Social Selling: Why 2014 is the Right Time

Social Success

According to a 2012 study from the Aberdeen Group, those that have adopted a social approach to selling are achieving far betters results than those that have not. Look at quota attainment, customer rentention even forecast accuracy and social sellers come out on top.

As we enter another New Year, social sellers are proving to be more successful.

What is Social Selling

Outwardly, Social Selling is about making use of social platforms to communicate with their prospects, customers, channel and colleagues. However it is not tools that define a social seller, instead it is how (and why) they use the tools that sets them apart.

Social Sellers have a Presence

According to the 2013 B2B Lead Generation Report by Holger Schulze, over 90% of B2B buyers begin their buying process online. Those sellers that have a presence and are contributing will be engaging with their customers far earlier than those that are not.  Those sellers that do not have a profile on the major social platforms  will not be noticeable by their absence. They will just be absent.

Social sellers maintain a professional on-line presence so that they, not just their companies, can be found when their prospects begin their buying process.

Social Sellers Make a Contribution

Maintaining a presence is just the start for a social seller. They want to be active in the communities they serve, educating, sharing, moving the conversation forward. Those that sell payment services spell out what new regulation might mean; those that sell unified communications explore how telepresence impacts an increasingly mobile workforce.

There is more to a Social Seller than their products and services. They are  focused on the challenges and opportunities that their customers care about.

Social Sellers Listen

Listening is the subject of countless books, is one of Dale Carnegies ways of influencing people and one of Stephen Covey’s habits of highly effective people. All social interactions begin with listening and the new world of social platforms is no different. By listening Social Sellers gain insights into their customer and understand their priorities. They listen carefully so that when their customers are ready to buy – they are ready to help.

Social Sellers Lead

Selling, in my view, has much in common with leadership. As sellers, we need to engage our buyers by knowing what their opportunities and challenges are. We can then offer a fresh and external perspective on how to meet them.  Sellers are  catalysts for change but buyers naturally have their own ideas of what works well, and it’s not easy to challenge the status quo.

Change comes from being a leader, from offering your customers new ways of thinking about their business. I have some issues with the  The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, not least of which is that I don’t believe sellers have a right to take control of the customer conversation. However, the key to Matthew Dixons and Brent Adamsons text is that sellers have a responsibility to challenge the established position.

Social sellers have lifted their game beyond understanding their own products and services. Instead, they understand their customers markets, invest in the issues their customers face and demonstrate thought leadership.

The Bottom Line:

Social Sellers are seeing early success. They are retaining their customers and making their numbers. They are not achieving this by simply being on LinkedIn, following Stephen Fry or Tweeting about their flight delays. They are  adapting to a new environment. They are adding value, building trust and creating meaningful relationships. What’s more they are unconstrained by limitations of time and distance because they are using online social platforms to extend their reach into new communities previously unaccessible to them. Most importantly though, they are establishing themselves in a new environment, an environment where their customers are already comfortable. Social sellers are getting ahead whilst those that refuse to see that their customers live in a new world are falling behind.

By the end of 2013, the voice of the social buyer grew stronger and louder. Were you around to hear them so that you can change in 2014?

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Selling Trust: Social Selling in the Insurance Industry


Selling Trust

Trust

 

When I was asked to speak on social selling to a group that comprised senior executives from the insurance industry recently, the immediate and obvious subject was trustAfter all, It is difficult to think of an industry more dependent on trust.

With this in mind, I reached out to my network for ideas and I was directed towards three great reference points.

Firstly Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey, who I was privileged to see speak at Leaders in London many years before his sad passing, often spoke of the high cost of low trust. In fact he maintained that trust in all businesses was not just important but essential.

Secondly Amazon.love

The subject of trust is also at the centre of an email from the desk of Jeff Bezos shared by Brad Stone,author of a new book the Everything Store. One of the many revelations about Jeff Bezos is that he is somewhat preoccupied with the public perception of Amazon. Bezos wants Amazon to be a company that people trust and love rather than one that people fear and hate. Bezos wants to be an Apple, Costco, Nike or Google not a Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase or Wal-Mart. Interestingly the justice department and JP Morgan Chase are currently haggling over if $13 billiion is sufficient for losing the trust of its customers during the 2008 financial crisis

Thirdly the 3i’s Study: Insurance, Intermediaries and Interactions

The IBM Institute of Business Value  study, Insurance, Intermediaries and Interactions (Dec 2012) took input from 8,500 consumers and 1,300 intermediaries in 17 countries. What they discovered was that trust in the insurance industry has been low since the studies were started in 2007. In fact, in the current study, 56% answered no when asked do you trust the insurance industry? Eek ! Interestingly no one in the industry is surprised by this and whilst is has increased (slightly) in the 2012 study no one in the insurance industry is happy about it.

