Organizations across the globe are changing their sales & marketing strategies because of a fundamental shift in the buying process: access to information. Research shows that, on average, B2B customers are 57% of the way through the buying process and have consulted 10+ sources before engaging a sales person.  As a result, sales leaders are buying into the idea that “consumers increasingly use social media to inform their buying decisions” and that “social media has evolved from a marketing channel into a powerful lead generation and sales pipeline tool.” 
While there is no question that social media can be an effective marketing channel, I began to wonder: who is really driving the demand for Social Selling, and is it the right channel to invest in for all customers?
Does Social Selling appeal to customers from all generations?
This question stumped me as I tried to imagine my dad, a Baby Boomer with executive buying authority at a middle market manufacturing firm, using the internet to research products to procure at his own company. So, I called my dad to learn about his typical buying process. He admitted that he often delegates consumer research to someone younger within the organization, not just because of hierarchy but because of their ability to more quickly and more thoroughly collect information. With that in mind, “the internet is so ubiquitous at this point that everyone, including buyers my age, know how to access the internet in order to be well-informed,” he said.
While my dad is fairly technologically savvy, I was not 100% convinced, so I probed a little further to learn more about the websites he typically consults when he does his own research. Not surprisingly, he tends to leverage more traditional sources, such as company websites, news outlets, and the stock market. When I asked about social platforms as sources of information, he said that while he uses LinkedIn minimally, “if market information or data is available on social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc., I would not know how to use them, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to.”
It struck me that there is still a large segment of customers who aren’t driving the demand for Social Selling. Sales leaders must remember that often “arresting statistics about buyers represent buyer behaviour on average… and that it’s irresponsible to build your customer engagement strategy on aggregate trends.”  Instead, it is critical to build your sales and marketing strategy based on your customers’ unique needs and challenges.
Target your customer, not the average customer.
One way to be sure you are correctly targeting your customer, not the average customer, is by defining “buyer personas.” This tool serves as a comprehensive analysis of your customer, allowing you to have more powerful sales conversations in order to, you guessed it: close more deals! Buyer personas typically include four components:
- Their Role – Where does your target buyer fit within the hierarchy of their organization, what are their main responsibilities, and how is their performance measured? Understanding these critical items will shape context around your sales conversations.
- Their Focus – What are your buyer’s priorities, challenges, motivations, and biases? Too often sales people focus on what they want to present and fail to consider what their customer is trying to achieve. Building sales conversations around your customer’s needs will open doors for future conversations, define win themes, and help you to anticipate objections.
- Their Buying Process – What are your customer’s decision criteria and how much influence on the decision will they have? With consensus-based decision making on the rise, understanding your buyer’s decision role – and who else is involved in the decision process – is key. It may not be effective to use Social Selling for the person with ultimate buying authority; the influencers or users who are helping to make the decision, however, may be the perfect profiles to target with Social Selling techniques.
- Their Preferences – Here generational nuance comes into play as another important lens through which to view your customer. For example, how does your buyer’s generation affect your style, frequency, and tone of sales interaction? As it relates to Social Selling, sellers should consider the information sources they provide based on the generation of their customers. A Baby Boomer customer, for example, may prefer a traditional sources of information, like Bloomberg or Nasdaq, while a Millennial customer may find a blog posting or business review on Facebook completely acceptable. In addition to generational nuance, sales professionals should also consider their buyer’s thinking style (analytical, tactical, relational, and strategic), which should influence the way sellers package and present information.
Deciding if Social Selling is right for you.
With Baby Boomers on the cusp of retirement, and more Gen Xers and Millennials moving into positions with ultimate buying authority, investing in Social Selling may not be a bad long-term play. But by first defining your buyer personas and truly understanding your customer’s role, focus, buying process, and preferences, you will be able to more easily decide if, how, and when investing in Social Selling is right for you.