Social selling and inbound marketing go hand-in-hand. Building a social presence plays a large role in any inbound marketing plan, and combining social selling with broader social media marketing tactics can help to facilitate alignment between your sales and marketing teams.
An inbound marketing plan should have a few basic components to ensure that your plan is well-rounded, positions your company for success, and allows you to ensure that you begin your inbound marketing efforts with a solid understanding of what steps that you need to take next.
The core components of any inbound marketing plan include:
1. Buyer Personas
You can’t create an effective inbound marketing plan without understanding who you are targeting. When you think about your buyer persona you think you have it down. It’s a little bit more challenging to precisely explain it to someone else. But putting it in writing is an entirely different story. Finding the right words to describe each aspect of your buyer persona is a really good exercise, because it forces you to be exact. When you’re working with a team, conduct this exercise together and you’ll see how everyone will end up wanting to use a different word here and there. Coming together as a team and agreeing on the right words and using that definition moving forward in the prospecting process is an amazingly unifying focing-function.
A buyer persona creates a vivid picture of the type of prospects that you target. For example, a commercial insurance company that targets manufacturing companies might target owners or GMs of manufacturing companies. Their buyer persona would include information about their average age, income, hobbies, business information, goals, and typical pain points that they encounter. One of my favorite templates to create buyer personas is from Xtensio. It’s simple, intuitive, easy to fill out and incorporates the most important aspects you need to consider.
2. Buyer Journey Map
Once you have a solid understanding of who you are targeting, you can begin to map out the journey that you would like them to take on their way to becoming a customer. Mapping out the buyer’s journey helps you to create targeted content for specific points in this journey and create plans that address the four main stages of the inbound marketing process:
A buyer’s journey map ensures that each step in the process is fulfilling for your customers.
3. Goals and KPIs
For your inbound marketing efforts to be successful, you have to define what success actually looks like for your business. Outlining the KPIs that your business cares most about — whether those are sales, subscribers, recurring revenue, etc. — puts you in a position to measure whether your investment is truly paying off for your business. Any goals that you outline should follow the SMART goals system.
Because inbound marketing relies so heavily on the content creation process to be successful, it can be quite budget-heavy at first, as you build out your foundational content. It’s very important that you go into your inbound marketing strategy with a well-defined budget to stick to. This budget should take into consideration what it will cost to create all components of an effective inbound marketing system, including blog posts, lead magnets, email sequences, social media posts, graphics, and time spent managing your social media accounts.
5. Content Strategy
You can’t have inbound marketing without content. Many would say that your content strategy is the bread and butter of any inbound marketing plan. Make sure that you have a solid understanding of what your customers would like to know about your product, what keywords you would like to target, and whether or not you have the content creation resources (writers, editors, graphic designers, social media managers) on hand to effectively execute the strategy that you’ve outlined.
6. Sales and Marketing Alignment Plan
Inbound marketing is most effective when you align your sales and marketing teams. By creating content that will be useful to both teams, you position your sales team to make the most of the leads that come into your system, while giving your marketing team the tools that they need to succeed. Map out the steps that you will take to ensure that there is alignment between your teams.
How do you view social selling? Do you see it as a short-term benefit to your sales numbers, or a long-term strategy meant to position you for ongoing success in your endeavors?
The truth is that far too many salespeople view social selling as a purely transactional strategy. You do the things that you need to do and are rewarded with conversations with your ideal prospects and sales.
But — social selling shouldn’t be viewed through a transactional lens. The benefits of social selling are vast and go well beyond a simple sale. Social selling lays a foundation for the rest of your career, helping to meet quotas when things are slow, establish connections with large and valuable organizations, and position yourself as a true expert in your industry.
It’s important to understand this because this understanding should affect the way that you devise a strategy. Some of the ways in which social selling can help you to lay the foundation of your sales future include:
Create a Reliable Social Presence
At its heart, social selling is all about creating a reliable social presence that will last you for years to come. Because social selling places the focus on building relationships instead of simply making sales, it helps you to establish a respected presence among prospects within your industry.
If you were to change jobs, found your own company, or simply move to selling a new product — that foundational presence that you have built doesn’t go anywhere. It is yours to keep. It doesn’t disappear when you make your change. Those relationships remain intact and can be leveraged in your new position as well.
Develop Connections that Lead to Referrals
The thing about building reliable relationships instead of focusing on making sales is that it puts you in a position to be a trusted resource, even for people that are not interested in buying your product themselves. This can help you to facilitate referrals and position yourself as a go-to resource for those that you build relationships with.
The focus on developing genuine connections ensures that when a friend or colleague is looking for a solution like the one you provide, you are already top-of-mind and positioned as a true resource for those needs.
