My blog

Leadership’s role in Social selling

The latest buzz in the marketing world is social selling—the process of using social media channels to position yourself as an expert. You engage followers by providing valuable insight and answers to questions while building relationships, eventually closing sales.

This strategy requires sharing what you know. How much expertise are you willing to give away? Does your firm’s leadership team support this approach? Can potential clients validate your expertise by visiting your website, blog, or social channels?

Why Is Sharing Important?
Google makes “owning expertise” obsolete. Your best strategy is to start sharing. The Internet offers instant information through online resources, social media, and blogs. As clients research solutions, you want to be their source of information. In a recent Forbes article, “The Role of Influence in the New Buyer’s Journey,” Daniel Newman says 70 to 90 percent of the buyer’s journey is completed prior to engaging a company. He notes research by Forrester saying a “consumer engages with 11.4 pieces of content prior to making a purchase.” Firms that answer questions and provide valuable insight will make the cut.

By sharing your knowledge, you allow potential clients to validate your expertise and sense what it will be like to work with you. Twitter and LinkedIn are ideal for sharing educational content; they are the right platforms for social selling in a business-to-business marketplace. Your firm’s leaders need to be active in these spaces. People want to connect with your CEO, principals, and subject matter experts.

Social networking is similar to business networking. If you attend a networking event and begin bombarding attendees with promotions of your products or services, most people will do their best to avoid you. If you work the room and show interest in the other attendees and offer valuable, personalized insight, your success rate will be much higher.

Apply this networking philosophy to your social media strategy. You need 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.

Why Engage Leadership?
All of your employees contribute to the overall marketing effort, but the CEO and principals of your organization must model the way. They are the face of the company, the connection point to customers and the community.

When your leadership is engaged, people perceive your organization as more accessible. Trust grows with potential clients as you share expertise. Yes, competitors will learn too, but you will be the market leader.

With leadership engaged, employees will emulate the behavior. Provide social media guidelines and education to encourage compliance with your company’s personnel policies, respect for confidentiality and exercise of good judgment. Set an example and teach best practices to create a critical mass of social selling.

Social selling is similar to good old-fashioned networking at conferences and community events. By creating awareness about your company, you have an opportunity to build personal relationships. These relationships with potential buyers are the foundation for driving increased sales and future success.

###

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.

Image: Shive Hattery Iowa City office - AJ Brown Photography

Monetizing Social Media

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.

What is social selling and how do I make money with it?

Social media and how it applies to sales is a very popular topic right now. Every sales professional wants to know how they can become more efficient with their prospecting and would love to have that magic potion that makes it all happen. However, it’s not that simple…

What is social selling?

According to Hubspot, social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects. Salespeople will provide value by answering prospect questions and offering thoughtful content until the prospect is ready to buy. More and more buyers now go online first to research before they make a buying decision. With social selling it is the goal to become that trusted adviser. By continuously sharing valuable insight and positioning yourself as the go-to-guy for all their needs you will create stronger relationships and get more leads.

Educate, don’t sell

The goal is to educate and not sell. Buyers are tired of being sold to, but will pay attention to you when you have valuable insight

Instead of being a hunter or a farmer, be a Magnet – Jill Rowley.

Use the social media channels and your personal website to share your success stories, help whenever and wherever you can. When someone is in transition to find a new job, always help them, this will pay off almost any time.

Become a thought leader

Like I mentioned in the “Respect is given, not taken” blog posts, you cannot just claim that you are the expert if you have never proven to be one. Therefore you have to be very humble. Become obsessive about knowledge. Read books, magazines, blogs and watch educational videos. No one person can claim they know everything, but a group of very educated and well connected individuals can get pretty close. Find the mentors in your industry and learn from their expertise. Now with social media their ideas are openly shared for any reason to follow and it has become very easy to connect and engage with them. The best compliment is when one of the top Influencers acknowledge you and actually starts liking or sharing your content.

