Every marketing executive dream of having affordable and unfettered access to extensive B2B decision-maker prospects! LinkedIn fulfills this vision in many ways, as it provides a platform enabling access and connection with targeted market segment and business interests. With 675 million monthly users and more than 100 million professionals engaged daily, and 61 million identified as senior-level influencers. The potential for attracting interest in a company and its offerings is significant! Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, LinkedIn is a business-focused platform with content, interactions, and events dedicated to user business success.
LinkedIn provides a critical platform channel for B2B businesses to support social marketing and sales activities. The below graphic highlights the LinkedIn Value Proposition’s capabilities and potential outcomes for corporate users.
LinkedIn is well-recognized as the most-used social media site amongst Fortune 500 companies. With daily responsibilities taking a heavy load in their already demanding workday, one must wonder why their top employees invest valuable time engaged with a social media platform? The open secret is that senior business executives and managers believe in the value of networking and collaboration and are passionate apostles of the social selling approach, especially Millennials Y and Z generational individuals.
On LinkedIn, incessantly pushing products and services, spamming, and obvious hard-selling techniques limit successful relationship-building and turn-off most decision-makers. For most users, establishing win-win connections is a prime short-term goal and a prerequisite to evolving long-term revenue-impacting activities. Like other potential channels, social media requires an enterprise strategy to formalize policies and processes that align with its overall business goals while avoiding conflict with approved marketing and sales plans and practices.
The COVID-19 Impact
The COVID-19 crisis fueled massive business disruption with lockdowns, and physical event limitations have reset B2B sales models primarily to a virtual social experience. Sales strategies previously attractive and favored pre-pandemic may no longer be practical as corporate purchasing habits have evolved to meet workplace health and safety demands. The availability of affordable and user-friendly technology-based products and social media platforms has encouraged many businesses to upgrade systems and processes without difficulty to the new business reality. Although, some have experienced failure as their technology choices lacked strategic fusion with the appropriate policies and practices. Legacy marketing and sales strategies are ineffective in competing with innovative social selling.
Each of the LinkedIn capabilities shown in the above graphic can be a sensible starting point for crafting an updated B2B strategy with specific practices to demonstrate genuine corporate and personal authenticity to gain the trust and confidence of new connections. The outcome is a standard social media approach for supporting employees that sets the criteria and creates the practices for promoting and protecting the brand while generating potential sales opportunities with new business relationships.
In the virtual setting, B2B-focused businesses need to find the right approach to identify and interact with contacts and find common ground, to establish connections and rapport that would commonly develop from in-person experiences. Social selling is evolving as the ‘new normal,’ and businesses that cling to the traditional status quo are at significant competitive risk without strategic change and retooling.
“LinkedIn generated the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate at 2.74%, almost 3 times higher (277%) than both Twitter (.69%) and Facebook (.77%).”
Social Selling Practices & Trends
Gartner reports that it takes 18 dials to connect with a buyer, and only 23.9% of sales emails opened! These statistics are alarming given the extensive resources expenditure necessary to obtain the prospect identification, entree, and qualification. This intelligence highlight that the traditional sales method requires rethinking based on changing buyer behaviors and preferences.
Social selling leverages social media to identify and engage with target prospects and build trusted connections that evolve into sales success relationships. Generation X, Y, and Z individuals are more open to accept a rethink of the traditional sales practices with their affinity and literacy with software and virtual communications.
Social selling’s primary goal is establishing a trustworthy relationship and rapport with empowered buyers versus traditional selling’s hard sell-based intrusion. In social selling, the sale is not the endpoint as it represents the beginning of meaningful conversations driving long-term business relationships. Over time, social selling, if humanized and managed wisely, evolves into productive relations and often meaningful personal bonds.
Social selling influences the constant refreshment of the proverbial short-term-focused B2B selling approaches with innovative web-based practices and social media platforms. These technology-based developments challenge businesses to embrace new and attractive social-based ways to prospect identification, relationship building, and improved sales success.
With the pivot from traditional in-person to online social sales or hybrid activities, business relations are becoming more digital-interactive with diverse content, channels, and activities. Simultaneously, corporate personality and personal behaviors are more visible and easily judged as valuable or damaging to create and maintain successful long-term relationships.
The below Social Selling Cycle graphic highlights the critical actions supporting the journey from prospect identification to building a trusted relationship where all sales propositions are warm versus cold.
Increasingly companies benefit from social selling as exceptional cases abound for enhanced sales performance throughout the business community. Recent market intelligence reveals that salespeople with over 5,000 LinkedIn contacts could significantly surpass their financial targets.
Social selling and social marketing work together and have provided highly-effective blending in large numbers of Fortune 500 organizations. Some anecdotal reaches suggest that marketing takes the initial lead in the pre-buyer journey, supporting relationship building and value engagement activities.
