What’s the Big Deal?
Interest in “social selling” has been growing since coming into the lexicon in 2005, so we’ve created this “everything you need to know” guide for your edification.
What does “social selling” really mean?
Right from the start, let’s agree that it’s a pretty bad buzzword for a set of very beneficial practices. It would be better called something like “selling in the social-era,” or “using social media as part of your sales process” but those are unwieldy, so it’s the term we’re stuck with. As a term, it does cause some misunderstandings, particularly with salespeople themselves.
It conjures up the wrong image, for starters — social selling does not mean that you conduct meetings with prospects with a glass of wine in one hand and a business card in the other. Here’s how some of today’s experts define social selling:
“Social selling is a layer over top of your current sales process that empowers salespeople to harness social media to connect with buyers and prospects during traditionally dark periods and build a level of trust never seen before.” – Julio Visko
“I define social selling as YOU the salesperson, leveraging your personal brand to network, build relationships and then to influence and benefit those relationships by providing value through engagement, education and relevant recommendations. Social Selling is primarily about looking for new ways to add value to your network. Only when you have added enough value to your network will you be able to reap the rewards of more leads, new accounts and sales success.” — Jeff Zelaya, Triblio
“Social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects. Salespeople will provide value by answering prospect questions and offering thoughtful content until the prospect is ready to buy.” — Sam Kusinitz, Hubspot
“Regardless of the target market or the terminology used for engaging customers in the online world, the bottom line is that selling is a social activity.” – Dan Newman (Source: Social Selling: An Imperative For The Selling Process)
Here’s the thing: All selling has always been social — but now technology has led to new behaviors on the part of buyers and sellers.
Who Is This New Buyer, Anyway?
Until recently, customers looking for a business solution had to ask for guidance from companies because the information they needed to make a decision wasn’t available anywhere else. The fundamental information asymmetry tilted the field in favor of the seller, and arguably made sales a lot easier than it is now. With today’s Internet, buyers are now able to find all the information they need. They’re educating themselves about their problem and how to solve it.
This means that by the time they talk to a rep, your prospects need someone who can exercise judgment and creativity, not just talk about a price.
“Today, because of the Internet, most buyers are 60-70% through the buying process before they even engage with a seller. Customers can easily read features, functions and reviews online, causing the role of a salesperson to shift drastically. Now, sellers must adjust to the empowered buyer by shifting their “sales pitch” to asking questions, listening and engaging with the buyer. The #1 selling skill is trust. Buyers must believe that you are genuinely concerned with the buyer’s goals, problems and needs, not necessarily closing a sale. In fact, the seller should be willing to leave if he or she does not believe they can help the buyer.” — Lauren Piccini, Social Media Strategist
Newly-empowered buyers are doing THIS:
- Online research and exploration
- Reading blogs
- Participating in discussions with peers (Quora, LinkedIn groups, etc.)
- Combing through YouTube
- Tweeting, posting, chatting
But not so much THIS:
- Reading your marketing content on your website
- Drooling over your brochures
- Taking your cold calls (effectiveness of cold calling drops with every year)
- Paying attention to your spotty, occasional communications on social media
Social activities are important at the front end of a sale: prospecting, qualifying, and pre-sales activities that establish a relationship arc along which sales can more naturally occur.
Social outreach has another advantage: It’s not intrusive like a cold call. It’s a more natural and genuine way to communicate.
Maybe just as importantly, engaging on social channels adds serendipity to the sales process like never before. It is now possible that buyers can find you, individual salesperson. Further, it is now possible that you can attract individuals to you that, over time, may have a need you can fulfill as a seller. Even when no direct sale is imminent, smart social sellers see the bigger picture of connections, networks, and law of attraction.
“Far too many people sit around wishing and dreaming but they do absolutely nothing. I’m a Law of Attraction believer. I believe that we create our own reality, but notice that the last 5 letters of attraction are ACTION.” – Barbara Giamanco, Best-Selling Sales Author
The Power of Relationships in the Buying Process
“Relationships are particularly important during the early stages of a sales process, when you’re prospecting a new opportunity or mapping relationships in an existing account….Social selling is about understanding relationship data and using it to your advantage programmatically. Relationships are the fundamental driver in a sales process…Customers ultimately buy from the people that they like.” – RevBoss
In short, using social selling techniques is one way to use hard data and metrics with soft skills.
Here’s an interesting fact: A study by The University of British Columbia shows that even the most incidental of similarities between a salesperson and a prospect contribute to the purchasing experience — even though it’s not rational. A birthdate, where you went to school, or even a friend in common all increase the chances of a sale.
