In the early days (circa 2008 if not earlier) pioneers played around with social selling as a new sales model. Then the hype kicked in.
Social sellers began outselling their peers and sales reps wanted in on the action. But the wide variety of information, approaches, technology and supposed best practices (some better than others) confused the situation. Disillusionment followed.
Fortunately, a more mature and productive model has begun to emerge, largely based around the concept of a sales stack – a combination of technologies and tools that work seamlessly together to create an end-to-end social sales process.
The rise of the sales stack
A dedicated social sales stack surfaced as a result of a fundamental challenge in sales. On the one hand, changes in buyer behaviour began reducing the effectiveness of traditional sales approaches.
Just a quarter of sales emails are opened, it takes between 8 and 12 calls to get through to a buyer, and the response rates to cold comms dropped to the single figures.
On the other, buyers were sharing more information in more places than ever before. Social media – particularly LinkedIn and Twitter – is flooded with content every single day, and finding all of that data (not to mention generating insight from it) can take a huge amount of time.
So while it was obvious that a change in approach was needed, there was just too much data to pick through to make social selling efficient and effective.
Enter the sales stack. Layers of specialised technology that enable the social seller.
With the perfect sales stack, sales reps can generate more value from each individual piece of technology, along with their most precious resource, time, through specialised software stacked together.
What the ‘perfect’ sales stack looks like will depend very much on your industry/product, staff, culture, and customer. Processes must precede technology for the right tools to be identified; tools can only support your unique sales process once it is clearly defined.
The process must be flexible enough to encompass the personal touch of your sales staff, but strong enough that great results can be replicated and nuances refined, rather than relying on blind luck.
Also important to consider is how software in your stack integrates with your current software – otherwise it will become disruptive rather than productive. Mobile apps also provide distinct advantages for some parts of the sales stack, allowing your sales staff to be on the move (as they so often are) while still accessing essential information.
Ultimately, developing an impactful sales stack is about enabling your sales team to spend more time selling and less time on other related activities.
So, what should the tools in your sales stack cover?
Layer 1 – Prospecting like a pro
Prospect research continues to take up over a fifth of sales reps’ time, according to CSO Insights. With so much information available, it’s often a case of too much data but not enough insight.
Even when you’ve extracted valuable insight from the data there is still the task of building prospect lists and identifying potential buying triggers.
This initial layer of your sales stack should, as far as practically possible, automate the collection and amalgamation of data, importing it to your CRM and flagging triggers to your sales reps.
Tools in this layer of your sales stack will allow you to:
- Build prospect lists quickly and effortlessly
- Scrape contact info and add it to your prospect lists/CRM
- Help you research your leads
- Segment leads based on company size, interests, challenges etc.
- Add notes against each prospect entry
- Track changes in the prospect company over time
make use of all the information available to develop warm leads with the right people at the right time. Automating the collection and amalgamation of this information into as fewer places as possible afford you more time to personalise your messaging and develop that all-important relationship.
Layer 2 – Connecting with content
Whether the content is a carefully crafted email, a brilliant blog, or a helpful guide, delivering the right content to the right people at the right time is an essential part of social selling.
By looking at the content the prospect has already viewed or downloaded, as well as through prospect scoring, some social sales tools can identify the best content to encourage a prospect further along their buying journey.
For example, if a prospect has looked at the ‘first steps’ guide you put together and has read your blog on the benefits of having a tool; sending them some specific product info will define your key USPs and position in the marketplace. If they’ve already viewed the product benefits and features and have taken your self-assessment quiz they might be closer to making a purchase decision. In this case you might want to send them some stats and facts to help them make the business case for your solution.
Pulling all of this data together in order to do this analysis can be time-consuming, but a good tool can fetch this information for you, leaving you to get on with selecting content and sending it out.
Some tools can even automate the identification and email send. This might be a good option if you have a lot of inbound leads, but automating any communication will almost inevitably lead to mistakes in the content going out.
You have been warned.
Layer 3 – Investing in your inbox
Once you’ve identified the right prospect, the right content, and the right time to send it, the next thing to do is to equip your email inbox for sales duty. An unprepared inbox meeting a flood of responses is a recipe for disaster.
Some sales tools help by allowing you to automatically export email content to your CRM, adding it to a prospect’s record. Additionally, they will often do a lot of the crummy admin work – removing duplicate entries and thanking senders for their email, for example – making being friendly over email easy and efficient.
Consider including in your stack some tools that allow you to save email templates and snippets to use in your communications. These sales tools are often free and can save a lot of time, particularly when sending personalised emails in bulk.
If you like to know what happens to your email after you hit the send button, there are a number of tools that track opens, forwards, clicks, and so on, pulling all the data into your CRM to help identify hot leads.
You’ll also want to think about how you’ll set your appointments. There are some great appointment setting tools out there, putting the power in the hands of your prospects. After all, they are already giving up some of their time to talk to you – setting up the meeting shouldn’t take even more of their time!
Layer 4 – Dazzling demos
Demos are the opportunity to show off your product or solution, which is why it baffles me why so many are still so boring!
There are loads of tools out there to help you jazz up your sales demos – from the basics such as Prezi through to tools that allow for self-service automated demos.
The two main things you’ll be looking for in a sales demo tool is a) time-savings and b) consistent best practice.
Automation software might take a while to set up and to establish the logic flow, but thereafter it saves huge amounts of time, pulling data gathered through the demo straight into your CRM.
These tools will also ensure a consistent best practice approach – other than not being there to answer individual questions, of course.
If you opt for the more personal approach you’ll likely want to send the prospect some resources after the demo – the slide deck, pricing, introduction videos, etc. Rather than attaching a big bunch of PowerPoint presentations and video links to an email that will inevitably get lost, it is a lot quicker and easier to provide a link to a personalised cloud storage area.
This keeps everything in one place, updated to the newest version, and avoids huge emails full of attachments. Some tools will even let you track what document the prospect opens to help build up a better picture of their individual needs and wants.
Layer 5 – Pushing performance
Sales reps tend to thrive on competition, however intense.
How are they achieving? Are they close to quota? Who’s ahead?
Motivate your sales team and push performance by delivering this information in a fun and easily available way – not on a whiteboard updated from a spreadsheet once a week!
There are some really fun and interesting approaches to pushing performance – from scoring individual performance to turning the friendly competition into a real-time action game.
Fantasy Sales Team, for example, uses gamification to turn sales performance into a fantasy league. Both teams and individuals compete against one another, winning points for hitting any number of KPIs.
Tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator and Artesian provide individual scores for sales reps depending on a number of softer metrics around social selling. This pushes your sales reps to improve the quality of their approach rather than simply chasing a quantity of leads.
This quantity-oriented approach tends to lead to a bigger focus on short-term, product-centric thinking. A good social sales approach is better nurtured with a focus on long-term, customer-centric thinking, backed up by good soft skills.
Layer 6 – Turning up the training
Even if your sales reps are implementing best practices now, processes will always start to slip over time. Ongoing training helps refresh your sales team with the best approaches, as well as allowing them to learn from each other.
Training can, however, be a time-consuming task to plan and implement, leading to a permanent residence on the backburner. Fortunately, there are some tools that can help.
If you’re onboarding a social selling platform then keep an eye out for one with training modules built-in. For example, we offer access to the Artesian Academy – a collection of resources and webinars that bring best practices to your team every month.
Other tools will allow you to upload your own training resources which can be great if you have a very unique approach.
Then there are the tools that provide a workspace to create training materials. These can then be delivered in almost any format you like – internal webinars, games, interactive sessions etc. – you are only limited by your imagination.