Spotlight

Expert Talk Sales with Anna Rokina: Social Selling and How to Make it Strategic

The importance and imperativeness of social selling was brought to many people’s attention as a consequence of the past year. Britta Lorenz was joined by Anna Rokina to discuss the various aspects of social selling and how to make it strategic. We will outline how to approach personal branding using your personal LinkedIn profile to better your B2B social selling, as well as the techniques and strategies you will need to be successful.

B2B social selling and how to make it strategic

To start with the basics and build a foundational understanding, we asked Rokina to share her definition of social selling: it is using social media channels to carry out your sales process. These activities include the whole range of typical sales processes, from prospecting, researching your target companies to finding and reaching out to key decision makers. Altogether, you use social media to amplify and accelerate the activities of the traditional sales process. Some important tasks that Rokina recommends in becoming an established social seller and which will play a big part in your success includes:

  • Building your personal brand. B2B social selling is about triggering interest and then building a relationship with people that you connect with. This is only possible if you bring authenticity into your online presence (but don’t make it too personal).
  • Becoming more visible online by creating, curating, and publishing content that follows your messaging and resonates with your target persona.
  • Engaging in communities and the people around you. Be communicative and active in the circles that have the influencers and thought leaders in your industry.

What is an appropriate balance between personal branding and professionalism on a platform like LinkedIn?

It should be well understood that your profile is not an extension of your company. You are representing yourself on the platform, which is the essence of personal branding. You should outline for yourself how you want to be perceived and what you think others in a professional space would gain from knowing some personal stories or thoughts. Some content about yourself is acceptable and encouraged so that people can get an overview of who they’re interacting with. But you should bear in mind the context and intentions of people using LinkedIn.

There is a stark difference in the usage and tone of voice of LinkedIn when compared against Facebook and Instagram. There are no hard instructions on what you should and shouldn’t include since every individual is unique and uses the networking platform for their own purposes. However, Rokina emphasizes the importance of considering the tone, context, and mindset of the audience you aim to start a business relationship. Be mindful of the professional reasons and expectations that people have when they open LinkedIn, whether it be to find a new job, meet new people, network, sell etc. Always ask yourself ‘is this how I want people to see me?’ before adding something new or sharing content on your profile. This is your business card in the digital world, so take extra care of it.

Aim to build the messaging and content of your personal brand around the personas that you target instead of the industries. If you work in sales, it is relatively difficult to build expertise in the industries that you are in contact with, unless your career is tied to the industry alone. However, you will see a more consistent pattern in the people you find yourself selling to. Your persona, which is a predetermined and scrutinized aspect of your sales process, forms the basis of how to construct your brand and content. After establishing direct contact with a potential buyer, you can specify towards their industry.

Empathy and curiosity are among the various skills you need to succeed in social selling

Understanding the pains and needs of your customer is the baseline to your success, as Rokina explains. As your sales process is carried out on a social media channel, you may feel a disconnect as there is a sense of distance and possible anonymity when using the platform. Nonetheless, there are genuine opportunities that are circling around so you still need to maintain an open mind and be receptive to the circumstances of your counterparts. This involves doing research on your prospects and their respective industries, which lends into being curious.

The digital world is not only suitable for finding new connections and carrying out your sales process, it is also a powerful research tool. Leverage the various accesses to industry-specific portals, blogs, and publications channels. This way, you will collect insights into the minds of the decision makers and companies that you are targeting and frame the conversations around their contexts. When you finally enter a conversation, after having sat down and conducted thorough research, this combination of empathy and curiosity will propel you into valuable customer relationships. Rokina has repeatedly noticed triumphant social sellers master and deploy these skills in their sales responsibilities.

Moreover, writing is a significant social selling technique, particularly conversational writing. Avoid being too formal or robotic in your approach to talking with people. On top of this, steer clear from sending long pitches to connections. This was also a recommendation from an earlier expert talk that we had with Melissa Madian on contacting, engaging and building lasting bonds. You will need to hone your storytelling skills and your ability to trigger an answer within a short message. Try to draw in your prospects without giving away too much information on how you can support them, since this level of detail is suitable for a scheduled call.

How can we build trust through this (oftentimes) anonymous world of social selling?

Rokina shares that the term of ‘social selling’ has created a misconception within itself between selling and being social. If you are selling, it is difficult to build trust. But, if you are being social, conversational, and adding value in your messaging, then you are paving the way to building trust. There is little chance that you would trust someone that starts their first contact with a pitch, a CTA or “let’s book an appointment” in their second message. The chances are even slimmer if they are unfamiliar and don’t share much about themselves on their profile.

By putting together the steps of building a strong profile, integrating personal branding and starting your conversations by answering problems or questions relevant to their industry, you lay the basis for establishing trust. Emphasize that you want to help to achieve their goals or address problems from reaching success, you will get your prospect’s attention.

Social selling techniques

Sales enablement and social selling: how can we best support our salespeople?

