Social Selling for the Modern Buyer

Social Media Cube

Most of us would probably agree that the average person does not want to be sold to. As much as we all buy products and services and experiences, we don’t want them to be sold to us. People don’t like to feel the pressure. When we recognize a need or a problem we look for a solution, and that’s when we traditionally reach out to Sales. Buyers have to contact Sales to inquire about a solution, get more info, and eventually make a purchase. This puts Sales in control: the buyer has to come to them.

But the modern buyer operates within a completely different environment, so the modern salesperson must fill a completely different role. With such free access to information, buyers can do their research without ever contacting a company. They can seek out reviews online, find testimonials on social media and find out the general public sentiment about a company before Sales has a chance to get involved. If the company has an e-commerce system, buyers can pretty well avoid every potential Sales interaction.

Social media provides a wonderful new environment for the modern buyer, but the modern seller is able to benefit too. Sales can see how prospects interact in the social environment as they volunteer information about themselves in real time. They can track what prospects are reading, who influences them, where they seek out information and so on. This gives Sales an opportunity to tap into the same networks and build trust within a community the prospect already belongs too. Now, when a prospect is ready to make a purchase, guess who they think of first?

Not only that, it facilitates customer-Sales interactions in a way that benefits both parties. Sales listens to prospects and customers in real time, meaning a better understanding of customer needs. Prospects hold Sales accountable to always provide engaging information rather than make constant sales pitches. Plus, this power-neutral relationship allows less formal and more immediate communications: Sales can reach out to new prospects or rekindle interest by old customers without ever picking up the phone.

Social Selling is defined in Eloqua’s Grande Guide as “the practice of leveraging social networks…in the overall sales function, from lead generation, to closed deal, to account management”. Social Selling is a way of responding to the changed buyer environment, and it works better for both parties. Sales is able to connect with potential buyers much earlier in the cycle and start building a relationship that can lead to more and bigger purchases. And buyers still have control over what information they provide and the degree to which they engage with Sales.

As much as the way the modern salesperson does her job is changing, the goal of Sales is still very much the same. Fundamentally, Sales is responsible for getting a buyer to the point where they can purchase. Buyers still start the cycle by seeking solutions to their problems. Branded thought leadership content is great during this information gathering stage. Then buyers narrow down the list and compare their best options. Sales can share internal and external content that touts the benefits of their solution. When the prospect is ready to buy she looks for social proof. Having an engaged social media following of current and past customers is exactly that kind of proof.

So Sales is still working towards the same objective, they’re just taking a different route through a new environment. Now, Sales accompanies the buyer throughout the whole purchase journey. “Selling to” a prospect means building a relationship over time, building trust with the buyer, and eventually making a transaction. And what better way to build that relationship than to engage “socially”, with Social Selling?

Improving Student Enrollment with B2B Marketing Strategies

classroom desks

The problems of increased competition for students, staff, and research funding are putting a strain on higher education institutions, forcing many to completely re-invent their recruiting methods. With more higher education institutions to choose from, students, staff and donors are having an equally hard time connecting with any one institution; the competition is negatively affecting both parties.

To better serve their customer (i.e. the student or staff or donor), higher education institutions can learn something from the many similarities between their challenges and the challenges in B2B marketing. Consider, if you will, how the challenges of increasing enrollment in the academic sector and improving lead conversion in the business-to-business sector face are really very similar.

B2B and higher education marketing have several common dilemmas, in fact. Both have to market to a variety of individuals, all on an individual level; each must appeal to every customer in a personal way. This is a challenge of mass-customization. Both are plagued by extremely constrictive budgets to achieve their goals, prompting questions of revenue management and ROI. Both are highly focused on conversion; a primary objective is getting more prospects from the “interest” to the “purchase” stage. The ways that B2B marketers approach these problems can reveal tricks for how higher education marketers might do the same.

B2B solves the problem of variety by ignoring it. Where there are no common factors in demography or geography, there are common factors in behavior. While a final purchase decision is made on different variables for each customer, most move though the same buyer cycle when considering that purchase. If you know that buyer journey, you can track what leads a prospect to become a customer, or a student.

B2B marketers have customer life-cycle management tools that they use to track this buyer journey and in fact, many education institutions are already taking advantage of these tools for their own purposes. The data capture available through many of these tools makes it easy to track current student behavior, which gives insights into how to target prospective students. Further adaptation of these tools represents a huge opportunity for higher education.

These same tools also help B2B marketers solve some of their resource-restriction problems. By using a more robust analytics system, marketers are able to identify their “ideal” customer and target them specifically. Without superfluous ad spend on uninterested prospects, marketers also have more money to spend on their ideal customer. Consider the benefits if higher education institutions could identify the “ideal” student and target that student exactly where she is, providing her all the information she needs, before she even asks for it. This would also reduce costs in head-count, as fewer active marketers would be needed to connect with more prospective customers.

With student personas and an idea of the typical student life-cycle, higher education marketers will be able to spot potential students much earlier in their search for an institution and thus guide them to that purchase decision. Not only will marketers be more effective, we will be using fewer of them, and their jobs will be easier. Taking a page out of the B2B marketing hand-book will improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of higher education; we give that strategy an A+.