The Price of Trust

The study also identified that trust is highly correlated to loyalty. The people in that room, all experts in insurance, could assess what churn, the consequence of a lack of trust, costs them far better than I ever could. However, I think it would be difficult to argue with Covey’s wisdom that there is ‘a high cost to low trust’.

Trust is Personal

What interested me though is that whilst customers don’t trust the industry, they do appear to trust people. Three quarters of respondents in another IBM study, Trust, Transparency and Technology (these studies are also exercises in alliteration) said that they did have trust in their personal insurance adviser. Consumers don’t trust the insurance industry but they trust the people they buy their insurance from.

In fact, more than half of those studied still buy from a person. In a time when there is less and less human interaction in business (think Amazon) it remains a foundation for insurance because of all the forms of interaction, we trust human interaction the most.

Personal Interaction has Changed

However, it can’t have escaped anyones attention that the way we interact has changed. Interaction is digital. Insurance customers are using social platforms as part of their buying process. More than 70 percent of study respondents use one or more social networks. They might ultimately buy from a person but the purchase is just one of many interactions. Like many complex products, there are a lot of interaction points. Websites, aggregators and increasingly, social media are replacing many of those face to face interactions.

Customers might not be concluding their final transaction on-line but they spend 60% (and more) of their time being influenced here.

Insurance Customers are better Informed

Consumers are not just interacting differently either. They are better informed than ever before. Before the Internet, complicated products and the difficulty in getting information (and sometimes in complying with regulation) kept insurance a sellers’ market. Now that insurance customers can easily find each other, and exchange experiences and ideas, the rules are changing. To create customer trust through interactions, insurers and intermediaries need to adapt. These are old rules but new tools

Who is responsible for trust?

So who (insurer or intermediary) is responsible for building and maintaining trust? Whilst much of maintaining a personal relationship  is something that intermediaries have been doing well for a long time  it would seem that it is not that simple.

The 3i study refers to a rare experiment in behavioural insurance conducted in 2011. The experiment was carried out at the Institute of Insurance Economics in Switzerland. One of the findings of the study was that customers see a perceived lack of quality as a reflection on professionalism and training i.e the fault lies with the intermediary and the insurer. With issues of reliability, customers see this as a reflection entirely of the insurer. Even a great intermediary cannot sell a poor product.

The experiment shows that the personal side of being a trusted adviser is only one part. Maintaining professionalism, knowing customers personally and treating them personably is something the vast majority of intermediaries have been doing for as long as they have existed. But intermediaries cannot do this alone. In fact the report concludes with a recommendation for insurers.

Insurers have to provide support. That can happen through training, through a corporate culture of customer first, through good and consistent products and messaging, and, last but not least, by giving intermediaries the tools and data they need to serve their clients well.

It would seem that even in a highly intermediated market trust is everyone’s responsibility.

Death of a (Maverick) Salesman

‘The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell and the funny thing is you are a salesman and you don’t know that’, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, 1949

Sellers Beware

In Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human, Pink suggests that buyers and sellers have moved from caveat emptor to  caveat venditor.  Sellers are no longer the first point of contact when buyers want to know about our products and services. Google is. Sellers are not even going to our web pages. They are going to their networks.

According to a study from the Corporate Executive Board, buyers are almost 60% of the way through their decision before they even speak to a seller. They don’t need sellers until much later in their purchase cycle. They are better connected through social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter than they have ever been before and they trust each other before they trust sellers.

Today, buyers have reviews, ratings, and comparison shopping at their fingertips, sellers have more incentives to be fair and honest. Seller behaviour must be about doing the right thing or “seller beware.”

Behaviour versus Performance

Think about what this means in terms of measuring not only the performance of a sales team but their behaviours.

Artesian Maverick Quadrant

In the diagram above is a set of quadrants that demonstrates how sales managers have historically managed their team. On the y axis is performance, on the x axis behaviour.

