How suggestible are you? Much more than you might think, it would seem.
In one experiment in 2008, psychologists showed participants brand logos for IT companies with distinctly different brand associations, then asked them to try out a task that measured their creativity. Surely, you say, just looking at a logo can’t change the way we think?
Turns out, it can. Participants that were shown the Apple logo – a brand that people associate heavily with creativity – performed significantly better in the task.
That’s the power of brand association. That’s the power of social cues.
And that’s why, if you walk into just about any “creative” business in the world – designers, architects, video producers, ad agencies, you name it – a line of shiny silver Macs with glowing Apple logos is practically a given.
Creative agencies buy Macs partly because they’re powerful computers with great graphics cards that are built with design programs in mind. But they also buy them because that’s what the people they’re looking to hire have come to expect.
And why do creative industry employees expect Macs?
Because it’s become deeply embedded in their collective consciousness.
Because self-described creatives Instagram artsy pictures of working on their MacBooks. Because people tweet Steve Jobs quotes as shorthand for innovative thinking. Because Apple seized on the potential of this brand narrative all the way back in 1984 and continue to disseminate that vision through its enormously popular YouTube channel.
… And, most importantly, by cultivating a community of creative people who would never think of working on anything else, who are so vocal about their brand loyalties that they set up their own Facebook fan pages and release Slideshares on Apple’s behalf, and who turn their nose up at a business environment that doesn’t embrace these sensibilities, too.
Selling is social. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t get how people work.
Okay, so you might not work on a Mac. You might not work in an industry that aligns itself with the Apple narrative. But have you ever genuinely been persuaded to buy something you’ve never been remotely exposed to before, entirely on a whim, without any context or past experience to guide your decision?
I doubt it.
People do not exist in a vacuum, and their choices are influenced by social cues all day long without them even knowing it – without them registering how this impacts on their desires or decisions.
The average adult in the US spends 15.5 hours exposed to media messages every day. Londoners’ eyes will see over 3,500 adverts in that time. And now that we spend 28% of our time online checking social media, the sheer scale of this influencing stimuli has exploded.
Plus, it’s not as if “social” makes a distinction between personal and business. Most companies today have a Twitter Feed, a LinkedIn presence, even a Facebook page. Social media sites track us throughout our day and send retargeted ads our way in our spare time for things we Googled during work.
All of this means that we’re getting a huge proportion of our information from networks and newsfeeds, all day long. It’s where we’re most social – and it’s where the sales journey should begin.
Ah, you might say, this is all well and good in a B2C context, but I’m pitching to other companies. What does a procurement manager in my client’s firm care for social selling?
In fact, B2B is no different. If anything, it’s even more social.
Why? Because we put so much more thought into our B2B purchases. We’re accountable to others – and that means we can’t buy spontaneously, on a whim. You don’t get “impulse buys” by committee, after all. And that means your customers are even more reliant on the opinions of their peers when they’re thinking about whether to buy from you.
What’s more, we now know that 57% of the buying journey is complete before a sales rep even gets involved.
Your customers have already engaged with your brand and with others’ opinions of it multiple times before you get a chance to present your case. They’ve already read reviews and checked out your Twitter feed. They’ve Googled you – and probably looked at your individual LinkedIn page, too.
Your first step should be to take control of the conversation.
This means you should be using social media tracking platforms to make sure you know exactly what people are saying about you.
It means you should be talking to your customers and responding to any complaints or bad reviews with good grace and maturity, taking the opportunity to show other clients what great customer service you offer and how willing you are to listen to their concerns.
Or, as Intelicare’s Gabriel Bristol puts it: “You’re not going to convince someone that she actually had a good experience after she left a bad review, so don’t try.
“Use this opportunity to shine as the bigger person. People will read the bad review but if they see you’ve responded to it, they may withhold judgment until they read your side of things. So make it good.”
Next, you need to work out where B2B clients are spending their time.
You want potential customers to stumble across you looking your best. In a B2B context, they’re most likely found on LinkedIn.
At the very least, you need to make sure that when a prospective client clicks on your name or your company profile, they find something that looks 100% professional and trustworthy. If it’s not, it could sabotage your sale.
But, for best results, you need to go a step further and use the platform to promote yourself as an authority in your field – and to help you close those all-important deals.
LinkedIn has fast become a go-to site for industry insights from influencers ranging from Richard Branson to Arianna Huffington. So why not start positioning yourself alongside them? Writing regular, well thought-out posts pertaining to your industry is a great way to create value for potential clients and to show off your expertise in their field.
What’s more, LinkedIn is a goldmine when it comes to figuring out what issues and topics your customer base is preoccupied with – and how you might be able to adapt your business case accordingly.
Tracking which industry-specific groups your clients have joined, which articles they share and what comments they leave on posts will give you an invaluable insight into how they think. You can then use this information to establish exactly how your product or service aligns with their needs, increasing your chance of a sale.
Thirdly, harness the power of reciprocity.
Cold calling is hard. The person you’re talking to doesn’t owe you a thing, and they know it.
The best way to get past this hurdle is to offer something before you ask for something.
Reaching out to prospective clients through social media to offer them a free, top-quality whitepaper or access to a video series tackling problems in their industry will be a lot better received than asking straight-out if you can give them a ring to talk about your product.
What’s more, when you’re offering something for free, people are (unsurprisingly) a lot more willing to part with their email address or signup to a mailing list in order to get it. If they love the content you’ve given them and they’re starting to get a feel for your brand, they’re much more likely to tolerate a follow-up call that’s more commercially-orientated.
Social selling isn’t about giving it the hard sell. Tracking down prospective leads through social networks and hammering home your message isn’t going to work and more than marching up to someone at a networking event and launching into a pitch is going to work – it’s just going to make them feel cornered and annoyed.
Rather, it’s about starting a conversation. It’s about getting to know the challenges your prospects face and laying the groundwork for a relationship. It’s a chance to have a chat, be charming and see what you might be able to do for them to tackle pain points in their business.
Get it right and, like Apple, your products might even start (social) selling themselves.