This is the third post in a series based on a ZS social selling survey of 125 sales leaders.
Previously, my colleague Brandon Mills wrote about social branding, detailing how social media can be used to establish and advocate a sales rep’s professional brand in the market. While social branding has a relatively low barrier to entry for sales reps, social listening, the second in the series of ZS’s “Six Building Blocks of Social Selling,” requires more commitment and investment to realize its true value.
Social listening is defined as developing market-, competitive- and customer-level insights by proactively monitoring digital media channels. Many sales teams may periodically search for news about their customers and prospects or look at their contacts’ LinkedIn profiles. However, social listening involves taking a more systematic and sustained approach to this research so that teams can consistently collect new insights that will help them add value and strengthen their relationships with current customers and prospective clients. For those companies willing to take that leap, social listening has the power to deliver insights that drive effectiveness and competitive advantages in sales strategy, customer engagement and sales operations.
Using the results from our study with leading B-to-B companies, we’re better able to understand the prevalence of social listening among sales teams, and how it’s most commonly used. Below are our key findings, as well as some suggestions for taking action:
- Social listening is being used sparingly because of the perceived investment needed and the lack of executive support. Just 40% of sales leaders report that their teams are leveraging social listening practices to proactively monitor digital media channels. This percentage drops to 33% in the high-tech and telecommunications space, which is surprising because high-tech sales teams tend to be earlier adopters of social selling practices. Of teams not using social listening, 45% of them cite “lack of support from executive leadership” and 32% of them cite “investments (time and money) required are too great” as the reasons that their teams don’t use social listening.
Unlike social branding, which can be more easily done at an individual level with little investment, social listening often involves sales leadership making social listening tools available and coming up with a process for mining, sharing and driving insights from the data. While many social listening tools such as Social Mention and Hootsuite are free or require minimum monetary investment, using them does require a large investment of time and commitment by the company. Furthermore, of teams not using social listening, just 15% say that they’re likely or extremely likely to implement social listening practices in the next year.
- Social listening is helping teams gather meaningful insights. Despite the barriers to adopting social listening practices, sales teams that are using them report gathering several key insights. The most common insights gathered include competitive intelligence (82%), market trends (76%), prospective customer intelligence (72%) and existing customer intelligence (64%). While high-tech and telecom sales teams are less likely to use social listening overall, the teams using it are gathering insights at even higher percentages: market trends (80%), prospective customer intelligence (90%) and existing customer intelligence (80%). Social listening has a low use rate for collecting business partner intelligence, as just 42% of sales leaders report gathering this type of insight through social listening.
- Perception of social listening impact is colored by use. Just 54% of all of the sales leaders we surveyed believe that social listening increases sales reps’ productivity by identifying triggers for when and how to engage prospects and customers. However, when looking at the responses from leaders on teams that are using social listening, this percentage jumps to 76%. These results are similar when leaders are asked whether implementing a social listening platform and process is worth the invested time and resources: 45% of the overall sample believes that it is worth the time and resources, and that number increases to 66% for those using social listening.
Three Steps for Successful Social Listening
In order to achieve successful implementation, executive leadership needs to take action and invest in their teams’ use of social listening as part of the overall selling process. Buy-in from leadership is the primary barrier to the use of social listening. In fact, when sales leadership implemented social selling on behalf of their teams, those teams are using social listening at a higher rate (52%) than the overall sample (40%). Additionally, on teams where social selling is established as a formal part of the sales training and onboarding process, the use of social listening jumps to 59%.
Second, reps can engage in various social listening activities that require less time and money but will still help them more effectively engage with customers. Reps should join online communities, such as groups within LinkedIn, in which their customers and prospects are engaged and follow the news and discussions that emanate from the communities. Reps can set Google alerts to let them know when there’s news regarding important topics from these customers, prospects and communities. Reps also can subscribe to online journals or newsletters that discuss market trends and customer intelligence in their industry. Lastly, reps should find influential people that their customers and prospects respect and follow (Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, etc.), and do the same in order to better understand these customers’ mindsets and topics of interest.
Third, to fully realize the benefits of social listening, companies should take a more programmatic approach by creating a centralized resource for their sales reps. This centralized resource could reside within marketing or sales operations, and should be responsible for establishing a method to distribute relevant information captured from social listening to the appropriate sales reps in a timely manner. When information is sent to the wrong people, the best insights will fall on deaf ears and an opportunity will be missed. If sent too late, the sales rep won’t be able to respond in a timely manner and the competitive advantage will be lost. Lastly, this central resource should make sure that reps are actually taking action on the insights gleaned through social listening so that the benefits of the practice can be more easily tracked.
Next up, in part three of our series, we’ll explore how companies are using social networks to help build more effective sales teams.