“Being a fly on the wall in your customers, prospects and competitor’s world,” is how Forbes contributor Mark Fidelman describes the fiddly business of social selling. If that sounds creepy, we’re going to consider the prevalence of this new breed of salesmanship on the web, the success it’s proving to be, and how to get stuck in.
Despite sounding like a mechanism for auctioning your friends (as some people have tried on eBay), social selling is not actually creepy at all. In fact, what social selling boils down to is having more personal – and relevant – conversations with potential customers and collaborators for your business. It’s made possible by social networks, where people and businesses are much likely to air their thoughts in public than in the days when you had to take out a billboard ad to get your message across.
Example: you’re in the business of managing companies’ online advertising. Someone on Twitter or a LinkedIn group posts an irate message about how much they pay their ad managers. So you respond to their message, and providing you don’t say something totally inappropriate, you’re having a conversation with a potential client. That’s it, in a nutshell.
If you’re still not sure, watch the movie about pushy salesmen Glengarry Glen Ross (see picture). Social selling is the exact opposite of their confrontational hard-sell.
From cold calling to the warm calling
We shouldn’t need to explain why this is likely to yield better results than cold calling and other scattergun approaches to sales. What is worth noting, however, is not just how salespeople’s behaviour has changed, which it undeniably has – but how customers’ buying behaviour has also changed.
“Replacing the decline in cold calling is the warmth of social engagement,” says Fidelman. And he’s right – customers are now less likely to respond to mass call-outs and sales hustling than any time in recorded history. 90% of CEOs say they never ever respond to cold callers. But they are likely to be involved in Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and the like.
This means it is possible to communicate with business owners through these channels. But the messages they receive have to be personal, engaging, and have the warmth of a handshake to be trusted.
How to use social media successfully in your sales strategy
Since 78% of salespeople who use social networks outperform their peers who do not, signing up and getting active is key. According to research by social sales specialist Jim Keenan, the most successful sales platforms for social selling (in order of hit rate) are: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, Google+.
There is undoubtedly a fine line between being an active member of social networks and being a pest. But at the very minimum, you should be browsing relevant topics and discussions on these networks, and making your presence known by engaging in the community. The best way to not come across as a pest is to avoid tagging a sales pitch onto every comment, because that’s too much like spam or even cold calling.
Ultimately, much the same as with content marketing, you should aim to become a trusted source of information and opinion in these forums.