Increasingly, business buyers are using online, digital and social sources to drive their purchasing decisions. They are typically over half way through the purchase process before they even engage with a sales person. What this means is that a large part of the sales process has disappeared and with it much of the impact that professional sellers previously had. If sellers do not adapt they risk losing what little influence over the sales process.

New tools, old rules

To stay relevant sellers must adopt a new approach and develop a new set of behaviours commonly referred to as ‘social selling’. We live in an online, open and social world where sellers have no option but to focus first on the success of their customers. Whilst the phenomenal growth of social networks is driving the revolution, it is, in many ways, old rules, new tools.

It starts with putting customers at the centre of what they do. To do this, they must understand their customers and their markets, and use social channels to build eminence in advance, before they engage in selling and prospecting. They should also adopt some of the behaviours of marketing professionals, as the lines between sales and marketing blur.

Gone are the days when sales were reliant on customer references, competitive intelligence or even leads from the marketing department. There is a plethora of social content: 500 million tweets every day alone. There are also thousands of blogs focusing on companies, competitors, partners and their challenges, and that is just for starters. Social media is a rich source of information that provides sellers with opportunities to engage and build awareness.

As buyers become more social and connected, so their needs become more transparent.  Sellers need only listen. That being said, this is not as easy as it first sounds given the sheer volume of online and social content.  A search engine is not precise enough to filter through the noise and stay up to date with a portfolio of existing customers let alone what is usually a longer list of prospective ones. However, those that use the right social intelligence tools to identify relevant insights will be rewarded.

Social intelligence is delivered by sifting through the mass of information and distilling this to uncover social signals such as management changes, awards, new products and periods of rapid growth or decline. These social signals inform us about what is happening to customers, partners, competitors and markets.

Building a personal brand

When business buyers start their purchasing process they do so in a search engine. They are then likely to reach out to their professional social network. Sellers do not live in a vacuum. They need to ask themselves when their customers and prospects start searching, what will they find? This is why every seller should consider their personal brand. First, they need to get the basics in place. Every seller should have a profile on professional networks that is built for customers and not for employers or recruiters. Achievements should reflect customer successes and how sellers have helped. Prospects do not care if sellers made quota, they need to know if they made their last customer successful. This is what keeps them awake at night. Social sellers should have online references and endorsements too. Doing the right thing for customers gives them the right to ask. And customers that have been served and supported will be more than willing to say so.

The changing role of the seller

Today’s buyers do not expect to be interrupted or bothered by sellers when they are not ready to talk. But when they are ready, their expectations will be high. They will expect to be able to find their sellers and establish their reputation online. They will also expect the seller to be up to speed and to already have an understanding of their business, their market and their challenges.

In turn, sellers are re-examining their role. Their success is a natural outcome of their customers’ success. They are, as they always have been, in service to their buyers.  Each interaction should be driven by the question ‘in what way am I going to make a difference’ or ‘how will I make their life better?’ If they don’t know the answer to this, then this is where their journey to become a social seller should begin.