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The Rise of Influence in Sales

Jun 24, 2015

We interviewed Timothy Hughes to discuss how influence can help sales professionals reach buyers throughout the journey to purchase.

UK Business Development Director at Oracle Corporation and prolific social media marketer Timothy Hughes doesn’t need any introduction! Timothy has been a social selling advocate both inside and outside his organisation, and he defined the 5 Pillars for a successful social selling practice:

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Social Media Listening
  3. Le Marketing d’Influence
  4. Collaboration (Enterprise Social Network and Social CRM)
  5. Marketing Automation

This post focuses on the rise of influence in sales, how social media has impacted the sales process, how Timothy expects social selling to evolve over the next few years, and how he became himself a social selling influencer.

Q1:  How has social media impacted the sales process?

"Social media has affected the sales process drastically. I wrote a blog post recently about Paul Donnelly, who is using Twitter to make C-level meetings: he actually got 12 C-level meetings just by using Twitter last week!

He started in a similar place to me, having been there for over twenty years and calling people. But, things have been getting harder and harder: there’s voicemail or personal assistant to prevent you to go through to senior decision makers. LinkedIn also released a figure that says that 90% of C-level people just won’t react if you reach out to them cold.

Social media enables you to use content marketing to build relationships.

But, I don’t necessarily think selling has changed that much. The buying process has changed. When most people buy, the first thing they do is go to Google, type in a search, and look to see what they get. That means that the research phase of most buyers goes 60% of the way before they actually choose to engage with suppliers. That is a big problem for small companies, because the buyers can go research and know more about your products and services than you do.

Brian Solis is a fantastic thought leader, and his UMOT reflects this well. I’m particularly interested in his thoughts on digital Darwinism at the moment - which is the fact that organisations can’t keep up with the change digital is bringing. I often get asked about social media and the way it impacts business. We use social media internally to collaborate and have seen a great ROI within our business, as employee efficiency went up by 25%. We even found a report by McKinsey backing that."

Social media brings together sales and marketing, and that’s a softer benefit of social selling.

Q2: How do you see social selling evolving over the next few years?

Social selling will become the way we work.

"Social Selling is often reduced to LinkedIn, but it’s more than that, and we want to take it further. If you look at the buying process, things have changed. There are ways as a salesperson to react to that change, and use certain tools and tricks to enable us to shortcut that buying process.

I see the role of the salesperson changing. We have to be passionate about our customers. There’s a recent Forrester report that says 22% of B2B sales job will go before 2020 - sales people will be replaced by search engines. If you want a demo of the software, you just go to YouTube where we’ve been posting them. There’s no reason why a person doing their research into the purchase doesn’t go as far as 80% or even 100%. You could buy enterprise software by just searching online. I am aware of a situation where that happened earlier at an enterprise company, for an enterprise level deal, where people were comfortable with buying online. Those people are digital natives and used to buying online, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t start seeing that switch.

The only way that salespeople can stand out is by positioning themselves further up the chain and becoming go-to subject matter experts. If you succeed doing this, you don’t have to prospect anymore, because the prospect will come to you. When people see you as an expert of the subject matter, you become the expert they want to talk to. You can talk to them before the competition, and you can use your great sales skills to close this deal - why wouldn’t you do that?

Having a LinkedIn profile is a good place to start, but is not enough. Joining LinkedIn groups and putting yourself out there as a thought leader, posting interesting articles, asking questions and engaging is a great way to get noticed, as the engagement level is so low (about 1%).

But, the key is to place content where your audience is and keep analysing where the traffic comes from. From a marketing perspective, looking at the ROI, everything is about community."

Q3: How did you become such a social selling influencer?

"I went on Twitter 6 years ago, when my manager back then said we needed to get into social media. At that time, my 20-year-old intern bet me £10 that I could have 1,000 followers in 6 months. It was really about finding what worked and what did not, and experimenting with it. I’ve always been a person that has sought knowledge, so it is quite easy for me to sit on a Flipboard, type product, look at things and read articles, talk to people online, see what they’re posting and build my own community. Now I have friends that I’ve had for 5 or 6 years, but have never met in real life.

For me it’s become a hobby, and I find the whole thing extremely exciting. Some relationships I have built are from a work perspective, others are based with people with similar interest, and that has made my life more interesting. I did not look to become an influencer, it happened organically. There is nothing wrong in people looking for that.

With the new buyer process and the way people are researching online, you have to become an influencer of sorts to be the person they’re going to find when they do their search.

You can use content and social media to grow your influence within a community, and it is easy to create content. If you go out and meet a customer, or if you sit with the CFO of a media company and ask for the top five issues they encounter, you could share those points with your organisation. That’s what most people do within a sales process, but there’s no reason why you can’t take that content, repurpose it and post it on your blog. You could credit the person or ask their permission, of course, if you can. But there is no reason why you shouldn’t share this content, instead of keeping it in a CRM system. It’s very straightforward and doesn’t take a lot of effort.

Social is not about being somebody you’re not - the first advice I give to people is to breathe. From a professional point of view, what you’re trying to do is to reach out to another person and find what they’re interested in. Ultimately, reaching out is what you need to do."

Nicely tying back to Traackr’s 7 key attributes of the Modern Sales Pro, Timothy listed 5 requirements to succeed in social selling:

  •      Be Passionate about customers
  •      Become the 'go to' subject matter in your niche
  •      Listen
  •      Consider that "Every day is a school day"
  •      Engage and build relationships

If you’ve enjoyed our interview with Tim so far, stay put for our next post that will focus on social selling and marketing.


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