Social selling allows sellers to create high value, ongoing conversations with prospects and customers on social media, which then hopefully develop into relationships, leads and eventually sales.

Does social selling work?

According to LinkedIn, sales reps who use social selling generate 45% more sales opportunities and are 51% more likely to hit quota. In addition, 78% of social sellers outsell peers who don’t use social media.

A Salesforce survey found that 61% of organizations engaged in social selling report a positive impact on revenue growth compared to 41% of businesses who don’t use it as part of their sales strategy.

In another study, by CSO Insights, 39% of B2B professionals said that social selling reduced the amount of time they had to spend researching potential leads while a third said they earned more leads with the strategy, and 31% reported better relationships with clients because of it.

Those stats alone should make you sit up and take notice. That's because social selling helps you identify potential customers on social media, engage with them, and close deals for your products and services.

But setting your reps up with LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator and leaving them to it is not the way to go.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • Why use social media for selling?
  • Building your personal brand
  • Enabling social selling

Why use social media for selling?

A customer-centric approach is all about connecting with people across the devices and platforms they prefer, integrating quality content and relevant context to create a rich, personalized experience.

Most people don't want to talk to salespeople. They want to consult with experts, so that's your ticket to building relationships into more sales. Potential buyers want to talk to you because you've demonstrated knowledge that can help them solve their problems. Social media is a ‘pull’ strategy (also known as ‘inbound’) that focuses on the customer’s needs: the aim is to empower them to make their own decisions with content that educates, inspires and entertains, rather than taking a pushy, interruptive, approach.

Sales and marketing have always been about emphasizing how your brand can help people become more successful and enhance their life. But, while the old school focus has been on making a sale, social selling emphasizes building relationships by adding value and delivering a satisfying customer experience long before the sales stage.

You need to engage your audience with irresistible content that inspires them, educates them, and provides answers to their questions. Each post - or message - that you craft provides valuable information that is centered around the needs of your audience and tailored to their position in the buying cycle, without being overtly branded or feeling like advertising. The aim is to strike a balance between showcasing your brand and offering engaging, helpful content that encourages people to take action.

This ability to educate prospects in your industry will not only help you build credibility, but give you more visibility by your targeted audience as well. It’s a win-win situation. The customer wins by learning something new, and you win by discovering new prospects that turn into leads.

Building your personal brand

One of the biggest advantages of social selling is it sets you up as an expert in your field; as we explored in a previous article, From sales reps to thought leaders, buyers are five times as likely to engage with a seller who can provide them with new insights into their business. People buy from people.

Let’s say I wanted to sell my own brand of healthy pet food. By creating video and posts featuring myself and my pets engaging in an active lifestyle, or getting up to funny and quirky antics that pet owners will relate to (think about Twitter’s unflatteringdogphotochallenge), I'm signaling to my target audience that I'm an owner (or ‘parent’ to a furbaby) who cares about animals and their wellbeing, creating trust and credibility.

Or I might share how-to videos of myself making healthy recipes and how my dog reacts to them (although, in the example below, the poster is promoting a brand of cookware).

This would set me on the road to developing higher quality, one-on-one conversations. My focus would then become answering questions from interested customers who engage with my content of their own accord because they find it genuinely interesting.

(To my boss: this is not a hint that I’m about to resign to start making oatmeal for poodles - it’s hypothetical only).

Authenticity is what will differentiate you and your brand and make your messages memorable – sincerity is a powerful quality that creates trust.

Know your audience

Social platforms make so much information about people available at your fingertips that there’s really no excuse for not putting in your research.

What are the problems and challenges faced by your audience: what do they feel is holding them back from achieving success, or stopping them from reaching their goal? Identify how can you provide them with information that offers a solution or a means of improving their circumstances, and you’ve unlocked the basis of your strategy.

Some questions to answer:

  • How do they use the internet? Which platforms and channels do they use?
  • When are they active online (times/days/frequency)? Knowing where and when they hang out online will help you to determine the best methods of distribution for your content.
  • Which brands do they follow? Are they members of any groups or forums? How do they interact with or share content? This will help you to identify the type of content that resonates, in terms of preferred format, length, tone of voice, etc.

For example, research for my pet food brand showed me that Millennials are the largest group of pet owners in the US and that they demand convenience, quality, transparency and value in their products. The content I create and the way I communicate it would need to reflect this.

They’re also much more likely to access social media via their phones, so this is something I’d need to take into account when planning the format of my content (I might create a vertical video that can be optimally viewed in portrait mode). This is especially important because Millennials love visual content and also user-generated content, so I’d encourage participation: Millennials trust user-generated content 50% more than any other type of media, and they find it to be 35% more memorable than other types of media.

Of course, these are sweeping generalizations - but they’re a starting point. Treat your research as an ongoing process; it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse to pick up on emerging trends, find inspiration and act on new opportunities.

Enabling social selling

The chances are, the majority of your reps will be active on social platforms - especially, of course, LinkedIn - but there may be no consistent, uniform strategy. And not all of them will be doing it well.

