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With growth of social networking comes social media selling

With Sales Navigator enhancements, which include an enterprise edition, LinkedIn hopes to capitalize on sales reps' increasing use of social media as a sales tool.

Social media affects everything it touches: media rights, productivity, communication and even the U.S. presidential...

election. It can affect the sales process, too. Customers use social media channels to glean product information, as well as to sing praises and lodge complaints.

The bottom line is many companies' prospects actively use social media, and B2B companies increasingly realize the value of this access point to create sales.

As social media selling has gained prominence, the tools that unlock those social secrets continue to be upgraded, empowering a sales rep to speak to the right contact at the right time.

"[Social media selling tools] make it a lot easier and quicker to find those prospects, and if it's integrated with your CRM, it can keep that system up to date on opportunities," said Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at Chicago-based G2 Crowd Inc., a peer-to-peer business software review company. "It works as a way to take something you believe is an opportunity and work your way through the organization to find the right decision-makers."

Sales Navigator Enterprise Edition

While social media has taken many forms, some have been more receptive to social media selling tools than others, with LinkedIn being the primary social network that doubles as a potential lead reservoir. In a 2015 Sales for Life study looking at social media selling in 2016, 84% of sales reps using social media as a sales tool used LinkedIn, while more than 48% used Twitter.

[Social media selling tools] make it a lot easier and quicker to find those prospects, and if it's integrated with your CRM, it can keep that system up to date on opportunities.
Michael Fauscettechief research officer, G2 Crowd Inc.

According to the same study, 63% of sales reps using social media selling reported an increase in their company's sales revenue, while 91% expect an increase in sales revenue in the next year. While it seems like a helpful tool for sales reps, only 8.5% of social media selling users have a program fully integrated into their sales process.

To keep up with this demanding space, LinkedIn's social media selling tool, Sales Navigator, received several recent upgrades, including an enterprise edition, enhanced CRM integrations and integration with PointDrive, which assists with sending email attachments.

"People are open to getting introduced to sales opportunities by people in their network if it's in the right context," Fauscette said. "Buyers are much more responsive when introduced to a salesperson from someone they trust."

By upgrading Sales Navigator, LinkedIn hopes to increase usage from those looking to sell across social networks; and by releasing an enterprise edition, LinkedIn can capitalize on larger companies that are looking to social sell.

"Before, LinkedIn didn't really have an enterprise option," Fauscette said. "This made the licensing more appealing to larger companies."

And while a name like Enterprise Edition might turn off some SMBs, Doug Camplejohn, head of products for LinkedIn sales solutions, said with an increased number of InMail messages available in the Enterprise Edition and the ability to link networks with a company's partners, Enterprise Edition could be useful for those smaller businesses that are active on the social media selling front.

"Enterprise Edition came about with the realization that when we get into larger companies, one of the things they want to do is not just tap into their network of 30,000 employees using Sales Navigator, but tap into the entire company," Camplejohn said. "It's an opportunity for anyone outside of Sales Navigator to opt in to the network. The best path to a prospect may be through someone from accounting or manufacturing, and not necessarily your sales team."

PointDrive integration comes to Sales Navigator

In July 2016, just after news broke that Microsoft would be buying LinkedIn, the professional networking company purchased PointDrive, which helps assist salespeople in sharing PowerPoints, PDFs and any other educational material for a potential sale. The software is now integrated with Sales Navigator and allows a sender to see who received and opened the material, and whether you reached the right person in the buying process.

"If you have an email with four attachments, now, you can just render this content online and not have to deal with downloads," Camplejohn said. "It's great from a sender standpoint; they can understand if people are looking at their content."

Sending along promotional or educational material is a vital part of the selling process, and by properly displaying the information and sending it to the right people, a sales rep can appear more trusting to the buyer.

"For the most part, as you go through a sales process, you need to educate a prospect on what you're doing," Fauscette said. "The prospect is trying to learn, and sharing that information at the right time is important. If you blast a PowerPoint or PDF off to someone who doesn't trust you, you just lost it."

CRM integrations

Prior to the latest Sales Navigator release, CRM users who were also using social media selling tools would have to manually input activity from Sales Navigator into their CRM. Called CRM Sync, the new feature allows your Sales Navigator tool and Salesforce platform to share information. A press release stated that CRM Sync will be available on other CRM platforms later this year.

On the surface, it seems odd that the initial CRM integration for a LinkedIn product would take place on Salesforce and not on Microsoft Dynamics, since Microsoft spent more than $26 billion in 2016 to purchase LinkedIn.

Camplejohn wouldn't speak specifically about why integration with its parent company's software will happen after a competitor's.

"We don't have specifics to announce, but as we opened up [to CRMs] last year, we expect to continue those integrations with partners," Camplejohn said.

It was a fear of Microsoft keeping LinkedIn's proprietary data for itself that made CEO Marc Benioff caution U.S. regulators in fall 2016, arguing that the acquisition was mainly for LinkedIn's data and not of the overall social network. And, according to public reports, he pressed the Federal Trade Commission to review the acquisition for antitrust violations. The FTC declined to investigate.

"That was always a bit of a concern," Fauscette said. "Certainly, in the past, Microsoft wasn't always open about its products. Part of the power of LinkedIn is it has been open and connected to many CRM systems."

In addition to CRM Sync, Sales Navigator also includes CRM widgets, which allow you to view Sales Navigator profile details within Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. Widget integration for other CRMs, including Oracle, SAP, NetSuite, SugarCRM, HubSpot and Zoho, are expected in the near future.

Pricing for Sales Navigator comes in three tiers, ranging from $80 per user, per month for Professional Edition; $1,200 per user, per year for Team Edition; and $1,600 per user, per year for Enterprise Edition. Prices are before volume and multiyear discounts.

*TechTarget offers ABM and project intelligence data and tools services.

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