How Social Fits the Sales Funnel

Business partner, Kent Gregoire shared a blog post with me that was written by Greg Alexander over at Sales Benchmark Index. By now, many companies understand the concept of creating content that is compelling to move opportunities from awareness, interest and desire into action that turns into a tangible result. The blog post focused on helping a client to evaluate over 100 pieces of content to try to determine what content was moving people through the sales funnel. Interestingly enough, the content that was having the greatest ROI was in the middle of the sales funnel. At the same time, the company had very little content actually attributed to that portion of the funnel.

After the marketing folks climbed down off the proverbial ledge wondering how in the world they could rally the resources needed to crank out the content they most needed but lacked, a deeper look was taken to better understand if it was the content or the way in which the content was communicated that made the difference. Hint: it wasn’t the content!

This story got me thinking about how important it is to determine if you are taking the right sales approach, based on the changes we now see in buyer behavior.

Social media fits the sales funnel and has the greatest potential, I believe, on the “front end” of the cycle during the prospecting, opportunity qualification, pre-sales call research and get that meeting scheduled phase. Done correctly, you get in front of the right buyers faster and significantly shrink the sales cycle.

To be successful requires an innate understanding that slamming out a few LinkedIn status updates, Tweets or Facebook posts is NOT what it takes to move a sale from awareness to interest and meeting to close. With respect to succeeding with a social selling approach, here’s where a little strategic thinking comes into play.

The start of the social selling process all begins when your potential buyers are in the “I know that I have a business problem, who can help me solve it mindset”. This is the point in which they surf the web, search out options on LinkedIn and ask their colleagues what to buy and from whom. These buyers are not initially engaging sales people, but they will down the road if they like what they find.

This is why compelling presence and content is critical for today’s sales professional. If your buyer lands on your LinkedIn page and it’s devoid of anything relevant or compelling, game over. They are moving on and you probably don’t even know it.

Here is a 7-step process that I use myself, and I recommend that you and your salespeople follow suit.

Step 1: Create great content – or leverage what marketing has already done for you – and showcase it. If you are in B2B sales, your LinkedIn profile is ideal. Jazz it up with a SlideShare presentation, add a video, share white papers, press releases and case studies using box.net or host a book list. Check out the amazing array of apps available to you within LinkedIn with the FREE service. These applications do not require an upgraded account.

Step 2: Create a list of people you are targeting using “advanced search”. Next, save your search results and then week to week let LinkedIn do the heavy lifting for you. A saved search means that on a weekly basis you will receive an email listing the names of the new folks entering your network who match your search criteria. This is real-time information that gives you the ability to contemplate a strategy for engaging with them.

Step 3: Do some homework to determine what matters most to the people on your targeted list. What drivers are happening in their business?  What are the key initiatives that have been put in place to address the drivers?  Do you have a solution that could be integrated into the business environment?

Step 4: Based on your homework, evaluate the real potential for getting in front of a sales opportunity. Do some digging…does it look like they have budget? What do they have to gain or lose from taking action or not? Decide if moving ahead now will yield the greatest results. Ask yourself if the consequences your prospect faces are dire enough to warrant them taking action? If not, you are likely wasting time.

Step 5: Figure out what groups or forums your prospect likes to participate in. Join those groups and observe and contribute. A client just told me a great story that relates to this point. They are trying to reach a prospect with XYZ title in the companies that they target. A member of the marketing team recently attended an event that included a panel made up of their targeted buyers. During the session, the panelists were asked what the best way to connect with them was and they said, “Don’t cold call us and don’t bother us with email. If you want to connect with us and demonstrate your credibility, join our LinkedIn groups and connect with us on Twitter.” Need I say more? Today, smart salespeople will adapt to the ways in which their prospects want to connect.

Step 6: Assuming all goes well in Steps 4 and 5, determine who you know inside the company that can “sponsor” an introduction or find out who has the strongest external connections that can “refer” you to your targeted prospect. Did you know that when a credible sponsor inside an organization introduces you, 84% of the time that business decision maker will take the meeting? It’s 44% for referrals. As you might imagine, things like cold calling drop into the single digits in terms of securing the right meeting. These 2 suggested approaches significantly reduce sales cycle time, so it’s a smart move to begin there.

Step 7: Let’s assume that you’ve secured a meeting. Put a plan together for what you specifically want to accomplish. This is not the time to deliver a boring; one dimensional sales pitch that is all about you. And while you are at it, skip the lame questions that you should already know the answers to. If you hope to have a shot at moving a deal forward, your agenda must focus on what matters most to your buyer. Buyers want to know that you understand their business and you need to show them that you’ve taken the time to learn as much as you can (refer back to steps 3 & 4).

Social media has implications on the back-end also, but that’s more in line with customer retention and loyalty, which is typically something that marketing owns.

For salespeople, focus your attention on the front-end of the funnel and integrate social media as a strategic approach that blends strong off-line techniques too. Today’s buyer demands a different sales approach.

How much longer will you wait to adapt?

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