The sales process is undergoing a complete metamorphosis worldwide. (1) The “cold call” has been replaced by the “warm call”(2) as salespeople increasingly utilize social technology to increase sales productivity. This includes leveraging shared contacts for introductions to decision makers in target companies. The process has been labeled social selling and is considered to be one of the “hottest” buzzwords in high tech. However, according to SAP CMO Jonathan Becher, it is also one of the least understood.(3) The reason, according to Adam Peterson, CEO of VipeCloud, is that social selling means different things to different parts of an organization. The Marketing Department defines social selling as using social media like Twitter and Facebook to generate leads. Sales thinks this is about leveraging shared contacts on LinkedIn for referrals and introductions. Customer Service believes that social selling is all about monitoring Twitter to counter complaints and re-tweet positive customer experiences. (4)
The Role of Social Media in Social Selling
Of the 7.18 billion people in the world, 41% are active Internet users and approximately 68% of those will use a social network at least once per month. This figure is expected to increase to three out of four by 2016. Worldwide there are currently an estimated 2.03 social media users with growth being driven by Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa. Asia-Pacific has the largest social network user base which is expected to expand to 1.1 billion users by 2016 or in other words, triple the size of Latin America’s current social network audience. (5) Growth in the social networks greatly impacts business as 65% of social media users access these channels for information on brands, products, or services.(6)
The major social media channels continue to show strong growth. Facebook leads with over 1.3 billion members followed by the Chinese social media company QZone with 848 million. Increasingly, Internet users are accessing social media on their phones. Active mobile social users are estimated to be 1.56 billion which equates to a 22% penetration of total mobile phone owners. (7) LinkedIn which it self reported 300 million members worldwide (67% outside the United States) is currently the most widely used social technology in business. (8) Not only is LinkedIn a job resource in 200 countries, it has been a successful sales tool: according to a recent study, salespeople using social media to leverage their contacts (specifically LinkedIn) are 51% more likely to surpass their quota than traditional sellers. (9)
From Social Selling to Social Buying
Social media has not only helped to ignite political change in the Middle East, it has also revolutionized the way companies interact with salespeople. Over 70% of B2B decision makers now use social technology as a source of information when engaged in a purchase decision. (10) In addition, a recent study reported that the purchase process is close to three quarters complete before the decision maker directly engages with a salesperson. (11) Social media has empowered the buyer. The decision maker is no longer dependent on the salesperson for all of his or her information. Companies are utilizing social technology to engage in social buying, not social selling.
One consequence is that the decision maker can be inundated with information without a way to sort for relevance. This creates a new opportunity for salespeople to add value to the sales process. Futurologist Jamais Cascio says "The trouble isn't that we have too much information at our fingertips but that our tools for managing it are still in their infancy….Google isn't the problem – it's the beginning of a solution." (12)
U.S. based startups companies like VipeCloud, Yesware, and Cirrus Insight have developed products to help salespeople embrace social media to increase productivity in the sales process. In a recent interview, Adam Peterson, CEO of VipeCloud www.vipecloud.com, discussed his concept of "Customer-Forward" Sales. (13) As a result of power shifting from seller to buyer, and the consequently exploding number of social media tools now available, salespeople can be overwhelmed and “adoption has become a scramble”.(14) In response, Mr. Peterson’s company VipeCloud created an evolving plug-in-play interface to help companies integrate buyer-focused (or 'customer forward') tools into their sales workflows. This platform enables VipeCloud to put forth its own customized products as well as partner and consolidate with best-in-sales offerings to deliver email and phone productivity, social selling, live demos, digital transactions, and customer relationship management (CRM) integration with a single interface. Interesting to note that although VipeCloud has fewer than 10 employees, thanks to the Internet, it is doing business on six continents with a large percentage of its customers in Europe and a rapidly growing presence in Asia despite the fact the company is located in Silicon Valley.
Social media has transformed the sales process worldwide. Decision makers are no longer dependent on salespeople for information. Social buying has replaced social selling. Innovative concepts like “Customer Forward Sales” enable salespeople to utilize social technology on a global scale to create new ways to add value for their customers in the quickly changing landscape of sales communication solutions.
1. OlgiveyOne Worldwide interviewed 1,000 salespeople from the US, UK, China and Brazil and found that more than two thirds of the salespeople surveyed believed that the buying process was changing more rapidly than sales organizations have been able to respond. (https://socialbusiness.hootsuite.com/rs/hootsuitemediainc/images/hootsuite-socialselling-whitepaper.pdf
2. Jeffrey Gitomer is widely considered the Sales Guru. Mr. Gitomer has over 50,000 followers on social media and over 1 million YouTube views as well as a weekly e-zine Sales Caffeine with 250,000 subscribers. He is the author of Social Boom and the New York Times bestseller The Sales Bible. In a recent Forbes interview, Mr. Gitomer stated: “One of my most re-tweeted sentences was, ‘What you do outside of business social media will determine your fate inside of business social media.’ My website, my email magazine, my blog, my books, my corporate seminars, and my public seminars all create the ability for social media to work and all build reputation and ranking. There’s one more secret: my messages are consistent, relevant, thought-provoking, and actionable”. http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2011/04/15/jeffrey-gitomer-interview-on-social-selling/
While the percentage of worldwide growth is expected to decline from 13.4% to 10.8% in 2015 to 8.9% in 2016, the numbers are still impressive with an estimated 2.37 million by the end of 2016. The fastest growth areas are India, Indonesia, Mexico, China and Brazil. http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Social-Networking-Reaches-Nearly-One-Four-Around-World/1009976
7. http://wearesocial.net/blog/2014/08/global-social-media-users-pass-2-billion/ More than half the people in the world own mobile phones with the number of unique users estimated to be 3.6 billion.
13. Mr. Peterson came up with this term while wine tasting—it is a play on words on the “fruit-forward” appellation attributed to the New World wine industry (United States, Australia, and New Zealand). The “fruit-forward” term is used to describe a style of wine which has an upfront dominating fruity taste compared to one that is considered “oaky” or “buttery” or more complex. (October 9, 2014 interview).
14. October 9, 2014 interview.
October 9, 2014 interview. As shown in this video on the company website: www.vipecloud.com