and other people going, “Yeah, yeah.”

Rather than putting out white papers and stuff like that. So I think there’s a fine balance in employee advocacy between the pumping out of the same old corporate and content marketing material, and actually using it as a way of recruitment or spreading the message, but doing it in an interesting and engaging way.

Is employee advocacy part of social selling, or vice versa?

If I was rolling out a social selling program, I would be looking at employee advocacy as a second or third step in that process. Because ultimately what you want in the organisation is everybody… the goal of all organisations should be stated that we want to move to being a social organisation. That’s social empowerment of every employee, whether they’re in sales, whether they’re in development, but doing it in the right way. Because obviously you don’t want someone developing saying, “I’m really enjoying my job. I’m developing this secret app that nobody knows about.” You need to have people tweeting and engaging in social in a responsible way.

But if you can start moving that out, and this is one of the things that people start doing as they move through their maturity, is when the brands or the companies realise they need to actually loosen the control. At that point, you can start flying because if you’ve trained the people, they know what they can and cannot treat. They know what the house rules are. You kind of let them go, and they can then actually have a conversation, and not have to use some of the white papers that people may be wanting to put out as a crutch. They need to be creating their own content or making their own comment.

Now, if you look at the Altimeter Group research that came out recently about employee advocacy, what you’ll find, if you look in the detail of the report, is that actually if employees are putting out content, the view of their followers is, “Well yeah, they would say that because they work there. They’re biased.” What you’ll find is that in that research, it actually says that… I think it’s only 8% of that content is actually shared, and it is only shared by their friends.

You’re actually going out through that friend’s network, which is nice. But if your friend is in a different industry on that, it’s kind of wasted. So that actual report that came out actually shows that you get little amplification, or there is little amplification at the moment going on through employee advocacy.

What’s a changemaker in a social selling context?

So, one of the key things that we talk about in the book is the changemaker, and we actually have a hashtag, which is #changemaker, to allow people to have a conversation around the book. There’s a fundamental change in society. I’m 51, and when I was at school, there was a real hierarchy between teachers and children. The teachers would be on the desk right at the front, probably even on a stage. You’d have to queue up with your homework, and they would mark it, and you were standing there completely terrified.

The way that society has changed is it’s now got a lot flatter. The way that you work with teachers now is they’re more of a friend or part of a team. If you think about people who were; Google reckons change-makers generally are between the ages of about 28 and 35. They’re that age because they have the business acumen, but they also understand social or grew up in an age where there was texting and things.

So those type of people, if they didn’t understand the physics question in their homework, they could have texted their teacher and said, “Can you give me some help on that?” So what you have is this part of society that is used to going out into their social networks and actually getting information. So it’s not necessarily saying, “I want to buy a car, so I’m going on Twitter,” but it’s also going out and saying, “I need a new telephone system. I’m looking for a new HR system. I’m looking for a new high five. I’m going for a holiday in Thailand. I’m going into Camden for a meal. Can you recommend anything?”

There are lots of sites that do recommendations like TripAdvisor and that. But there are also people going out and they’re asking, and they’re using their networks to ask for those things. The key thing is the reason why you need to build your own influence in your community, is that you need to have those people in your community when they decide to go out and buy. Because they will either come to you, or within your community, you need to have people that will basically say, “Have you thought about talking to Tim Hughes? He seems to know about social selling.”

So, pumping out content, and measuring share of voice is interesting, and so is employee advocacy. But if you’ve not actually built and grown those networks and built those communities when people are coming out, you’re missing out. That’s the fundamental piece of the book, which is that the salespeople, marketers and brands now need to be building that community. Whether you’re Pepsi or Coke, or you’re Paddy Power, or you’re Tim Hughes, the sales guy working for a company, you need to have built out those communities and you need to have that influence. What you’ll do is that when those people come out, they will come to you.

Which networks work best for social selling?

The two that I always recommend to people, especially if they’re working in the B2B environment, are LinkedIn and Twitter. Brian Solis said that everybody is on LinkedIn, but the interesting people are on Twitter. If I’m talking to salespeople or marketers, you need to be on Twitter, not just about because you’re putting out information. Change makers will generally be on Twitter. They will definitely be on LinkedIn. But you can find individuals, they’re not C-level, but they will be on Twitter. You can find them in organisations and they’re kind of your link in to the way that you can sell into those organisations.

For social selling on LinkedIn, would you say Sales Navigator is a must-have?

If you’re in sales, you basically got to take the professional addition. It’s £300 or so, a year? But if you’re in sales, you kind of need that. It’s great for, if you’ve got some accounts, actually finding those people and finding things about those accounts. I know that you can go to websites like Fiverr, and you get some people to actually… you could go, “give me a list of…” as a salesperson, you could say, “Here’s my target list of 20 accounts. I’ll pay you £5,” and you can go and research all the people in those accounts with these job titles.

You probably would get somebody on Fiverr to do that. But I actually like spending the time going in and actually doing the research, because it’s not just about finding the people. I didn’t know that a good friend of mine knows this person in the organisation. So rather than having to phone them up, what I’ll do is I’ll go to Peter, and I’ll ask Peter to basically introduce me. Or if you’re dealing with big organisations, there can be all kinds of people that you’ll find where it says on the right hand side, people have looked at this, have looked at that, or they give you suggestions.

So it’s really worth the time and the investment, because you’ll find and you’ll get access to all kinds of different levels and find different people. When you’re selling to big organisations, it really is about triangulation of information, which is where you ask three people the same question. Because some people will give you different answers, and they may give you a different answer because there’s politics there, or something like that. What you do is, you can then start finding out far more about the way that the organisation is. If you’re selling at high level, it’s just as much about understanding the people and the politics within that organisation.

Any thoughts on visual networks like Instagram or Snapchat?

Because I’m in social, I have to pretty much use every platform. Because I get asked opinions about it. I actually like the movement away from text to pictures and video. I think Instagram is all about photos. I love walking around. I walk around London, and I go, “Well, I’m going to take a photo with that and then put it on Instagram.”

The same with Snapchat. It’s a great, fun way of taking very small segment videos and putting those out. The thing about Snapchat that I haven’t really realised until I met up with Brian Fanzo a couple of weeks ago in Manchester. He was saying that the great thing about it is that you can have a one-to-one chat with a brand. Whereas on Twitter, generally if you’re dealing with the brand, it goes out to everybody.

So from a brand perspective, if you’ve got a customer and they’re actually working with you on Snapchat. I did a radio interview the other week, and we were talking about how small businesses can use Snapchat, even accountancy companies. It’s just about how you tell the story and you work out the content. But what you’re able to do is, you’re able to have that… if someone likes what you’re doing, they’re able to go back to you and it’s one-to-one.

What’s an app or tool you can’t live without?

I use Crowdfire. Some social media purists won’t like me saying this, but I’m a sales guy and what I’m looking to do is sell stuff. In the book, we talk a lot about community. We’re trying to sell stuff here, and community isn’t this sort of like hippie “let’s get together and sit around cross-legged around a campfire.” This is about using community as a way of helping sell stuff. What we’re looking to do is that why not find your competitors and find out who’s following them? Because if they’ve got an interest in your competitor, why haven’t they got an interest in you?

I know, for example, people that track the marketing automation products, and anybody that basically follows a competitive marketing automation product, that’s basically deemed as a lead. So there’s various social media listening options that you can use to actually help you do that. I know that probably sounds or may sound a little harsh as I say to the social media purists, but from a sales perspective, it’s a great opportunity for you to see what’s going on, what your competitors are doing, and using that as a way to do deals.

Follow Tim on Twitter @Timothy_Hughes.


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