HBR Research: B2B Sales Now Depend on Social Networks
Harvard Business Review

I have been involved in business development for many years now and as such can demonstrate a successful track record when it comes to building relationships that create value for both the customer and organisations I’ve represented; (incidentally for the past 10-years, I’ve been employed by Teleperformance, industry leader in omnichannel customer experience management.)

In recent years especially I’ve witnessed a shift change in the way that B2B relationships and sales take place – put simply, they have become ‘social.’

As you can see from my blog history here, I have actually appreciated this trend for some time now.

Sometimes colleagues or industry peers have asked me why I’m blogging about the industry when I know how to build relationships between companies already.

I usually just reply, if decision-makers didn’t know me already then how would they determine if I’m someone worth meeting or someone who will waste their time? If you have an existing network of ‘clients’ then you can work with them maintaining relationships, but If you are looking for new business, which is primarily my role, then new people need to understand who you are which is where Googling my name or entering it into LinkedIn enables would-be partners to view my professional profile and track record – in 2016 I feel that if you are not social then you are almost invisible.

But don’t take my word for it, the Harvard Business Review recently published a study that explored how much B2B relationships have changed because of social networks.

  • Peer recommendations now influence over 90% of all B2B sales
  • 84% of B2B buyers start out on a purchasing decisions with a referral

Notice a pattern? B2B buyers today don’t want a salesperson to come and sell them something, they want a trusted partner who offers them solutions. Many B2B buyers today will not even take unsolicited calls from corporate representatives they don’t know. So how do B2B salespeople get to know people who don’t want to hear from strangers? You need to build relationships based on mutual interest, to show that you have valuable ideas.

The HBR research distinguishes how relationships can be forged using social networks from more traditional social selling. Selling using social networks merely relies on tools like Adwords from Google or keyword advertising on Facebook. In the B2B world real relationships are still important, this is not just about social advertising, rather the new normal for anyone involved in B2B relationships is using social networks to demonstrate your own ideas and competence.

Take a look at these figures from the HBR research:

  • 82% of B2B customers say that the social content of their chosen supplier plays a significant role in that buying decision.
  • B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with someone who offers ideas and insights into their industry on their LinkedIn profile.
  • 72% of B2B business development specialists report that their use of social tools helps them to outperform their peers who are still relying on traditional sales methods.
  • 3 out of 4 B2B buyers use social tools to engage with their peers when making a purchasing decision.
  • Social content offering ideas on industry solutions often means that the business development executive is invited to contribute to a new solution earlier.
  • B2B sales professionals using social networks to improve relationships are six times more likely to exceed their quota than less social-savvy peers.

I have been improving my own social profile for some time and I can verify from personal experience that the HBR research rings true to me. When I talk to a potential client today, they don’t want me to sell stuff, they want a partner who has ideas and solutions that can help them address business challenges and problematics; in the customer experience management industry oftentimes this involves large-scale business transformation programmes, for example rationalisation or consolidation of multiple operations into a more manageable, consistent and better-performing deployment options, or prevalent currently in our industry – the shift from traditional to digital communication channel to enable brands to better engage and interact with their customers.

Demonstrating that I have ideas and insight using tools like LinkedIn has been a game changer for me and I cannot understand anyone involved in B2B relationships today not taking this seriously. The way that people communicate and interact has changed dramatically in the past few years and this includes the world of B2B relationships.

What do you think about the need for tools like LinkedIn in B2B relationships today? Leave a comment here or contact me directly via my LinkedIn profile here.

Photo by Esther Vargas licensed under Creative Commons.

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