Sales executives are challenged daily with the pressure to meet quotas and increase sales, but also to keep up with the latest trends in their respective sectors. The hospitality industry is no different.
Even though the sales goal hasn’t changed over the past decades, the formula for successful selling in hospitality has dramatically evolved with the impact of social media. Social media expert Jim Keenan states that 72.6% of people using social media as part of the sales process outperform their peers and exceed quota 23% more often (business.linkedin.com).
You probably heard that we are living now in the era of social selling and content marketing. But what is social selling and why salespeople should care about it?
Social selling is defined “when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects” (SuperOffice.com) on social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. It is used primarily for B2B (Business-To-Business) selling to find, connect, and nurture sales prospects. This phenomenon is changing the sales practices in hospitality and here is how.
Prospecting: From cold to warm
As a sales professional, you must find a way to generate more quality leads to meet or exceed your quota. Prospecting is what we call the process of searching for and calling upon potential customers.
The traditional selling process involved knocking on a lot of doors, face to face interactions and making numerous phone calls. “Cold calling” is no longer effective. According to a recent IBM Preference Study, cold calls are ineffective 97% of the time, and this number has been increasing by 7% every year since 2010. (crmsearch.com).
So, how can sales professionals change to a warm and trusted approach? You should start interacting on social networks, where you have an opportunity to build rapport and relationships with potential buyers by offering advice and expertise.
Then the next question would be: which network should I join? LinkedIn, unlike Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter is all about business. This is the world’s largest professional network with more than 414 million professionals. Then, you are now able to find and engage with more prospects and identify influencers, decision makers, and opinion leaders. It is also considered the most effective social network for a B2B lead generation because 80% of social B2B leads come from LinkedIn.
The prospecting evolution from heavy cold-calling to social selling not only included the volume of leads but also increased the quality of prospects. Once you have your LinkedIn account, you can use its advanced search and filtering system to quickly identify influencers and decision makers and save them as leads to create high-quality lead lists.
Once you have identified quality leads, you need to think about how to introduce yourself. The wonderful thing about LinkedIn is that you can use your personal connections in your network to request warm introductions, based on commonly shared interests and goals. By using LinkedIn Sales Navigator, you can ask your 1st-degree contacts to introduce you to 2nd and 3rd-degree contacts. When an introduction is not possible, you can try using LinkedIn Inmails.
The ABC, from “Always be closing” to “Always be connecting.”
If you have been in the sales environment, you are probably familiar with the famous catchphrase “Always be closing”. Managers often use this ABC to motivate their sales teams to continuously search for new prospects, pitch products or services to those prospects, and complete the sale. This sales philosophy is not valid anymore in the social selling era. In fact, you must avoid the sales pitch on social media.
Asking a sales executive not to pitch may sound like a mistake, but the social selling has transformed the role of the salesperson to a professional advisor. In hospitality, when you begin to work as a social seller, your job is to build relationships by offering advice and expertise, not information about your company’s solutions and services. It’s about connecting, posting or sharing content, publishing articles, engaging in conversations within your network, or researching your key accounts to pick up current information you can use to win your next customer.
Since LinkedIn gives you the tools to detect who is connected to whom, and what areas they are focused on, try to get their attention and gain their interest by posting interesting and relevant content to their particular needs. The key to differentiating yourself from your competition is based on your knowledge of your buyers’ needs. Likewise, if you see a discussion on LinkedIn that’s related to your hotel brands, or to the hospitality industry in general, share your advice without any pitch or product mentions. Position yourself as a thought leader.
Closing the deal with LinkedIn
Salespeople always try to close the deal, but many of them find obstacles to get customers to sign. Whether buyers think of them as people who are trying to sell something instead of trusted advisers, or they fail to explain how their solution helps the buyer’s business, or they can’t have a conversation with the key decision makers or they can’t establish a personal connection with the buyers, salespeople struggle to close opportunities.
Social selling is now affecting your ability to close the deal. Before a meeting with your customers, you can use LinkedIn to look up each person and find one piece of information you can relate to them. You can interact with them by commenting on their blog entries, post, articles, observations and answering their questions. It all starts with a detailed understanding of the target buyers and establishing trust by connecting with them. Make sure you encourage introductions on LinkedIn to key decision makers from people who know and trust you.
LinkedIn also helps you adapt your content to your prospects’ interests. You can use Sponsored InMail to send personalized and attention-grabbing messages to your target audience. Designating recipients by geography, job role, group membership, company size and other criteria, can increase the likelihood of resonating with the prospects and their willingness to listen to you.
Building trust is vital before the sales pitch to help you establish credibility with your prospects. In this case, you need to start considering your online resume as a sales tool. Your LinkedIn profile page is no longer a résumé for recruiters, it now represents a way you can strategically cultivate relationships and generate trust in your brand. Joining hospitality industry-related groups and interact is another way to enhance your personal brand by showing your knowledge and expertise to prospects. These interactions add up to stronger relationships and increased the likelihood of closing a deal. Plus, you can use the Social Selling Index (SSI) to measure your sales success.
Sales professionals in hospitality, as well as in any other industry, need to consider the adoption of social selling as a ‘Must Do” to stay on top of their game. The focus today relies on relationships. The buyers’ journey has changed, and now social media plays a key role in their search for a purchase.
B2B salespeople employed in the hospitality industry are not competitive by just visiting local businesses, travel agencies or tour operators to sell how their hotels have the resources and staff to meet their customers’ needs. Social selling has disrupted the way we conduct sales in this sector from prospecting to closing the deals. Top sellers now use LinkedIn to research prospects, connect with them with a warm approach, engage in conversations with them to build relationships, interact with industry-related groups and publish helpful and insightful content. However, the challenge remains to change current mindsets.