You are a brand

Just like any product you as a person is a brand. People do business with you because they like and trust you. You as a person has chosen to represent a company because it fits your values. Work on your brand every day, and promote your brand so that whenever someone sees anything related to your services, they immediately think of your name. Do not hold on to your information in fear that someone will steal your ideas. If you have something valuable that will benefit your customers, share it. Your buyers are going to find their answers online, and if you provide them with the information they need, they will most likely call you when they are ready to make a purchase.

Content sells

Content marketing was the buzz word in 2014. Everyone was telling you that content marketing gets you traffic to your website and that would then convert to new customers and sales. Although I do believe that content marketing is important for any marketing strategy, it has to be a strategy and not just some paragraphs telling how great you are and all the amazing things you can do for your customers.

As I mentioned in my previous post Business networking is like dating, if you talk only about you and just rewrite about popular subjects that all your competitors are writing about, you will lose big time.

Your buyers don’t care about how you operate, or how fancy your department looks, it cares only in how you can make them money.

If you restructured your departments, don’t talk how that makes you better. Tell them how this is going to make your customers more money. Many times businesses get so caught up into how the world sees them, and they believe they have to brand themselves as something special. Your customers care about that to a certain extend, but when it comes down to making business decisions the numbers need to make sense.

Content marketing works if you answer a questions that your buyer is asking.

There is a success story about a business owner that sold pool installations. This company generated about 4.5 million dollars in sales but also spend around $250,000 in advertising. When the market crashed in 2008 he had to cut back his marketing to about $40,000 a year. Instead of investing all his money in traditional media he began investing in online marketing and started writing blog articles answering questions all his customers constantly asked him. He became the most visited pool installation website in the world. The reason why he was successful is because he understood the buying process of the new consumer.

Businesses need to change the way they market themselves, because the consumer has changed. If we look at the standard buying funnel of every consumer it always starts with awareness. This is achieved by Word of Mouth, traditional advertising, and online advertising. Once the buyer moves into the Interest stage, also known as the Research stage they go online to educate themselves. In this process they want to remove any risk in the buying decision and will eliminate around 70% of the service or product providers. This research stage consists of reading blogs, watching videos, reviewing testimonials, and asking friends on social media. Once they get a good understanding of which product best fits their need, the will move into the Evaluation or Decision making phase. This is traditionally where most companies started marketing to their buyers, because in the past the company had all the information and they had to talk to their sales person to get that information, those times have changed. If you market your buyers only in the awareness and decision phase, you will most likely lose.

The way consumers buy hasn’t changed that much, but how they get their information in making their buying decisions has. So if you continue to run your traditional advertising campaign that worked 3 years ago, you will not get that new sale. Consumers still want all the information that you have, but the way they consume the information has drastically changed. As a company your conversation must happen far before the commitment or decision making phase. Position yourself as an educator or thought leader and the buyer will trust you and most likely follow you to the decision phase.

So should you be doing content marketing? – Absolutely! However, if your initial goal with writing a blog is to generate immediate sales you do not understand how consumers buy and you have to reread this article again. Do not talk about yourself and how amazing you are, talk about how you can help and how you can make the business owner money.

The Value of your Network

People do business with people they like and trust. It is extremely important that you built strong business relationships because it can generate business referrals and positive word of mouth about your personal brand and your company. However the value of networking is many times undervalued by organizations and business professionals. As Porter Gale and many other business and marketing specialist say:

Your network is your Net Worth.

By investing time and money into yourself and building strong business relationships you will be able to set yourself apart from the competition.

As with everything in business, it all starts with having 100% buy-in into what you do. First of all you have to believe in yourself and your capabilities and then also your company and their products and services. You cannot build any relationship if you are not willing to go out and engage with new people and you cannot sell yourself or your company if you do not believe in it. So first sell yourself, before you sell to others.

Many times when i go to networking events, i can immediately identify the ones that are valuable connections to have. Everyone wants their business to succeed and to make money, but the more you get connected the more valuable your time becomes. I would love to spend every hour of every day meeting with all my connections, but there are not enough hours in a day to do that. You have to pick which connections are the most valuable ones and will deliver you the most business.

