Social Selling: An Evolution, Not A Revolution

Social selling gets a lot of attention these days. If one were to do a Google search right now on “social selling,” that engine will return roughly 687,000 results, many of them containing best practices for selling to buyers who are heavily engaged on social media.

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Leading Sales Millennials

A new generation of revenue creators, Sales Millennials, is on the job today, rising through the ranks, and with them comes a marvelous opportunity for those who coach and lead them.

Based on my birth year, 1970, I am a member of Generation X. I actually consider myself a generation-straddler, though, as all of my siblings were born between 1955 and 1963, at the tail end of the Baby Boom. [Read more…]

12 Questions on the Social Buyer’s Mind

What is going through the Social Buyer’s mind?

Have you grown weary of all the talk about social selling? I understand. So let’s forget about social selling for a little while. Instead, let’s talk about social buying.

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Back in the late ’80s, Neil Rackham wrote about a model for buying behavior known as the “Buyer Cycle” based on the research that he and his team conducted into how buyers make decisions. That simple model served as a sort of de facto standard model for the B2B buying process for over two decades.

But over the past 25 years, a lot has changed in the way buyers buy. The most recent driver of change has been the advent of social media. By way of their social media connections, buyers have real-time, all-the-time access to information regarding challenges and opportunities facing their industry, potential solutions to their problems, and all the news that’s fit to print about potential suppliers. The pace, flow, and focus of buyers’ decision-making has shifted as a result.

Who is the social buyer?

For the purpose of clarity, social buyer in this context refers to anyone (whether a middle manager, C-level executive, business owner or otherwise) who uses social media to inform their purchasing decisions.

Before the birth of social platforms, buyers identified issues or opportunities affecting their businesses in a deliberate way. They went through a protracted phase in which they discovered challenges and steadily moved from their once satisfied state to a state of dissatisfaction.

In contrast, today’s social buyers are always conscious of issues affecting their businesses, and they are empowered by information available via social platforms to identify and classify them quickly. In short, the pace at which a buyer moves from satisfied with the current state to dissatisfied has accelerated because of social platforms. The social buyer is in a state of nearly constant evaluation and change.

The social buying process is complex, but sellers must understand it if they want to have a prayer of being successful. Rather than dive into a blow-by-blow narrative of what each phase of the social buying process looks like, it might be more productive to think about the questions to which a social buyer seeks answers as they progress through their decision-making processes. In so doing, we may discover opportunities to create value and insight for them.

What is the social buyer thinking about?

Here are some common questions that social buyers turn to their social networks to find answers to.

1) How do we compare to others in our industry?

2) Is there evidence on the social platforms I use that others in our industry are dealing with the same issues that we are? Which opportunities are they pursuing?

3) Do we need to take any action now?

4) Have others I’m connected with found a way to cope with the issues we’re experiencing? 

5) When did those people reach the point where inaction was no longer an option?

6) What can I do on my own to capitalize on this opportunity? 

7) Can I find like-minded businesspeople on LinkedIn or another social network who’ve dealt with this sort of situation before?

8) If I cannot do this on my own, who out there has relevant experience? 

9) Can anyone recommend potential suppliers?

10) Can I find proof that those suppliers can deliver the sort of result I need?

11) Once I’ve identified a solution/provider, how will I know if I can trust them?

12) Who has experience working with a specific provider? Does anyone have any success stories? Horror stories?

The point of thinking about these questions is to discern whether and where there is opportunity to create value or insight for a social buyer. If we can put ourselves in their shoes, how might we approach them differently over social media? How might we react to buyers’ questions or comments in LinkedIn groups or on Twitter? Can we be different from all the other “social sellers” who are quick to jump in with answers about their products or services without first considering where the buyer may be in their decision-making process?

I won’t supply the answers to these questions here. After all, I told you we were going to forget about social selling for a little while. I will, however, look forward to your feedback on this view into the mind of the social buyer. Let me know what you think in the comments.

This article by contributor Matt McDarby was first published on the HubSpot blog.

Revenue Growth Hacks for 2015

Revenue growth is a nearly universal objective for small and middle-market businesses, and there are a number of different paths that companies can pursue to achieve revenue growth.  There are also at least as many traps and obstacles along the way.

