April 9, 2012

How sales and marketing can collaborate in social business

Image by VLADGRIN on BigStockPhoto.com

Social business disrupts traditional roles of B2B sales & marketing

Christopher RollysonSales and marketing sit on the edge of a massive disruption, and B2B professionals who realize it and act will reap enormous rewards. In a nutshell, the economics of “one-to-one” communications are networked now, which gives Sales huge new leverage. Meanwhile, Marketing has the opportunity to personalize its function in myriad ways. For one example, salespeople today go to their networks and try to create contacts for the pipeline using phone, email campaigns, referrals, etc. This is minimally scalable. Here’s the social business approach.

B2B sales

Social venues like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, mainstream media sites with comments, and blogs have created the opportunity for prospects and clients to connect with and educate each other very quickly, which enables them to be much smarter. They no longer depend on Sales to educate them as in the past. I met social marketer Paul Gillin recently, and he put it like this (paraphrased): “The sales funnel has inverted, the new funnel is: 1) go to where people are; 2) listen to what they care about (in their terms, not yours); 3) invite interaction (by helping them understand their situation); 4) respond to them and adjust your approach.”

The smartest prospects need collaborative salespeople who form relationships built on trust — people who serve rather than sell.

So clients are far smarter than before because they self-educate and approach people whom they (or their friends) trust. This is a different world. Sales organizations that don’t realize it will be competing for a smaller market each year; the smartest prospects need collaborative salespeople who form relationships built on trust — people who serve rather than sell. This world is accessible through transparent (i.e. public) social venues that have far different economics of communications and relationship than traditional B2B Marketing or Sales can imagine.

More specifically, social business now gives Sales much more access to scaled individuated communications. Salespeople who understand this are on the verge of a new golden age due to mass collaboration opportunities in online social networks and forums.

For example, they can:

  • Introduce business scenarios to hundreds of prospects in online forums and ask their advice (for example, when pitching a solution to a prospect, they can get input on the prospect’s situation and even objections, leading to unprecedented credibility)
  • Discuss proposed contract terms in forums and get other members’ input; if they are even more daring (I’ve done this), point the prospect to the online conversation
  • Respond to prospects’ discussions about situations that are relevant to the firm’s products or services
  • Share articles that address prospects’ top of mind concerns via major platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn) and in forums
  • Create networks in platforms that will deliver relevant articles to them for free
  • Blog about prospects’ situations and their thoughts about them
  • Note that all of these communications are digital and forever; these artifacts are (mostly) individualized and can be reused by salespeople or discovered by prospects at any time in the future.

B2B Marketing

Meanwhile, the impact of Marketing’s mass communication has been plummeting since the early 2000s. Very few people fully appreciate the reason: People have almost always preferred to be considered and communicated with as individuals. During the 20th century mass communication age, people accepted mass communications because they were new and marvelous. However, today they are abjectly normal and usually superfluous.

Even more poignant, many-to-many communication tools have been changing expectations: People increasingly prefer to learn through their networks, “friends” or “connections” rather than mass communications because networks are more personal. People want to be addressed as individuals. To have impact, communications should apply to the prospect’s individual circumstances. This is where Sales And Marketing have to be if they want to remain relevant.

Action steps for collaborating in social business

Sales and Marketing both need to get out of their comfort zones if they don’t want to fall behind early adopter competitors who are getting in the (digital) room with clients. This is uncharted territory for everyone right now. Although far from perfect, the existing boundaries of Sales and Marketing have defined each function and have been comforting, as familiarity usually is.

Here are some suggestions for how Sales and Marketing can collaborate in social business:

  • Realize that the client doesn’t care about your organization. Clients want relevant information and assistance that help them to solve problems now. They want to trust your company to have their best interests in mind. It doesn’t help them to have Sales and Marketing operating separately. They no longer want “marketing messages”; they respond most to people who help them with their problems now.
  • Marketing can develop highly specific search tools for Sales and Marketing to use to locate conversations. These searches can search the entire Web and return 30 conversations per month on, for example, restaurant grease fires caused by industrial kitchen hood filters.
  • Sales and Marketing can collaborate in covering highly relevant social venues, which works beautifully when you define roles and topics. Members of your teams can ask each other for assistance right in the venue. To add the most value, Marketing needs to get more experience with specific client scenarios, so they can offer specific resources. “I’ll send a brochure” (or video) doesn’t cut it anymore.
  • Marketing can develop specific bits of content based on their observations of and interactions with real people with specific challenges. Sales can offer links to these. Marketing can use Delicious or a similar social bookmarking site to create specific bookmarks that refer to answers to what prospects ask. Make these links the best, even if they aren’t the firm’s content.
  • Marketing can ask questions in relevant forums and manage discussions. Ask questions about insights you learn by observing client and prospect conversations.
  • Sales needs to adopt the mantra, “Serve, don’t sell.” No one likes to be “sold to” because it refers to a salesperson with his or her own agenda. It features low trust. It’s a dinosaur. But sales needs to develop quantitative metrics for trust development (here’s one mind-expanding example and a social business lifecycle model).
  • Most important: After years of conversations with executives, I realize that it is very difficult to read about this and understand it. You have to experience it. Although I’m an early adopter, I began my career in the 1980s; I have experienced all these technologies, and many of them put your mind in a blender. You can’t imagine them.
  • More suggestions in 2012 Will The year of B2B social business adoption.
  • As an example, here are many of the conversations to which I have contributed comments: Think of how powerful it would be if you were to contribute comments and collect your responses, which you could always share with prospects. It’s a new world. Carpe diem!

How do you see this unfolding?


 Christopher S. Rollyson is a partner in Socialmedia.biz and managing director of CSRA, a management consultancy that advises enterprises and startups on social business strategy and execution. Contact Christopher by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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3 thoughts on “How sales and marketing can collaborate in social business

  1. Great post, Chris. Especially like the approach you set out of salespeople who need to server rather than strictly sell. The best salespeople always took expansive view of their roles, but now it's become mission-critical to their employers as well.

  2. Thanks JD, I'm amazed at 2 things: the size of the opportunity and people don't see it! I can only conclude that very few “complex sale”/relationship-centric salespeople have enough experience with socialapps to imagine the future. Carpe diem, indeed ;^)

  3. Very interesting. Sales vs. Marketing has been a lively discussion for years, but your post highlights the opportunities if the two groups truly work hand-in-hand.
    You may a good point about how Marketing needs to get much closer to the customer experience, and guide Sales on where to be and how to act socially.
    We recently spent some time at our National Sales Meeting focusing on the use of LinkedIn and Twitter to form relationships with customers and within the community. It took a while for people to catch on, but I'm now seeing some great activity from our sales team. I'm fortunate to work with a Director of Sales who “gets it” and wants to drive adoption of social media within his team.