In the good performance/good behaviour quadrant are performers. If we do anything with performers it is about them helping and coaching others to their level. They set the benchmark for the rest of the team.

In the poor behaviour/poor performance are non-performers. These are likely to be going through some performance improvement plan.

An enlightened sales manager will work with TryersTryers are doing all the right thing but not getting the right results. With expert coaching, time and attention their performance usually follows.

The Maverick has left the building

Finally, there is the Maverick quadrant. These sellers exhibit good performance but poor behaviours. Let’s face it, Mavericks, have historically been tolerated. Their contribution to the quarterly numbers is tough to resist. In any case, their performance will eventually drop at some point so sales managers  play a waiting game.  When it plummets, and given that the Maverick’s underlying behaviour – it will, they are unceremoniously exited.

However, the damage has already been done.

If we are lucky, their short-termism was only making them unpopular with their co-workers. The Maverick will often be heard hurumphing around the office complaining about the ‘sales prevention department’ which was variously finance, services, sales support or whoever it is that has identified a flaw in their latest ‘deal’.

Equally as likely though, they are mis-selling or overselling and creating a legacy of customer problems and problem customers.

Few customers keep these problems secret. With complete control of a sales cycle though, sellers could steer around the debris. In a socially enabled world, not so much. And empowered customers are sharing it with their network. Their always-on, global network. A tweet or a LI status update can reach tens of thousands of prospective customers. Competitors too. It is also a permanent record. Some of that buying cycle (the 57% invisible to the seller) can be used to find out what existing customers think. Good selling behaviour leaves behind a trail of satisfied customers and positive comments. Poor behaviour also leaves a trail. The maverick can no longer be tolerated. Caveat Venditor.

Better Selling Is …

In To Sell is Human, Pink also demonstrates that the networked age requires more not less sellers. More of us sell than ever before and those that don’t have to persuade, convince and compel as part of an increasingly creative and collaborative workplace. Pink calls it non-sales selling. We all need to be better sellers. However better can no longer be defined by the numbers. It can not be determined by performance alone. Instead, it must be measured by how we conduct ourselves, by our behaviours.

In short, to be better sellers we must be better humans.

Social Selling: Is it Really New?

Social Selling in the 60’s

I find myself speaking a lot on the subject of Social Selling but whilst the technology, the media and platforms are new, much of what we mean by Social Selling is not new at all. As a living and breathing example of this let me refer you to businessman Harvey Mackay who I heard interviewed recently by Dan Pink in his excellent podcast series Drive Time.

Mackay was born in 1932 so was in his 70’s when FB was invented. He has, and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this, been around the block. A few times.

In his first job as a young seller he nervously approached  an older colleague called Mr Carpenter for some advice. Mackay asked  ‘How long after you start calling on a sales prospect do you stop?’ Mr Carpenter, apparently one of the most experienced in the company (Mackay referred to him as an ‘old grisly’), replied. ‘it depends on which one of us dies first’.

I am not sure I would describe Mr Carpenter as a Social Seller (because I don’t have the data not because of his obvious persistence) but I have no doubts about Mackay. Mackay is, by any reasonable definition, a Social Seller.

Where have all the Sellers Gone?

In 1959, Harvey Mackay purchased an insolvent envelope manufacturing company with just twelve employees, three outdated folding machines and one printing press. Today, his company, Mackay Envelopes produces 4 billion envelopes a year, has $100m revenues and employs over 400 people in what I think we can all agree is a highly commoditised and difficult market.

However, he is not only the founder and CEO of Mackay Envelopes, he is also a New York Times best selling author and columnist. In fact he has sold more than 10 million books.

If you met him today  and asked for his business card though, it would say none of those things. It would not say President, CEO or Author. It would say ‘Harvey Mackay, Envelope Salesman’. This is as much borne in pride for his profession as it is humility. In a world of Account Executives, Product Advisers and Outcome Managers, Mackay is a salesman. This is because, for Harvey Mackay, being a salesman is a noble profession. It means being in service to his customers.

