The Social Selling Iceberg

In B2B selling, Twitter and LinkedIn are valuable sources of leads, but to work on the "below water" steps of the sales process, companies need an enterprise social network.

When people talk about "social selling," they usually mean using the big public social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to find potential customers, and turn these into sales leads. These networks are an ideal place to do this, because they provide a massive ready-made audience. For very simple sales processes typical of business to consumer selling, this may be sufficient as a sole means of social selling.

But B2B selling has a far more complex sales cycle with a lot more people involved, and much more complex relationships between them. Finding leads is just the tip of the iceberg and, as everyone knows, 90 percent of an iceberg is below water. So in B2B selling Twitter and LinkedIn are valuable sources of leads, but they don't provide the right environment for collaboration throughout the sales cycle.

Let us consider a typical B2B sales cycle as having eight stages:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Sales lead
  3. Needs assessment
  4. Presentation
  5. Handling objections
  6. Proposal
  7. Negotiation/ losing
  8. After sales service

Public social networks are good for the first two and a half stages-prospecting, lead identification, and basic needs assessment. But they provide little support for the later stages. To work socially on the "below water" steps of the sales process, you need a business-focused enterprise social network.

It could be argued that these later steps of the sales process are not as inherently social as the earlier steps. But this would be making the common mistake of confusing "social" and "public." Just because a discussion has happened on a public network like Twitter doesn't mean it is a social discussion. This is effectively a conversation between strangers. True social interaction happens when the people involved form a relationship, and arguably this is far more important in B2B selling than B2C.

B2B is more relationship-driven than B2C; buyers and sellers are both typically looking for longer-term relationships than in the consumer world because of the higher cost of both purchase and sale. This means that B2B sales are more rational, less emotional, and more dependent on a well-documented discussion between buyer and seller. How many consumers saw the latest iPhone and thought, "I must have one of those" without really considering the total cost of ownership? B2B buyers are paid to care about these things, and be able to justify their decision. And of course, the buyer of the product is often not the end user of the product.

So a B2B sale is a sophisticated web of social relationships between people at the buying and selling organizations, with information being exchanged between these people throughout the sales cycle. This means the sales cycle is typically much longer, and of course, a B2B sale is just the beginning of the relationship; the communication continues way beyond the initial sale.
Clearly Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can do little to support such sophisticated inter-company interactions, but enterprise social networks do. Typical applications of enterprise social networks to support sales teams include:

  • A private, secure environment for teams from both sides to discuss the customers' needs. As negotiations progress, new participants from either the buyer or seller can be invited in and quickly catch up with the current status of the deal.
  • A place to post presentation and reference materials, and host follow-up discussion.
  • A "single source of truth" for discussions, instead of fragmenting conversations between different peoples' email inboxes.
  • A full version history for the proposed contract and any amendments.
  • When the sales process is complete and the deal is closed, an enterprise social network is also an ideal way of providing ongoing after-sale service. The number of people involved at both the buyer and the seller is likely to increase further, more relationships are formed, more discussions take place, so it becomes increasingly important to provide an appropriate forum for these people to work together.

Enterprse social networkis also provide a great way of connecting the sales team inside an organization, enabling staff to share information and best practices between themselves more effectively. Indeed, it is often inside the company that the first steps into social business are taken, before applying these principles outside the company. A common first step in extending outside the organization is to engage with selling partners in a social network, to share knowledge between the sales team and partner organizations.

So social business networking can increase the effectiveness of sales teams across the whole sales process and into post-sales account management, extending far beyond the reach of public social media and enabling social engagement between employees, partners, prospects, and customers.