Editor’s Note: The following article is the second in a two-part series highlighting how B2B companies are using social media from cold to close. This installment explores the use of social selling tools.
By Owen McDonald, Contributing Author
Marketing and sales teams today struggle to decode social media streams. They must decide how best to use the information they gather for social sources, and how to analyze its efficacy for their demand generation efforts.
But that cryptic area is now yielding its secrets. Business Intelligence, CRM and marketing automation vendors, as well as providers of social platforms, are refining their systems to monitor social media and to identify genuine prospects based on their social media behavior.
From Business Intelligence To Social Intelligence
The emerging science of Social Intelligence [SI] plays a major role in this trend. SI has its origins in Business Intelligence concepts and tools, which equip users with up-to-date information about companies, prospects and clients. Now, Social Intelligence is rapidly growing into its own distinct category. This includes SI vendors such as InsideView and Lattice Engines; acquired solutions, such as the acquisition of Radian6 by Salesforce.com last year; and companies such as SAP and Oracle that have added SI functionality to their existing CRM platforms.
This new breed of SI systems is designed to scour social networks – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and others – and deliver real-time assessments of social activity back to companies.
Social Intelligence, in turn, enables Social Selling, where companies connect with leads via social networks, and then convert these "social leads" into prospects. But the tactical use of Social Intelligence is still in its infancy. When companies attempt to act upon information gathered from social feeds, they must also have a process in place to ensure that actionable messages get to the right person to take action as quickly as possible.
The ROI Of Social Intelligence
In its Gleansight Social Intelligence 2011 report, research firm Gleanster affirmed the high value of SI, while driving home the critical need for context, and for the process, tools and infrastructure needed to make social media intelligence pay.
“Social data adds far greater value when paired to business goals, used to hone in on specific audiences and integrated with other sources of consumer insight," the report stated. "A successful social intelligence program must not only have technology to capture and distill information, but also a strategy around distributing the findings to those who can take actions that translate into increased business value.”
In a recent blog post, Gleanster’s Ian Michiels said, “Sales reps from Top Performing organizations (organizations that outperform peers in revenue growth and bid-to-win ratios) are five times more likely than all other respondents to incorporate inbound and outbound touches with social media channels.” Michiels added that best practices for using social media in sales include identifying and building relationships with influencers, setting up effective social media profiles, and identifying which social media sites are best for lead generation.
SI users can also apply the insights they gather to other business activities. A product development team, for example, may use SI tools to identify opportunities to add new features or to extend product lines. Social Intelligence can also identify and address online complaints about negative brand experiences, helping a company to protect its brand and preserve customer relationships.
B2B Embraces Social Selling
Brian Kardon, formerly of Eloqua and now Chief Marketing Officer of sales intelligence firm Lattice Engines, acknowledged the importance of social media for BtoB firms.
“[SI] is perhaps the fastest growing piece of the "big data" story — the millions of unstructured tweets, videos, webcasts, blog posts, LinkedIn profiles, etc. out there," Kardon said. "We are in the very early days of social selling. In a few years, we will look back and laugh at how crude and inefficient our social selling processes were.”
Kardon pointed to the Aberdeen Group study, Chance Favors the Prepared Mind: Understanding the Science of Sales Intelligence, as a source of vital SI insights for B2B sales organizations.
“Aberdeen Research reports that the average salesperson spends 24% of their time searching for relevant information to prepare for sales calls,” Kardon said. “That number has been rising as reps do more of their research online looking for nuggets of information that they can use in a sales call."
Best Practices For B2B Social Selling
Kardon added that there are at least two major drawbacks to manually mining social media for sales leads, as compared to using automated methods:
Time: “There is a mountain of information for a human to go through. How can an individual sales rep spend time talking with customers if most of their time is spent doing online research?" Kardon stated. "[Lattice Engines] recently did a study with CSO Insights that said that reps search as many as 15 different sources of information to find information on prospects.”
Predictability: “A rep does not know what factors drive a higher propensity to buy. The marketing automation guys say it is ‘lead score.’ But that causal relationship is seldom validated, and ‘downloaded a whitepaper’ does not accurately predict sales propensity," Kardon said. "There are also ‘alerts’ and ‘trigger' providers like Google Alerts. These notify reps of news, but do not have the intelligence to indicate whether the trigger is a selling opportunity.”
Common attributes and best practices among B2B companies that are successful in Social Intelligence and Social Selling include the following:
Monitoring the social activity of high value customers, and notifying sales reps in real time of any change/activity;
Building a predictive analytics capability, drawing on external sources, internal sources and social networking to alert reps to the best sales opportunities as they arise;
Sharing experiences from sales reps having the most success in social selling. The difference between a heavy/successful LinkedIn user and a novice can be striking. Sales leaders need to democratize this knowledge.
As the use of Social Intelligence expands, a good deal of activity is taking place among Business Intelligence [BI] vendors. Umberto Milletti, CEO and Founder of BI firm InsideView, has observed how parallels between the evolution of BI and SI technology are playing out in the market.
“Combining sales intelligence and marketing automation is an important next step for companies when employing social media for sales,” Milletti said. “Our users are leveraging our technology to watch high-quality, qualified leads and to approach them based on alerts that indicate a willingness to engage.”
More and more, sales teams are now using these BI/SI tools to identify high-quality leads, and to track those leads as they traverse the sales funnel. Watch lists and alerts that help sales people reach the right person at the right time are critical to effective social intelligence and social selling, Milletti stated.