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Social Seller Journey: Engaging Today’s Digital B-to-B Buyer

This is the seventh post in a series based on a ZS social selling survey of 125 sales leaders.
By Brandon Mills, Manager, ZS Associates

shutterstock_270477641As has been well documented through recent research, social media is changing the way that B-to-B customers buy: 75% of B-to-B buyers are influenced by social media, according to Frost & Sullivan; 74% of B-to-B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before buying, Forrester Research has reported; and 57% of the purchase decision-making process is completed before a customer engages a sales rep, according to CEB.

Over the past handful of blog posts, we’ve presented our take on what B-to-B organizations should do about these increasingly social consumption behaviors. In many ways, the social seller journey—the final addition to our“Six Building Blocks of Social Selling”—is the amalgamation of the previous five building blocks, connecting the practices of social selling with the buyer’s digital journey.  

Our framework defines the social seller journey as the use of social networks, and social selling methods, to actively engage current and prospective customers during their buying process. While it’s relatively easy for a sales rep to set up a LinkedIn profile or send a few tweets, engaging with buyers through social selling tactics is a whole different animal, especially in more complex sales environments. Too often, we take the inside-out “sales funnel” view of the world that quantifies prospects, leads and opportunities on the way to closing deals. The reality is that the buyer’s digital journey is more fluid and less linear; further, there are many more influencers than just our company. That’s why it’s important to take an outside-in view, identifying opportunities for customer-focused social selling enablers at each stage of the buyer’s digital journey.

By defining processes and providing guidance, tools, training and content that enable sales reps to use social networks to actively engage prospects and customers during the buyer’s journey, sales leaders can build a sales organization that meets shifting buyer preferences and drives increased sales effectiveness.

We surveyed sales leaders to understand the current state of the social seller journey and the perceived impact that it has on their sales teams. Here are some of the significant findings, as well as suggestions for how to take action:

  1. High-tech is ahead of the curve in the journey and adoption of social selling practices. Forty-three percent of high-tech and telecom sales leaders report that their companies are providing sales reps with training and content that enable the use of social networks to actively engage customers during their digital buying journey, compared with only 33% of sales leaders from all other industries surveyed. Of those high-tech and telecom companies that are enabling the journey, these practices are being adopted by about 60% of sales reps, compared with about 46% for other industries.
  1. There’s a missed opportunity to drive sales force effectiveness through the social seller journey. Of those sales leaders whose companies haven’tintegrated social selling practices into their seller journey, only 10% say that they are likely to do so in the next year. Sales leaders cite lack of support from executive leadership (51%) and uncertainty that it will have a positive impact (51%) as the top two barriers. Interestingly, over half of these same sales leaders agreed that encouraging their sales reps to use social networks to engage customers during the buying journey would increase sales force effectiveness, so while there is a perceived benefit, the momentum isn’t quite there to overcome the obstacles preventing adoption of the social seller journey. 
  1. The right content is a key contributor to the success of the social seller journey. Sixty-one percent of sales leaders agree that enabling their sales reps to use social networks to engage customers during the buying journey increases sales force effectiveness. When asked what increases win rates with buyers during their digital journey, 83% of those sales leaders believe that it’s critical to provide content tailored for digital channels. Similarly, 82% said that it’s also critical for content to be specific to each stage of the buyer journey.

How to Start Building a Social Seller Journey

While high-tech and telecom companies may be slightly ahead of other industries when it comes to enabling their sales reps to engage prospects and customers on their digital journey, our research indicates that there is still plenty of untapped potential. To effectively drive sales force effectiveness through social selling practices, first ensure that your sales organization understands customer preferences at each stage of the buyer’s process. How do buyers become aware of a need? Which sources do they trust when researching options to meet that need? When do they prefer to engage with one of your sales reps or your partners during the process? What expectations do they have of those engagements? By understanding how your customers want to engage through digital channels, you can begin to align your sales process, and tailor content, to each individual buyer’s journey and enable your sales reps to more effectively connect with buyers. 


Second, look to establish clear policies and guidelines on appropriate professional and personal use of social media by your sales reps. The intent of the policy shouldn’t be to restrict social media usage, but to encourage increased involvement by providing clarity on how your sales reps should represent themselves and interact in social communities as they engage buyers on behalf of your company. By successfully eliminating uncertainty in what they should and shouldn’t do, sales reps will be more willing to actively engage buyers along their digital journey. 

Finally, with a sound understanding of your buyer’s digital journey, map all of the digital marketing and sales content that you have available to each of the stages. Does the content help create awareness of a need? Does it help interested buyers identify options to meet their need? Does it help evaluate and justify a decision? By aligning your content to the buyer’s digital journey, you’ll enable your sales reps to engage the right people with the right content at the right time. 

Next up, we’ll wrap up our series on the six building blocks to incorporate social selling into your sales model by leaving you with some lessons learned.

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