I have about 10 people in my group of connections that I meet with on a regular basis, because I know that they are always looking for new ways to get me business. They are extremely well connected business professionals and I can always rely on them helping me out when i need an introduction. The same counts the other way around. Whenever I see a business opportunity, I will immediately reach out to them. This is what business networking is all about, having these powerful business relationships has made me more valuable.

There are tools out there that will help you manager your business relationships. LinkedIn is a great tool to stay connected. By posting regular updates and writing articles, you will remain top of mind and will get more calls when business opportunities arise. Another tool that you can use with LinkedIn is to see how you are connected with new prospects. LinkedIn can tell you if you have second tier connections that can provide introductions. In addition, you also want to always be working on your personal brand. Use social media every day, create a personal website, and create email newsletters to stay connected.

Social Selling needs to happen online AND offline

Social selling is the new buzz word in the business world. According to Hubspot, Social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects. Salespeople will provide value by answering prospect questions and offering thoughtful content until the prospect is ready to buy.

With social media channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter, sales professi
onals are now able to reach the buyers in the research phase of the buying process and are able to position themselves as an industry expert and a thought leader. Companies get bombarded by product pitches every day. Buy my TV spots, buy my direct mail solution, buy my SEO/social solution. Its all bla, bla, bla for buyers, if it doesn’t offer any value. You want to lead with insight in how your solutions/strategy is going to position their business as market leader because you have valuable insight that proves that the strategy that you have created for them will guarantee a win.

Social media allows us to easily share any article, video, or document to a large group of people. Once you make the switch from pushing products to being an educator and strategic partner you will start to win sales. Business owners don’t want products, they want money. The product is not going to make them money, but the well thought out strategy will. So with social media we can now share our knowledge and reach the decision makers with valuable content to win trust and get sales.

All of this is great and definitely has made the job of a sales professional easier and more enjoyable to get to a decision maker and eventually close a sale. However, if you focus only on online social selling you will fail. People buy from people they like and trust. You cannot build a relationship of trust from just behind your computer. You have to have a strategy to build strong relationships by going to local networking events, doing speaking engagements, and having coffee/lunch meetings with you business contacts and group of business connections you continue to educate and build trust. Jill Rowley says it best. Sales organizations don’t need hunters or farmers, they need magnets.

Always be connecting leads to always be closing. You need to help whenever you can by providing leads and sharing your knowledge so that you become that person they think of when an opportunity arises. When you go to local networking events and collect business cards, immediately connect with them on LinkedIn so that they will see your daily updates. Send them thank you emails for connecting and then send out regular targeted emails to segments in your network so that you will always be on their top of mind when they are ready to make a buying decision.

Big Brother is watching you

As more and more “free” online services become available, more and more users are willingly offering their personal information to get access to the latest and greatest. The End User License Agreement, also known as EULA has been changed many times with your popular free programs, such as Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and Youtube. Gradually these companies have requested more access to your personal data so that they can offer more efficient promotional messaging solutions to their advertisers.

Although we should be concerned what these big companies know about us, it has made it easier for businesses to run more efficient marketing campaigns to their prospective buyers. The way we buy and consume products has definitely changed over the years. Where in the past when we decided to go buy a new car, we would visit a few car lots and then allow the sales person to educate us on the latest and greatest. Now with the internet we go online to read reviews and blog posts to educate ourselves and eliminate about 70%, so that we only have to talk to a select few that offer what we need.

So with the data that is collected by Google, Facebook, Twitter, and ad exchange companies can now target their advertising directly to the consumer when they are actively researching for their new purchase. Your online behavior is being monitored every day through social media, website that you visit, and locations you visit while carrying your phone.

Just like in direct mail, companies can now select a profile for their ideal client such as: Male, 25-36 years old, single, with two cats, and a wooden leg… The data that is collected from all the website traffic then creates a profile that fits the advertisers ideal target market. This is not just based on websites you visit, but also the content you read, the videos you watch, and the online conversations you have.