Why You Need a Personal Brand

Your “brand” is the meaning behind your name – the thing that is recognizably “you”. A sort of mental and emotional short-hand, your brand is the collection of thoughts and feelings and experiences that people connect with “you” inside their heads. If there is consistency in these experiences, people begin to associate them with your brand, giving it its own identity.

The real benefit of a brand identity is that it can connect tangible products and services with somewhat intangible ideas like innovation or customer experience. Now when I think of your brand I don’t just think about widgets, I think about trustworthiness and quality of work and accountability; I connect with your brand on an emotional level.

By giving people a way to identify with you on an emotional level, beyond the product or service you offer, that connection runs deeper and is much stronger. When people are able to make that emotional connection, they naturally become more loyal and even become brand advocates.

But there is also incredible value in having a brand on an interpersonal level. By creating a consistent set of expectations about yourself and your work, and meeting those expectations, you see similar rewards. You appear as a more authentic team-mate and leader and you can motivate people to follow you based on their previous experiences with you.

If you can make the work you do synonymous with who you are as a person, you don’t have to convince people to buy into your ideas or products; they will trust the dependable brand they are familiar with and will see value in what you provide just because you’re the one providing it. Wouldn’t it be great for your customers, employees, or teammates to see you as the perfect company, leader, or teammate to help them meet their needs?

So create that brand and use it to guide your personal and professional life. Create that identity that can connect who you are with what you do. Brand your work and your ideas and make them identifiable and familiar for people, and then use the emotional connection they have with you to sell them your ideas.

B2B Marketing Tips from the Funnelmentals Panel Discussion

Bizo’s B2B Funnelmentals event in San Francisco made for an exciting day; we loved all the insightful presentations and conversations. As co-sponsors of the event, we were invited to participate in a panel discussion on Modern Marketing, and the conversation uncovered lot of great insights; insights we want to share with you.

Bizo has done a fantastic job of summarizing the most valuable learnings from the full event, but we also wanted to answer some of the questions we didn’t get to during the panel. Our own Ryan Abreo has summarized the main insights from the discussion and even included a few bonus questions that weren’t answered Thursday. We hope you find it helpful.

Q: Where is content marketing headed? We’re all swimming in white papers, webinars, blog posts, videos, and Tweets; where should we be focusing our content development energy? What’s next?

With Content Marketing we’re trying to drive engagement, showcase thought leadership, increase brand awareness, support/accelerate the ‘Buyer’s Journey’ and so on; there are lots of objectives.

The biggest challenge we’re trying to overcome is content saturation and therefore prospect atrophy. The important thing then is to provide the right balance of quality and quantity: not too much content or too little, but always relevant. To nail down an efficient content marketing strategy, try to do the following:

  1. Make an impression – Ask yourself: how am I being unique? Ask yourself: is this content I would share with a relevant audience in my social network? Ask: what is my Content Reputation? Ask: is this content high quality and interesting, or mediocre and boring?
  2. Simplify Content Discovery/Curation – people have short attention spans, you have to be thoughtful about getting the right message, to the right person, at the right time, (and increasingly now) through the right channel. You have to combat content saturation with high-value, but “digestible” content.
  3. Mine Internal SME’s – content creation is expensive but there is definitely an “internal expert” within your organization; someone with great ideas but no bandwidth or competency for developing content. Facilitate content creation by making it easy on them.

Q: How has your own “marketing stack” (your CRM, marketing automation, analytics, DMP, and other tools and software) evolved over the past 24 months?

There has been a lot more off-platform, value-add development. The gaps between the services many marketing technologies offer reveal huge integration opportunities. Tools for consolidating the view of the customer and managing leads throughout the cycle will be the next big drivers of growth.

An interesting way to broaden that consideration is to look at the evolution of the entire ‘Sales and Marketing Stack’. The past 12 months have seen a climate of aggressive acquisition: Oracle [Eloqua]; SFDC [ExactTarget]; Adobe [Neolane]; Microsoft extending Dynamics via 2012 acquisitions of MarketingPilot and Social.

For the short term there are, and will continue to be, Apps or Services that extend or improve functionality as we evolve towards a “one platform” system; for now they are still fundamentally different products and services. In the long term, disparate marketing arms like social marketing, automation, CRM, and revenue performance management will be consolidated under one central program, with a slew of integrative benefits:

  • Data Management (one ‘master’ contact and account DB)
  • Closed Loop Reporting
  • Integration Simplification
  • Better Automation, Segmentation

Q: With the rising importance of technology in marketing, how have you changed your marketing organization? It seems that every company’s marketing organization is different. Is there an optimal way to structure our marketing team? Will a best practice organizational template evolve over time?

Modern Marketing exists because there is a Modern Customer. There’s been a rise in technology to support engagement with the Modern Customer, but it’s still valuable to keep a “customer-centred vs. technology-centred” view when considering operational changes to your Marketing Organization.

