Whenever I have a conversation about digital selling, the discussion quickly transitions to topics like search engine optimization, Facebook Ads, or some other messaging related category. In other cases, social media marketplaces come up or even the latest progress someone is making in eCommerce. As much as I appreciate these hot topics, they are each connected to digital marketing.

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Digital selling is different, and understanding the difference is critical to every organization that wants to maximize their selling efforts.

Digital Marketing

Let's start with digital marketing. Simply put, digital marketing involves connecting with and influencing your potential customers in the online space.

Digital marketing is an online engagement effort which uses a variety of assets, including websites, videos, images (infographics or photos), written content (blogs or ebooks), and social media pages to connect with customers. It also includes specific strategies to drive engagement, such as pay-per-click advertising, paid search, search engine optimization, and paid social, to name a few. Digital marketing is a powerful practice that enables businesses to get in front of the right people at the right time and improve the possibility that those people will choose their organization.

If you are in a purely online world, your digital marketing efforts can be fantastic for converting sales. However, for many businesses, online interaction isn't enough, and this is where digital selling comes into play.

Digital Selling

In contrast to digital marketing, which is working to engage a target audience, digital selling is working to turn your audience into buyers. Digital selling is responsible for driving revenue. A well designed digital selling effort leverages digital tools (CRM systems, content management platforms, lead-generation resources), social platforms, and various communication methods for winning business. Don't get me wrong, digital marketing efforts can, and often do, impact revenue, but digital selling is focused solely on driving sales.

Digital selling efforts are divided into two prospect engagement functions. 

The first segment supports inbound activity from potential buyers. These are prospects that visit your website, respond to offers, and reach out with interest in your organization. A digital marketing effort is designed for this purpose — connecting with the target audience.

For this reason, sales and marketing need to work together in developing both messaging and selling strategies to make sure the collaborative effort is creating a seamless experience.

The second function of digital selling is the outbound effort of the team. This is what truly differentiates a robust digital selling effort from an average one. In an outbound selling approach, the team is using a variety of resources to research potential prospects, connect with potential leads, and schedule interactions. These are the activities that turn prospects into customers.

Digital sellers use resources such as search engines, social platforms, and lead generators to prospect for leads. This active group of sellers isn't sitting by their computer waiting for leads to be handed to them (although many organizations provide lead lists to supplement selling efforts), they are proactive in their search. Digital sellers are also adept at email communication and concise messaging on their value proposition.

Unlike traditional outside salesperson, a digital salesperson has less time to build a relationship and capture the attention of a prospect. However, when digital sellers use their tools correctly, they are more likely to win sales.

Research from the Digital Marketing Institute revealed that sales reps using social media have 3.6 times more chance of meeting a decision-maker. Buyers are doing their research online in social spaces and various networking platforms, which makes it critical for salespeople to migrate to these same places. With this in mind, let's discuss how to put a digital selling strategy into action.

How to Implement a Digital Selling Strategy

There are three steps you can take now to get a digital selling effort started:

1. Ready your research.

Digital sellers understand the importance of research. Thorough research can include a business market or an industry, specific companies, and critical individuals inside an organization. As you dive into your research, consider leveraging industry groups, publications, and event organizers who can provide valuable insight into the current state of a business.

For example, I spent years in the home furnishings industry. During that time, I followed Furniture Today, the Mattress Industry Executives group on LinkedIn (yes, it exists), and the World Market Center out of Las Vegas. These entities circulated tremendous amounts of material on the industry, the relevant organizations, and people. A research effort that leverages technology and multiple sources of information will provide a distinct advantage to a modern-day salesperson.

2. Maintain a social media presence.

Sellers today must have a presence on social media. Which social platforms are relevant depends on your industry; however, as a rule of thumb, LinkedIn, and Facebook both provide access to a large pool of potential prospects. Twitter and Instagram are also great platforms to be part of, depending on your business model and ideal opportunity.

A social effort starts with selecting your platforms and establishing a personal brand. The key difference between social platforms for selling and social platforms, in general, is the intention of your presence. Social sellers realize that their profile, their activity, and their connections are for professional purposes.

There has never been a better time to establish yourself as an authority or an expert in a specialty area thanks to social media. Check out sleepologist Tim Hammonds’s Facebook profile — one of my favorite business to consumer examples of how to position yourself as the "go-to" person using social media.

Modern sellers can find the right people at the right companies through social media, and more importantly, your buyers can find you.

3. Select the right tools.

Choosing the right technology tools to support your digital selling effort is essential. In searching for digital tools, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information available and the crazy number of options.

To keep things simple, start with a lead-generator resource. I am a fan of LinkedIn Sales Navigator for its simplicity and cost. This tool helps to build and nurture customer relationships in a network. Once you have a lead-generation platform started, select and prioritize the social platforms you will use.

If you are a B2B salesperson then LinkedIn is a must, however, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram could also provide value. The critical question to ask is, "where are my prospects spending their time?"

Recently, while on a call with a major provider of dental products, their head of sales mentioned that their sales team initially used LinkedIn as a prospecting resource with limited success. Over time they discovered many dentists (their primary customers) were spending their time on Facebook building their businesses and interacting with patients. Once this manufacturers' team shifted to Facebook, their conversion rate increased significantly.

Know your customer, find the platform.

Lastly, it helps to have a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Many companies have existing systems customized to their company and their buyers. Digital selling requires a more sophisticated way of managing relationships, and technology can help make it more efficient.

Digital marketing and digital selling are both essential functions in any company that wants to compete in the world today. It's critical to understand the difference between the two to develop a holistic approach to driving revenue.

The digital transformation has created more opportunities for sales and marketing to work together to create a seamless customer experience that drives more sales. When the two functions collaborate on messaging, content development, and the process of customer engagement, great things can happen.

However, don't miss the need to design and activate a digital selling strategy. It's digital selling that will keep your pipeline filled with prospective customers and drive new revenue.

For more advice on creating better sales and marketing alignment, check out this post.

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Originally published Jun 5, 2020 8:30:00 AM, updated June 05 2020

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Sales and Marketing Alignment