Death of a Salesman: The Rise of Social Selling
Your new best salesman works from home:
Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Death of a Salesman may be over 65 years old, yet it feels like a modern metaphor as we watch the changing buying behavior of customers in the digital era. As salespeople are moved further and further away from the buyer journey, the era of social selling supported by content marketing is not only upon us, but the time is now to act or risk fading into the sunset.
The ‘Willy Loman’ Moment
According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report, buyers’ trust in traditional advertising has dropped, while trust between buyer-to-buyer and peer-to-peer is higher than any other.
As someone who has been working in the business-to-business marketing sector for more than 20 years with companies that are generally over-weighted in salespeople and under-weighted in marketing expertise, I have seen how painful the shift is for many CEOs and business owners. Much like Willy Loman, the majority of people I speak with are exhausted from trying to keep up, and generally think if they just keep doing what they have always done, the outlook will change. While the outcome for Willy was not a great one, that doesn’t have to be so for companies today.
The Rise Of Social Selling
Everywhere I turn, someone is saying that the prospect is usually already more than halfway through their buying process before a company hears from them. People use search engines, blog posts, websites, webinars, podcasts and myriad online tools to help them self-serve and self-educate before they shortlist choices. We see it in our own behavior as buyers both for personal and business purchasing. So if the evidence is so clearly in front of us, why is it taking companies so long to get on board?
Having worked with more than 100 companies in the last 10 years of many shapes and sizes, I believe there are three reasons companies are not embracing new sales functions:
- Money: People are afraid to spend money online because their investment to date has not paid off. Things like pay-per-click or SEO did not generate meaningful leads. It feels safer to have sales people than digital programs.
- Structure: People lack a structure for building content that engages and builds trust rather than sells, so they don’t share, connect and communicate.
- Alignment: The sales and marketing teams are still separate functions and work poorly together. While marketing is building the website, they fail to engage salespeople in what they are building.
Where To Spend Money
We have a bit of a hangover from the last 10 years in the digital space where we saw the rise of pay-per-click and other fancy online tactics that worked well in the consumer space. Companies jumped on board and paid for services that they hoped would drive leads and business to their websites. But the overwhelming choice that customers have, combined with a poor understanding by businesses of value proposition and conversion strategy, meant spending money on these things was like driving down the highway throwing 20-dollar bills out the window. This, plus an outsourcing mentality of these services — which means that the “vendor” never had to take responsibility for sales results — meant a lot of time and money was getting spent but there was little to show for it.
The Right Structure For Social Selling
To be successful today with social selling, the paradigm of sales needs to change. You can’t take what you did offline for the last 10 years and apply it online. If you still believe the role of salespeople is to “sell” something, then you won’t succeed in the era of social selling and content marketing.
The role of sales is to create trust: During their buying journey, people want to believe that someone cares about their problems and needs. They want to know that someone is explaining and educating, not selling. The context of sales then needs to evolve to a point where salespeople are not compensated for the sales they close, but rather for the people they bring to the table and their ability to be a recurring customer. The depth and strength of the work they do to build trusted relationships online should be just as important as the deals they close.
Aligning Sales And Marketing
Research conducted by Aberdeen Group (registration required) on the state of today’s sales and marketing departments shows:
- 35% of organizations say they are strongly aligned on most marketing and sales efforts*
- 39% are developing and executing against clear departmental strategies*
- 24% are measurably connecting marketing and sales efforts beyond just closed-won deals*
(*These statistics ignore Best-in-Class organizations and focus on the average of All Other organizations.)
Most organizations are underperforming in alignment, even though marketing and sales are two sides of the same coin. They need to be perfectly aligned in order to operate as successfully as possible.
The New Sales Funnel
Marketing is no longer about writing brochures and chasing down leads. The new sales funnel is about sharing valuable content that your buyer cares about and creating meaningful connections with them. At its most basic level, social selling is about selling the way you, as an individual, buy.
Social selling allows us to create relationships with buyers in social media outlets where the primary goal should be earning trust and building a relationship, not trying to sell something. Social selling is not tweeting about a product promotion or special you are running. Social selling is taking part in the community in which your customers participate to listen, understand, share and engage.
If Willy Loman had been selling during the era of LinkedIn and YouTube, the ending of Death of a Salesman might have been quite different. Instead of drifting off into the sunset, Willy could have been a mega connector sharing valuable content online — and working at home.
About Marie Wiese
Marie Wiese is a seasoned marketing executive who focuses her marketing efforts on the technology, professional services and manufacturing sectors. Marie is the founder of Marketing CoPilot, an award winning digital marketing agency that has helped hundreds of companies turn their websites into lead generation and sales machines. Marie speaks regularly with CEOs on digital marketing using tools developed as part of the Marketing CoPilot methodology, work she continues as an Executive-in-Residence at the Spark Centre, as a Board Member of CompTIA and as a mentor with Futurpreneur Canada. She is the author of You Can’t Be Everywhere: A Common Sense Approach to Digital Marketing for Any Business which won a Gold International Stevie Award in 2017 for Best Business Book of the Year.