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Social Selling for Sales Leaders: How Social Selling Works

By Brian Bailard | 7 months ago | No Comments

social selling
Image via Flickr

Brian Bailard is a 20-year veteran sales leader and a contributor to the HootSuite blog. This is the second post in a series on social selling aimed at sales leaders and executives.

In part 1, I defined social selling as the use of social media by salespeople to generate revenue. In this post, we’ll walk through how one of your salespeople would do social selling. We’ll start with an overview of the biggest social networks, then explore a social selling example to see how it works in practice.

To learn how social selling can boost revenue across your sales organization, download the new white paper from HootSuite Enterprise, Social Selling: An Overview For Sales Executives.

DOWNLOAD NOW

The Social Media Landscape

The largest, most popular social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube. Pinterest and Instagram are growing rapidly. In Asia, Sina Weibo, Renren, Tencent Weibo & Mixi are more widely used that Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn. VK is huge in Russia as is Xing in central Europe. Where do I start? It seems overwhelming.

Let’s start by understanding the differences in these networks and let that help us know where to focus for social selling.

Facebook

Massively popular but highly personal. Typically used for family and friends. Salespeople should generally not try to friend a company executive as it would be viewed as too intrusive and too personal. It is important to pay attention to what your prospect companies are doing on their corporate Facebook page.

Twitter

Hugely important because Twitter is about people and ideas. Though the ideas aren’t often explicitly written in those 140 characters, the links to blogs and articles of interest are tremendously valuable to seeing what those executives view as important.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is incredibly useful to learn about executives, find mid-level influencers and gain introductions. In addition, LinkedIn Groups are great places to keep up to date with industry developments and hear what people in your space are saying about your company and competitors. You need all of your sales professionals to establish themselves as credible experts on LinkedIn (we’ll go into this in more detail in a future blog post).

Google+

There is a passionate and loyal group of users on Google+ and many are business executives. You will find some key people here that aren’t active on other networks. Google+ is the “social layer” that ties all of Google’s services together, including Youtube, so its importance will only grow over time.

YouTube

YouTube is one of the largest social networks and the importance of videos in marketing, support and education continues to grow. However, you won’t find many executives providing a lot of useful insights here. Like Facebook, it’s important to pay attention to what your prospect companies are doing on their corporate YouTube page.

Targeting an Executive: A Social Selling Example

Before we talk about how to set up your sales force for social selling, let’s jump ahead so you can see how it really works.

I’ve identified a target account in my territory that I want to try to win as a new customer. Through the executives list on the company website and searching LinkedIn, I’ve found four key executives that I think would be the decision-maker or at least key influencers. I use the HootSuite social relationship dashboard to search for those four executives’ social media profiles and I find two of them on Twitter.

I can also use HootSuite to scan all the social media conversations and just display the ones for this company, their industry and these two executives. Through this process, I find additional company executives or mid-level influencers and create a simple Twitter list so I can easily read what they post online. Now, I’ve found five or so key people who are active on social media. The next steps are to listen, understand and engage with them.

In our example, we will attempt to connect with Gerry Moran, an executive with SAP. Note that @GerryMoran gave permission to be used in this example and he is a highly regarded expert on social selling. His blog is essential reading for anyone interested in social selling.

Listening First.

If you are contacting an executive for the first time, it will obviously be a more successful conversation if you know the business issues that he or she is focused on. Using HootSuite, I can easily follow this person on Twitter and see the posts that this executive is making.

I can see that Gerry is interested in social business, social selling, marketing and lead generation. By clicking on the links in his posts, I can read the articles that Gerry finds interesting. If I know what the executive finds important and can relate my product or solution to that interest, I have a higher likelihood of making a sale. Every day or two, I will read the posts made by the executives I am targeting, always looking for key insights or opportunities to position our product.

Engaging

The first thing I will do is retweet or favorite his posts on Twitter and like his updates on LinkedIn. That will usually trigger an email that will notify the executive that he was just mentioned or liked. And where will Twitter or LinkedIn send these emails? Almost always to his or her personal email address, the one they used to sign-up for the social networks. So these execs are going to see your name and know that you are paying attention to what they are saying publicly. However, it is doubtful they will respond to you immediately. Whatever you do, DON’T retweet or like every post. You’ll come across as a stalker and not a sophisticated sales executive. Find the executive’s posts that really are good and that you genuinely like and retweet those.

These activities will help you get your name in front of executives in an unobtrusive way, but if all you do is acknowledge their posts, have you shown them that you can help them? Not yet. Now is the time for you to make some posts on a topic of interest to that executive that relates to the value proposition of what you are selling. Try to use one of the hashtags that the executive used (like #socialselling in the example above). A hashtag (the “#” symbol followed by the keyword on Twitter) allows people to easily find and follow a conversation around a topic of interest to them.

You can see a sample of how I engaged with Gerry below. It was a combination of my re-tweeting and liking a sub-set of his posts and my contributing my own posts on his topic of interest.brian bailard

Connecting

It took a few weeks of reading, following, liking and contributing before I had established to Gerry that I was knowledgeable about a business initiative he cared about. Not only did he read my posts, but he looked my Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 12.00.01 PM

This was Gerry’s signal to me that it was OK to connect. At this point, I sent Gerry a LinkedIn invite that he quickly accepted. I then sent him a message through LinkedIn suggesting we have a call and talk in more depth about this topic. We did, and it was a great call!

Note that no cold-call or email was ever used. No junior person blocked me or otherwise made it difficult to connect with the executive. Furthermore, we are engaging on a topic of real interest to the executive. Once I connected with Gerry, I was able to take the conversation offline and speak to him over the phone. In the future, I’ll continue to monitor Gerry on social media and look for other opportunities to initiate relevant, timely conversations about his needs. I’ve integrated social media into my sales flow, alongside other communication modes. This is social selling in action, and it works.

What’s the other lesson here? No shortcuts. Don’t expect to retweet one message and close the deal. You have to genuinely understand what the executive is interested in and add value to that discussion. But this is a path to connect directly to decision-making executives and engage on topics that they are interested in.

If you are a little afraid about whether you will be able to find interesting things to contribute, like the example above, fear not. In a following blog, I’ll talk about how you can achieve this. And the good news is that your company’s marketing department probably has plenty of good stuff.

The other question is whether or not the executives you want to sell to are active on social media. Forrester reports that “fully 100% of decision-makers use social media for work purposes.” Personally, I find it hard to believe 100% of anything really works in practice. I’d suggest you tell yourself that 25%-50% of the executives you want to target are using social media, somewhat dependent on their industry. But you probably have multiple entry points into an account and the probability that one or more of them is active on social will be much higher.

In future blog posts, we’ll look at how you can routinely use social media to discover insights about your customers and prospects, how you can implement a large-scale social selling program for your salesforce, and how Sales and Marketing can collaborate to generate revenue from social media.

To learn how social selling can boost revenue across your sales organization, download the new white paper from HootSuite Enterprise, Social Selling: An Overview For Sales Executives.

DOWNLOAD NOW

2 comments
Andreas Dittrich
Andreas Dittrich

Hi Brian,  very good article. I especially like that you highlight that listening and identifying core issues of the "target" come first, then relationship building and only then - the sales process starts. This approach is targeted whereas not intrusive and leaves for the prospect the freedom to choose. Many thanks.

thewritestuff1
thewritestuff1

I've said it before and I'll say it again: people often consider twitter as an informal press release service. You can get more out of it by listening.