The chances are that without even realising it you are doing some of the things that fall under the banner of social selling. However, there is much to be gained by truly embracing social media’s potential to support your sales.
To help you turn social selling into a conscious activity, our sales superhero, The Closer, explains the strengths of social selling, what it involves, why it is crucial in today’s business environment and how you can develop your own social selling superpowers.
What is social selling?
Let’s start with what social selling isn’t. It isn’t about grabbing as many followers, likes or connections as possible and bombarding them with special offers in the hope that someone may just be a prospect and will bite. It is not about tricking prospects into connecting and then spamming their direct message inbox with everything that is great about a business and its products or services. It certainly isn’t a magic bullet or a way to push a few keys and sit back and watch the sales roll in.
To support its sales activities, a business needs to use the power of social media intelligently. It needs to do so by leveraging both its social and traditional marketing efforts.
I asked Katie King, founder of digital transformation consultancy Zoodikers—Business Vision LIVE’s marketing partner—how she defined social selling.
“Social selling is taking the work done through social marketing— the creation and sharing of great content—and leveraging it to support sales efforts,” she explained.
“There is considerable crossover between the sales and marketing activities a business carries out over social media. Perhaps more than ever before, successful use of social media for a business requires cooperation and collaboration between sales and marketing teams,” added Katie
Is it worth it?
Social selling has been on the map for a good few years—it’s not just a fad—but it does seem to have come into prominence in the last 18 months or so.
“The last two years or so has seen social media usage in business extend beyond being a tool for promotion, into other areas of the organisation,” continued Katie. “This includes customer service and HR, but the area where I think usage is growing fastest is social selling,”
There is now some meaningful research that backs the argument for taking a social selling approach.
As far back as 2013, an article in Forbes shared research which showed that over 78% of salespeople using social media to support their sales activities outperformed those who weren’t, and that social media users exceeded their sales targets more often than non-users.
There is also data to show the impact that social media is having on buyers. CEB, a part of Gartner, found that a typical B2B customer is 57% of the way along their buying process before they engage with any suppliers. While Accenture’s State of B2B Procurement Study found that 94% of B2B buyers conduct some degree of research online before making a business purchase.
The statistics surrounding the subject may look exciting and frightening, in equal measure. But, it is important to recognise that the way purchasing decisions are being made, and how effective salespeople are influencing those decisions, may be evolving but is not changing in fundamental terms.
Despite what some sources may try and have you believe, there are core aspects of selling practice that have not changed and possibly never will.
The first is the fact that people buy from people. A key facet of selling is developing relationships—between individuals, businesses or a combination of both—and developing a sense of trust and credibility. Many of you will have heard the phrase ‘know, like and trust’ that is often used in a sales and marketing context.
Another essential in selling is the importance of research. Knowing your customers, your market and your competitors has always been a core principle of good sales practice.
The way these activities have been carried out has continuously evolved. In just the last few decades we have seen travelling salesmen embrace the telephone and then the email. While the internet has changed the way research is carried out.
The advent of social media has simply evolved the way that these tasks can be carried out once again.
Katie continued: “With the proliferation of social channels, today’s salesperson becomes obsolete if all they do is use old school hard selling tactics. However, if they can use their understanding of the sales process, and their contact books, and learn how to use these new tools to warm up their clients and help them do their job, then they will gain a huge advantage.”
What does social selling involve?
Let’s break the activity down into three areas—gathering insight, building credibility and developing relationships.
In gathering insight—social listening as it is often referred to—social media channels offer the potential to find out information about your customers, prospects, competitors and what is going on in your market; even more than was made available with the advent of the internet.
If you monitor the social activity of your competitors, you may catch wind of their plans.
Look at their company social accounts and those of their employees. If they start to follow new people with a common link, it might indicate the beginnings of their entry into a new market segment or the development of a new offer. You may see themes that they start to take an interest in, or new topics beginning to show up regularly in their communications. This could be powerful information that enables you to react faster than before.
When researching prospects and existing customers you can also gain much more information than was previously possible. You may be able to identify pain points from their communications—issues your solutions can address. You could see their plans developing in time to react. You may also be able to identify their likes and dislikes to help you build rapport.
Vast amounts of market information is also available across the various social platforms.
Setting up Google alerts is a useful social listening technique for customer, competitor and market information. Joining LinkedIn groups frequented by your customers or peers can also prove valuable. You may also want to consider monitoring Slideshare presentations from your customers and competitors. These can show up customer plans and competitor developments. Question and Answer sites like Quora can also give useful insight, particularly in identifying what key thought leaders within your area of interest are saying.
One of the most potent social listening platforms is, of course, Twitter. You can learn huge amounts by following customers, competitors and thought leaders. But it can quickly become unwieldy. This is where Twitter lists come into their own. With lists, you can segment groups so you can easily view similar accounts together. You can even add accounts you don’t follow to private lists. A useful technique if you want to stay below the radar.
Building credibility is about demonstrating your credentials, knowledge and capability.
On platforms like LinkedIn, your credibility will be helped if you can gather genuine recommendations. Also, in your profile, highlight where your expertise is relevant to customers as well as potential employers
You should also take the opportunity to contribute to conversations or answer questions across the various platforms you engage in. But make sure you add real value. And don’t dive in with a sell at the same time. Credibility takes time to build.
“I’ve spent years giving advice freely, in person or through articles or presentations,” said Katie. “It could easily have been seen as time spent for no return. But it has enabled me to demonstrate my knowledge and skills, and as a result, I now get invited to comment on social media topics by the likes of the BBC.”
You can also boost your credibility through the content that you share. You should try to create valuable, original content when you can, but, there is no quick win or easy option. Good content that demonstrates knowledge and understanding takes time to prepare. Yes, you can re-share content from others, but don’t do it exclusively, and if you do, try to add your own viewpoint. Alternatively, if you don’t have the time or capability, engage someone who can do it for you.
There are plenty of ways to link up with people across the social platforms that you use. Don’t fall into the trap of randomly trying to connect with individuals though. You will have far more success if you tackle this intelligently. For example, never send a stock connection request on LinkedIn. Instead, explain why you are reaching out. It may be a shared connection, a recommendation from a colleague or a common interest. You may want to reference something you saw them share and comment on how you reacted to it.
As your network grows, it needs to be nurtured. Stay in touch (but don’t overdo it). Pay attention to your connection’s content, and show that you are by liking it or commenting on it from time to time. Where you can, if they raise a question help out with a meaningful answer. This will all help ensure you remain in your customers and prospects minds when the time comes to make decisions.
Putting it all together
If you have developed credibility and nurtured a relationship, and then when you make an approach you justify it through demonstrating an understanding of the prospect’s needs, wants or aspirations, then you are more likely to be successful.
That’s social selling!
Before I wrap up, there are a few more points worth noting.
The first is to pick the software or apps you use to support your social selling carefully. Some excellent tools can help identify opportunities, collate insight and streamline a range of tasks. Katie is a fan of Hubspot, LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator and some of the tools available within Salesforce. But as a general rule, tools which automate likes, follows or tweets etc. look unprofessional and can create more problems than they solve.
You should also be selective. There is no ‘one size fits all’ regarding the social platforms that are right for you. The ones you focus on will depend on those which your customers, prospects and competitors use.
Finally, be targeted. One-to-one, or one-to-few, communications may seem more time consuming but, in terms of the return on time invested, they can often be much more effective than just blasting messages as far and wide as possible.
He (or she) who dies with the most followers does not necessarily win!