Social Sales Can Help Deliver Solutions

Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies have been the "early adapters" of social media, not surprising given social media's ability to engage directly and cost-effectively with communities of customers. While business-to-business (B2B) companies have been slower in arriving at the social media party, however, many of the more astute B2B companies recognize that social networking can add tremendous value to their sales process. Although their products and services are not geared to mass markets of individual customers, the complexity and highly specialized nature of their product and service offerings make social networking a potentially valuable sales tool.

As sales-enabling technologies have evolved, B2B companies have witnessed a significant shift in the types of products and services that their customers want. Many companies -- especially those in industries such as machine-building, construction, technology and other industries that are dependent upon an installed base -- are finding it necessary to transition from providing products to selling more comprehensive solutions, often involving machinery, hardware, software and services. This creates the need for a cross-functional sales effort involving people from across the organization, along with the elimination of departmental barriers so that knowledge can flow freely throughout the enterprise, accessible to those who need it to shape deals, identify customer needs, and satisfy customers' unique solution requirements.



The new B2B sales environment calls for new methods of internal collaboration, but B2B sales organizations have not fully embraced collaborative technologies, relying instead on more traditional methods of communication such as e-mail, meetings and phone calls. As a result, vital information becomes fragmented or lost, leading to knowledge gaps and the inability to re-use information or promote organizational learning. Solution sales require the involvement of the entire organization. Fortunately, however, advances in network technologies have enabled B2B companies to undertake the type of collaboration necessary to go from selling what the company wants to produce, to selling the complex solutions that customers demand.

It has been clearly demonstrated that sales people with a nuanced understanding of social networks outshine their competitors because they are able to access information when they need it and provide it when it is asked for. This "social sales" capability involves using social networking platforms such as Tibbr, Yammer, Socialcast or Chatter ('s collaboration tool) to establish internal communities that encourage new levels of collaboration and information sharing. Because community participants are employees with common interests and complementary expertise, the quality of shared content tends to be of a very high order. Before B2B companies pursue the development of a social sales capability, however, they should be aware of the implications of social sales for the existing sales organization. We believe that organizations should check their readiness for social sales across three dimensions:

1. Organizational readiness. To allow people to focus their energies on creating valuable outcomes for customers, organizations should ask themselves if they have a vision for social sales and what they hope it will accomplish, as well as the organization's willingness to introduce nonlinear structures to encourage cross-functional teamwork. The organization also needs to think about how it will monitor and measure the success of its social sales program; whether social sales will be actively supported by the senior leadership team; and which resources will manage the social sales program, establish and monitor usage policies, own and edit content and keep conversations on track.

2. Workforce readiness. Sales executives should determine whether their workforce is prepared not only to adopt new behaviors, but to embrace the notion of being part of an "ecosystem" where specific roles are less important than fluidity and adaptability. This involves asking what programs and communications strategies will best facilitate the transition; ensuring that employees have the right social media skills; and what role incentives and rewards should play in encouraging active collaboration.

3. Technology readiness. Social sales technologies are readily easy to deploy. Networking platforms are fully scalable and can be set up inexpensively and quickly. Yet, B2B businesses need to consider how to evaluate and select the right social media tools, and if social sales platforms will be integrated with existing CRM systems. The need for system requirements, usage protocols and standards must be reviewed, as well as the ultimate sponsorship of the program by the CSO, CIO or both offices.

By drawing on the networking capabilities of social media platforms, B2B sales organizations can build highly collaborative, cross-functional communities of expertise. They can dramatically improve sales force productivity, and can more easily attract a new generation of technically savvy, socially networked employees. Companies that move quickly to build their social sales capabilities will gain the competitive advantage of being able to produce, share and use the right knowledge at the right time, helping deliver highly specialized, comprehensive solutions that customers now demand.

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