Certain ad exchanges have an advanced mobile tracking solution where they use the GPS of your phone and cellphone tower locations to determine where the buyers are located and they can actually GEO-fence their own location and their competitors. Car lots love this new technology, because now they can send their message to anyone who visits a car lot in town and serve their message.

Once they identify the online consumer to be an ideal client by online behavior or if they visited the company website the advertiser can then also retarget advertising to these consumers for a certain time or certain impressions. You probably have noticed this whenever you place anything in Amazons cart and then leave the site. All of a sudden you see ads on your Facebook and any news website, trying you to complete your purchase.

All of this is kinda creepy, but for advertisers this can be very valuable. Every business tries to limit its advertising spend and wants to get their message in front of their customers when they are ready to buy.

 

How to become a LinkedIn All-Star

LinkedIn has become one of the most advanced and most popular social media networks in the market today. If you still use LinkedIn as a digital version of your Resume, you are missing the boat. LinkedIn is the portal of your personal brand towards all your potential buyers. Research has shown that today’s buyers many times go to social media first before making a buying decision. By offering insight and positioning yourself as a thought leader in your industry you create trust with the new buyers and you will be able to create more valuable business relationships, which will eventually result into more sales.

LinkedIn is probably one of the most advanced but most misused social network in the market today. Only 50% of all users have a complete profile. According to many sales experts that use this tool the right way, it is very effective to generate new business relationships and position yourself as a thought leader in the industry. However, many business professionals misuse LinkedIn and still see it as an online Resume. Here are 8 tips to create an All-star profile on LinkedIn:

Get a professional profile picture

Profiles with a pictures are 7 times more likely to be viewed by others.

Your profile picture is the first visual representation of your profile. You don’t want a cropped out picture of you standing at the bar, or that one time you wore a tuxedo. This is the first impression that many people have from you and you want to come across as a qualified professional for their business needs.

Create a catchy headline

The headline is many times used to describe the position you hold and the company you work for. But how do you stand out when you are one of the 15 marketing specialist of XYZ company. Adding words like experienced, strategic, or motivated/driven will ad more flavor to your online profile. You can also take it a step further and use your elevator speech to get their attention. You have 110 characters, brand yourself with an unique headline.

Have a detailed summary

The summary is many times the first part that viewers will review when they visityour profile. In this you want to ad details about who you, what you do, and what type of value you offer to your connections. It is recommended that you write in 3rd person and include your full first and last name at least 4 times, so that when people search your name, your profile will rank on the top of the search engines. You can also include pictures of your certifications or any powerpoint / slideshare presentation that you created. Your goal after reading the summary is the get the viewer to connect with you.

Get endorsed and ask for recommendations

Over 2 billion endorsements have been given out since the launch of LinkedIn and this continues to grow.

Endorsements and recommendations will affect how often you show up in search.If you receive endorsements from you contacts, send them a thank you note and return the favor. You can put in 50 skills that people can endorse you for, make sure you use all 50. You can also ask and give out recommendations. Recommendations will be placed onto your profile and will also show up in the feed of the person that send out the recommendation. It creates credibility and generates positive Word of Mouth for your personal brand. When you receive a recommendation, you should always return the favor.

Test scores, certification, memberships, and projects you worked on

By including test scores, certifications, trainings, and professional memberships you can boost your personal brand. It shows your expertise and removes any risk your potential buyers might have when looking for a service provider. When you work on projects, always give credit to all the team members. Also don’t forget to include any volunteer work. Many times recruiters and hiring managers will see your volunteer work equal as your professional experience

Join groups and have discussions

You can join up to 50 groups on LinkedIn. Groups allows you to talk with LinkedIn members that have a similar interest, even if you are not connected. In many groups you will see that group members just post article after article and there is no engagement. This is not how you build business relationships or create thought leadership. If you want to share an article, tell the group why and start a discussion. Many times you can offer your expertise in the discussions and start building strong new business relationships.

