The latest buzz in the marketing world is social selling. Social selling is the process of using social media channels to position yourself as an expert in your field. You engage followers by providing valuable insight and answers to questions while building relationships and eventually closing sales.
Creating an effective social media presence takes time and money (labor). How do you show a return on investment to leaders in your firms? Can you really monetize social media? Yes, you can drive sales with social selling for the following reasons.
The new buying funnel
The internet, social media and online review sites have drastically changed how customers make buying decisions. Every purchase, big or small, starts in the awareness stage. You first become aware of an unmet need through self-discovery, word of mouth or marketing.
Once you identify a need for a product or service, you will research possible solutions. In the past consumers would reach out to different businesses and talk to the sales people to learn more about solutions offered. The businesses owned all the knowledge.
Now with the internet, you have all this information available with a click of a button through online resources, social media and blogs. In the research stage consumers will eliminate about 70% of companies and only reach out to the remaining 30% when they move to the decision phase. (Forbes.com, April 10, 2015, “The Role of Influence in the New Buyer’s Journey” by Daniel Newman)
Share the knowledge
Companies that answer all the customer questions and provide valuable insight will most likely receive proposal requests. Information hoarders will not get an invitation to the dance. Information can be found anywhere on the internet, and if you do not offer it up, your competitors will.
Social media plays an important role in this new buying process. Consumers are spending more and more time on social channels over traditional media. This allows you to engage directly with your potential clients and position yourselves as influencers in the marketplace.
In professional services marketing, the challenge is selling intangibles (e.g. client experience). By sharing your knowledge, you allow potential clients to “test the intangibles” by validating your expertise and getting a sense of what it will be like to work with you.
It’s a “social” network
Social networking has many similarities to business networking. If you attend a networking event and start screaming out promotions of your products or services, most people will not want to engage with you. If you work the room and show interest in the other attendees and then offer valuable insight personalized to the individual that you are talking to, the success rate will be much higher.
You have to apply this same philosophy to your social media strategy. You have to have a healthy balance of education, entertainment and promotion. Always include why you are sharing particular content. Participate in online discussion groups, share your ideas and opinions on a blog and share content of other sites that you believe your followers should read.
You are a brand
Just like McDonalds, Nike and Apple, you are a brand. People do business with you because they like you, they like how you do business and they like your products or services. Your level of expertise, your customer service and personal interests represent who you are as a person and how the world sees you.
The consumer ultimately owns your brand. Influencing brand perception is about the experience you create, but ultimately the consumer makes a judgment about your brand. Social media allows you to brand yourself, share your level of expertise and demonstrate how you do business.
If you continuously share valuable content towards your buyer and you participate respectfully in online discussions, people are going to associate you with certain needs. You will create the top-of-mind awareness when they get into the market for your products or services.
Managing the execution
Just like in traditional media, every social media network serves a particular audience and each has its own preferred type of content. Where Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest focus more on entertainment, Twitter and LinkedIn focus more on providing and sharing educational content. That is why Twitter and LinkedIn are the ideal platform for social selling in a business-to-business marketplace.
With LinkedIn, you can create a good impact if you post once or twice a day. Twitter requires more activity to be noticed (10 times or more a day due to the massive amount and speed content is shared). This all can be very time consuming, and time is your most valuable asset. Several scheduling tools allow you to plan your posts. Automation tools allow you to stay in front of your clientele with valuable content and maintain top of mind awareness.
Monetizing social media happens the same way you monetize good old-fashioned networking. By creating awareness about your company, you have an opportunity to build personal relationships. These relationships with potential buyers are the foundation for driving future sales.
This article was written in collaboration with Greg Kanz with Shive Hattery. Greg is the marketing director at Shive-Hattery in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Responsible for the strategic marketing program at the 400-person architectural and engineering firm, Greg manages the corporate marketing team and provides high-level sales support, training, and strategic and tactical support to Shive-Hattery’s nine offices in the Midwest.