Tim Hughes on Social Selling Best Practices to Grow a Business

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Approx. 8 min. read
Last updated: October 30, 2018

To create sales opportunities, you may prefer to proactively engage your B2B prospects on social media rather than cold calling them.

Cold calling techniques seem to have reached some limits: finding the decision-makers’ phone numbers is challenging, your prospects may ignore calls from unknown numbers or they might not be available to answer your calls. Think about it: how many cold calls do you have to make to hit your monthly or quarterly quotas? Studies show that social selling tactics are more effective than cold calling: only 1% of cold calls convert into meetings with prospects while 69% of discussions started on social media lead to sales opportunities. Tim Hughes, CEO and Head of Sales at Digital Leadership Associates shares his best practices to successfully engage leads on social media.

Tim Hughes revealing social selling best practices

Hi Tim, in the podcast The #3 Ways to Get in Touch With Anyone - B2B Sales Selling released on September 5th, you share tips to engage prospects on social media. Can you tell us a bit more about those best practices?

Many people think that social selling is selling on social media, but it isn’t. Indeed, an unsolicited InMail is just a cold call but on a social network. People are fed up with all these interruptions and broadcasts coming from salespeople.

We all have busy lives and the last thing we need is to be interrupted by cold callers, unsolicited emails and ads. One of the attributes of modern life is that if we don’t filter out all of these messages, they just become noise.

Related: Nicolas Vanhove: Do's and Don'ts to Succeed in Social Selling

So how can social media help? 

There are two types of demand generation activities on social media:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Inbound Marketing.

In both cases, the person you make contact with (or who makes contact with you) looks at your profile and “checks you out”. If you look like a spammer, you will be treated like one. One company said to us “we sent 250 InMails and went nowhere”. Of course, they looked like spammers.

In the B2B world, you must look like an expert, just like when we go and meet with clients. More often than not, whatever you sell is “complex”, otherwise we wouldn’t need salespeople. Our roles as sales professionals is to explain how we will satisfy the clients’ “complex” requirements. We do this by having both active and passive activities on social media and by showing our prospects that we are those experts who can help them and guide them in their decision-making process.

We do this by having buyer-centric profiles, having a strong and supportive network and by writing and sharing content. Using social selling tactics rather than cold calling will allow us to prospect better and faster. Also, Inbound Marketing is a great way to supplement your prospecting strategy.

Read Also: Influencer Insights, Part 9: Tim Hughes

You explain in the podcast that writing is the way you actually engage with leads. In your opinion, why creating informative content is crucial when it comes to social selling?

Regardless of the prospecting method you use on social media, prospects and clients will “check you out on social” and they will make a judgement to evaluate if you can help them or not. Note: As salespeople, whether we are selling waste management and recycling solutions or accounting softwares, we are experts. We help, guide and advise our clients as they go through the buying process.

We have always done this in the analogue world, we now need to do this in the digital sphere as well. With buyers using social media more often, we now must look like experts online as our competition is just one click away.

To show our prospects that we are experts and the type of person they want to talk to, we need content. Relevant content will help us prospect in an effective way. We need to curate and create content.

After all, salespeople should be the best communicators in the world. We put sales materials together, we write emails and customer proposals, and so forth. Our creative writing has always been action-based, from creating sales opportunities to closing deals.

Salespeople are communication experts, which is why they have (when we train them) no problem when it comes to writing. For example, here at Digital Leadership Associates (DLA), we do no outbound. In fact, we don’t have to. We don’t make cold calls, we don’t send unsolicited emails and we don’t place ads. The company posts a unique piece of content every day. 

With our current content strategy, we generate three inbound leads everyday. Creating content is therefore one of the ways we prospect. At DLA, we have a prospecting culture, which is why as CEO and Head of Sales, I write one blog post a day. We get all our future projects through inbound tactics, which is why I write and I write, as this is how we prospect.

"At DLA, we have a prospecting culture, which is why as CEO and Head of Sales, I write one blog post a day."

Employee Advocacy helps salespeople be more visible on social media and position themselves as experts, can you tell us more about this approach?

Employee Advocacy can help salespeople, but it depends on how it’s done. Employee Advocacy is not just another channel to push corporate content. People simply don’t read corporate content anymore, it is all the same. Nobody cares about messages such as “we are great” or “we are number one”, those messages have just become noise.

The trick here is to empower employees to speak in their own voice about the company.

With Employee Advocacy, you can optimize your SEO strategy, leverage your influencer marketing strategy and improve your content marketing strategy. Just by activating a small number of advocates, the company can own the narrative on social media, literally “shouting out” the competition.

"With Employee Advocacy, you can optimize your SEO strategy, leverage your influencer marketing strategy and improve your content marketing strategy."

LinkedIn is often seen as the go-to-channel to reach more prospects. Do you think that other social media channels can be used in a Social Selling strategy?

Before I went to my first meeting with a prospect, I asked the salesperson I was mentored by what should I do. He said “you need to build rapport to make the communication process easier and more effective”.

Today, we would call that engagement. When I went to that meeting, the person had pictures of fly fish on the wall, so I engaged the person in a conversation about fly fishing. As humans we always do this, when we want to form a bond. In the same way, we can use social media to build trust. Indeed, a person is more likely to buy from us if they know and trust us.

In the B2B Enterprise space, there are four, possibly five networks you need to be on:

  1. LinkedIn is the professional network for all B2B Enterprise sales. That said, it only represents 30% of your social graph.
  2. If your clients are in the IT industry, then you should be on Twitter. Twitter is also the network of thought leaders and entrepreneurs.
  3. The growth of Instagram means that even though this platform may not be perceived as a B2B Enterprise platform, you will find prospects and customers on Instagram and you will be able to understand the challenges they are facing.
  4. Facebook is good for group discussions. LinkedIn groups are pretty much dead, but there are many closed groups on Facebook that the B2B Enterprise salesperson should be a part of either to find content and engage with prospects or to demonstrate expertise.
  5. If you are looking to be a public speaker, then you need to be on YouTube. It is also a great network to prove that you are an expert by posting video content.

While this seems like a lot, at the end of the day, the overall qualifier is that you need to go where your customers are. As a beginner, start small, use LinkedIn and maybe one other network. You can then start using other networks as your confidence grows.

Related: A Guide to Optimizing Your LinkedIn Profile for 2019

Which metrics would you advise a business to use for evaluating the ROI of a social selling strategy?

There is only one metric that companies should use to evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of social selling and that is revenue. Companies that embark on a social selling program must have a mechanism with which they can measure it. There are CRM systems that provide an ability to measure activity on social media, all the way to closed deals.

When a company starts a social selling project, they may use something like the LinkedIn Social Selling Index (SSI) for two quarters to run a competition. This allows people to start getting used to the right kind of behaviour social selling requires as the SSI algorithm will manage this.

But companies need to understand that this is just a measure of behaviours and therefore a vanity metric.

Social selling, when done properly, will enable you to grow incremental (new) revenues by 20-30%, to be more efficient compared to legacy sales prospecting methods. It also enables you to gain a competitive advantage. The qualifier here is done properly.

You will gain some insights by reading my best selling book Social Selling - Influencing Buyers and Changemakers and reading articles on Google. But, social selling is a change of mindset and like Judo, you cannot learn it by reading books!

About Tim: Tim Hughes is a Social Selling expert, keynote speaker and best selling author. He has co-founded Digital Leadership Associates, the “Social First” Management Consultancy firm. Follow Tim on Twitter and LinkedIn!

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