These days, everyone seems to be talking about the need for social selling, but less common is a good description of how it works, or simple steps for getting it off the ground. In this guide, we will answer the basic question, “what is social selling?” as well as provide a step-by-step guide to planning, launching, and maintaining a social selling program as part of a larger online marketing strategy. Ultimately, social selling is about people; about giving a brand a human face and building a real, authentic connection. The technology can help, but at the end of the day, it’s a very human skill.
Table of Contents:
History of “The Cold Call”
The position of “sales” technically has been around as long as there’s been commerce, although the profession truly came to the forefront with the industrial revolution, when the emergence of centralized factories meant products needed to be distributed and sold far from their place of origin. Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century, “traveling” salespeople became necessary to make their pitch and sell commercial products in faraway towns and cities. And with the advent of communications technology like telephones in the mid-20th century, a new technique arrived: the cold call. Simply calling a potential customer and making a pitch for a product over the phone. And for decades, the cold call was a principal tool for sales professionals. Although since the arrival of the internet in the early 21st century, new methods of making a sale have been evolving.
Social Media: No longer just a fun distraction
At first, social media was seen largely by the professional world as a distraction. Managers discouraged employees from using social media at work in the early days of Facebook and Twitter, because it was seen as precisely that: social. That is to say, not having any professional value. But as advertisers caught wind of the potential for online advertising, and social media companies became global giants, a new reality became apparent. Social media was not a silly distraction, but a potential tool for building real relationships with potential consumers. Unlike “the cold call,” which is as the name suggests, somewhat cold and impersonal, social media allowed sales professionals to build real, organic relationships online, ones that could later be leveraged to drastically impact a company’s revenue. Today, in the U.S., over 90% of companies use social media for marketing. A silly distraction? Hardly.
“At first, social media was seen largely by the professional world as a distraction… But as advertisers caught wind of the potential for online advertising, and social media companies became global giants, a new reality became apparent.”
Social selling has become an important sales tool
Over the past few years, the transition in thinking regarding social media has transformed what was a niche concept into a mainstream sales technique. Called “social selling,” it is now seen by most companies as a necessary component of any complete sales strategy, and a crucial skill for any salesforce. Because ultimately, social selling is about building connections and cultivating relationships, and it is equally effective for B2B and B2C selling. In both cases, credibility and trust can be built online, resulting, when the time is right, in a sale.
But it’s just one tool in a much larger digital toolkit
It’s worth stating, however, that your typical example of social selling is just one part of a larger digital selling toolkit. According to Tricycle’s Jochem Vergberg: “you can basically divide the [digital selling tools] into three categories. One…is social selling. That’s a big tool. The other one is the CRM system, and then you have the productivity tools.” All of these together comprise an effective digital selling strategy. And ironically, social selling isn’t only about selling. It’s about creating interactions with humans, and giving brands a living, feeling persona. In the digital world, building real, authentic relationships is more crucial than ever. Frankly, it’s in our DNA: people want to interact with other people.
“Social selling isn’t just a theory or a fad—it works. It gives a company’s salesforce the power to become thought leaders in their industry, build a community of followers online, develop relationships, pursue leads, and close deals.”
2. What are the benefits of social selling in today’s online world? Why is social selling important?
Social selling isn’t just a theory or a fad—it works. It gives a company’s salesforce the power to become thought leaders in their industry, build a community of followers online, develop relationships, pursue leads, and close deals. Here, we’ll examine the benefits of social media compared to more traditional selling techniques.
Today, sales rely on a “journey” or “funnel”
In today’s world, the process of enacting a sale is often described as a “journey” or a “funnel.” The final result, obviously, is completing the sale, and keeping the customer on as a trusted user. There is a beginning to the funnel, when a potential customer is first connected to the brand in question, a process of informing and engaging, and eventually, if all works well, the consummation of a sale. Throughout this process, it is crucial that the customer is contacted in an effective but appropriate way. It’s important to inform and engage, but not to over-sell or scare them away. It’s really about the creation of a relationship.
“It’s important to inform and engage, but not to over-sell or scare them away. It’s really about the creation of a relationship.”
