By Nicole Terzic
It’s no longer accurate to say social selling is the future of sales. Social selling was the future of sales…seven years ago. Today, it’s a ubiquitous strategy and arguably an industry standard.
Today’s buyers don’t just prefer a personalized, relevant experience driven by insights – they expect it. That means we sellers must up our games accordingly. We also need to be prepared for what’s coming.
The evidence tells us B2B sales is undergoing a fundamental shift. Transactional selling skills – the most common type listed in LinkedIn profiles – are becoming less critical and might even be at risk of irrelevance as digital self service gains prominence.
But strategic selling skills – complex selling, partner management, and ability to build business alliances – are in higher demand. Such skills are also quite rare. Jonathan Lister, LinkedIn’s VP of Sales Solutions, recently stated at the Executive Sales Forum in San Francisco that only 1.5 percent of sellers list these skills on their LinkedIn profile.
Three Strategic Trends for Sales Leaders
Forward-looking sales leaders in all industries should get on board with three emerging trends that figure to carry the future of strategic selling.
Trend 1: Enable your sales and marketing team to deliver a consistent brand experience.
If you cringe when someone says “smarketing,” you’re not alone. Buzzwords aside, there’s no doubt sales and marketing alignment is imperative for today’s organizations.
Buyers want consistent experiences with brands. When these departments are not on the same page, that doesn’t happen. Marketing content needs to jibe with sales messaging. The distinct division of the sales funnel that once existed is now blurred, so it’s important for members of one discipline to occasionally wear hats of the other.
On LinkedIn, we see plenty of data backing up the benefits of sales-marketing collaboration. Our Power Couples guide features a number of compelling statistics. For instance, members on the platform are 25 percent more likely to respond to a Sales Navigator InMail from a company’s salesperson if they have been exposed to that same company’s marketing on the platform. Conversely, LinkedIn members who are connected to a sales rep with a company are significantly more likely to engage with and share its marketing content.
When sales and marketing are aligned around the same strategy and messaging, customers are more receptive. This reality is the driving force behind the proliferation of account-based tactics.
Trend 2: Use sales automation to augment human effort.
The key word here is “augment.” Not replace, augment. Many professionals feel threatened by the rise of new technologies. It doesn’t help when we hear experts saying three million sales jobs will likely disappear in the next five years.
But we’d be wise to view these tools as our friends, not our enemies. Robots aren’t going to navigate the complexities of a high-consideration B2B sales process any time soon. What sales automation can do is cut down on the time we spend on tedious administrative tasks, allowing us to focus on work that truly matters.
How much time could your reps save if predictive analytics automatically organized and prioritized sales leads? Or if pertinent details about a prospect were displayed right in a seller’s email interface – negating the need to look around and research in order to personalize a pitch?
Trend 3: Deliver personalization at scale.
Companies like Netflix and Amazon have set a new standard, offering highly tailored experiences that are becoming the norm. And that’s why social selling can be so powerful. It presents an opportunity to meet buyers where they are and pick up important cues regarding their needs and interests.
On LinkedIn, sales pros see a 51 percent lift in InMail acceptance rates when they and the recipients have a mutual connection. Other commonalities (belonging to the same LinkedIn group, following the same topics, etc.) can lead to a 46 percent increase.
As you can probably tell, even as buyers are now relying more on 1) their networks and 2) new technology to make purchases, they’re also very responsive to B2B selling teams that cater to the way they want to buy.
Join the LinkedIn team at the Sales 3.0 Conference in Philadelphia on December 4, where Brian Walton, director of sales, LinkedIn Sales Solutions will discuss these issues and more in his presentation: “The Future of Selling – Bleak or Bright?” His session will explore changes in sales automation and personalization that winning sales and marketing teams are putting to work. You can learn what technologies LinkedIn and other industry leaders are using as well as how to efficiently personalize every sales effort to win big.
Going forward, social selling will remain a crucial piece of the B2B sales process because it aligns with an increasingly buyer-driven marketplace. But, more specifically, the three developing trends above – sales-marketing integration, adoption of new tech, and personalization at scale – will drive us into this new frontier.
Nicole Terzic is a San Francisco-based marketer at LinkedIn (which has more than 500 million members). She focuses on creating content to elevate the sales profession and has partnered with top sales professionals to realize that goal. Prior to LinkedIn, Nicole had nearly a decade of marketing experience in the nonprofit and EdTech sectors. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.