As the social media population continues to grow, opportunities to leverage social networks as prospecting tools are increasing, as well. But just how valuable is social prospecting, and will it ever make cold calling irrelevant?
For years, social media was mostly viewed as a consumer forum. Brands like Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Disney dominated the social space, while B2B businesses stuck to traditional lead generation tactics like e-mail marketing, cold calling, and direct mail.
But that was then.
Today’s B2B buyers are now Web and social savvy, and they’re much more willing to communicate and engage with vendors on social networks.
In fact, according to sales intelligence software provider InsideView, 55 percent of B2B buyers now search for information on social media, and 75 percent of those buyers plan to use social media as part of their purchase process in the future.
Not surprisingly, B2B marketers and salespeople have responded in kind by turning social networking into an effective prospecting tool.
For many businesses, that social prospecting strategy seems to be paying dividends. According to data from a recent study by the Aberdeen Group, sales intelligence can make sales reps 79 percent more likely to attain their quota, while organizations that leverage social intelligence initiatives are 21 percent more likely to attain revenue growth. But that’s not to say that social media is a clear winner relative to prospecting and lead generation.
Can Social Prospecting Really Replace Cold Calling?
The consensus seems to be no — at least not yet. Here are two view points from two leading sales influencers:
|“No. I don’t believe social prospecting can replace cold calling,” says Kendra Lee, founder and CEO of KLA Group. “I believe they work together. With social prospecting you can become visible to more people and attract new, different prospects. You can do research to use when reaching out. You can even send messages to set appointments. However, as with the evolution of email, it will take more time for these strategies to take off. Right now there is still the need to pick up the phone at some point and actually attempt to talk with your prospects.”|
|Well, eventually. According to social selling strategist David Steel, there are 3 Stages to Dominating Social Media that can help transform your selling process. While you are operating in the first two stages you are connecting with prospects, but through a synergistic mixture of social media and dials. At the final “Dominating” stage, however, your prospect is actually calling you for advice without you having to initiate the conversation — all thanks to the compelling content you have delivered via social media.|
What’s your take?
4 Ways to Use Social Media for Prospecting
As OpenView’s Jonathan Crowe discussed in a recent post, the conversion rates of leads generated through social channels are still quite low (0.77 percent according to marketing optimization provider Monetate, an OpenView portfolio company). That being said, social prospecting is still in its infancy. And if you use it for the right things, it can be a very effective supplement to your overall lead generation efforts.
We asked four influential sales strategists to provide their top tips for utilizing social prospecting to help you build a better-informed sales organization.
1) Building Stronger Relationships
For Kendra Lee, founder and CEO of sales consultancy The KLA Group, and author of The Sales Magnet: How to Get More Customers Without Cold Calling, choosing whether or not to be active in social media is no longer an option from a prospecting perspective.
“Ultimately, you want to integrate social media in your lead generation efforts because it’s a great way for people to hear and see you, and it’s not enough to rely on just one traditional prospect attraction strategy anymore,” Lee explains. “Social media allows you to have conversations and build relationships. In that way it’s a critical compliment to lead generation.”
Lee suggests that LinkedIn in particular tends to be a highly effective medium for initiating — and then developing — prospect relationships.
“If your e-mails aren’t getting through a prospect’s spam filters, it might be worth trying to contact him or her through LinkedIn,” Lee explains. “Because prospects view LinkedIn differently than traditional e-mail, they don’t typically screen those messages. So, a LinkedIn InMail may actually break through the delete barrier where your e-mails have not.”
2) Conducting Prospect Research
At its core, social media is about people connecting and having a conversation.
Which is why Brian Carroll, Executive Director of Applied Research at MECLABS, says that B2B companies can’t treat social media like a megaphone and hope to have success prospecting.
“If you turn the megaphone around and listen, social media can be an incredibly effective research tool,” Carroll says. “It can give you insight into what your customers are dealing with, what they care about, and what their thoughts are on your competition.”
Ultimately, Carroll says, that will allow B2B companies engage their customers throughout the sales process in a much more meaningful, relevant way.
3) Bypassing Gatekeepers
Reaching out to a prospect was once as easy as picking up the phone.
Today, however, it’s a struggle to get past a prospect’s voicemail or the gatekeeper they hire to keep prospectors at bay.
To get around this problem, sales expert David Steel says sales teams can turn to social media as a way to bypass those filters. Buyers — whether they’re the CEO of the company or someone on that person’s team — often manage their own social media profiles, meaning there are no gatekeepers or voicemail.
Even still, prospects won’t read every social message you send to them if it’s not carefully crafted to address a specific need at a specific time. In other words, Steel says, the quality of your social messages matters every bit as much as the quality of your e-mail or cold call scripts.
“Great social prospecting requires thought-provoking content every step of the way,” Steel says. “Which is why social salespeople and marketers need to work together so closely. With the right piece of content sent to a prospect looking for direction, your foot is in the door every time.”
4) Building Credibility by Turning Profiles into Value Propositions
When most B2B marketers and salespeople think about using social media to prospect, their first inclination, naturally, is to focus on their prospects’ social profiles.
But as Sales Benchmark Index Senior Consultant John Kenney points out, it’s also important for sellers to turn a mirror on their own social image.
For example, most salespeople’s personal LinkedIn profiles are typically nothing more than digital resumes. But by turning those profiles into value propositions for their brands, they can highlight their expertise on the issues that their prospects care about most and develop instant credibility.
“Don’t waste this highly visible resource for your reps to sell themselves to their next employer,” Kenney argues. “Instead, provide potential buyers with insight into how your team can help them solve their business problems.”
In a post on the Sales & Marketing Effectiveness Blog, Kenney shares the chart below that offers examples of how your reps can modify the language in their profiles.
With a few simple tweaks, Kenney says your reps’ LinkedIn profiles can give prospects confidence in them before they ever actually meet or talk. “In fact,” Kenney argues, “it might be the reason they are willing to meet at all.”
What NOT to Do When Social Prospecting
Because social networking is still a bit untamed, there isn’t a textbook full of rules that dictate what sales reps should or shouldn’t do when interacting with prospects via social media.
But as AG Salesworks’ Jonathan Catley points out in a post for Social Media Today, the one thing a salesperson or lead generator should never do is try to sell something before they’ve established a relationship with a prospect.
“Social selling takes time and is not for the lazy or uninspired,” Catley writes. “There are times when you will find active opportunities within social communities, but a majority of your opportunities are going to come from nurturing the relationships you’ve established.”
What other tips should salespeople keep in mind when attempting to incorporate social prospecting?