Social Selling in B2B Sales, Part 1: What is Social Selling?

By Matt Foulger | 2 years ago | | 5 Comments

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“What is Social Selling?” is an excerpt from the white paper, “Social Selling in B2B Sales”. In this portion, we define social selling and summarize the benefits of using social media in business-to-business sales. To view the paper in its entirety, download below. 

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What is Social Selling?

Over the past decade, B2B customers have become socially empowered, highly informed decision makers. While it’s common knowledge that consumers are using social media to find deals, research products and make recommendations, the widespread use of social media among business purchasers is less appreciated. In fact, social media (along with search) is giving B2B customers significant market-making power. Their new behavior has upended traditional B2B marketing and sales practices, especially among companies paying close attention. Social selling – the use of social media by sales organizations for listening, customer engagement and internal collaboration – is an inevitable consequence of social buying.

The good news for sales organizations is that social selling isn’t a clean break from traditional selling; it’s an evolutionary step forward. Social sellers do not have to abandon email, phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Instead, their time on these traditional channels becomes far more productive when supported by deliberate use of social media. Social selling eliminates some of the most wasteful parts of the traditional sales process (like cold-calling) and enhances the activities that good salespeople already do to create wins and drive revenue.

Perhaps the greatest misconception about B2B social selling is that it entails making sales pitches through social media. In reality, a B2B social seller uses networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to find potential customers, relate to their needs, and engage them. When appropriate, they can move the process forward through email, a real-time medium, or in person.

The Pillars of Social Selling

Listen and Learn

Salespeople discover potential leads by monitoring social networks (perhaps in concert with professional sales intelligence services). They map out relationships within prospective companies to determine which decision makers they should target, leveraging shared contacts for referrals and introductions.

Research and Relate

Like consumers, today’s business purchasers openly express their aspirations and their needs through social media. For attentive salespeople, this information is manna from heaven. It allows them to discover shared interests or relationships that can turn cold calls into warm introductions. In addition to empathy, social media fosters insight. Because online social profiles make the customer’s business needs and the seller’s subject knowledge more transparent, the two parties can build a relationship through valuable exchanges of information, not just idle chit-chat.

Engage and Impress

Social media allows a sales agent to actively communicate with more accounts and stay better informed about all of them. He or she can keep tabs on customers’ social profiles and become aware of trigger events without bothering them with interruptive “follow-up” calls that add little value to either side. When an opportunity for engagement arises, the seller can reach out to the customer through social media or another channel.

Collaborate and Close

B2B sales are organization-to-organization, not just bilateral interactions between sales reps and individual customers. When partnered with solid business practices, social tools strengthen the entire web of relationships involved in sales, making the selling process as collaborative as the modern buying process. Sales representatives can collaborate to research prospects, build referrals, and discover cross-selling opportunities.

The results of social selling speak for themselves. In a 2012 review of sales organizations by Aberdeen Group, social sellers significantly outperformed the competition in numerous Key Performance Indicators (Aberdeen defines social selling as utilization of social media for internal collaboration, external listening, or external participation).

This white paper will show that social selling remains an ambition, not reality at most B2B sales organizations today; however, the evidence is clear that change is underway. At this point, sales managers don’t have to make a decision to adopt social media, because their customers have already made it for them.

Want to read the rest of the white paper? Download “Social Selling in B2B Sales”

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Written by

Valerie I VanOrden
Valerie I VanOrden

..."It allows them to discover shared interests or relationships that can turn cold calls into warm introductions. In addition to empathy, social media fosters insight. Because online social profiles make the customer’s business needs and the seller’s subject knowledge more transparent, the two parties can build a relationship through valuable exchanges of information, not just idle chit-chat"

I agree that social selling is kind of a revolution.  I have pictures I have drawn on FAA, yet I still need to pump them.  People are not going to find them just surfing the internet through normal channels.  FAA (Fineartamerica) does it's part, through many channels, but each individual artist (and there are over 10,000 on FAA) has to enhance their own sales through FB, widgets, local selling, donating to charities, handing out business cards while sketching in public, etc.  

Piotr Wieczorek
Piotr Wieczorek


Thank you for a very useful info in a nutshel.

Personally I'm not a big fan of cold-calling regardless of which end of phone line (receiving or calling) I am. I thing it became more irritating and prospects are more in 'leave me alone' mood then ever before.

. In todays world we're overloaded with incoming information and selecting interesting piece is a big challenge hence HootSuite tools might be very handy.


What a great snapshot of the process of social selling! This is an important strategy for all sales teams, moving forward. I would suspect the Listen & Learn step will be the most important, but also the hardest to perfect. What software services are available for that?


Social selling is a great way of generating and nurturing qualified leads. Success in any business is about making the right connections and standing out as a market leader and social media is a powerful way to achieve this.

Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger

Thanks, Piotr. We're all bombarded with a lot of information these days. I think sales professionals are no exception to this phenomenon. They have to deal with information overload too so they can empathize with buyers and understand how valuable their time is. Social media is a great way to keep up relationships without demanding too much time from people. We can passively keep track of their situations without having to interrupt them. Then when we do reach out it's because we have some value to provide. If you're interested in learning about social selling in more depth, download the free white paper.


Matt Foulger
Matt Foulger

Hi Brett,

Thanks for the comment! Getting the right software is a big part of social listening, especially if your team uses it collaboratively. HootSuite is an excellent tool for listening to your sales prospects and clients. You can set up Twitter lists of different types of contacts and then keep track of their activity in dedicated streams in the HootSuite dashboard. Twitter lists work best if they're combined with keyword search streams which allow you to listen to what everybody on Twitter is saying about your brand, your competitors, your industry, etc. HootSuite also makes it easy to listen and contribute to all the LinkedIn groups you participate in. Again, you can create listening streams for each and every LinkedIn group so you can follow them from one convenient place (you're also able to comment on posts in-stream). Because listening requires context, you should also check out HootSuite's integration with Social Customer Relationship Management services like Nimble and Batchbook. These apps in our App Directory allow you to keep track of your sales organization's communication history with a prospect or client across every one of their social profiles (on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc).

Social selling is also about teamwork. Your buyers are collaborating, so you should think about how your sales team can work together, too. Listening as a team is probably the easiest form of teamwork in social selling. If you notice a social message in one of your streams that you think a colleague needs to see, you can assign it to a teammate with HootSuite's team assignments function. Your colleague will get a notification along with whatever message you attached to the assignment. Then he or she can respond to the opportunity in whatever way they think is best. If your sales organization listens as a team, you'll pick up on far more engagement opportunities.

Sometimes the best way to listen to others is to give them something to talk about. When you want to share content on LinkedIn, HootSuite allows you to post to your personal profile or any and all of your groups from the same message composition box. The Hootlet browser extension for Chrome allows you to share content without even having to open the dashboard. Once you seed a discussion you can create a dedicated stream in your dashboard to listen to what people are saying in response to that shared content.

Remember, you can download the entire "Social Selling in B2B Sales" white paper to get a deeper look at social selling and what sales organizations are doing right and wrong in social media today. For a practitioner's point of view on social selling, you should follow my HootSuite colleague Julio Viskovitch on Twitter (@juliovisko).

Hope this helps!

- Matt