Social Selling is a way of interacting with leads earlier in the funnel
One of the primary benefits of social selling is that it enables sales professionals to begin interacting with leads very early in the “funnel”—and sometimes even before the funnel, or journey, has even begun. Social selling means building an online presence, and establishing credibility in a specific field. A potential consumer might begin following posts and sharing content from a sales professional before they are even considering making a purchase. And vice-versa. In this way, a human interaction is taking place very early on in the relationship. A consumer can know and trust the seller before a sale is even on their mind.
Social Selling feels more organic than “cold calls”
Another benefit of social selling is simply that it feels organic. Cold calls and intros, the traditional tools of sales departments, can feel forced or awkward, and sometimes be unpleasant for all parties involved. One study showed that 90% of c-level executives ignore cold calls in general. But because social selling involves slowly building real relationships over time with customers, it eliminates those feelings of forced interaction. By sharing content, commenting on ideas, liking when appropriate, and getting involved in discussions, a discourse begins between customers and sellers that leads toward a more authentic feeling of credibility.
And the social selling statistics prove that it works
We’ve discussed the reasons why social selling can be an effective sales strategy. But does it actually work? The answer is a resounding yes. Time and data have proven the effectiveness of social selling, in terms of leads generated, sales completed, and revenue earned. Here are just a few statistics that demonstrate its potential.
—Leads developed through employee social marketing convert 7x more frequently. (Marketing Advisory Network)
—90% of top-performing sales professionals use social selling. (LinkedIn)
—78% of reps who use social selling practices outsell their peers. (Forbes)
—84% of B2B executives use social media to research purchase decisions. (LinkedIn)
—92% of B2B buyers use social media to engage with sales industry thought leaders. (LinkedIn)
—Content shared by employees receives 8x more engagement than content shared by brand channels. (Social Media Today)
— Companies with consistent social selling in place are 40% more likely to hit revenue goals. (Sales for Life)
—More than half of all revenue in 14 industries was influenced by social selling, including telecommunications, computer software, marketing and advertising, information services, and financial services. (LinkedIn)
Social media can be intimidating, especially when you see people with thousands of followers who are already established thought leaders in the industry. But it’s something anyone can do. And it’s not like the old days when being good at sales meant being an extrovert with a booming personality. As Tricycle’s Jochem Verberg remarked, with social media’s emphasis on good content and algorithms, “introverts can leverage these tools and outperform the extroverts.” Essentially, it’s a whole new world, and anything is possible if you follow these simple rules.
Step 1: Get management on board
Perhaps before anything else, if you’re planning on launching a program to promote social selling at your company, get management to support the mission. This begins with educating them about its benefits, and clearly explaining how it well help sales at your business. Having their support with be crucial when it comes to securing resources and encouraging the sales team to follow through.
“Perhaps before anything else, if you’re planning on launching a program to promote social selling at your company, get management to support the mission.”
Step 2: Choose the social networks to focus on
Not all social media networks are the same, and different ones serve different purposes. Here is a quick rundown of some of the most popular networks, and the benefits of each, in regards to B2B or B2C:
LinkedIn: Without a doubt, one of the leaders for social selling. Because of its professional focus, LinkedIn is a powerful tool for B2B, connecting you directly with potential business consumers. According to one survey, 98% of sales reps with more than 5,000 LinkedIn connections meet or surpass their quotas. The only con, it can be a bit too professional at times, and it’s good to augment your social media presence with other, more social sites to add more personality.
Twitter: The strength of Twitter is that it works well for sharing content, and it works well for engaging both B2B and B2C consumers. Accordingly, it’s very popular, with 74% of B2B marketing companies using Twitter to distribute content. Also, it’s great for connecting directly with large brands and companies, as most will have a presence on Twitter. Because of character constraints, however, it’s generally used for linking to external content, or for commenting.
Facebook: The benefit of Facebook is that it has a huge base of users, and is easily the largest social networking site in the world. The downside is that it serves a very private, social function, and using it for sales can make some potential customers feel uncomfortable. One study found that 81% of people find unsolicited messages from salespeople on Facebook “creepy,” and friend requests from sales professionals are often not welcome. But still, it can be helpful for sharing content and building a reputation as an industry thought leader, at least. Just avoid unwelcome interactions.
Instagram: A recent addition to popular social selling networks, this is by far the most social and least professional, but it can be helpful in giving an authentic, human side to your salesforce. And it gives you the chance to really have a bit of fun. Being image-based, it’s not as good for sharing general or third-party content, but it does permit sales professionals to further hone their brand and persona, i.e. that they actually have a human side. Probably stronger for B2C.