Viewing social selling as purely transactional leads to you missing these opportunities. When you move on from discussions before building a connection, you never position yourself for these referrals. Then, they’ll go to the social seller that puts in the time to build the relationship without a focus on short-term sales.
Improved Brand Recognition & Authority
The foundation that social selling lays for you helps you to improve the recognition of the brand and product that you are promoting while increasing your own personal authority within your industry. It serves both your own sales career, as well as the brand that you are working for. This is part of the reason why it has become so popular among sales professionals — social selling allows you to simultaneously promote the brand that you work for while building your own status as well.
Creating high-value content is a core tenant of effective social selling. But sometimes it can be difficult to discern what type of content your audience truly wants. We’ve all been there. You spend your day creating that next great blog post, only to launch it and receive minimal interaction from a normally-engaged audience.
Identifying blog topics that foster engagement and are truly share-worthy is actually a much harder task than most people realize. Your audience is likely inundated with content options. Just take a look at these stats that show how competitive people’s content consumption time truly is:
In short, most of the time when people visit a piece of content, they are skimming and generally disengaged. They only truly interact and recommend content that they find exceedingly useful. A full inbox,influencers, brands, and friends are vying for their attention. To break into their attention bandwidth you have to offer something that truly stands out.
Here is a simple three-step process that you can use to discover content that fits that bill:
Step #1: Gather Data
Data is your best friend when you want to create content that is truly share-worthy within your industry. A 2016 study by Conductor found that 38% of content marketers rarely use data. You have to look at what has worked for you, what has worked for others, and what kind of content is facilitating the most discussion. As you plan share-worthy topics, use these data sources to help you narrow the list down:
Trust the data that you gather. Blindly choosing topics will more often lead to middling results. Use data whenever possible to identify topics that are share-worthy.
Step #2: Ask Questions About Those Topics
After using data to identify topics that your community has responded to, you should begin to look at unique ways and angles you can use to approach that topic in a fresh and exciting way. You don’t want to create the same content that everyone else has been creating. You want to find a new and interesting way to facilitate interest.
Create a list of common questions that your audience typically asks or may want to know about a given topic. Use those questions as a guide for the way that you approach topics. Remember — people engage with topics because they have genuine questions. You want to present your content as an answer to those questions.
Quora can be useful for finding questions from your audience. Quora is a community built around asking and answering questions, and makes for an excellent research tool for determining what questions your audience has and how you can position yourself as an authority by answering those questions.
Step #3: Filter your List to Focus on Potential
Once you have a list of questions for each topic, filter your list down to the angles and questions that you think your audience will find the most interesting. Just because you can think of ten relevant questions about a given topic doesn’t mean that you need to create content for each of those questions. Several of those questions can be answered in the same article. Choose angles that seem fresh and interesting to your audience.
Filter questions by the subjects that they tackle. You don’t want to focus too much on one specific category, so separating your list by category is a good start. Once you’ve done that, then you can start to flesh out topic ideas that can cover singular or multiple questions from your list.
Making meaningful headway with social selling is part science and part art form. Most that attempt to sell socially, fail. The dismal success rate that most experience would make you believe that social selling is hard — but in truth, the opposite is true. Social selling is incredibly simple, so long as you are committed to making it work. Most social sellers fail for many reasons, but chief among them is a lack of consistency and an inability to follow the critical principles that lead to social selling success.
For all of the blog posts, podcasts, webinars, and videos covering advanced social selling tips and tricks, being successful in social selling is actually a very simple process. By adhering to some basic principles, success is almost guaranteed in the long-term.
The principles that every social seller should follow include:
Identify and Purposefully Engage with Prospects
It may sound basic, but you wouldn’t believe how many people come to us having tried their hand at “social selling” without actually identifying a list of people that they want to sell to. That’s the first thing that any social seller should do!
But, you can’t just make a list of prospects and expect magic to happen. You have to purposefully engage with them as well. This includes both more overt communications like responding to their posts and joining conversations they participate in and less over micro-engagements such as liking their content or engaging with people in their peripheral. When your prospects see you adding value and engaging with people throughout their industry, you do a lot to establish yourself as a person to pay attention to.
Choose the Right Platform and Tools
Choosing the right platform(s) for your audience is so critical. Sometimes, you may want to be active on more than a single platform if you have the bandwidth for it. Either way, knowing where to find your audience and being able to identify the platform that will give you the best chance of success is critical.
Then you need the right tools, and the platform you choose will affect the tools that you use. Choosing tools that will facilitate and complement your strategy is so important because it sets the stage for you to focus on refining that strategy. If you are going to employ strategies that rely on automation and tools — you can’t truly begin testing things until you’ve pinned down the platform and tools that you will use. As you expand your strategy, new tools will have to be integrated.