“Around the world and across industries, top executives who were once convinced that social media wasn’t worth their time now consider their participation in these networks as essential to their role.”
Power Shift from Seller to Buyer
Successful social selling entails an entirely different mindset for sales management and sales professionals. Conventional seller-buyer models no longer produce the required results as buyers now favor taking the lead in buying versus being sold. Power has shifted to current B2B buyers who are more knowledgeable on the product domain and capable of conducting the required analysis. With unlimited access to content and resources online, buyers can find the information they need for decision-making. Thus, the buyers now have the power and proactively conduct extensive research and due diligence before seller engagement reducing sales involvement and collapsing the traditional sales funnel’s early stages. This role reversal in the buyer-seller dynamics demands a rethink of the marketing and sales strategies and practices to meet market expectations.
According to McKinsey, the rapid digital transformation has amplified the challenges and exposed “the weaknesses in existing sales models and gaps in digital readiness.”
While buyers may have a more sweeping influence on the buying journey, they invest significant time collecting, reconciling, and prioritizing the information. Buyers typically lack the means to locate the most appropriate information quickly. This prospect deficiency presents corporate sales management opportunities to refocus their strategic practices to changing their traditional sales role to trusted advisors and furnishing prospects with more timely and sustainable knowledge and decision-making resources.
With this new dimension, salespeople now need to accept the trusted advisor’s role by rendering industry and technology guidance supporting their products or services value proposition. Concurrently, ensuring collaborative, contextual, and efficient communications (without fear, uncertainty, and doubt) is a priority throughout the presales. As a trusted advisors, their credibility and likeability are always on display, observable by the prospect, and embody the ingredients of a successful B2B social sales program.
“94% of B2B buyers conduct some degree of research online before making a business purchase, with 55% conducting online research for at least half of their purchases.”
Accenture – State of B2B Procurement Study
Back to Basics: The Value of Credibility and Likeability
Selling is people-oriented, requiring a relationship-building-focused sales approach. People buy from people they like is an accepted truism among sales professionals. This cliche should equally embrace credibility to assure the validity of business-influencing behavior considerations. In this context, successful outcomes occur based on the salesperson’s capability to build genuine credibility, leading to mutual likeability.
“People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”
Without a distinct salesperson-buyer nexus of credibility and likeability, it is doubtful that a positive relationship is possible, and sales will occur. Credibility has two essential components: expertise and trust, whereas, Likeability includes personality and communications. Salespersons that present prospective buyers reason to question their character, dependability, or intentions incur negative consequences resulting in comprised, lost, or discontinued opportunities.
The important sales-focused credibility and likeability characteristics follow in the below graphic.
The psychology of selling supports the premise that purchases are based on human emotion and directly influenced by the seller’s personality traits and resultant behaviors. Most people recognize that credibility is the cost of entry into any social or business relationship, and likeability is the catalyst to support longevity. Generally, toxic behaviors are visible quickly in presales situations, with a pronounced lack of salesperson responsiveness, honesty, and competence, revealing credibility and likeability deficiency. The good news is that destructive relationship-killing behaviors are preventable, focusing on soft skills to understand and appreciate buyer focus and values.
LinkedIn community membership’s fundamental goal is to provide and receive value from other members and develop business connections based on credibility and likeability, leading to genuine business relations. Like other social media communities, LinkedIn users must follow a code of ‘best practices’ behavior consisting of spoken and unspoken etiquette rules that level the playing field and restrict the use of known harmful behaviors. Adherence or absence of an appropriate social selling decorum is evident when members are engaged on the platform. The deficiency of the required positive behavior within verbal and written communications risk damaging the member’s credibility and boost their probability of adopting harmful practices. The direct fallout can destroy potential connections and opportunities and restrict or remove the member’s account from the platform.
Examples of LinkedIn users’ instances of problematic practices associated with publishing articles and posts, responding to others’ content, and posting and responding to InMail messages follow. Each item is widely recognized to negatively influence members’ opinions of another member’s credibility and likeability, primarily management-level decision-makers who value their time and knowledge-sharing inclination.
LinkedIn Articles and Posts
“If you don’t believe the messenger, you won’t believe the message.”
James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner
The Leadership Challenge
Post Comments and Messaging
Earning and sustaining credibility in customer and prospect interactions is a sales critical success factor (CSF) and directly influences likeability and financial success. However, sales professionals can and do easily squander hard-earned trustworthiness and goodwill by exhibiting destructive behaviors verbally and in writing. Once lost, credibility is difficult to regain!
“Social media, used correctly, can be an executive productivity tool, a global broadcast channel, a source of consumer and competitor intel, and a PR vehicle.”
The Way Forward
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