“Some members of your salesforce will be familiar and comfortable with social media. Some may even already be great at it. But many will need training in how best to use the various networks.”
Step 3: Retrain your salesforce
Some members of your salesforce will be familiar and comfortable with social media. Some may even already be great at it. But many will need training in how best to use the various networks. Important steps include setting up an appealing, professional profile, how to join groups and lists, setting alerts to stay on top of things, and gaining followers to build a strong network. These days, there are numerous online tutorials and quizzes to help with the training. It can be fun and easy, it doesn’t have to be a chore. In summary, the four training areas to focus on are:
—Profile optimization with friendly, professional photograph
—Tutorial on setting alerts and joining online groups
—Seminar on gaining and engaging followers
—Techniques on how to develop leads and make a sale without being intrusive or “creepy”
Step 4: Motivate reluctant sellers
And a big part of training will also include motivating sellers who don’t believe in social selling, or who aren’t comfortable with it. This, again, is why it’s important to involve top management. They can help educate the salesforce on the benefits of social selling, and provide a little extra encouragement when necessary. Also, a reward system and gamification can encourage reluctant sellers to get on board. Make sure you give sellers motivation to engage in social selling, especially in the early stages when the benefits aren’t necessarily apparent.
Step 5: Determining social selling parameters in a regulated industry
This section isn’t relevant for all social sellers, but for those that work in industries with strict regulations (i.e. pharmaceuticals), or who work for companies with communications policies in place, setting parameters is an important step before initiating a social selling program. In this case, it’s crucial to include in the training tutorials mentioned above what is allowed in terms of communication and what is not. Filters should be discussed, and in some cases, is may be appropriate to turn off comments on certain types of social media. Fortunately, many platforms do have advanced settings to help determine which content is visible, how comments are received, and who sees what, so you do have options, no matter how regulated your industry may be.
Step 6: Track your performance
Gauging the effectiveness of your social selling efforts is an important final step, both to ensure that you’re getting a return on your investment, and for determining which techniques work and which do not. Factors worth tracking include:
— Number of content pieces created
—Sales revenue linked to social selling
Additionally, an important tool at your disposal is your LinkedIn Social Selling Index (SSI). This score shows you how successful you are at establishing your online brand, finding the right people, building relationships, and engaging with insights. But keep in mind: the score does matter, but ultimately sales are what count. It’s just a tool, it’s not the end-all-be-all of social selling.
“Gauging the effectiveness of your social selling efforts is an important final step, both to ensure that you’re getting a return on your investment, and for determining which techniques work and which do not.”
There are many steps you can take and tips you can follow to excel at social selling, but without the right content, you probably won’t get very far. Content is king, and creating and sharing the right kind of content on social media makes all the difference.
The importance of becoming a thought leader.
The key role that content plays is that it allows the seller to become a thought leader in their sector. Someone who knows the industry well, who gathers and shares breaking news and developments, someone whose opinion matters. By both sharing third-party content, and creating content, the seller becomes an authority on the subject, which gives them the credibility to make the final sale.
Content must be useful. Must add value before requesting value.
In choosing the proper content to share—articles, essays, competitive analysis, breaking news—it’s important to remember the point of sharing it in the first place. It should be useful, that is to say it should shed light on the industry, and educate those who are interested in the subject matter. Trends, developments, mergers, simple how-to guides and tutorials: all of these can prove helpful. Before developing a lead or initiating a sale, it’s important to add value to the discussion. That value will give you credibility and authority.
“Direct sales-related content should be minimized. Show you’re an expert, don’t tell.”
Content mix is critical. Must reflect awareness of industry, trends, changes, etc.
Now that we know how critical content can be, the question is, what’s the right mix? The general consensus among experts is that it needs to be a mixture of third-party content, user generated content, and actual company information. Although surprisingly, the best content mix tends to rely much more heavily on third-party content. Again, this goes back to how important it is to be seen as a thought leader, not simply a sales professional trying to make a deal. Some experts believe in the 70-20-10 rule. That is to say, 70% third-party content, 20% company content, and 10% of the seller’s own content. Some social media leaders also suggest breaking it down into thirds. Either way, it’s critical to share and produce content, and to be careful not to lean too heavily on simply talking about your specific company and its products. In doing so, you will lose credibility. Direct sales-related content should be minimized. Show you’re an expert, don’t tell.
