Lines are blurring. The B2B funnel is no longer tidily divided between marketing (top) and sales (bottom) because the buying process has grown more complex and less linear.
Account-based marketing and social selling are both practices built for the new era of convergence, encouraging marketers to think more like sellers and vice versa. On Wednesday afternoon at MarketingProfs B2B Forum, Ty Heath of LinkedIn* offered her perspective on bolstering alignment by combining ABM and social selling, while calling out tools and tactics that can aid these efforts.
ABM, Meet Social Selling
At B2B Sales and Marketing Exchange a couple months ago, Sangram Vajre of Terminus kicked things off with an opening keynote in which he declared “ABM is B2B.” He argued that the principles of account-based marketing have become so ingrained in the fabric of B2B marketing that virtually everyone operating in the space is adopting an ABM framework to some degree. This was a sentiment echoed by others at the conference.
ABM has also been a central theme here at MPB2B, in large part because it’s a vehicle for achieving the coveted ideal of sales and marketing orchestration. At its core, ABM is about the identification and focused pursuit of high-value accounts, and it works best when these two business units are fully in sync – sales helps spark relationships and opportunities near the top of the funnel, while marketing helps nurture and advance deals toward the bottom.
As a result of this improved cohesion, ABM can create more consistent, customized experiences for prospective buyers. As Ty stated during her B2B Spotlight interview with Lee Odden last month: “Many folks have been thinking about making account-based marketing part of their go-to-market strategy or maybe it’s already a part of it. I think the primary reason why that’s happening is because buyers expect more … personalization and level of knowledge around the buyer’s needs.”
Social selling (also sometimes referred to more broadly as “modern selling”) can play a critical role in fueling this engine for growth, by driving sales reps to become more active in building their own brands and growing their company’s pipeline. The four pillars of social selling, according to LinkedIn:
- Create a professional brand
- Focus on the right prospects
- Engage with insights
- Build trusted relationships
As a complement to ABM, social selling can yield stellar business results… and possibly, a delicious sandwich. “They go together like peanut butter and jelly,” Ty declared.
Aligning at Every Step
It should be clear from the pillars above how much overlap there is between social selling and ABM (not to mention between sales and marketing, under this framework). The blueprints are almost the same.
When active and strategic on social media, sales reps can play a vital role in identifying accounts to pursue, charting the layout of these accounts, and building solid relationships. As marketers, we can lend our expertise to help reps refine their professional brands while also equipping them with quality, relevant content.
Here’s a quick rundown of Ty’s insights on each step:
#1 – Creating a Professional Brand
This isn’t generally second-nature for sales pros in the same way as it is for marketers, but in the modern marketplace, the importance is undeniable.
As buyers take more of the purchase research process into their own hands, they’re increasingly apt to scout a vendor’s online presence before actually engaging with anyone from the company. They size up sales reps based on social media profiles and networks. Ty refers to this as “the conversation before the conversation,” and in some cases, it can be make-or-break.
Marketers can team up with their partners in sales to make sure all public-facing assets are sending the right signals. You might consider checking out these exemplary LinkedIn profiles for inspiration.
#2 – Focus on the Right Prospects
This a crucial moment in the alignment imperative. Choosing the right targets is essential to ultimately hitting the mark with ABM.
“It boils down to, what accounts do you think will be profitable long-term, will be pleasurable to work with, and do you think you can make a real difference for?” says Ty. She warns against being overly broad with account selection but also advises not to get too narrow (aka, hypertargeting).
#3 – Engage with Insights
One of the most valuable aspects of social selling is that it enables reps to learn about prospects and tailor their outreach. Once you’ve selected accounts that look like fits, you can begin tracking potential key contacts. What do they talk about? Whose posts are they commenting on? What kind of content do they share? This is the other side of the “conversation before the conversation” dynamic and it enables reps to start that first real, direct dialogue on the right foot.
Meanwhile, marketing can assist with this research and develop content to align with the needs, questions, and pain points surfaced through it.
#4 – Build Trusted Relationships
When sales reps put forth a credible professional brand, choose target accounts thoughtfully, and engage with relevant insights, they’re off to a good start. But developing genuine relationships takes genuine ongoing effort.
Ty recommends looking for cues on social media like birthdays, anniversaries, and work promotions as prompts to say hello. In the same fashion that Ashley Zeckman advised us in her Wednesday session to prime an influencer relationship by following them on social media and interacting there before directly reaching out with any kind of ask, social selling practitioners can similarly pave the way for prospect engagements. Create a sense of familiarity before you send a direct message; coming with a pitch right out of the gates is a recipe for a relationship that fizzles immediately. (“Respect the inbox!” Ty implores.)
The goal is to reach a point of comfort and affinity, where deeper productive conversations can take place. Ty’s mantra is, “Get to the GIF” – once she starts exchanging funny animated images with a customer or prospect, she knows she’s on the right track.
Using LinkedIn to Support ABM and Social Selling
It goes without saying that LinkedIn should be a primary component of any B2B social selling effort – an estimated 80% of all B2B social media leads come from the platform. As Global Lead for the company’s B2B Institute educational arm, Ty helps marketers and sales pros understand how to use features on LinkedIn in pursuit of their objectives. During her session, she mentioned a number of tools that fit nicely with a combined ABM and social selling strategy, including:
- Website Demographics: You can drop a pixel into your company’s website and tap into professional insights about your visitors (e.g. location, industry, job function). Oh, and it’s free.
- Sales Navigator: LinkedIn’s signature sales enablement platform makes it easier for reps to monitor priority accounts and quickly react to key signals like headcount growth, new product releases, mergers/acquisitions, and competitor announcements.
- Sponsored Content + Sponsored InMail: Ty recommends running top-of-funnel campaigns, via Sponsored Content ads, to build brand awareness with your selected prospects, and then reaching out with Sponsored InMail (LinkedIn’s direct messaging tool) once familiarity has been established.
- Lead Gen Forms: This slick feature pre-populates lead gen fields, based on a member’s profile data, so they don’t have to painstakingly fill out each one in order to access content or register for a webinar. It can be used in conjunction with either of the ad formats above.
Ty also teased several pertinent new products coming down the pipeline on LinkedIn, such as buying group targeting and sales impact reporting.
Bring Clarity and Focus to Your B2B Strategy
While the blurring lines for sales and marketing in this transformed modern environment can generate confusion and discord, they also present new opportunities to find clarity. Once you get sales and marketing on the same page, you’ll likely experience much less friction on the path to identifying and winning the ideal accounts for your business.
It’s hard to deny that combining ABM with social selling is a smart way for many organizations to go about this. Just as it’s hard to deny that combining peanut butter and jelly is a smart way to satiate your lunchtime hunger pangs.
*Disclosure: LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.