Social selling is gathering “relationship intelligence” to prospect, correct problems, and respond to feedback. There’s nothing untoward about this kind of research. Some people are uncomfortable with “prying and spying” but all the information you find online is public and fair game to gather and analyze.
Finding Leads, The Social Way
You can find leads by gathering intelligence from (a starter list, if you will):
- blog comments
- customer complaints
- Quora questions
- LinkedIn group discussions
- monitoring job changes (job change is always an opportunity as this infographic shows)
Are There Social Selling Challenges and Risks?
Some regulated industries (e.g., financial institutions, healthcare) have to be especially cautious, but most companies can mitigate risk through thoughtful guidelines, common sense, and training.
The biggest challenge in social selling is adoption — getting buy-in from management and sales professionals. Study after study shows that best-in-class companies who use social selling strategies are up to 2x more successful than those that don’t. Sales teams not using social (and social selling tools) are lagging behind and losing out
The Aberdeen Group identifies engagement as the key to becoming a sales leader in your industry, demonstrating affinity in, around social channels:
“Despite the evidence of the benefits, less than 50 percent of salespeople are actively using social media as a selling tool.” — Dimitar Popov, Brevet sales enablement consulting
The evidence is irrefutable that social selling techniques are both effective and here to stay. Tamara Schenk, Research Director for MHI Research Institute, shared the results of the 2014 MHI Global Sales Best Practices Study. Here is what you can see in that report:
“World-class sales performers using social media selling activities performed consistently at 2x the effectiveness over those who did not use them.”
Get Ready, Get Set, Go — Here’s How To Get Started
Get Ready! Basics — Prep your social channels
Complete your profiles! Here’s a great article for writing the perfect LinkedIn summary.
“[Social selling] begins with maintaining a professional social presence on LinkedIn by creating a profile that presents the right image and sharing value-added content with the community. – MHI 2014 Global Sales Best Practices
Monitor and listen actively — EVERYWHERE! Follow prospects, customers, and competitors and monitor what they are saying. What’s important to them? What are their issues, concerns. Probably most important — What are their pain points?
Keep a constant eye on news, events, job changes, and sentiment.
- Build public and private lists to help you gain insights
Engagement Basics — Get Set!
- Start to share relevant content with your network and with individuals
- Stay away from blatant sales on social media — social selling is not about hawking your wares — it’s about developing a rapport and relationship and trust
- Become a subject matter expert
- Become more focused on problem solving — look for places where you can help, with no particular aim at a sale.
Here’s a thought from Marketing and Sales Strategist David Meerman Scott:
Nurturing Basics: GO!
- Set reminders and stay in touch
- Ask for referrals without being a nuisance
- Continue to mine your network for intelligence.
- Continue to leverage your brand’s content with customers and prospects.
- Develop the habit of doing some social activities every day: (e.g., endorse someone on LinkedIn, share a great article, tweet, retweet, reconnect with a customer, follow someone new). If you do, you’ll soon find that it’s not something you have to remind yourself to do — it will become essential.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day and your social selling activities won’t lead to sales tomorrow. There are no short cuts. Great selling is not an event, it is a process. Keeping your sales skills sharp and integrating the use of social media into your selling activities is something you do every day – consistently – to achieve results.” – Barbara Giamanco, social selling expert and coach
Social Preparation: Techniques To Use Before a Sales Meeting
Your mindset should be to build your authenticity and credibility. Here are some ways to do that with any person you are researching:
- Note shared interests or relationships in common
- Look for common trigger events and buying signals
- Follow your prospect on relevant social channels
- Follow (and possibly comment) on a blog or article they’ve written
- Join a LinkedIn group they participate in
- Retweet something they’ve posted
- Read the latest on their LinkedIn profile
- Note any authorship that will give you a deeper look
- Look for podcasts/videos they have done — watch them in action.
Sales Pros: Get Your Head Around The BIG Picture
- Insight, not data
- Expansive outreach instead of narrow contact list
- Meaningful collaboration instead of impersonal and irrelevant
“The goal of social selling is to advance from a one-to-many broadcast campaign and message to a one-to-one human interaction.” – MHI 2014 Global Sales Best Practices
“We’re in a transitional stage, nearing the point of evolve or die. Social selling will become commonplace in the average B2B sales organization when the change in sales driven by social selling becomes so profound that the industry looks totally different.“ – Jim Keenan, A Sales Guy
Over and over, the data confirm that incorporating social activities into your sales process is going to pay rich dividends.
The Top 30 People Rocking Social Selling
A list of 30 of our favorite experts and influencers in social selling. Look, I linked all of them for you! Why not make it a Twitter list!