Tools you can use to find content, i.e. aggregators, alerts, blogs, etc.
Finding and generating enough content to keep a steady stream going can be daunting. But there are tools to help, and simply industry-related blogs are all available as means of easily locating content by topic and keywords. However, keeping track of all these can be time consuming, which is one reason to have a social selling platform to help manage them all. An effective platform will act like a central hub that receives content updates, and allows you to select and share relevant material effectively.
Also, simply having a deep pool of connections on social media within your industry will provide links to content and insights. Remember, social selling is about being part of a community. Sellers want to become thought leaders, but they’re going to be working with other thought leaders as well. It’s not about being some kind of oracle, it’s about learning from your online community, and in turn enriching it with your own insights. That’s what will get potential customers’ attention. And when it comes to followers, cast a wide net—follow leaders in your sector, but include lesser-known pundits and executives as well. It’s from them that you’ll draw most of your customer base. All of them will provide content you can comment on, like, and share.
Align with marketing. You’ll need their help.
One factor that is often overlooked is the importance of coordinating social selling efforts with the marketing department. Good, informative content created by sellers can easily be pushed on marketing channels, increasing exposure and reach. And the marketing department can help coordinate advertising and publicity efforts with concepts for content. When marketing and sales align, social selling becomes truly powerful. Advertising campaigns receive tremendous exposure; use that to your advantage by sharing advertising content, but also creating content related to new products and features.
“One factor that is often overlooked is the importance of coordinating social selling efforts with the marketing department.”
Most importantly, BE YOURSELF!
Authenticity creates credibility, and credibility is key. Build relationships first. Build connections. That’s how social selling begins. It’s only after a strong base of connections, and a reputation as a thought leader has been established, that social selling truly starts to work. Share content you genuinely are interested in, and read it, so you can answer questions about it that may pop up. Be open and honest, and don’t be afraid to offer a unique take. Followers don’t want to follow a robot, they want to follow a human. So let your human side show.
“Authenticity creates credibility, and credibility is key. Build relationships first. Build connections.”
Social media profiles that aren’t professional or authentic can turn people away.
Your social media profile is like a short resume, it creates a first impression. To build a base of followers and encourage engagement, it’s important that you seem authentic and credible. Use a professional picture if possible, but choose one that’s friendly and honest—that’s really you. Include a short description of your role at the company, with a link to the company itself. List your position, your major projects, and don’t be afraid to include a personal interest or hobby as well. You want to be a thought leader, but also a relatable person.
Sales pitch is too aggressive or “creepy.”
Social selling fails when it doesn’t feel organic. Start with likes and helpful comments on content. Be honest and helpful. Don’t “pounce,” but rather build relationships, build credibility, and when it’s appropriate, and you think you and the product you represent can be helpful, let the potential customer know in a courteous, nonintrusive way. Think of it like offering to help a friend, rather than trying to jam in a sale. Being too aggressive or inauthentic will scare people away. And never insult your competition. Focus on the positives of your product, not the negatives of competitors.
Seller acts like a bot. Don’t act like a bot!
Mindlessly reposting content without reading it, commenting on it, or making sure it’s relevant, will make a seller seem like a bot—and this is definitely not good. Be sure to select and read content carefully, to offer your own comments and takes, and to engage with others who comment or share it. Again, social selling is a very human activity, and anything that seems false or robotic won’t work well. Nothing should feel automatic.
Posts are not regular or helpful. Low-quality content.
Posts and content should be posted and shared on a regular basis. Only sharing content occasionally won’t cut the mustard. You want to generate engagement and interest, and even the algorithms won’t help you if you’re only rarely posting or interacting with posts. And make sure you’re posting quality content. Posting unhelpful content is essentially like spamming your followers.
Sellers aren’t using networks properly.
As you’ll recall, all social networks aren’t the same. They have different audiences and different content goals. If you use Facebook to aggressively make sales pitches to users you don’t know, you probably won’t receive a positive reaction. If you use Instagram to share images of articles instead of attractive images, nobody is going to engage with it. And if you use LinkedIn to post funny vacation photos, the reception will not be what you hoped. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each network and use them accordingly.