Yes, you will need technologists to run your technology, but you will also need customer service experts to connect with customers on a deeper level. Best practices are always first practices; this balance of technology- and customer-centrism will help you continue to evolve over time. Two important changes that support this balance are:

  1. Adopting a more Agile Campaign Methodology– really get focused on right message, right customer, at the right time, through the right channel.
    • OREO – “You can still Dunk in the Dark”
      • 15ppl in War Room – Decision Makers, Social Media Team, Web Design Team
      • 15K Retweets, 20K Likes on FB, trending for hours after the game
      • Actionable Insight: Knowing 36% of people “second screen”
  2. Being Clinical about Testing – build your “marketing strategy” from the bottom up with a firm basis in testing. This means WAY more than A/B testing a subject line, evolving away from HiPPO or even conforming to ‘best practices’; it means finding out what works for you based on a rigorous process of hypothesis and testing.
    • Obama’s Digital Team – Crowd-sourced Fundraising for Re-Election Campaign ($500M in Donations). Key Insights:
      • Test – Do not Trust your Instincts
      • Create a Culture of Continuous Testing

Q: What are your biggest challenges right now?

There are several big challenges in Modern Marketing which are really manifestations of the same problems marketing has always faced.

  • Proving Value/ROI – “not getting the most out of our technology investments”
  • Poor relationship with sales/combatting low credibility with Sales
  • Difficulty getting past execution to developing an actual Marketing Strategy
  • Data Acquisition: collecting it, analyzing it, acting on it

A Best Practice is a First Practice

Best Practice Pinboard

In marketing, a best practice is an excellent stepping stone towards innovation, but it is not an effective steady state; the value of a message and its means of delivery both degrade with exposure.

Today, many corporations are leveraging technology as a vehicle to communicate with their customers. However, many marketing departments simply employ ‘best practice’ configurations of that technology. They see the industry standard as a utopia of efficiency; a way to guarantee effective technology spend. This is simply not the case.

In many cases, a best practice is a process whose effectiveness is not negatively impacted by its use. In other words, in these cases, continued implementation of the same best practice does not make it any less effective. But there are also cases where effectiveness has a sort of half-life. Consider two common medical best practice scenarios:

1)      Apply direct pressure to a wound to slow bleeding
2)      Administer antibiotics to assist fighting a bacterial infection

Consistent application of the former technique will typically never hinder its effectiveness, as millions of repetitions of this practice, even on the same patient, will generally yield the associated outcome. This is a static best practice. It largely holds true until a better practice is developed to replace it. In the latter scenario, this is not the case. Some bacteria can become resistant to certain antibiotics – largely believed to be attributed to repeat exposure []. As with marketing messages and techniques, this type of best practice is a dynamic best practice – it can degrade with use.

Marketing and Antibiotics
Similar to the antibiotics scenario, the effectiveness of a Marketing Best Practice is directly proportional to the frequency of its usage. Consider this sequence:

  • Marketing technology is rampant[].
  • Innovative marketing departments create processes (message / media combinations) which prove to be effective.
  • Software companies aggregate these processes, defining and sharing ‘best practices’ to increase adoption of their software.
  • Marketing departments are exposed to best practices and begin to mimic them.
  • End customers are continually exposed to the same best practices (the same message/media combination) from multiple brands across multiple channels.
  • The effectiveness of the marketing dwindles with each exposure.

In an attempt to force better results out of the process, marketing departments begin to put undue pressure on content of the message, when the underlying problem is that they are simply mimicking a stale best practice. The audience has received the same message through the same media that has been used so many times before. Any novelty has simply worn off. No content, regardless of quality, can be expected survive this scenario.

A best practice approach is still a dependable methodology, when implementing technologies for the first time. These foundational practices are a great way to ensure you start on the right path. That said; do not expect consistently heroic results from these configurations and practices – especially if your competitors have already exposed your shared audiences to the exact same techniques.

The Marketing Medicine
To tackle this problem, it is critical for a marketing department to foster an environment where processes can be explored and tested against other ideas. This is especially critical for a brand who wants to stay ahead of their competition.

There are some simple first steps to transforming your marketing processes to encourage and drive innovation. They can be done in parallel:

1)      Build a best practice configuration of your marketing technologies
2)      Construct a data-driven, cyclical approach to your campaign planning[]

Building a data-driven, scientific approach to your marketing planning will foster an environment where information can be leveraged to make innovative decisions. A campaign planning structure which includes hypotheses and true experimentation allows organizations to break out from the paralysis that can be caused by relying too heavily on a ‘best practice’ approach.

This cyclical approach draws attention to competitive analysis and an audience-focused message. It complements the KPIs that already exist for marketing effectiveness, but also creates a framework for continued marketing success. Corporate in the infancy of leveraging technology for their marketing efforts actually have an advantage: they have the ability to leap-frog competition who have settled into a best (over-used) practice scenario.

The brands of tomorrow will be shaped by their ability to evolve best practices to better meet their customers’ needs. Those that hope to be lucky enough to continually stumble upon the best content and campaigns will inevitably become obsolete. It is only those brands and marketers that empower themselves to innovate consistently who will succeed.