As the number of users of social media continues to grow, the boundary between our personal and professional lives has begun to overlap. Unsurprisingly, the customer buying cycle is also beginning to change. By the time a prospect has reached out to a sales rep, in most cases they already know what they want because they’ve done their research on social channels, canvassed their peers on community forums and downloaded materials. Where the customers goes, so does sales. Allison Aldridge-Saur, Project Consultant and Bernard Chiu, Project Specialist, have been leading the effort to transform traditional selling at Cisco into Social Selling. Their Social Selling strategy leverages the skills and expertise of Ciscos sales reps by giving them the tools and support they need to interact and engage with customers in this new and constantly changing environment.
I spoke with Allison and Bernard separately to discuss the innovation that is taking place within the Social Selling program and the focus on delivering measurable ROI. This is the first installation in a 3-part series that reviews Cisco’s unique approach to Social Selling.
Innovation starts with Sales
Jennifer Roberts (JR): In ten seconds or less what is Social Selling?
Allison Aldridge-Saur (AAS): Social Selling is essentially leveraging social media tools to support a more efficient, more cost effective and quicker sales cycle for Cisco sales rep.
JR: How is social selling different than more traditional selling and it will it transform the sales processes as we define it today?
AAS: The potential is definitely there to change the way reps sell but I think we have to take incremental steps. We have an existing selling cycle in place, we have systems built around it and we can’t just dismantle that. We also need to have a better understanding of where customers are with social. Not all of our customers are on social media. We do have certain set of the population that is there, but we also have a set of population that isn’t. So, we can’t immediately jump right in because we might be leaving customers behind.
Instead, we’re laying the tracks so that we’re there when our customers are ready. We will have the discipline and processes in place.
JR: You mentioned that some of our customers have moved to social. Do you know the breakdown or the profile of these customers?
AAS: Our proof-of-concept (POC) and pilots to date have been predominately in the U.S. So, what we have seen in the commercial arena, specifically the SMBs in the commercial region in the South, was that they were less active on social. The franchise businesses were present but others were just not there. The public sector is doing a great job throughout the US; we have not yet explored the partner space, which is obviously critical to understanding the total social footprint.
What we do know is that regardless of whether customers are there personally on social, research IS happening on line. Even where the engagement portion of social sales cycle might not work today for some customers, being present, creating proof of expertise and insight on a personal brand is still going to be helpful.
JR: How are the sales reps defining their personal brand? And is there a standard way in which social media is being used by sales?
AAS: From the get go, Bernard and I realized that this is not a program you just roll out to sales – the sales rep have to own it. They know their customers, their sales style and it’s only through their active involvement that are we going to find innovations that work to drive the opportunities.
JR: Have their been any examples where an individual sales rep has taken the tools and services and created something uniquely their own
AAS: I have three examples. Bradford Gibson (@Bradferd) used a combination of Outlook, SalesForce & LinkedIn to begin identifying and nurturing new contacts. He synced all his valid SalesForce contacts with LinkedIn to identify all the potential contacts he might have within his LinkedIn network. He then sent out a mass email from Outlook inviting these contacts to connect to him in LinkedIn. The response was low. But then he followed up with a LinkedIn email asking this same group to connect with him. The result? His LinkedIn profile had a huge spike in views and he added 30 new contacts to his network in a matter of days and continued to add new contacts over several weeks, which contributed to $100s of thousands of opportunities.
Second example. Missy Guerin (@MissyGuerin) fully embraced LinkedIn. She introduced herself to everyone and offered to help answer any questions. Through those introductions she was able to derive insights into customer projects. The result? She was introduced into one of the largest ISDs in Tennessee that no one had been able to connect with for 2 years.
And finally, the third example. Chandra Heffelfinger (@ChandraAtCisco) used a combination of LinkeIn & Twitter. Using LinkedIn she looked for SMBs in her region that were trying to connect with each other for support. Sometimes smaller businesses look to each other to provide marketing or other functional help. She was able to make connections between the SMBs looking for support. She also invited people to join her on Twitter and let them know she was their Cisco Sales rep and if they needed anything, to reach out. The result? She gained a sizable opportunity via Twitter.
All three sales reps demonstrated innovation and were able to drive multiple opportunities, with most tracking to $100k, which is not insignificant for this group.
It’s really the sales rep that are building social selling; we work in close partnership to get their feedback, understand the issue they’re having so we adjust the tools and processes to help them meet their needs. The only way to scale this is that Social Selling become like familiar infrastructure (like telephone and email).
JR: Thanks, Allison. I look forward to learning more about the Social Selling POC and recently-launched pilot
AAS: You’re welcome.