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How Social Selling and Social Listening Cultivates Brand Advocates, Increases B2B Sales

By Ryan Rieches

Jill Rowley, formerly of Salesforce.com, was such a star salesperson at enterprise software company Eloqua that she earned the moniker “EloQueen.” Few if any in Silicon Valley had a better handle on the art of engaging buyers through social media in a way that was less about hustling product than serving as a helpful, highly attentive “information concierge” on a mission to connect, facilitate, and enlighten. After Oracle acquired Eloqua in 2012, she signed on to school Oracle’s 23,000 sales professionals on social selling. 

Today the hashtag-savvy Rowley is Chief Evangelist at Jill Rowley #SocialSelling, advising companies such as Accompani, which, according to her LinkedIn profile, is “bringing to life a whole new way to manage your relationships” — “a three-dimensional, living, breathing engine of opportunity.” An in-demand keynote speaker and workshop leader, she is passionate about elevating professionalism in sales and determined to inspire more colleges and universities to offer Professional Selling curriculum and degrees. She spoke with BrandingBusiness Founding Partner Ryan Rieches about her stint at Oracle and the pillars of her social selling framework.

Rieches: I mentioned in the intro your role at Oracle. Maybe you can talk a bit about that role and why an organization like that—B2B—should have their salespeople and marketing people trained in the art of social selling.

Rowley: It actually goes back to the work that I was doing at Eloqua as an individual, quota-carrying sales rep, where I was the top performer year over year. I was leveraging social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to find my buyers, to listen and relate to them, to connect with them and, ultimately, using social as a channel to engage. And not only with my buyers but my buyers’ sphere of influence.

Sales is all about relationships. I was using social networks to get people to know me, to like me and to trust me. I was able to add value to them by sharing relevant content, by engaging with them in their conversations via the social web.

Oracle is trying to transform from being a very traditional software company where, once you get the customer to sign… You’ve sold them the multi-million-dollar contract up front. They’re already committed. Versus cloud, where the technology is sold as a subscription. The customer doesn’t have to renew; they can move to a different provider. Oracle was looking at becoming a cloud company and also looking at the change in the workforce demographic. By 2020, 50% of the world’s workforce will be millennial or Generation Y, and those are the kids that are between the ages of 18 and 34. They’ve known nothing else than having unlimited access to information and to people.

So [Oracle] asked me to design, deploy and drive adoption of a global social-selling program to teach, in particular, the more tenured, older generation of salespeople how to modernize the way that they build relationships with their customers.

I started with evangelizing the why—why it mattered to the sales rep based on how they are measured. They’re measured on pipeline and revenue. I’ve spent years researching social selling and so I know that the percent of sales reps achieving quota is higher than reps not using social selling. That’s the first why. The second why: you don’t have a choice. It’s “adapt or be replaced.”

The buying process has changed and salespeople are being replaced by search engines and social networks. A large percentage of the buying process is being done prior to the buyer ever engaging with the salesperson. We’re living in the age of the customer. The customer actually has more access to not only information—about your company, your products, your services—but also to people who have used your products or your competitor’s product. So salespeople are becoming a lot less relevant to the buyer being able to find a solution to solve his or her problems.

Rieches: Two or three presenters [at the 2014 BMA Global Conference] spoke about this, and I think the stats were somewhere between 60 to 70 percent of a buyer’s decision is actually made in advance to even calling upon the company and mostly influenced online.

Rowley: Buyers don’t trust your marketing messages, your ads, or your salespeople nearly to the extent that they trust other buyers. So the role of a salesperson is not always be closing but always be connecting—connecting and building their professional network with existing customers, with influencers in their buyer’s world. Who does my buyer trust? They trust the experts. They trust their peers. And so, as a sales professional, you’re not only trying to connect with the buyer and the buying committee but with who your buyer already trusts.
The currency of the modern sales rep is content—content that helps the customer get the customer more educated, helps them learn best practices, helps them access stories of how to be successful.

Content is the third pillar in my social selling framework. I teach salespeople how to read what their buyers read and then share that content across their social networks. I teach them how to find the best company-branded content that’s based on buyer persona and buying journey. And I also teach them how to share cat pictures. Not really cat pictures but content that humanizes the sales professional and demonstrates what is important to that salesperson outside of, maybe, the context of business.

But before I teach salespeople how to read and share content that would resonate with the buyer, I make them start with a social makeover. I teach them to look at their LinkedIn profile from the lens of the buyer, not the recruiter. If you think about a lot of sales reps are using LinkedIn as their online resume and it’s optimized for the recruiter. So it’s like, “Quota Crusher, Expert Negotiator, President’s Club Winner.” People buy from people they know, they like, they trust. Nobody likes or trusts the quota crusher.

You need your LinkedIn profile to demonstrate why that buyer should want to take your meeting, return your phone call, respond to your email. The first step is helping sales professionals demonstrate their subject-matter expertise on their social profiles.

Twitter is the most underutilized, misunderstood network. Spend a course with me focused on Twitter and you will walk away realizing it’s not where you share what you had for lunch. It’s where you find very influential people talking about what your buyer cares about and where you find buyers talking about things that you could be part of that conversation if you implemented my fourth pillar of the framework, which is social listening for leads. A lot of companies have implemented social listening for customer service and support, at a marketing level to listen for brand sentiment or impressions and mentions. But very, very few companies have said, “Buyers are out there having learning parties and they’re using social to query their peers, to ask for input, and they’re leaving little breadcrumbs.” A buyer might say, “I’m looking for a company doing lead nurturing.” And if you sell lead-nurturing technology—ding, ding, ding—that’s a great opportunity for you not to go in and tell him how great your lead-nurturing product is but to showcase some of your customers who are doing lead nurturing.

Rieches: Shift from selling to listening, being aware and then helping…

Rowley: Helping and serving. Buyers today have choice and they have voice. If you as a salesperson rush your buyer to the close and then that customer turns into a Negative Nancy because you over-promised and under-delivered, Negative Nancy takes to Twitter and her social networks and talks about how terrible you are. Versus if you treat that buyer not as a prospect but you’re developing them into an advocate of your product or service, of your company and of you, Positive Patty takes to her social network and advocates on your behalf and your company’s behalf and your product’s behalf. Advocates are your best salespeople.

Rieches: I read a stat about the art of pushing out content, that it should follow the 80/20 rule: 80 percent about other interesting information from influences or advisors and only talk 20 percent of the time about you. Is that about right?

Rowley: Yeah, I think that’s about right. HubSpot is a great [software-as-service] company doing awesome content marketing where a lot of the content doesn’t even relate to what they sell. Ultimately the idea of the content is to lead you back to what they can sell you, but they’re doing it in such a non-sales way. Their content actually helps you become a better marketer or a better salesperson.

Rieches: Any final thoughts or insights?

Rowley: I think we have to slow down and think about the longer-term perspective. And what I would advise young people is to be thinking through the ABC—Always Be Connecting—because your network is your net worth—and be thinking about, how do you build relationships? So if you think about sending a generic LinkedIn invite—I call that #SocialStupid, #JustPlainLazy—versus sending an invite to connect complementing them, congratulating them, relating to them. And not going for the quantity over quality but making every communication matter, and then thinking through, how do I demonstrate that I’m likable and trustworthy? Everything you do on the web is your digital reputation. And so, for me, it’s really important when I do keynote speeches or when a marketing leader brings me in to do a workshop on modern marketing, that I get them to write a recommendation for me on my LinkedIn profile, because that’s what’s going to establish my credibility. And it’s going to shorten my next sales cycle.