The Social Imperative (is what is really new)

Fifty years before the invention of LinkedIn or Twitter, Mackay realised that before you could have a network of trustworthy and valuable contacts, you first had to build a network of people who value you and whose trust you have earned. His book, “Dig your well before you are thirsty” is a testimony to this approach.  For me some of the examples are definitely ‘of their time’. Social mores have moved on somewhat. That being said, what Mackay intuitively knew was that selling required an unrelenting customer centred focus and a strong sense of ethics.

It would be difficult to argue, fifty years on, that Mackay plays anything but the long game. And  played it successfully. HIs approach is one of doing the right thing. Mackay focused first on his own behaviour and the results followed. He is a master of aphorism and he articulates this as ‘Conduct  your business as if your Mother is watching’

So there is nothing new in this approach. Successful sellers have always been social in the way they conduct business. What is new is that a customer centered, buyer-centric approach is no longer optional. The shifting dynamic between buyer and seller has moved the power more and more towards buyer. Buyers are better informed and better connected than they have ever been before. The increasing use of social platforms, ratings sites and online reviews continues to enable and empower buyers and forces sellers to do what they should always have been doing. What Harvey did.  And if you think it is just B2C, think again. Take a look at Glass Door as only one example. As Dan Pink puts it in to Sell is Human, it is no longer Caveat Emptor. It is Caveat Venditor. Seller Beware.

Separated by Decades, United by Purpose

Harvey Mackay and the Social Seller have much in common. Whilst they are separated by decades, they both agree that success means being a better seller and a better human. In a world where power has shifted from seller to buyer they both have to conduct their business as if their Mothers are watching.

Smart Watch naysayers and the inevitable rise of Wearable Tech

A diversion into the world of wearable tech for my first post after a Summer recess.

The naysayers are already lining up to herald the failure of smart watches including a couple of post from ZDNet with The problems with the smart watch even Apple can’t solve and Wearable computing: Why there’s no room for watches like Galaxy Gear. There is also a much more direct post from Medium with Why Smart watches will fail.

The sum of these and other similar criticisms are that the screens are too small and that there is no practical way of data input given the size of the device relative to the average, never mind the fatter, finger.

What these reviewers, critics and bloggers are overlooking is that the smart watch is not intended to be a small version of the increasingly inaccurately named smart phone. To date, we have computed on computing terms. At a desk, perhaps on our laps using a keyboard and screen. Wearable technology is about computing on human terms. Wearable marks a profound change to our relationship with technology.

Smart phones like the Pebble along with devices like Google Glass,  the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband and the San francisco based fitness tracking startup Fitbit fresh from raising another $43m  all owe a debt to the work of Mark Weiser a researcher at the Xerox Parc Alto Research Centre. More than thirty years ago, Weiser predicted that computing would go way beyond personal and would be ‘in the woodwork’ it would be everywhere; it would be ubiquitous.

Wearable computing is just the start of ubiquitous and situational computing that monitors and responds to our needs, our situation, in context. Wearable doesn’t need a screen or a keyboard, it need only do one thing well and be connected to the internet through equally ubiquitous connectivity.  In the old world a PC user selected the time, manner and duration of their interaction with a machine. In a world of ubiquitous and pervasive computing the thermostat at home is changed, journeys are redirected, sleep patterns detected, alternative arrangements for transit delays organised and medication regimes checked without a keyboard or screen, touch or otherwise.

In the interest of full disclosure the author is a functioning geek with a growing collection of wearables. For example, my Kickstarter edition pebble watch will track my running pace through Runkeepe and alert me to incoming calls, text messages and emails on a low-power e-ink screen. Contained within its (more geek than chic) case is a magnetometer, ambient light sensors and an accelerometer. It will also tell the time.

The future of Sales is to Stop Selling

Buy One, Not Two, Half Price

I am currently working with a business that goes to great lengths to help their customers buy less of their product. That’s right, their sales reps will spend time getting to know you, understand your business, demonstrate how they can help and then do what they can to shrink the order size. Less is less.

They have big ambitions and visionary leadership as their sector, the water industry, deregulates. What is most interesting to me though are the lengths that the sales team will go to, to help their customers save water. Of course, they are also selling products and services to achieve this but it is clear that the conversations, the processes, the products are utterly driven by customer and environmental savings.

