Three Things You Need to Know About Social Selling

    September 02, 2016

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    There’s no escaping the fact that we live and conduct business in a social world. Harnessing social technology is clearly now a mandate for sales. The consumer sales ecosystem has known this for years. But how are B2B, and in particular enterprise B2B sales teams succeeding with social selling? While companies like Oracle and IBM are implementing social selling programs with great success, social selling evangelist Jill Rowley, in an article in ZDNet, says that most companies are actually in the infant stages of social selling as a concept, with the majority of firms only leveraging social media in random bouts and not training their sales staff to effectively exploit the network.

    This despite the crazy hype around social selling. In fact, all the buzz would make you think social selling is the silver bullet sales teams have been waiting for. Yes, adopting social selling is essential today, but the reality is that there is no silver bullet here. It’s just another medium for engaging and nurturing your customers and prospects.

    Now maybe social selling has eluded you and you don’t even know what I’m talking about. So, here’s how Hubspot defines it: "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.”

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    Essentially it’s all about managing and influencing how your prospects think about you and your company.

    For me, at its best, social selling facilitates your ability to acquaint your prospects with your company’s brand, values and personality—as well as with your own personal brand. The goal is to cultivate a social presence that makes prospects think, “I like this company/person. I trust this company/person. This is a company/person I would like to do business with.”

    But if you don’t do it right, it can be worse than not engaging at all. You risk putting off your customers and prospects with a barrage of irrelevant, ill-conceived, and self-serving posts that make them think, “This company/person is so annoying. I want nothing to do with them.”

    Rowley actually finds that social selling is not so much about social media, which she finds confusing and chaotic, but using social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter, which, she said on, layer on three primary things that help sales people: identity, relationships, and activity. “Who's in their circle of trust? Who are they following on Twitter? Who influences them? Where did they go to university? Where have they worked? What skills do they have?”

    For Rowley, it’s not just about you sharing with or educating prospects, it’s also a way to get to know the people who may be your customers by looking at what they’re sharing, what they’re tweeting, who they’re following, and what threads they’re commenting on in LinkedIn groups or community sites. “So, really, when I talk to sales, it's about social networks, to do research on the buyer, that ever increasing buying committee, and the sphere of influence of the buyer,” she explained.

    With an enterprise, of course, you typically have more decision makers involved than with a small business, where there may be a linear line between you and one person with a budget who can say yes or no. So one way you can continue to get in front of multiple decision makers is through a robust social presence that offers—importantly—not selling, but instead relevant content based on observation and research that reinforces your selling proposition.

    For example, you tweet a perceptive comment and links to customer case studies, expert interviews, or other stories that prove that what you are proposing works. Or you engage them with a comment on what they’re posting or tweeting about, or news relevant to them and their business—focusing on them, not you. Doing all of this with enterprise clients helps you get MORE people on your side as you demonstrate thought leadership, company values, and a personal brand. It shows them that you are someone they can trust, who understands their issues, and someone worthy of their business.

    Ah, but there’s a paradox around social selling. While social networks have become a game-changer for sales, the fundamentals of sales haven’t changed at all. With this in mind, here are three age-old tenets of sales, presented in the context of social selling:

    1. CXOs always have gatekeepers.

    As Tony J. Hughes pointed out on LinkedIn, “While the operational level folks may have LinkedIn profiles, what you'll commonly find is that C-Suite executives do not have a LinkedIn that's more than a placeholder or they log in very little at best. Who is logging in? Despite the advent and proliferation of social media platforms with early adopters in software tech verticals, still it's been my experience that shrewd executives are positioning their executive assistants in LinkedIn as gatekeepers, just as they had with phones.” So, you’re still basically interacting with a gatekeeper at the highest levels. How do you get around that? You target posts that are on point about them, their business, their industry—from news to press releases, to new hires, or new markets. And hope the gatekeepers pass it on.

    2. It’s About Them, Not You.

    The quickest way to turn off or even alienate a potential customer is to make your postings all about you. Think social networks are your forum for bragging on yourself or your company? Maybe, say, 20 percent of the time you can mention awards, new products, or new hires. But for social selling you must curate and share relevant content about your customers and their industry. It’s about engaging with insights.

    3. Relationships take time.

    Just as in real life, you aren’t going to bond with prospects on a social platform in a nanosecond. Social selling requires the same approaches you’d take in person. You’re networking. You’re having authentic conversations. You thoroughly research your target audience and turn that information into insights that build trust—because people like to know that they’re understood. Just as in real life, your virtual relationships can gradually grow and provide opportunities to do business together.

    According to LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index, 78 percent of social sellers outsell peers who don’t use social media, 51 percent are more likely to hit their quota, and 45 percent have more sales opportunities. But that can only happen if your social sales strategy is to be social, not self absorbed, and is grounded in research that is used to build trust that leads to relationships.

    Your social selling can be so much more effective if you know exactly who you are targeting and what matters to them. Check out our free sample profiles to learn how we provided the details that start conversations and close deals. 

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    Sharon Gillenwater

    About the Author

    Sharon Gillenwater

    Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market, from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits, to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.