From likes to leads: The new metrics for B2B social selling

Hank is the founder and CEO of Trapit. You can follow him on Twitter.

If you’re in any way involved with content marketing or especially with B2B social media, then you’ve likely experienced the push into social selling over the past year. Chances are, demands are being made down the chain for better social ROI, sometimes even without a real strategy or even deep understanding of how social selling integrates with other channels.

On one hand, the social selling emphasis is great for social marketers. It shifts social to a more direct value proposition that is understood by executives, and arms marketers with lead gen and conversion metrics to gauge and prove success and show that social can impact the bottom line. It’s also an excellent new channel and opportunity for salespeople. If we think of social selling as the methodological approach to lead identification and nurturing over social, bringing the value of direct 1:1 interactions to those approaches, then we can also see that it also requires a shift in thinking of both these marketing and sales roles.

Just as with the early days of B2B social adoption, when companies were trying to establish brand awareness and community across social networks, social selling has now become a ubiquitous buzzword and company mandate, and the lack of best practices around what metrics to work towards and how the role of the social seller should be defined confuses even the most progressive sales and marketing leaders.

Strategy comes first

If a company is committed to investing in social selling, they need to begin thinking deeply and strategically about their approach. The stats around why companies should emphasize social as a sales channel are well documented (though still very nascent): from studies showing that salespeople using social outsell 78 percent of their peers, to the recognition that when a lead is developed as a trusted relationship of an employee through social networking, that lead is seven times more likely to close, than other forms of leads.

Despite these convincing stats, only a third of companies have an actual social strategy for their sales departments, and as of 2013, an astounding 93 percent of sales executives had not been given any formal social selling training. That has hopefully improved somewhat as social selling comes into focus, but more often than not the demands in social ROI are not accompanied with a clear overall strategy for social selling.

The lack of strategy is concerning, and companies are getting hung up, so how can we turn this train around before it has gone too far down the wrong track?

The metrics that really matter

More and more major companies may be shifting their social emphasis from likes to leads in deference to these trends, but now we are entering an era of social ROI and metrics that we haven’t quite fully defined.

For so long, social campaigns have been designed for reach rather than conversion. They have focused on tracking for likes or followers or shares, and likewise many of the social media tools developed and now used focus on optimizing to those metrics. We already have a legacy system problem with the tools used for social as we shift focus to selling.

Social of course now needs to be tied into companies’ CRM systems, and leads tracked across networks and nurtured strategically, whether on social, through email campaigns, or other traditional touch points. Social is no longer just a siloed marketing channel.

So how will we measure the value of social in relation to the bottom line, moving from measurement in likes to actual leads and sales? What is the metric for content sharing as it impacts sales, for content as lead-gen?

Content marketers leveraging social need to start with better tracking of campaigns, able to identify how much a piece of content was shared as well as what leads came directly (or even indirectly) from it. That’s not a simple problem to solve. We’re essentially talking about measuring content influence, and how much a piece of content influences thinking after consumption.

And of course the ultimate metric that we looking for to tie the value of content and social to sales is new revenue created, a kind of “revenue index score.”

Content and social is commonly held to top of the funnel activity, but that’s not enough.

One of the challenges for social selling is that it does not operate like the traditional sales funnel. Sales leads and nurturing can jump across platforms and networks, and they can increasingly enter the funnel not just at the top, but much further down.

Any new metric or revenue index score needs to account for every step towards conversion that social can provide. It needs to register and identify targets’ potential to become a lead, turning targets to actual leads, nurturing through the sales funnel, and finally in converting that opportunity into money. Every piece of content and interaction should have a revenue scoring capability associated to it.

The unique new role of the social seller

It’s not simply about the metrics that we might identify and define, however. This quantifiable layer is necessary, and possible in a way that it never was before. But more interesting is the new role that social selling has evolved for companies.

Just as the original social media manager role (and value) had to be defined within organizations, the social seller requires a unique perspective and talent, especially for B2B. It is a combination of content marketing, social management, sales strategy, CRM, and lead generation.

Social teams now sit at a crux of sales and marketing that opens a huge and opportunity for them, but also requires those teams to think and operate as both marketers and salespeople. In essence, it requires the insight of both marketing and sales to the extent that now on social, marketing is sales and sales is marketing.

When we look at what skills and understanding the new social seller will require, a few key features become clear. The social seller needs to be able to:

  • Understand 1:1 authenticity as both marketer and salesperson
  • Understand key social media strategy beyond brand awareness, and how social engagement relates to the funnel (Credibility > Visibility)
  • Needs to be well versed in short-hand and industry lingo of their audience and target market
  • Understand how social fits into and is best applied in their unique funnel
  • Be up-to-date on industry trends, and have opinions and ideas to share, essentially serving as an industry expert that can foster social leads
  • Disseminate that knowledge and empower their teams to likewise be experts and share relevant content
  • Thoroughly understands the unique nuances of the social media habits and expectations of their target customers
  • Believe in conversation and dialogue as a fundamental component of every step in the funnel
  • Value getting to know the buyer even when personal and professional matters intersect, and be trusted with that relationship
  • Understand the unique metrics and KPIs for sales and marketing, and how they intersect and overlap

Social selling requires new metrics, new lead-gen strategies, new content and advocacy approaches, and perhaps most importantly, a new mindset that can work within all of these elements.
The companies that are realizing this new marketing and sales overlap now, and genuinely fostering the authenticity of those social efforts and relationships, are positioned to lead this new channel. And those companies will be the ones to define the terms and metrics for success as social selling rapidly evolves.

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