Rokina has been hard at work with this subject. She has used a programmatic approach to training and enablement in order to develop suitable social selling skills. Her opinion on effective ongoing learning is to make a swift transition from transferring knowledge into practicing new skills in real life situations.

Take the skills of prospecting, researching and finding decision makers as an example. Plan that for every fiscal year or quarter, your team comes together to use Sales Navigator and create a target plan. Firstly, build a list of target companies, industries, territories, and countries. Afterwards, build a map of the decision makers you will need to contact to work through this list. Lastly, assess how using social media and social selling can trigger conversations that will bring your company business opportunities.

Though it is a bit more difficult to train writing skills on a quarterly or annual basis, Rokina offers the idea of a writing contest as practice. Create a collection of challenges that your sales and customer-facing teams can opt-in to participate. You can train your teams’ writing skills and ensure that they build the habit of publishing content consistently. After some consecutive challenges over some quarters, you are bound to see results improve.

To help your sales representatives and social sellers gain the most from these chances to train and practice their skills, share the exact reasons WHY and HOW it is useful to their jobs. Like social selling, you will grab the most attention and engagement from emphasizing the value that these social selling techniques will bring.

Signs of a successful social seller

“A good social seller is the go-to person in the market either for: a specific product OR a problem.” Somebody who is known by decision makers and that is recommended by other customers or prospects.

As soon as you start your social selling activities and receive requests from people you’ve never heard of before, you are on the right track. It’s not necessarily someone who creates the best videos, but someone who manages to position themselves and networks in a strategic way to become more known and receive more referrals.

The LinkedIn algorithm is based on level of engagement. If you are able to produce content once or twice a week that invites engagement and performs well, this is more than enough for your personal profile. There should be some personal content and complimentary content you have curated yourself, so visitors can feel connected and relate to you. Rokina recommends a 20% benchmark for publishing company-content on your LinkedIn, but this also depends on the quality and suitability for social.

KPIs to guide your social selling activities

It is a bit more challenging to track social selling performance since it is still mostly carried out in a personal manner. We aren’t dealing with corporate accounts in the traditional sense, so we can’t use the same sales KPIs. However, there are 2 areas that can be measured within the social selling context:

  1. Usage and adoption. There are certain meaningful activities on LinkedIn Sales Navigator that displays what your sales team is doing and tracks if they are taking the right steps.
  2. Social selling index (SSI). LinkedIn provides you with a score based on how effectively you portray your professional brand, find the right people, build relationships and engage with insights. Its like a ‘one to rule them all’ type of metric and uses big data that is not easily available to most LinkedIn users.

Rokina also recommends using smaller-scale KPIs, such as a target number of social media success stories per quarter. When you aim to have at least 2-3 examples in each period, you can gauge what steps are needed to achieve this goal.

How has the pandemic changed the perception of social selling?

Though we are still in the process of seeing what changes and effects will materialize, 2020 was the year that most of us realized the potential social media has in searching and creating new business opportunities. The method empowers salespeople to bypass the typical gatekeepers and contact influential stakeholders directly.

In some manner, the pandemic acted as a proof of the concept of social selling (usually proven through successes in revenue or sales results – but there are many factors that affect these 2 areas). More people are aware of how it can minimize the risk of their sales strategy, by incorporating social selling training. Many companies and industries that discarded social selling and considered it ‘nice to have’ faced a big realization. The sectors most affected used a more face-to-face focus for conducting their sales conversations, which obviously wasn’t and still isn’t permitted for many of us.

3 tips for someone that wants to start social selling

  1. Whether you are starting off or at a more advanced level, you should dedicate a decent amount of time to fixing and building your profile. This is your first impression to the LinkedIn community, so presentation matters. From your profile picture to the banner you choose, each characteristic of your profile adds to how you are perceived (both on the website and mobile app). Treat your profile like your own personal website.
  2. Start networking and connecting with people. It is somewhat of a numbers game; set yourself a target for the number of connections you want to make. But don’t automate this procedure. LinkedIn has recently limited the number of requests each person can send and the number of pending requests. Build your network meaningfully and with purpose.
  3. Once you’ve made a connection, understand and map out your next steps. Each of your social interactions needs to have a justification and plan for how you wish to develop this into a proper relationship. Imagine your profile as a mini funnel and ask yourself: what will you do with the people that view your profile, what will you do with people that like your posts, how will you filter through the connection requests you receive and so on.
  4. And lastly, don’t be pushy and sales-y. We are in a new age where this approach turns people off. Take a more personal approach and be empathetic to their lives, needs and pains.

About Anna Rokina

Anna Rokina's social media career started in Moscow. Since 2005, she has grown her expertise to span from social media listening & analytics to social media marketing & strategy. For the past 9 years she has lived in Singapore and has worked with a variety of agencies including the likes of Lenovo and the Oracle Digital APAC and Japan team. She has recently started her own social status transformation consultancy and training company, Smart Social. Her drive has always been to extract the value from social media for companies because there are many advantages and possibilities with using social.

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