Connect with your past and new connections

Find all your previous and current coworkers, class mates, and clients and connect with them. You want to stay informed with all your connections and LinkedIn offers an easy way to stay in touch with your rolodex. Every time when I attend a networking event, I take all the business cards and connect with them on LinkedIn. This way they are seeing my updates which creates Top of Mind awareness and I always have their contact information available if I wish to reach out to them. People are getting more open in accepting new invites if you offer good insight.

Post regular updates

In order for you to position yourself as a thought leader, you have to display your expertise and knowledge by writing blog articles and sharing valuable content that you have found on the web. LinkedIn has a very powerful blogging tool, that allows you to write articles and place them directly onto your profile. If your article gets a lot of views it might even land into the LinkedIn Pulse reader section. Creating and sharing content is a great way to build personal brand awareness, start discussions, and build valuable new business relationships.

Respect is earned, not taken…

Many times when I read blog articles or review Twitter/LinkedIn profiles I see people saying that they are experts in their field. This is great, and I am all about tooting your own horn when you do great things, it is a very important part of building your personal brand. However, nowadays these terms are used a little bit too much.

If you say that you are an expert and you have only been in that profession or position for 6 months and haven’t shown any results to claim that you are an expert you should leave those terms off.

Just because you read 1-2 books and a few blog articles, that doesn’t make you an expert. If you claim to be a community leader and you never attend a community event, you can’t use that title. If you claim to be a social media expert and you have hardly any followers and no engagement online, you can’t use that title. I can say to be the best zebra trainer in the country, but unless I have trained over 50 zebras with huge success, I really cannot claim that title.

I strongly believe that respect is given and not taken. There are people in my list of connections that have worked years to perfect their skills and are now seen as thought leaders and experts in that industry. They have had enough success that they can claim the word expert, and many times they don’t, but I put that label on them, because they have earned it. They have become mentors for many people in the industry and when they write an article about a subject they get a lot of engagement, because the readers respect them.

Some examples of people that I see as experts in the field are Grant Cardone, Jill Rowley, Koka Sexton, and Hank Blank. Check out their profile and their 100’s-1000’s videos and blog posts and you will agree that these professionals are the experts in their industry. They have a huge following and a ton of engagement, people respect what they do, because they have earned it.

I read another article the other day: the 3 fundamental traits of every good communicator, which are “be real”, “be concise”, and “be bold”. Don’t ever be afraid to say what you think and when you have an idea, speak up or write about it. What holds back most people in blogging their ideas or speaking up during a meeting is that they don’t believe in themselves enough or they think their ideas are not perfect. If you are not sold 100% on what you do, you need to change. Don’t be afraid to speak up. There are going to be discussions and people are going to disagree with your statements, but that doesn’t mean that you are wrong, just a different opinion. Stand firm in what you believe, but be open to other people’s opinions so that you can learn from their expertise and eventually by investing many hours, you can call yourself an expert.

People over Products

February 14th was Valentines day, the one day of the year that we show our appreciation to each other and buy overpriced gifts to show your love…

As we go out every day to promote and market our products and services to consumers and businesses we position ourselves as a strong competitor because our product is better, because we have the best price, or we have the best customer service… The product is the solution to all their problems and the customer wants to hear about the solution right? Wrong!

In sales, you are in the people business, not the product business. When your
potential buyer likes you and trusts you, he or she will spend money with you regardless if you are more expensive or not. Buyers are looking to find a solution for their problems, but more importantly they are looking for someone they can trust and remove or limit the risk on their purchase.

Of course your products have to be competitive and it has to resolve the pain points your buyer is dealing with, but to stand out and increase sales conversion you have to create a strong relationship of trust. Koka Sexton, social selling expert at LinkedIn wrote an article that showed that the three top reasons that business owners choose to engage with a company is if they offer insight that is valuable to them, if they are seen a someone who can be trusted and has a high level of expertise on the subject be being a thought leader, or if they are introduced through someone in their professional network.

This is why building strong business relationships of trust through local networking events and social media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are important in todays market place. You have to be visible both online and offline, offer your expertise to the public through blogs and speaking engagements, and you have to offer insight that helps the buyer remove risk in the buying decision. If you focus on helping others and creating relationships of trust then the product sales will automatically follow.