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Social selling or cold calling? Why tech startups should do both

Dominic Tarn, managing director at House of Content, on why you can totally transform your sales strategy.

Software is big business. Gartner estimates that $357bn will be spent on software services in 2017, a 7.2% increase on 2016 figures. Global IT spending this year will exceed $3.5tn. Every startup wants a piece of that.

In the UK, software and digital companies employ 1.64 million people and generate a total Gross Value Added (GVA) of £97bn, according to the most recent Tech Nation report. None of this would exist without sales and the staff responsible for winning new clients.

Sales are essential to keep the lights on, pay salaries, keep growing and, hopefully, one day, generate a return for investors. Sales, supported by marketing, should ensure revenue keeps flowing in and growth is achievable and sustainable. Whether you are just starting up or growing fast, this means sourcing a steady stream of new potential clients and closing deals.

The question is, what is the best way to go about building a sales pipeline?

Cold calling vs cold emailing

Google “cold calling” and you could be forgiven for thinking the traditional method of selling is dead and buried. At the same time, the advocates of picking up the phone and making sales using that method are equally vocal. It should be noted that a lot of this support is coming from those with a vested interest, such as sales training and performance consultants and professionals.

Let’s pause and consider why so many in sales roles are hesitant to pick up the phone and make cold calls. It feels intrusive. We know that cold calling potentially interrupts someones working day. You get rejected. Every day. A lot. Usually, gatekeepers block access to decision makers, and when you do get through, most of them turn you down.

Sending an email, email blasts, or LinkedIn messages isn’t as nerve-racking. You write, click, send and move onto the next one, or next thing on your to-do list.

Email does have a high ROI – 4400% according to 2016 research. But that is referring to opt-in B2C email marketing. Very different from B2B sales emails, whether you are using opt-in or scraped email data sent out cold. When was the last time you responded to a cold sales email? Most of us just delete them, or they end up in spam.

In truth, neither option – cold calls or cold emails sound very effective.

Social selling

Cue “social selling”, the term used to describe the way in which social media can be leveraged to attract sales prospects, engaging with them, and moving them along the sales funnel.

Everything in a startups inbound marketing mix should be about getting prospects into the top of the funnel and encouraging them closer to making a decision. Social selling takes this one step further. Hootsuite explains that it doesn’t mean spamming – with mentions and direct messages – potential sales prospects.

Instead, think about it this way:

“Social selling is not just about gaining access to contacts but about building relationships and strategically listening for the right moment to join the conversation so you can present yourself as a solution to a current problem, addressing a pressing need to make your prospect’s life easier rather than becoming just another irritant to swipe and delete.”

According to International Data Corporation (IDC) research, “75% of B2B buyers use contacts and information from social networks as part of their purchase process.” Anyone who uses LinkedIn can’t help notice how often people ask for recommendations: that is social selling and buying in action.

Unfortunately, you can’t build a strong sales pipeline on occasional recommendation requests on LinkedIn and Facebook alone. Social media, inbound marketing, content, eBooks and other digital marketing techniques have a role to play. You can nurture prospects using social media, find out more about them, seek to address a specific challenge with your solution, but is that enough to hit sales targets?

Not really. It could work, but only if your online audience is large enough and price point low enough to generate sustainable recurring revenues. It works for some companies: e-commerce, some software services, such as Buffer. But that won’t work for a startup.

The solution

For most B2B startups, the ideal sales and marketing mix – and one that can expand as revenue and funding levels increase, is this:

  • Pure hustling – Sourcing or buying a list of sales prospects and jumping on opportunities you see on social media. Be where your buyers are and move quickly when you spot an opportunity.
  • Reaching out directly – pick up the phone, send emails, send messages: Combine all three, but don’t be afraid to make cold calls.
  • Pull prospects in – using inbound marketing: Blogs, articles, eBooks, social media and other methods, including advertising, as needed.
  • Go out and meet them – Networking events, trade shows and other events where you can meet potential buyers and introduce your solution face-to-face.