According to the Harvard Business Review, traditional outbound B2B sales methods—phone calls and emails—are becoming less effective in establishing serious buying relationships.

And while callback rates sit below one percent and three out of four sales emails go unopened, 84 percent of buyers reportedly begin the purchasing process with the tried-and-true method of a referral.

These numbers appear to reflect an overall shift toward a more research and recommendation-based purchasing process that mirrors our personal buying habits. That’s why we ask our friends for restaurant recommendations while traveling or spend hours reading Amazon reviews before purchasing everything from technology to toilet paper. Now, more than ever, sales relationships begin and end with trust.

The problem is B2B buyers are having a hard time trusting salespeople. As the saying goes, “a few bad apples spoil the bunch,” and this is especially true in sales. According to Forrester, B2B buyers think salespeople prioritize their own agenda over meeting the customer’s needs; a trend that could potentially put 1 million salespeople out of a job by 2020.

“Those who excel in the business of selling know the secret lies in trust,” sales expert Koka Sexton recently wrote in his blog. “It is all about building rapport with a customer and getting them to see you as someone more than a salesperson. Getting customers to trust you is paramount to conversion.”

You don’t have to go far to see why people are becoming less trusting of salespeople. The revelation two months ago that over 5,000 Wells Fargo employees used “cross-selling” to exploit customers for financial gain is only the most recent example.

Fortunately, connecting with customers and building this rapport is easier than ever thanks to social media. And if the numbers are right, a majority of B2B buyers are beginning the buying process with referrals and then fostering the decision through content shared on company and personal social media profiles.

This technique, known as social selling, is nothing new for many of you. In fact, Sexton and other industry experts have been spreading the social selling gospel for a while now.

“Cold calling may still have its purpose, but you shouldn’t just depend on this tool to engage with buyers,” he said. “Social media allows you to broaden your reach with minimal time investment.”

Utilizing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al. to network, share content, and answer questions is having its moment, and not just for marketing professionals. Now, salespeople across every vertical are using these platforms to connect with customers and improve sales numbers.

What else gives you access to tens of thousands of potential customers, a chance to “define the criteria for an ideal solution or the ‘buying vision’,” and also the platform to build meaningful relationships until prospects become your customers? And when three out of four B2B buyers depend on social media to discuss purchasing decisions with others and 53 percent say that social media has an impact on the final buying decision, ignoring social selling as a flash in the pan could seriously damage your revenue stream.

There is one caveat: unlike other techniques, social selling is all about the long game. But like many sales activities, it is paramount in strengthening your pipeline to continually reap new deals month after month. All it takes is investing 30 minutes to an hour every day interacting with customers or leads online by answering questions and providing valuable content.

Now what is valuable content? It’s important to remember that this isn’t sales or marketing material. It’s educational content commenting on trends in the industry or your business’ space. It’s content that empowers and educates and content from a number of other sources apart from your own company.

That’s why many sales experts suggest the 80/20 rule (80 percent from third-party content and 20 percent from your own company). This shows buyers that a) you are connected and active in the space and b) that all content with the purpose of educating and informing is important, even when it doesn’t come from your company directly.

That’s how you set yourself apart as a salesperson who cares about meeting a customer’s need and not hitting your numbers. The days of the pushy salesperson are over. You only need to reflect on your own buying habits to understand that.

Social media isn’t just for your marketing team. It’s for salespeople to connect directly with leads on a personal, conversational-driven level and meeting them where they already are. This trend toward referral and relationship-driven sales isn’t going anywhere. It’s time for salespeople to take the necessary steps to adapt and prove they can be trusted and care for their customer’s needs.

 

 

 

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