I’m frequently asked to give my point of view on the best path to revenue growth by the leadership teams of small and middle market companies.  Before I prescribe, of course, I diagnose.  I typically ask questions to clarify and confirm some things about the current state and also about their future, desired state.  Important questions that I will tend to ask first are…

“Can you define success for this coming year?  How much revenue growth do you want to achieve and why?”

In the course of these discussions about future revenue growth, some common issues and opportunities arise.  One of the more common issues that we have to confront is the fact that small and middle market companies have limited resources with which to pursue growth.  We are forced to focus only on those ideas that offer the most benefit while mitigating the risks associated with stretching for growth.  Some of these ideas are more ingenious and creative than others.  We’ll call those ingenious ideas “hacks,” and they are crucial weapons in the fight for revenue growth that might just be relevant for you.

Did somebody say 'hack'?
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you consider your company’s plan for revenue growth in 2015, consider applying some of the revenue growth hacks that we’ve identified and applied elsewhere for very positive gains.

Attack the Discount Monster! — It may be an obvious point, but discounting to win in B2B sales has a direct impact on revenue.  Some companies aren’t even aware of the extent to which their sales team discounts to win new business.  I’ve personally witnessed relatively successful businesses operate without a handle on how much discounting goes on, to whom those discounts are being offered, and why.  They literally give away large chunks of their revenue based on an assumption that the only way they can win is by knocking down the price of their offerings.  In reality, instead of discounting, they should be focused on creating more value for customers throughout the buying process.  How much more might your company be able to drive to the top and bottom lines simply by attacking the discount monster that lurks within the sales organization?  Let’s consider a simple process for attacking this issue and increasing revenue simply by holding onto more of it:

  1. Focus on the early-stage opportunities in your sales pipeline.  It is in the earliest stages of a sales opportunity’s development in which your sellers can raise the importance and relative value of your solutions in the eyes of the buyer.  Plan to help customers understand the scale, cost, and impact of the problems you can solve for them BEFORE you propose solutions, and you will likely reduce or possibly eliminate the need for a discount to win.
  2. Propose your offer to the buyer, and hold firm to your price.  If you can’t hold firm, then look back at your process and why your customer doesn’t fully see the value of what you have to offer.  If necessary, go back and revisit problems and their impact and the potential value of the solution before repositioning your offer.
  3. Commit to avoid discounting as a means to overcome value gaps in the customer’s mind.  Focus on the “benefits” side of the equation instead of the “cost” side.

Focus Where You have the Best Opportunity to Differentiate (and try to avoid those opportunities where you do not.) — Dismiss opportunities where you cannot win, even if they look like big revenue opportunities.  They are a waste of time and they cost you money!  Don’t over-invest in selling opportunities where your only point of differentiation is price.  Following is an illustration of what I mean:

  • A middle-market firm, NewCo, has a huge sales opportunity worth roughly $1 Million over the next couple of years.  NewCo and several of its competitors are invited to participate in a competitive bid and bake-off.  All of the competitive solutions are very similar and the customer’s procurement process is designed specifically to narrow down all of the differences between competitors until there is only one difference left, price.
  • NewCo has another sales opportunity to pursue at the same time.  The NewCo sales rep has been in dialogue with key players involved in the decision making process for the last few months.  It is likely that competitors will be invited to offer a proposal, but the NewCo sales team clearly has the inside track.  The deal is worth roughly $500K, and NewCo has an excellent chance of winning without offering significant concessions and discounts.

Assuming NewCo has limited resources with which to pursue these opportunities, they have to choose which one will get priority attention and a full complement of resources.  To which opportunity should resources be applied?  If you’re thinking it’s the second one, then you just might be a revenue hacker.

Prioritize opportunities where your company can deliver a product / service / solution successfully and easily. — Sell what you’re good at delivering.  If your sales team is more inclined to offer highly customized solutions instead of your core offerings, then your company’s ability to deliver its products and services is likely taxed.  Answer the question, “What are we really good at delivering?”  Once you know the answer, direct / encourage / coach your sales team to fill the pipeline with opportunities that look like that.  The less that your delivery organization has to strain to deliver customized solutions, the less they will need to drag sales and revenue producers back into the fray.  Revenue generators unencumbered by delivery or operational responsibilities are better enabled to deliver revenue growth.

Those are my top three revenue growth hacks for the coming year.  What sorts of ingenious things will you do to drive revenue growth?  Please offer your idea in response to this post.  The best hack will earn a special shout out from yours truly in a follow up post to come in early 2015.  Thank you again for your time.