Social selling is all about creating business connections and nurturing customer relationships through social media.
The goal is to connect with the right buyers, build trusted relationships, and ultimately become the first call the buyer makes when it comes time to make a purchase decision. Think of social selling as a way to generate referrals, for yourself.
It enables salespeople to engage with target buyers on an ongoing basis - connecting, liking and commenting on posts, sharing relevant content - thereby establishing a relationship and building rapport. In contrast to direct selling activities, like cold calling, social selling is an effective way to stay close to buyers without relying on ‘pushy’ sales tactics.
Interestingly, social selling aligns perfectly with trends in B2B buyer behavior, as more and more business buyers rely on social media channels when researching purchase decisions.
Research from Accenture’s State of B2B Procurement Study found that 94% of B2B buyers conduct some degree of research online before making a business purchase and 75% of B2B buyers are influenced by social media when making purchase decisions.
Social selling creates opportunities for salespeople to connect with buyers during their buying journey, which is more important than ever, as research from SiriusDecisions found that 70% of the decision-making process happens before a buyer formerly engages a salesperson.
Here are the basics to get you started with social selling.
LinkedIn, not surprisingly, is the platform for B2B selling. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are very relevant social selling platforms as well, but for the purpose of this article, LinkedIn will be the focal point.
LinkedIn is purpose built for building and maintaining a professional network and therefore it is a natural space for buyers to look for insights and sellers to employ social selling techniques. LinkedIn Sales Navigator, LinkedIn’s premium sales tool, is an even better option (albeit not a cheap one) specifically built for lead generation and sales outreach.
LinkedIn even has a Social Selling Index (SSI), which "measures how effective you are at establishing your professional brand, finding the right people, engaging with insights, and building relationships".
LinkedIn is a great place to focus your social selling efforts. Most B2B salespeople will have at least some experience using LinkedIn, but in order to become a social selling pro, you need to start with your professional brand.
Building Your Professional Brand
B2B buyers are selective and want to work with salespeople and companies they perceive as industry leaders. Social media gives you the opportunity to curate your professional brand and establish yourself as a subject matter expert within your industry.
As B2B buyers rely more and more on social media to inform their purchasing decisions, your professional brand effectively becomes the buyer’s ‘first impression’ of you and your company. Regardless of whether you meet a prospect for the first time over a coffee, or if they come across your LinkedIn page, first impressions matter.
Think of your professional brand as your opportunity to make a great first impression on the digital community within your industry.
An active, well curated social media presence helps to establish yourself as a subject matter expert, helps build credibility, and most importantly, helps you make a great first impression.
- Share your perspective on industry news and trends.
- Share your experience helping customers overcome challenges or, better yet, testimonials from happy customers.
- Share best practices for using your product or service.
- Re-share posts from your company's page or any other customer facing content your Marketing team has created (be sure to add your own commentary to bolster your presence).
- LinkedIn also has a publishing platform where you can write original articles relevant to your industry (like the one you're reading now!).
Try to share something at least once a week. The more you share, the more exposure you create for yourself.
Be sure to like / comment / share other people’s posts as well. If you like another person’s post, they will be more likely to like yours. This is mutually beneficial as you will both gain exposure to each other’s networks, thereby expanding the reach of the content you share.
The more shares, comments, and likes you get, the better first impression you will make.
Create A Robust Prospect List
Your professional brand is available for all to see, but you need to make sure the right people see it. You need to build a prospect list.
The most important criteria in doing so is to understand who uses your product or service and who makes the purchase decision.
For many products and services, there may be a wide range of potential buyers. While it would be great to be able to connect with thousands and thousands of these individuals, it won’t do you much good to cast too wide a net. The more people you connect with, the less time you’ll be able to devote to developing a relationship with each.
Therefore it is important to identify prospects with the highest probability of turning into customers. A great way to do this is to develop and understand your target persona - the ideal buyer / user for your product or service.
You should already have a pretty strong idea as to who these individuals are, but it is always useful to take a close look at your selling trends and understand where you are having the most success. Once you determine your target persona, focus on making connections with these individuals.
LinkedIn allows you to target prospects based on geography, company, industry, and a number of other criteria that make it easy to quickly focus your efforts to identify individuals who fit your target persona.
Once you identify who you should be connecting with, it is time to start engaging.
Organically Connect With Your Prospects
After you build a prospect list, it is time to start making connections.
Whenever possible, you want to try to engage with your prospects organically. Organic connections are developed through natural interactions on social media and can go a long way in making a great first impression and ‘warming up’ your eventual outreach.
Start by studying your target prospect’s activity. Articles they have shared, posts they have liked, and comments they have made are all great starting points. If you can, engage directly with the prospect through their articles and posts. Adding a thoughtful comment to a post is a great conversation starter, especially if it is relevant to your product / service or expertise.
Another way to connect with prospects is via your existing network. LinkedIn does a great job of showing your second and third degree connections and how you are mutually connected. Perhaps your prospect is connected with a good friend or former colleague who could facilitate an introduction. At the very least, shared connections can be a great conversation starter once you engage with your prospect.
Obviously, some target prospects will be more active on social media than others. Active prospects not only give you multiple opportunities to organically connect, but oftentimes they are the most receptive to engaging via social media. Start with these individuals.
Proactive Engagement With Your Prospects
Not all of your prospects will present you with an opportunity to engage organically. This is when you shift your tactics and reach out directly to the prospect.
Keep in mind, your goal is not to close a sale with your prospect right off the bat. It is important that you do not rely on social selling if you’re trying to hit your quota this month (or even this quarter). It simply doesn’t work.
You are trying to build a relationship with your prospect and put yourself in a great position when they make their next purchase decision. Therefore your outreach to your prospect should not be ‘salesy’, but rather focused around why it would be mutually beneficial to connect.
In the absence of recent activity, focus on the prospect's profile, groups, work history, or news about their company or industry. Your goal is to pique the prospect's interest and demonstrate that connecting with you will be worth their while. This is a great opportunity to leverage the work you’ve done to build your professional brand as well as the insights you can provide as a subject matter expert.
Don’t be afraid to tell them why you'd like to be part of their network. Be transparent about your role and the company you work for, but make a conscious effort to avoid ‘selling’. It is perfectly acceptable to position your outreach as an effort to ‘explore future business opportunities’, but make sure you provide immediate value and give the prospect a good reason to accept your connection request.
The key to social selling is to build a relationship with your prospects over time. It is of paramount importance that you continue your engagement with your prospects after they become connections. You want to be the first name that comes to mind when it comes time to make a purchase decision.
Comment on posts, share articles, like updates, and be sure to engage with your prospect whenever the opportunity presents itself. Remember you are trying to build rapport and install yourself as a subject matter expert.
Social media is the new frontier where buyers and sellers will engage in our ever-digitizing world. It is crucial that salespeople learn social selling strategy & tactics and are able to connect with buyers where buyers look to make their purchase decisions.
LinkedIn’s research has found that sales reps with a high SSI score have 45% more sales opportunities and are 51% more likely to hit their quota. In fact, 78% of social sellers outsell peers who don't use social media. But most importantly, salespeople with high SSI scores are 3x more likely to go to club.
Needless to say, social selling is one of the most important skills a sales professional can add to their repertoire today.