Mix In Automation Intelligently
For social selling to be successful, you can’t rely solely on automation. You have to engage in genuine, unplanned conversations with your prospects to get anywhere. Still, automation has its place. You want to stay top-of-mind even when you’re not directly engaging with your prospects. That requires that you have a consistent presence on social platforms, delivering value and helpful content.
Finding that sweet spot can be tough. There are definitely ways to be too heavy handed with automation. Likewise, you can automate too little, keeping you from making the most of the manual interactions you take part in.
Track and Analyze Your Results to Improve
Another critical but often overlooked principle. Like in any form of digital marketing you have to optimize your strategies for success. You can follow all of the tips you want, but if you aren’t actively tracking what is working then you are going into every new engagement with a prospect blind. This relies heavily on having the right tools, as we discussed in a previous step. But it is so important to analyze the steps that you take and determine what works for you.
As a B2B marketer or sales professional, you are probably fully aware of how useful a social media presence can be. You can see how critical it is to the success of competitors in your industry and — if you’re smart — you probably want something similar for yourself.
But building a reliable presence on social media isn’t so easy. Otherwise, you (and the rest of your social media-starved competition) would already have a booming presence there.
Many of our clients here at SocialSellinator come to us after having given social media a chance in the past. Most of the time, their success in this arena has been middling at best and non-existent at worst. They come to us looking for direction.
Most of the time in this situation, we find there to be some common misunderstandings about social media marketing and how it actually works for your business. Often, they’ll have created some content, scheduled some posts to promote that content for several weeks or months, and then become disappointed when they don’t generate any sales.
In truth — B2B social media marketing is a much longer process. It requires foresight, consistency, and an effort to genuinely engage in real conversations with your audience. Social media success doesn’t come overnight, but when it does come, the results are impressive.
Most companies need a shift in mindset to achieve B2B social media marketing success. That starts with changing the way they look at specific aspects of their social media presence:
1. Your Buyers Want to Engage Through Social Media
This is (sometimes surprisingly) a big hurdle for a lot of the companies that they work with. They see social media selling as more of a passive thing. They hope that consistent posting and interesting content will be enough. While that does provide a foundation for success, it really does take a bit more to deliver the results that most B2B companies are hoping for.
The bad news is that it takes you a moment to think about it and that you have to be intentional. The good news is that it’s not very complicated. It’s important to know that your customers want to buy through social media. They want to develop real, lasting relationships with the companies that they work with. They want to get to know people before they buy from them. Social media gives them that chance. It’s more personal than a cold email or call.
Getting over the mental block of seeing social media as a passive presence-building platform and instead looking at it as a legitimate sales channel that your prospects prefer is important for engaging with prospects in the right way — fearlessly.
2. Focus on Building Relationships, Not Sales
With that said, it is very important that you not approach the conversatiosn on social media as if they were a cold call. Yes, your audience wants to buy and get to know your company through social media. But that doesn’t mean that they want to be hounded or pursued in the traditional sales-sense. Many folks on social media simply switch out the word ‘phone’ for ‘LinkedIn’ or ‘Twitter’ and before you know it, someone tries to sell you rugs, services or hardware immediately after you connected with them on the platform of choice.
Instead of focusing on the number of sales that your social media presence generates, focus on the number of worthwhile relationships you’ve been able to build. Direct social media sales come through prospects that you’ve built a relationship with, not prospects that you blindly launch a sales pitch at. In a nutshell: if you’re selling, you’re already doing it wrong.
3. B2B Social Media Marketing is a Long-Term Strategy
The last and perhaps most important mindset change that all businesses need to undergo to put themselves in a position for B2B social media marketing success is tempering your expectations regarding time frame. It will most likely take weeks for your first results to begin showing and months before your social media marketing presence is driving impressive, measurable results.
Don’t get down on yourself when you don’t see results right away. Relationships take time to build. No one meets someone and considers them a friend right away. Those relationships require continued interaction to reach that stage. For that reason, we set the expectation with our clients that they should see sales-relevant results within 3-4 months. That doesn’t mean that you won’t see traction before then, but building relationships and trust simply takes time. It’s not done with a tweet.
The good news: the relationships you build that way are based on your engagement and your expertise. You will build yourself a long-lasting pipeline of contacts that will either engage with you directly or refer you to others. It’s not the quick rush of getting 500 clicks to your website after running an ad on Facebook. But the advantage is that the relationships from social selling are pre-qualified; it’s not simply someone clicking on a keyword-ad, only to realize that you define their search term differently then they do. And finally, it’s also not something that immediately stops afterwards after that initial engagement.