According to the Digital Marketing Institute, half of sellers link their use of social media to closing deals, but only 25% know how to integrate it into their sales process. And that might mean that social selling is actually working against you.

Identify what you want to achieve

First things first. Success is impossible without first clarifying your objectives. What messages do you want to communicate to reps? What behavior do you want to drive? What action do you want them to take? How will you measure success?

Get leadership on board

It’s up to you to bring social selling to life, especially if you’ve got a leadership team who are attached to more traditional sales approaches and still view social with suspicion. (Although as we see in our report, Is Virtual the New Reality?, digital transformation is going nowhere, and the challenges of the past year have only accelerated its adoption.) Present hard evidence, not just enthusiasm.

Formalize a social media policy

Put a social media policy in place specifically for salespeople, which covers how to create a polished profile, the competitors to follow, which are the most useful groups to join, etc.

It could include things like:

  • templates for creating their profile
  • suggested messages for reaching out
  • best practices on your brand identity on social media
  • how to tell your brand’s story is the way that you’d like it presented
  • suggested frequency of posting
  • what NOT to do (for example, you may want to steer them away from getting into conversations about certain topics, or make it clear that you don’t want them to bad-mouth competitors)

Of course, you can’t be too prescriptive and reps need to be allowed to tailor your suggestions to their personality and style - after all, it’s their individuality and authenticity that will help them succeed with social selling.

Take the temperature of current social media skills

Audit the digital skills of a team and then develop or outsource a social selling training program that can meet the exact needs of the team and business. Don’t assume that everyone has well-honed social media skills, or be au fait with the terminology. Or they may know how to use Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family, but have no experience using it in a professional capacity.

Think about what core skills your salespeople need to be successful with social selling (taking specific job functions into account where necessary) which could be things like the right way to interact in groups, etiquette for engaging in conversation, how to use the tools you have available to maximize prospecting etc.

Identify where there are gaps, both as a team and as individuals.

Integrate social selling into your training

You may want a specific module that focuses on social selling, with an assessment and certification, add the content to your LMS, or however you add new courses to your training schedule. A couple of example topics to cover could include:

Keep an eye on your competitors

The message: “Follow competitors, whether brands or individuals, on social media. Look critically at both what they are doing well and where there’s room for improvement and use this to refine your own social tactics.”

You can enable reps to do this using the native platforms, or by using social listening tools like Hootsuite, Sprout Social or Oktopost.

Be present

The message “Social media is always-on and an effective strategy requires you to do the same. Authenticity and engagement are not optional. If your audience asks a question, respond as soon as possible to maintain the conversation. Commit to posting regularly so that followers know when to expect your content and actively look for it.”

Make social training part of your onboarding process

Start new hires on the right foot by including social selling in your formal induction process. You could provide a short video tutorial or cheat sheet on the basics, which can also be used as a reference point for reps at every stage of their development.

Make learning ongoing

  • Keep reps’ knowledge up-to-date. The social platforms are adding new features all the time (for example, LinkedIn has been rolling out a Stories feature to mirror those of Instagram and Facebook). Provide chunk-sized updates when necessary to make them aware of new developments and how best to make use of them. As with anything sales enablement, make how-to resources easily accessible for just-in-time reference and continuously fresh and up-to-date.
  • Reinforce skills through coaching. For example, you could challenge them to carry out certain activities on which you provide feedback.

Invest in the right tools

LinkedIn Sales Navigator allows you to build a database of accounts and leads to monitor, engage with and approach with relevant business opportunities, even if they aren’t connections.

It also allows you to search for relevant business opportunities, which may not already be on your radar. The search features are extensive and you can target people in specific industries, with specific sized companies in a specific location.

Nimble is a tool that aggregates social and email information about your prospects and automatically creates the research for you to help you shape your social selling outreach.

These are just two examples - other products are available.

Make content easy to share

Content forms the backbone of any strong inbound campaign - and particularly on social media where we rely on interaction and engagement to spread its visibility. Ideally sales and marketing (and whoever else creates content at your organization) should already be collaborating on the type of content customers are asking for.

But in any case, you need to make it as easy as possible for reps to discover and share new content created by your marketing team (whether it’s a blog article, report, infographic, podcast, whatever), whether it’s a regular email newsletter, a share in your Slack community, or whatever works best for how your organization communicates.

There are also social advocacy tools that provide reps (or anyone in your business) with an easy way to see what content your marketing teams are creating and to share them with their own connections.

Measure everything

Encourage reps to monitor their individual social media performance and track engagement to keep their pulse on which types of content performs the best. This could even be gamified to add an extra element of friendly competition. It can be challenging to connect social media success (number of shares and likes, for instance) with the number of successful sales, however, without a record of progress, it’s difficult to understand how to move forward.

You could go a step further and set up goals in Google Analytics for when a prospect fills in a form, signs up for your newsletter, etc, or actually makes a purchase, using tracking code on posts to link them to the conversion.

In a nutshell…

Social selling means:

  • Identifying customers’ values, goals, challenges and interests
  • Creating engaging content that meets their needs
  • Delivering it in the optimum format, place and time

It’s your job to empower them with the right processes and technology to start seeing results.

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