Despite all the talk about social selling, it remains a hazy concept for many. A few days ago, I moderated a panel on social selling at the Social Tools Summit, and a quick poll of the audience revealed that very few organizations are using social selling as part of their sales process. Since 75% of customers report using social media as part of the buying process (source: IBM), and 72.6% of salespeople using social media outperformed their peers (source: Social Media and Sales Quota Survey), the lack of raised hands at the Summit was pretty shocking.
This gap between expectation and reality may be due to lingering uncertainty about what social selling is, and what needs to be done in order to make the best use of it. And the companies that are scared off by this uncertainty aren’t the only ones adversely affected. For those who do take the plunge, the lack of solid information prevents a large percentage of them from formulating an effective approach, causing them to flail away with methods that undermine social selling’s potential.
At Leader Networks, we assert that social selling is the act of infusing social engagement into the traditional sales process in order to develop, advance and maintain relationships with people. It is not using social media to shout at, stalk, or spam people digitally. Essentially, the overzealous members of this latter group have employed social channels to update the dreaded cold call—replacing the telephone with Twitter and LinkedIn.
The first step to becoming an effective social seller is to understand that social selling is a complement to traditional sales methods—not a revolutionary approach that replaces them. At the end of the day, it is still about connecting people to people, and people to data. Social selling, due to its ability to enhance the customer journey, is an incredibly powerful sales tool. But, like any tool, its value and utility are ultimately tied to the skills of the individual employing it.
If you see someone who you know to be associated with a target account at an in-person event, but this association is all you have to go on, it’s difficult to approach them, right? You need more information—need to know what their needs, hopes and challenges are before you can strike up a constructive conversation.
Social selling, in order to be effective, has to proceed in the same manner—you have to listen and get an idea of the individual person before you can engage them meaningfully. Social media provides the illusion that it’s easier to talk to people—a deadly misconception that leads to those “cold calls.” Due to the incredible access social media provides, people tend to engage before there is a relationship that can support it.
But what makes social selling such an effective sales tool is how easy social media makes it to listen. By keeping tabs on what your target account shares, it’s easier than ever to gain a solid understanding of their needs and ambitions, allowing you head into your initial conversation armed with far more material than you would have had in the past.
Understanding that social selling is a process, seeing it as a careful progression through a continuum, is crucial if you are going to unlock the benefits it offers. For social selling doesn’t just enhance the beginning of your relationship with a target account—it creates the opportunity for continuity throughout the sales cycle, ensuring deeper, consistently attuned engagement as you move toward a deal, and allowing you to continue the conversation and remain top of mind after the deal has been closed.
Social selling is not a mysterious “snake oil” that one needs to be wary of. It is not a magic bullet that instantly erases the hassles inherent in the sales cycle. Instead it is a knowable, repeatable process that requires patience and attention if it is going to pay off.
But the payoff can be huge. For instance, you are 5 times more likely to schedule a first meeting with a target account if you have a personal LinkedIn connection (source Sales Benchmark Series), 98% of sales reps with 5,000+ LinkedIn connections achieve quota (source Sales Benchmark Index), and 54% of those who use social media tracked their usage back to at least one closed deal.
Intrigued by those numbers? Log on, resist the urge to sound off, sit back and listen. You’ll soon understand what all the fuss is about.