Social selling: by now you’ve certainly heard of it, but you may not be entirely sure what it means. Is it the same as social media marketing? (No.) What about social media advertising? (Nope, that’s something else altogether.) So just what is social selling? Is it simply one more digital buzzword soon to be relegated to the virtual dustbin of 2016?
With sales professionals who have incorporated social selling into their sales process way outperforming those stuck in the pre-social sales funnel (we’ve got the statistics to prove it below), social selling may be a buzzword, but it’s in absolutely no danger of being tossed away.
Instead, it’s an important new approach to selling that allows salespeople to laser-target their prospecting, establish rapport and trust through existing connections and networks, and possibly even ditch the dreaded practice of making cold calls. If you have not yet incorporated social selling into your business, you’re likely already losing sales to your more socially savvy peers.
What is social selling?
Social selling is the art of using social networks to find, connect with, understand, and nurture sales prospects. It’s the modern way to develop meaningful relationships with potential customers that keep you—and your brand—front of mind, so you’re the natural first point of contact when a prospect is ready to buy.
It’s quite simply using online social tools to engage in the relationship-building strategies that have always been the foundation of what good sales professionals do.
If you have a Facebook Business Page, LinkedIn profile, or professional Twitter account, you’re already engaged in the basics of social selling—even if you’ve never actually used the term to describe your online activities, or thought all that much about exactly what social selling really means.
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Perhaps equally important to explaining what social selling means is to explain what social selling is not. It’s certainly not about bombarding strangers with unsolicited Tweets and private messages. There’s a name for that: spam. And you shouldn’t do it.
Social selling is not just about gaining access to contacts but about building relationships and strategically listening for the right moment to join the conversation so you can present yourself as a solution to a current problem, addressing a pressing need to make your prospect’s life easier rather than becoming just another irritant to swipe and delete.
Now that you understand what social selling is, let’s look at why doing it (really) well is so important for your business.
3 reasons why your business should care about social selling
You’ll read a lot of statistics in this next section as we look at why your brand should care about social selling. But really, there’s one big 800-pound gorilla of a reason to care: social selling works. Period.
In this socially connected world, 78 percent of salespeople engaged in social selling are outselling their peers who are not using social selling. If your sales team has not embraced social selling, your sales are quite simply not what they could be. Here are three key reasons why.
1. Social selling lets your sales team build real relationships
Let’s face it: Nobody likes cold calling. And the truth is that it’s not very effective anyway: 90 percent of top decision-makers say they never respond to cold calls. Using social tools to listen in on conversations relevant to your industry—known as social listening—allows your sales team to identify new leads that are already talking about your business, your competitors, or your industry, so you can reach out to them slowly with useful information when the time is right.
In a recent survey by CSO Insights and Seismic, one in three B2B professionals said that social selling tools increased the number of leads they had to work with. Even more—39 percent—said that social tools reduced the amount of time they spent researching accounts and contacts.
With prospects socially sharing so much information about their needs, wants, and pain points on their public profiles, even your first point of contact can be personalized, relevant, and helpful, rather than intrusive and cold. That leads to more meaningful ongoing prospect and client engagement, with 31 percent of B2B professionals saying that social selling tools allowed them to build deeper relationships with clients.
Better yet, building a strong network through various social media channels allows you to seek out introductions to new sales prospects through existing mutual connections, creating an immediate sense of trust and rapport. That trust is an incredibly important resource for both clients and salespeople, with 87 percent of B2B buyers saying they would have a favorable impression of someone introduced through their professional network.
With social sellers accessing all of these important advantages that give them the jump on their less socially minded colleagues, it’s no surprise that internal LinkedIn data shows sales professionals with a strong social selling index—a measure based on how well salespeople build their personal brand, focus on the right prospects, engage with relevant content, and build trusted relationships—have 45 percent more sales opportunities than others, and are 51 percent more likely to hit their sales quotas.
2. Your clients are already engaged in social buying
What’s social buying? Flip the concept of social selling on its head. Just as sales professionals can use social listening and other social research strategies to find potential clients, those potential clients are already using social listening and social search to find potential vendors, research them online, and develop an opinion about which vendor is the best fit, all before making first contact with a sales professional.
In fact, CEB found that customers are, on average, 57 percent of the way through the purchase process before they ever engage with a sales professional, and IDC found that 75 percent of B2B buyers and 84 percent of executives use contacts and information from social networks as part of their purchase process.
If you’re not actively engaged in social selling, you’re not showing up in that social purchase research: that’s a lot of potential missed sales.
