By Laurence Minsky & Keith A. Quesenberry
Outbound business-to-business (B2B) sales are becoming less effective. A recent survey found that connecting with a prospect now takes 18 or more phone calls; callback rates are below 1 percent; and only 24 percent of outbound sales e-mails are ever opened. Meanwhile, 84 percent of B2B buyers now start the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations are influencing more than 90 percent of all B2B buying decisions.
The answer to the shift away from reliance on outbound sales could reside in social selling, the strategy of adding social-media to the sales professional’s toolbox. With social selling, salespeople use social-media platforms to find and develop potential customers by sharing educational content and answering questions. As a result, they can build relationships until prospects are ready to buy.
This is different from social-media marketing, which aims to increase overall brand awareness or promote a specific product or service by producing content that users will share with their network. Social selling concentrates on producing focused content and providing one-to-one communication between the salesperson and the buyer. Both strategies create valuable content from the consumer’s perspective and use similar social networks and social software tools. But with social selling, the goal is for the salesperson to form a relationship with each prospect, providing suggestions and answering questions, rather than help the prospect build an affinity for the organization’s brand.
Salespeople should begin carving out a small percentage of their time each day for social media. Regular interaction with a prospect may not lead to a direct sale this week or quarter, but it could result in a significant win within the year.
Laurence Minsky is an associate professor in the department of communication and media innovation at Columbia College Chicago. Keith A. Quesenberry is an assistant professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.