Years ago, I worked in sales in the automotive industry, and only we knew the true cost of the cars we were selling and the amount of room we had to negotiate. We were in a position of power. This was before the internet, when the seller was the most informed party in any given transaction.
We held nearly all the cards and nearly all the information. Buyers had to take sellers at their word and work a lot harder to get second opinions and recommendations from friends and family. There were no online reviews. Whitepapers, eBooks, webinars and analyst reports didn’t exist yet.
Well, now the power has shifted to the buyer. They are taking longer to make purchase decisions, collecting larger amounts of information to help those decisions, and engaging salespeople much later in the purchase cycle, if at all.
Buyers are reading reviews, product comparisons, case studies, whitepapers and eBooks, as well as listening to webinars and the opinions of trusted influencers such as friends, family, colleagues or industry experts.
Buyers enter into a purchase discussion likely knowing the cost paid for the goods, how the prices compare to competitors’, and what other buyers have paid recently for the same goods or services.
Increasingly, more people are becoming involved in purchase decisions, especially in B2B situations where more stakeholders need to be involved because of the potential broader impact of certain purchase decisions and/or blended budgets.
The Omni-Channel Sales Path
Jill Rowley, a social selling evangelist for Oracle, talks about single-threaded versus multi-threaded conversations. The more points of engagement from a selling organization into the client organization the greater the likelihood of a deal being made.
While this new informed buyer may be taking longer to make a purchase decision, the path they take to get there is more apparent and traceable. Sellers, with the right approach, can remain on the buyer’s radar throughout their journey.
Sellers can identify sales prospects early through social media monitoring and/or data-mining on sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Once identified, prospects can be influenced through the content made available to them as part of their decision-making process.
This is not about hitting them hard with a sales pitch but offering them content of value to educate them and differentiate the seller as a source of valuable information.
Whitepapers, eBooks, analyst reports, reviews, testimonials and explainer videos can all serve to inform the buyer. While this may appear to be perpetuating the power of the informed buyer, it is actually helping to raise the perception of the seller from a company with a hard-sell agenda to one of providing value to clients.
Layers of Context Through Content
The pendulum of informational power may have swung towards the buyer because of all the information they have accumulated and have access to, but there is still an opportunity for sellers to strike a balance.
Content marketing and active engagement of buyers has placed sellers in a positive light, but they could go further. While they inform buyers, they should be informing themselves about those same buyers. Customer relationship management was built on that premise of capturing more and more information about the buyer.
Now sellers have an opportunity to add additional layers of information onto buyer profiles — information gathered from the social media profiles and activities of those same buyers.
Layers of Context Through the Social Graph
For example, we are working with a co-location company that targets CIOs and VPs of IT as decision makers. Most B2B salespeople have typically relied on their existing Rolodex and augmented that with LinkedIn.
We took the approach of mining LinkedIn for CIOs and VPs of IT. We look for groups and associations and used other filtering criteria. We established a short list of prospects and then dove more deeply into their profiles to see which ones were on Twitter.
After finding the subset of those that were on Twitter, we then determined who was more active on Twitter and were surprised to find one particular CIO who shared that he attended a particular industry conference, the after parties that he went to, the bands that performed at the parties, which bands he liked and which ones he didn’t, and, finally, his pictures on Instagram.
Now, as a salesperson tasked with profiling your prospects, wouldn’t you like to know the likes, dislikes and interests of your prospects so you can do a better job of building rapport and trust? Sure you would, and some of your prospects are perfectly willing to help you through the things that they post and share.
I recently had a sales call with a prospect and in advance I checked out their LinkedIn profile for mutual contacts, where they went to school, past roles, and some of the other typical profiling one does on LinkedIn. Then I went to Twitter to check out their activity.
They had attended an industry conference the previous week and shared quite a bit about their experiences there. They shared insights, who they met (with the added bonus of pictures), and who they wanted to meet. I learned that they met the CEO of a business partner and an executive from a potential business partner of ArCompany.
I also learned what insights they took away from the conference, which could inform how our conversation would progress.
Everything I learned in preparation for that call was based on free, readily available, public information that anyone can find if they are willing to look for it. And the information was not difficult to gather, either; it only took a few minutes to get a sense of what happened at the conference and what resonated with them in terms of content, insights and solutions presented there.
So, How New is Your Selling Approach?
Every salesperson and marketer has access to the information that buyers are sharing publicly in social channels, but so few people are picking up on this idea of rebalancing the power of information by learning as much about their buyer as they can while the buyer learns as much as they can about the company, product and/or service the seller is promoting.
By adopting a social selling mindset, marketers and salespeople can identify buyers early, remain relevant to them by sharing valuable information over the course of their journey, and differentiate themselves from the competition based on how much they know about buyers.
Think about the next sales call you make. How much better do you think it could go if you knew where your prospect went to school, mutual connections you may have, past roles they’ve held, what they share on LinkedIn and Twitter, and which companies and individuals they follow on LinkedIn and Twitter?
Now if your competition didn’t bother to learn that kind of information, how differently will the buyer see you?
The information is readily available. All that is needed is a change in mindset and a willingness to adopt new social selling habits. Buyers hold most of the power of information.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get some of that back?
image: Mark Heybo
A recognized senior social strategist, speaker, and blogger. He has held senior strategy roles with wireless, e-business, financial, and social CRM service providers, helping clients remain competitive by embracing social media and digital technologies.