Do the Right Thing

The other thing that makes this business remarkable is the level of employee engagement. According to the latest Gallup survey seventy percent of American workers are disengaged. Not so with this business. Talk to the team for more than a minute and their enthusiasm is inescapable. They believe in their leadership, their business and most of all their customers. A common phrase in all my conversations with them was ‘doing the right thing’. One young and ambitious seller ended our discussion with the observation that she had moved jobs three times in the last five years but she wanted to stay here ‘forever’. They are on a mission and she is along for the duration.

Serving Not Selling

I also spend a great deal of time in the financial services sector. This industry is, quite rightly, going through profound change not least of which around legislation and compliance. Those that sell in this business can effectively no longer be incentivised through commissions. Instead, they are managed around their behaviours. The sector is being forced to find new ways to track and report that they are doing the ‘right thing’ for their customers. There’s that phrase again.

Speak to their sellers (though none of them will have sales in their job title) and they will  tell you that they are glad of it. It would seem that they wanted to do the right thing by their customers all along and old systems of commissions and targets got in the way. In fact that might be a bit of an understatement.

Of course, sellers that do not really sell is nothing new. The pharmaceutical sector has  been run in this way for years. Sellers create awareness and educate in a role that is part marketing and part sales. To many quota carrying professional sellers this probably looks like an easy ride. No one is promising a set of steak knives as first prize and unemployment as second. In reality though, their days are long, they have customers to serve and they are being asked to do more with less like the rest of the business world. Easy is what someone else’s job looks like until you have to do it.

Selling, Just Stop

Whilst  commissions and compensation plans based solely on shifting product are illegal in some sectors,  I don’t see this changing everywhere anytime soon. Nevertheless, legislation is sometimes where we see new social norms emerge. In an age of information parity and increasingly connected buyers, we are seeing smart sellers putting their customers agenda at the centre of their business even if it means selling less. Increasingly we are seeing the sales agenda (and yes Challengers too) focus entirely on ‘doing the right thing’. 

Novelist William Gibson is quoted as saying that “the future is here, it is just unevenly distributed”It looks like the future of sales could be about helping customers buy and to stop selling.

Social: The Fifth Age of Selling

Professor Derek A. Newton of the Darden School at the University of  Virginia is credited with suggesting that there are four ages of selling. The ages start with music man and move through animated catalogue, magic formula and finally problem-solver.

The music man (or woman) was most successful before the first world war but you will still bump into them from time to time. For them it’s all about personality and charm. Like them and you will like the product or service they are selling. Whatever it is, it will cure what ails ‘ya without knowing the first thing about ‘ya or your ailment.

As industrialisation made complex products available and affordable to the masses the music was drowned out by the monotone of the animated catalogue. There was nothing this walking brochure didn’t know about the features and functions of their vacuum cleaner and why it was better than the competitors. Knowing so much about their product left little room for understanding their buyers. After all, everyone needs one right? and there’s has more functions and features than anyone else’s.

Times though kept changing for the our sellers. Families changed as did business buyers. Consumer buying decisions no longer fell exclusively to Dad and the corporation was growing in complexity too. Sellers reacted with process, a magic formula. A seller need only walk all the people involved in the purchasing decision into a funnel and then through a series of steps before they would inevitably drop out the other end with their wallet open.

The dominant form of selling today, at least where there is any complexity requires Problem solvers. These are more like consultants delivering value well beyond their predecessors. This is epitomised in selling approaches like SPIN, a research based selling approach from Huthwaite.

Focus

What is surprising about this evolution is how long it took to focus on the buyer, the customer. It was all about seller for the music man, all about the product from the walking catalogue and all about the process for the magic formula. In fact it wasn’t really until we saw the rise of problem solvers that we even noticed the buyer. We finally noticed that there was a customer in the room at all. Even then it was, on occasions, a narrow focus. It was about their relationship with the seller or a limited  set of needs based entirely on the sellers products and services.

The Fifth Age: Social Selling

Today, buyers are better informed than they have ever been before. According to Forrester buyers will consume three pieces of   content that they found themselves for each piece they get from a vendor. They are better connected too. Social tools connect them with those that have similar problems and with those that have already tried to successfully or unsuccessfully solve them. And they trust each other more than than they trust sellers. In fact research from the Corporate Executive Board in partnership with Google suggests that buyers are nearly two thirds of the way through their buying process before they even contact a seller. 

The final age of selling is upon us and it has put the buyer in the drivers seat. The buyer has wrested back control of their decisions. Social Selling is really Social Buying.