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Social Selling: The Key to Sales and Marketing Alignment?

Sales and marketing alignment is a constant struggle for many organizations. No matter how often your marketing and sales leaders meet, try to make changes, and open lines of communication between each team, it seems that sales and marketing are always at odds. This may have much to do with the speed at which each of these disciplines changes and evolves. Thanks to the development of marketing technology and automation, marketing has progressed greatly over the past 10 years. It’s no longer the “arts and crafts” or one-dimensional advertising department it used to be perceived as. Conversely, sales seems to be stuck. Sales reps are more or less selling the same way they did 10, 20, even 50 years ago. These contrasting speeds of evolution are causing sales and marketing misalignment and are inhibiting organizations from succeeding.

Jill Rowley, Social Selling Evangelist and modern marketing expert, discussed this issue of misalignment—and the possible missing piece of the sales puzzle—during a Sales Summit session yesterday at Dreamforce. According to Jill’s LinkedIn profile, she survived 6 years in management consulting and 52 quarters of software sales (full disclosure: I love that unit of measurement). Needless to say, Jill knows what she’s talking about when it comes to how sales and marketing teams work and what they might be doing wrong. Jill’s go-to key to success: better alignment, not just with marketing and sales, but to, for and around the customer.

Today’s buyers are not required to tolerate old-school marketing and sales tactics like they used to. They can learn from their peers, the internet, and ideally your website and content before even speaking to a sales rep. And traditional selling doesn’t cut it anymore: According to Jill, a LinkedIn study on buyer behavior found that cold calling not only offends buyers, but reflects poorly on your brand and you as an individual. This means that if sales reps want to be interesting to a buyer, they have to be interested in the buyer.

Enter “social selling.” Social selling is no longer a brownie point for sales reps who are tech-savvy early adopters; it’s becoming a necessity for sales reps who want any attention from buyers. After speaking with other attendees of Jill’s session, I learned that many large companies have a split of “old school” reps who avoid social platforms like the plague, and a smattering of “millennial” reps who can act as change agents in today’s social selling age. It can be difficult to get buy-in from seasoned reps, but with Jill’s advice it is absolutely doable.

Since marketing is typically most involved with social media management and well-learned in digital, it’s important for marketing to be involved in the social selling initiative. Below are some of Jill’s tips for implementing a social selling strategy and ensuring that it sticks for the long-term.

  • Emphasize the use of social networks, not social media to do research, be relevant, and build relationships that drive revenue. Many sales reps may be averse to the idea of social “media,” but this is different from engaging with social networks. Networks help to layer on identity, find out more about the individuals reps are selling to, their connections and their interests. This information lets your reps get to know their prospects and vice versa, which helps to build trust and credibility.
  • ABC: Always Be Connecting (not closing!). This acronym will resonate with your older sales reps, but maybe not for the right reasons. Connecting with people you meet and being mutually connected helps build a strong repertoire of potential buyers.
  • Use content to engage/reengage your buyer. Content is the currency of the modern sales professional. Reps should learn to keep track of what buyers are reading and sharing, so that they can have insightful and relevant conversations, possibly by sharing related content (created by your company or found elsewhere), which helps to create a digital voice.
  • Listen socially for leads. Sales reps should listen for mentions of your industry and product for opportunities to provide commentary and expertise.
  • Measure meaningful metrics. The old ways of measuring sales success are out of date. Yes, pipelines and revenue still matter, but you may need to change your lead scoring metrics to include source or level of engagement. This better aligns marketing and sales metrics, and gives credit for quality sales interactions.
  • Stick with it. It can be hard to keep reps on the social selling path if they don’t see the ROI they want. Some sort of curriculum that teaches in small bites that helps them learn piece by piece over time can help keep reps engaged. Incentives for social selling can also work to improve adoption of social selling strategies.

For many companies, social selling seems like a pesky item on the to-do list that never really seems to get started or checked off. The truth is social selling is not an item to be crossed off a list. It is a reframing of your sales strategy that involves putting the customer first, catering to their needs and interests, and paying attention to the changing industry around you. Sales and marketing leaders must work together to implement the right social selling plan, with the right content and resources in place, to attain true sales and marketing alignment.

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