The good news is that, according to LinkedIn, 76 percent of buyers are ready to have a social media conversation with potential providers, and more than 62 percent of B2B buyers respond to salespeople who connect with them to share insights and opportunities relevant to their business. Even better, 92 percent of B2B buyers are willing to engage with a sales professional who is a known industry thought leader, a reputation you can establish by consistently posting thoughtful, relevant content on social media.
Beyond the initial sale, keep in mind that 53 percent of customer loyalty is driven by a salesperson’s ability to deliver unique insight, a skill that salespeople can initially demonstrate through their social media content sharing, and later confirm through their ongoing social connections with past clients. Perhaps that’s why data from Aberdeen shows that teams engaged in social selling have a customer renewal rate seven percentage points higher than teams that have not embraced social selling tools.
3. Your top competitors are already using social selling
A whopping 71 percent of all sales professionals—and 90 percent of top salespeople—are already using social selling tools. Among younger salespeople, the numbers are even higher, with 78 percent of all millennial sales professionals using social selling tools and 63 percent saying those tools are critical or extremely critical to their sales performance. If you’re not allowing your sales team to use social tools and equipping them to do so, it will be more challenging for you to recruit top sales performers, especially from the millennial demographic.
And brands in just about every industry are embracing social selling tools, whether it’s Microsoft boosting productivity 38 percent by socially prospecting for leads for a new cloud computing offering, U.K. travel firm Corporate Traveller achieving £5.5 in new sales by using social selling to reach out to potential small and medium-sized business travel clients, or the Vancouver Canucks using social selling to help increase hockey ticket sales.
Social selling best practices
Now that you know what social selling is and why you should care, let’s look at some important best practices for implementing an effective social selling strategy.
1. Show up
You know what’s not very social? Robots. You may be tempted to save time with automated liking and commenting tools, but these do nothing to build rapport. In fact, they can do serious damage to your personal and professional brand. Yes, there are ways to incorporate social bots into marketing and customer service, but when it comes to selling, nothing beats a real, live human.
So: Show up. Engage. Be present. Be yourself. Remember, the point of social selling is to build relationships. The goal is to make yourself seem more human and approachable—not less.
Of course, since you’ll hardly be alone in your social selling efforts, “show up” has another meaning, too. You need to make sure your profile actually shows up when customers and prospects are looking for expertise in your industry, so they start to recognize you as a leader—and a valuable contact—in your field.
Be sure to optimize your social media profiles across all networks to maximize the impact of your social selling strategy. Look at your profiles from a prospect or customer’s point of view. Do they present you as a credible professional who has valuable insights relevant to your market? If not, do some tweaking to ensure your profiles present you in the best possible light—and have a consistent tone and message across all networks.
2. Listen strategically to identify leads
Your customers and prospects are sharing incredibly valuable information on their social channels—they’re basically telling you exactly what they want and need. All you have to do is pay attention.
Use social lists and Hootsuite streams to monitor what people are saying about you, your company, your industry, and your competitors. Watch for pain points and requests for recommendations, both of which provide natural opportunities for you to provide the solution to a problem.
Before reaching out to any of the leads you identify, check their following and follower lists to see if you have any mutual connections. If you do, ask your shared contact for an introduction. And make sure to customize your messaging based on the wealth of information people share on their professional social media profiles—mentioned a shared interest for example, or that you particularly enjoyed a blog post they shared.
3. Provide value
There are no participation medals in social selling: if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right. That means providing valuable insight to the right prospects at the right time.
When interacting with prospects and customers through social networks, it’s important not to get too “pitchy.” Rather than simply extolling the value of your product or service, your goal should be to contribute valuable information that can help establish you as an expert in your field. Write posts that share important knowledge, but don’t be afraid to share relevant posts from others as well. When sharing content from others, add a short comment of your own about how the knowledge can be applied in your specific field.
It’s certainly okay to mention your product or service in some of your social posts, but don’t make your posts sales pitches or presentations. Your goal in social selling is to establish relationships that will eventually lead to a sale, not to make a sale on first contact. Which brings us to the last of our four best practices for social selling…
4. Build meaningful relationships
Stay in touch with your new social contacts over time. Pay attention to the content they’re posting, and jump in from time to time with a like or a comment to let them know you’ve read and appreciated what they have to say.
If a contact moves to a new position or company, send a quick note of congratulations. If you notice a contact asking for help or advice, jump in with a meaningful answer, even if it doesn’t directly promote your product. Focus on how you can help your contacts or make their lives easier. If you can establish yourself as their go-to person in your industry, guess who they’ll call when they’re ready to make a purchase?
