By Hootsuite :

New independent research from Forrester sheds light on how business-to-business (B2B) enterprises are adapting to how buyers use social media to inform their decisions. The big takeaway? Enterprises could be doing more to leverage social as a sales channel.

Social Selling: A New B2B Imperative is a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Hootsuite in May 2017. It surveyed 265 sales and marketing technology decision makers at B2B companies.

Forrester found that enterprises see social as the place where customers are—and therefore the dominant sales channel of the future. In fact, 36 percent believe that social selling will become the “default way to engage with buyers in the future.” In response, they are investing in social media tools and embracing social selling tactics.

What is social selling? Social selling is how organizations use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks to find, connect with, understand, and nurture sales prospects.

The Forrester study explores social selling adoption trends and the challenges and benefits that go along with developing a social selling program.

Here are a few key takeaways. Be sure to download the full study for more detailed analysis.

1. The buyer journey is changing

The study highlights some of the challenges facing today’s B2B sellers. Chief among them is that the sheer volume of marketing and sales messages aimed at consumers every day results in many people simply tuning them out.

“These buyers prefer to embark on self-guided journeys and they don’t want to be sold to,” writes Forrester. “Empowered buyers prefer to self-educate, gain third-party validation, and rely on peers to learn about new products—and increasingly prefer to use social networks to do so.”

The fact that their customers and potential customers are on social makes it vital for organizations’ sales teams to be there, too.

“As sellers struggle to gain and sustain their buyers’ attention, it is essential to meet customers and prospects where they digitally reside,” according to the Forrester study.

2. Social selling is a priority

“Sales and marketing leaders see promise in formalizing their approaches to social selling,” writes Forrester.

The study found that 98 percent of B2B enterprises see the value in social selling in the short- and long-term. Of that group, 49 percent have already developed a formal social selling program, and 28 percent are in the process of doing so. Just two percent report having no plans for a social selling program.

Forrester found that one of the things companies value most about social selling is its potential to keep “influencers and decision makers engaged throughout the buying cycle.”

Access to the full guidelines of B2B enterprises practice:  Social Selling: A New B2B Imperative

3. Social selling expands reach and increases revenue

The study identified the top three benefits marketing and sales see in social selling as:

  • Expanding reach to new buyers and audiences (48 percent)
  • Staying connected with the buyer throughout the sales cycle (45 percent)
  • Higher win rates and increased seller productivity (tied at 41 percent)

“B2B sales cycles can be long and complicated,” says Forrester. “To succeed, sellers need to remain top of mind—for example, by nurturing leads with content that benefits buyers and in turn, helps them influence their internal stakeholders.”

4. The potential of social selling is still unrealized

Although the study found that social selling is a priority for most organizations surveyed, far fewer have a fully optimized program in place.

“While companies have optimized individual social selling program objectives, very few sellers are executing on all critical activities that constitute a comprehensive social selling approach,” writes Forrester.

“Only 20% of marketers and sellers indicated that sales teams typically execute all of the [six] social selling activities we asked about, from developing their profiles to tracking leads.”

5. Social listening is a missed sales opportunity

While over half of B2B organizations use social to generate leads and find new contacts, the study identified social listening as a “missed opportunity for sellers to uncover new opportunities and more effectively close existing ones.”

According to Forrester: “Although 77% of respondents reported adoption of a social listening platform, sales teams are not adequately leveraging these tools. Sellers are 18% behind marketing peers who use social to listen to buyer preferences.”

6. Marketing and sales need to join forces

The study found that a “fragmented approach to social selling weakens efforts to sustain a formal program within the enterprise.”

According to Forrester, the top three barriers for social selling are:

  • A lack of confidence within the sales team to engage on social (32 percent)
  • Limited understanding of available social selling technology (29 percent)
  • A lack of alignment between sales and marketing teams (28 percent)

The study says that addressing these barriers and creating a successful program involves improved training programs and tighter alignment between marketing and sales. To that end, Hootsuite Academy offers an industry-recognized Social Selling Certification course that teaches sales professionals how to find leads and drive sales with social media.

7. Getting the right results takes the right tools

When it comes to the social media tools companies invest in, Forrester found that 83 percent of organizations are looking at social selling tools. Over 80 percent see the value in enterprise social media management and social analytics platforms.

“B2B enterprises today are making significant investments in social media tools and technologies,” says Forrester. “Broad implementation of social tools signals that sellers and marketers are eager to embrace social media and connect with buyers in their digital communities.”

Hootsuite’s Amplify for Selling app makes it easier for marketers and sales teams to work together to generate leads and build relationships that turn prospects into customers.

To improve adoption rates, Amplify for Selling has an intuitive mobile-first interface that allows salespeople to easily engage with leads and take advantage of tracking, relationship-building, and other social selling features.

Read the full Forrester study

The full Forrester study, Social Selling: A New B2B Imperative, includes these and other insights into how B2B organizations are adopting social selling. Get your copy now (free from your friends at Hootsuite).