For most of my professional life, I have generated sales by developing relationships and intentionally prioritizing my connections with customers above all else. My focus has always been on building trust, adding value, and spending time with a prospect to understand their pain points before attempting to close a sale or ask for a referral. The term “Relationship Selling” has been coined for this type of style.
Building rapport takes time and effort, and, historically, a heavy focus on face-to-face contact with prospects to go along with a light dusting of online interaction. However, the landscape is changing, and along with it the mixture of in-person activities and online time.
The global pandemic transformed the way we live, collaborate, and connect with each other personally and professionally. To adjust to so many disruptions, buyers turned to technology to keep in touch with one another and their vendors. For that, we have millennials to thank. According to Indeed, “Millennials are the first generation to truly grow up with the age of technological advances.” Because of this and their establishment in the workforce pre-COVID, millennials helped ease the transition of virtual communication becoming common practice.
Buyers have not only embraced but often prefer virtual communication. Sales professionals need to understand that if they are going to connect with prospects and build rapport, they must change their strategy. The market demands a new breed of sales professional: one who is capable of building strong relationships virtually, yet still possesses the interpersonal skills needed for face-to-face interactions.
Here’s what you need to know about the changing landscape and how it applies to service industries.
The term “Social Selling” has entered the marketplace and can be defined as a new approach to selling where salespeople directly interact with their prospects on social media platforms. This approach gives a salesperson the opportunity to establish credibility and build rapport before they meet in person. It applies to all types of customers, including insurance agents, property managers, and facility managers.
According to LinkedIn Sales Solutions’ internal data, “78% of businesses that use social selling outsell businesses that don’t use it.”
there are many techniques for social selling. Although not all apply to selling a service, the ones that do can be considered a goldmine to a salesperson because of the wealth of information at their fingertips. What once took repetition and creative effort to investigate a prospect’s needs is now openly discussed and available online. Your prospects are posting their concerns, asking questions, and sharing tips freely through chat forums, groups, and blogs. You can use this information to formulate a solution-based message that speaks directly to their pain points… before they even know you exist!
So how do you begin to make the shift into the virtual world of selling? The first step is to identify where your prospects are having online conversations and on what platform (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram). Wherever they are is where you want to have a presence with the intention of learning, not selling.
Think back to the days of focus groups. According to the University of Arizona, Tucson’s Methods for Collecting Evaluation Data, “Focus groups were originally called ‘focused interviews’ or ‘group depth interviews.’ The technique was developed after World War II to evaluate audience response to radio programs.” Companies took this idea and would bring together people of similar interests or characteristics to gain information about a specific or focused issue.
Fast forward to the present time. People are creating their own online focus groups without even realizing it and without a moderator. They are openly discussing their needs and struggles, posting comments on forums, and sharing what’s important to them. You need to be listening!
This brings me to the next step: adding “social listening” to your daily routine. Social listening is reading the comments and conversations of your prospects with the intent of learning more about them. You will begin to “hear” common questions and hopefully get a real sense of how the problems they discuss are impacting them. Be consistent with your social listening efforts and do so with enough frequency to be able to identify which subjects are truly hot topics.
Once you understand what your prospects need, create content that will offer them value. This will allow you to reply to their questions or acknowledge their online comments with helpful information. You could even create a free video session that speaks directly to the issue they are having. This is not an outlet to bombard strangers or to share as much content as you can. This is today’s way of establishing a connection and building trust with each other.
Although to some this approach may feel uncomfortable or a little like stalking, try to think of it as information gathering. Your goal is to learn about your target audience so you can formulate a marketing message that is relevant to their needs. Not only do your prospects want useful information put in front of them, they expect it! Once you get into the groove of showing up online, you’ll realize that social selling is modern-day relationship building.
Today’s socially savvy salesperson is more efficient in discovering:
- Who to target within an organization
- Who they know that already knows them
- What’s happening in real-time
- How engaged the prospect is with their customers
- What their customers want from them
- What they are complaining about
Here are a few tips to transition into the virtual side of selling:
- Identify which social media platforms your prospects use and optimize your profiles.
- Join social media groups and relevant forums, and subscribe to blogs.
- Share content at the right time, to the right people, to build credibility.
- Pay attention to comments in posts with high engagement and build content from hot topics.
- Set up social monitoring alerts to know what people are saying (good or bad) about your company or brand and handle it appropriately.
- Set up Google alerts to notify yourself of terms related to your competition, such as products or services, and when key people are mentioned.
- Be consistent with your efforts.
- Track your online engagement to monitor what’s effective.
Adding these steps to your sales plan will give you an understanding of what your buyers are doing and saying and will offer precious insights into issues you may fail to spot by other means. Imagine walking into a prospect’s office for the first time and they actually know you—or feel that they know you—because you’ve connected online and have already built trust through valuable conversations. When done right, these steps can replace the dreaded practice of cold calling!