Empowering B2B sales: The importance of Social Selling in the Digital Age

With the B2B sales model fundamentally changing, Margarita Lindahl, heading the Panasonic Connect PR & Social Media activities, explains the importance of social selling skills in today's business landscape alongside tips for training and wide-scale adoption.

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I recently had a conversation with a very valued sales colleague, who I have worked with for many years and who trusts me enough to be completely honest:

“Margarita, you know me and you know my sales figures. I have known my customers for years, and I have a good reputation, their trust and commitment. Why do I need someone to tell me how to sell now? I do it offline, I do it my way. All this social selling sounds nice but you know how busy I am, I do not have time for that fluffy stuff.”

In effect, this is a conversation all about time and progress. Time that my sales colleague does not have. Progress that comes from new trends and a new way of decision making by customers.

Taking a step back, it is obvious that social media is changing the way that people buy. Selling in the B2B world is now more challenging than ever. Alongside the global economic challenges, selling itself has become more complex and competitive.

Traditional sales methods are beginning to fail. The window of opportunity to influence buyers has narrowed. Research shows that today only 5% of a typical buyer purchase journey is spent with the sales representative and there are many factors influencing decision making. For example, on average there are now 5.4 people involved in the B2B buying decision and, according to a Forbes article, 90% of decision makers say they never respond to cold outreach. In fact, during the pandemic there was a 30% drop in response rates.

So how can we address these challenges effectively? 

One answer could be social selling. 

Turn the traditional sales model on its head

Top sales performers are turning the traditional sales model on its head. According to LinkedIn surveys, sales representatives that invest in social media, hit their team quota 64% of the time, compared to 49% of salespeople who did not use social media. Leaders in social selling also create 45% more sales opportunities than their peers.

It’s no longer an initial sales meeting, a deal being closed, and a relationship established. Today relationships are the starting point for a sales process – not the outcome. So, how do we create these new relationships? By adding value. 74% of buyers choose the company that was first to add value when they were researching and defining their purchase. This is social selling. It is about leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships and ultimately, achieve your sales goals.

Richard van der Blom, one of Europe’s leading Social Selling evangelists and trainers - having worked with more than 850 companies - emphasised to me: 

“Social selling complements traditional methods, providing new opportunities to engage and grow your customer base. Embracing these changes can help maintain your competitive edge and maximise results. While time is always a constraint, prioritising social selling can yield significant long-term benefits.”

And he quickly dispelled the misconception that social selling might be passing fad. 

“Social selling is not a trend or hype, it’s a method based on the evolution of the internet and social networks. For example, 88% of modern B2B buyers consider LinkedIn as one of the primary sources to find relevant information. 82% of the buyers are looking for an almost entirely digital buying experience. It would be naïve not to respond to this need by leveraging online tools and networks.”

Increasing reliance on social platforms

Elsevier’s ScienceDirect also recently published a study, Harnessing the Power of Consumer Engagement, which emphasises the crucial role of social media in consumer engagement and highlights the correlation between product lifecycle and effective social selling. It showed that in the early stages of a product lifecycle, a popular promoter brings most attention. But for products in growth or maturity, engagement through discussion is most successful. 

As customers increasingly rely on social platforms for product research, recommendations, and reviews, businesses must seize this opportunity to engage with their target audience. By training staff in social selling skills, corporations can better understand and leverage consumer behaviour, adapting their sales approaches to align with the changing landscape.

A foundation for sales success

Richard van der Blom adds that the fact that B2B social platforms like LinkedIn are becoming even more social only adds to the opportunity to build new relationships:

“I love the transformation of LinkedIn from a boring digital rolodex, where people would simply copy and paste a job offering or a marketing flyer, to a platform where people embrace storytelling. In my opinion it makes selling easier, as this provides you with a lot of personal hooks to really connect with people. You don’t walk straight up to someone you just met at an offline network meeting and start selling. First you chat, you laugh, you connect, you build trust. So, why not do this on LinkedIn?”

While trends do come and go, social selling has proven its effectiveness in the digital age. It's not just a fleeting trend but has already been proven a valuable method to build relationships, engage with prospects, and provide valuable insights for sales professionals. Adapting to new methods is essential for long-term success. Embracing these new methods today will help you stay ahead of the curve tomorrow.”

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Tips for effective adoption

So, social selling is important to the future of big business but how do you bring your colleagues on board and convince them of the benefits? Based on more than 30 Social Selling training sessions at Panasonic Connect Europe (some alongside Richard), I would recommend the following:

  • Don’t try to convince everyone. First aim your efforts at the ones that are enthusiastic or willing to learn.
  • Try to create internal best practices as soon as possible, as nothing motivates others more than seeing their colleagues become successful.
  • Make sure that management is aligned and supportive and demonstrating their own commitment through Digital Leadership. This means leading by example.

And I can attest that it works. 

I recently had another conversation with my very valued sales colleague from the start of this article. 

In the beginning, he did not even have a LinkedIn profile. 

In the beginning, he did not care about this topic. 

In the beginning, he only attended some of the social selling training as a favour to me. 

He quickly saw the potential and the necessity. So, he called me a few days ago: 

“Margarita, could you please remind me again where I can data back-up my LinkedIn profile, in particular the contacts and communication? It would be a disaster if I would lose them. In particular, the new ones. This is crucial for me as I do not have the time to set-up everything anew.” 

“No worries,” I told him. “Your personal online brand is now as valuable as the time you have invested.  It is valuable for you, for me and for the company. Let’s ensure it is there today, tomorrow and in future.”

By embracing social selling, businesses can unlock new opportunities, strengthen customer relationships, and secure a competitive advantage. So, seize the moment, invest in training, and ensure your company's success in the digital age.