No sustained effort over time.
Reaping the benefits of social selling takes time. Building your online credibility, gaining a wide base of followers, and creating relationships with those followers will all take work—it won’t happen overnight. You have to keep at it, engaging and sharing content on a regular, sustained basis. Positive results usually only begin after 6 months. And that’s a minimum.
“You have to keep at it, engaging and sharing content on a regular, sustained basis. Positive results usually only begin after 6 months. And that’s a minimum.”
The good news, however, is that there are resources out there to help make social selling easier. One such option is to invest in a platform that can assist sellers in the departments of content, engagement, and content sharing. The important step, however, is determining which platform is right for your company. And keep in mind, a platform for general employee communication, or employee advocacy platforms are not mutually exclusive. The Sociabble paltform, for example, is tailor-made to handle employee communication, employee advocacy, and social selling, depending upon the needs of the client. They can all be integrated.
Here are a few features that you should look for when shopping around, however, that specifically relate to social selling.
Newsfeed with content curation tools
Since a big part of social selling is keeping up to date on industry developments and news, a constantly updated newsfeed is key. Paired with this should be content curation tools that can scour the internet and retrieve relevant information depending on what you’re looking for. For example at Sociabble, we offer integrations with Scoop.it and Feedly to make gathering useful content easier.
Ability to schedule posts across the week to save time
The scheduling of posts should be built into the platform. Ideally, this should work across social networks, and allow you to plan out a full week of posts in advance. This can assist greatly in making sure you’re getting a steady stream of content out there, especially if sellers are often away from their desks, or face time constraints.
Gamification to increase engagement and participation
Sales departments generally thrive in competition, and sellers are usually excited by the prospects of awards. A built-in gamification system can help determine which sellers are excelling, and worthy of recognition. On the Sociabble platform, we even offer the option of badges, to earn points and reward engagement.
Translation features + local network integration
If you’re doing business internationally, two important features to look for are real-time translation and local network integration. The real-time translation makes commenting on and sharing content across borders possible, and integrations with popular local networks like WeChat (China), Xing (Germany), or VKontacte (Russia) mean that nothing is lost when engaging customers abroad.
Features for measuring engagement and ROI, including equivalent paid media
Actually measuring the effectiveness of your social selling program is obviously important. A personal leaderboard with lead tracking so content strategy can be adjusted is a critical tool for any social selling platform. Additionally, an equivalent paid media feature, like the one you’ll find on the Sociabble platform, can tell you exactly how much money you’ve saved vs. traditional online advertising. This is a key component in determining your ROI.
Included training materials and support
These days, there are effective ways to train your sales staff that don’t involve large amounts of time or money. A good social selling platform should come with quizzes, tutorials, and online materials included. And support should be available for any technical issues or questions that crop up. At Sociabble, we offer clients the support of designated CSM reps, and we have a host of online tutorials available at any time.
Full mobile capabilities
This is essential, because so much of social media is conducted on the go. A powerful social selling platform will be mobile-friendly, with the ability to work across all mobile devices via native apps designed for those devices. Your salesforce needs to be able to engage just as easily on their mobile phone as their desktop.
Filters for targeted words and phrases
This is especially relevant for regulated industries where certain types of language must be avoided on social media. But it can also include sensitivity to certain kinds of feedback and comments. With Sociabble for instance, sellers can not only establish filters for certain words and phrases, there is even an AI capability to filter out negative or offensive responses.
“Social media is not a static thing; new networks come and go, techniques change, and evolving alongside them is essential.”
7. Conclusion: Social Selling is always evolving. But it does work. And it’s more necessary than ever for your salesforce to compete.
Social selling isn’t something that a company can institute in a matter of days, weeks, or necessarily months. It takes time to develop, just as online relationships and reputations take time to develop. But it works—the numbers don’t lie—and with the proper motivation and platform, the results will speak for themselves. But it’s also worth remembering: you have to change with the times and evolve. Social media is not a static thing; new networks come and go, techniques change, and evolving alongside them is essential. Additionally, it pays to keep in mind that social selling is just one tool in a larger digital toolkit. And it will never take the place of traditional sales. A successful social selling program is one element of a multi-faceted sales strategy that every modern company needs to put in place to stay in the game.
To learn how Sociabble can help your company with its social selling needs, click here for a free demo.