How to get started with social selling on each platform
With the best practices above in mind, here are some specific tips for getting started with social selling on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
As a professional social network, LinkedIn is the most obvious social network for engaging in social selling—particularly in the B2B space. After all, 50 percent of B2B buyers use LinkedIn as a resource when making purchasing decisions—and you need to be active on LinkedIn to position yourself as a player in those decisions. Here are three key ways to start using LinkedIn for social selling.
1. Build your credibility
Ask for endorsements and recommendations from connections with whom you have a good relationship. These are posted on your profile and can help give you instant credibility with new contacts. And make sure your profile highlights expertise relevant to a potential customer, rather than an employer. Highlight how you’ve helped previous customers achieve their goals.
2. Extend your network
Use LinkedIn advanced search to uncover potential new connections by leveraging existing relationships within the network.
According to Fortune, an advisor at financial services firm Guardian Life picked up 35 referrals from just one client using LinkedIn. That rep’s business has more than doubled since he started prospecting on social networks.
3. Get social in Groups
Join LinkedIn Groups that are relevant to your industry to start networking with peers and prospects. Use the search feature on your LinkedIn homepage to find new Groups, or choose from LinkedIn’s suggestions of Groups you may like.
You may also want to look into LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator, the network’s professional social selling tool.
Twitter is a great network for social listening because of the ability to create Twitter Lists to monitor content from specific groups of people. Here are three key Twitter lists you can use to get started with social selling on the network.
1. Existing customers
Use this list to keep close tabs on your existing customers and watch for opportunities to reply to or like their Tweets so you can keep yourself on their radar.
Don’t overdo it, though, and be sure that your engagements with clients are meaningful—only “like” Tweets that you actually like, and only comment when you have something valuable to say. Unless you’re in a super-secretive industry, you may want to consider making this list public so that prospects can get a sense of what kind of businesses you’re already serving.
As you identify potential future customers, add them to a private list—you don’t want to share this information with competitors, and you don’t want users to know you’ve identified them as prospects until the time is right to reach out. Keep a close eye on this list, too, but don’t engage with the same sense of familiarity as you do with existing customers. Keep a particular eye out for requests for help or statements of pain points where you can reply with a helpful comment.
Again, this list should be private. Adding competitors to a private list lets you keep tabs on them without actually following them. This competitive intelligence can help spark ideas for your own social selling efforts.
Twitter chats can also be an important part of your social selling strategy, as they allow you to establish yourself as an industry expert and can serve as an important prospecting strategy. Join in on an existing chat that’s relevant to your industry, or start your own.
For example, Madalyn Sklar hosts the #TwitterSmarter Twitter chat, which showcases her credibility as an expert on all things Twitter and puts her in front of plenty of potential clients for her Twitter marketing strategy consulting business: The latest chat involved 496 profiles and had 150 million impressions.
You have to be a little more careful when social selling on Facebook, as it’s the most personal of the three social networks we talk about in this post. Some people simply don’t want to mix business and pleasure on Facebook, so sending friend requests to business contacts or prospects may come across as creepy rather than helpful. You may want to create a Facebook Business Page instead, then use these strategies to start social selling.
1. Engage with other businesses
It’s easy to reach out through likes, comments, and shares. If you provide thoughtful comments and share valuable content, your outreach is likely to be reciprocated, putting your Facebook Page in front of a whole new audience as your professional network grows and other businesses share and like your content in return.
2. Engage with followers
Always respond to follower posts. Try asking a question to spark conversation among your Facebook followers—posts that ask questions get 100 percent more comments than regular text posts. That allows you to join in the conversation and interact directly with followers, creating a sense of rapport and helping you to establish your expertise.
You could also ask followers about some of their most pressing problems, then create a report, whitepaper, or even just a Facebook post to address their concerns, including how your product or service can help.
But your question doesn’t need to be directly related to your product or service to be effective. Take a look at the conversation Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith sparked with her followers (and potential future clients) with a simple question about goals for the new year:
Sales has always been about building relationships, establishing rapport and credibility, and providing the right solution to the right prospect at the right time. Social selling doesn’t change that. It just provides you as a sales professional with an additional suite of tools to incorporate into your work so you can focus on the most productive parts of the sales process and maximize the benefits of existing relationships and connections to build an expanded network of prospects who actually want to hear from you.
Learn how to leverage social media to save time, drive a larger number of qualified leads, and increase deal sizes with Hootsuite Academy, our free social media training.