Once upon a time, there was a notion that social media was unnecessary for selling; it was a novelty and not a staple. At the time, some believed that enterprise-level decision makers couldn’t be reached on social platforms.
Now, however, social media is a necessity to establish credibility with potential buyers.
In fact, 82% of buyers look up a seller on LinkedIn before replying to their outreach efforts.
And while Twitter may be less personal, the low barrier to entry means it’s easy to get content in front of relevant people, make connections, and begin dialogues.
Today, social isn’t a trend, it’s a core component of selling.
What Is Social Selling?
Social selling is when sellers use social media (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) to find and engage with potential buyers, decision makers, and influencers.
This goes well beyond doing direct outreach to set meetings or pitch products or services.
Instead, the best social sellers build and strengthen relationships with people and provide value from the start. They don’t jump right to a sales pitch, which risks immediately alienating people.
Social selling may be a means of reaching more people, but it isn’t a panacea. It won’t magically make sellers any better at the basics of selling, such as connecting with buyers, uncovering needs, demonstrating impact, overcoming objections, or presenting compelling solutions.
Social selling doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a means of building relationships to supplement existing sales activities.
For example, over time, sellers can curate a combination of branded and non-branded content to establish an organization’s and seller’s expertise and build awareness. Increasing your online presence and credibility will support your outreach efforts, as well as generate inbound leads.
The Difference between Social Selling and Social Marketing
Note that social selling is similar to, but distinct from, social marketing. While social marketing campaigns are about widespread exposure, social selling deals with the direct relationships established with potential buyers.
8 Social Selling Tips and Best Practices
There’s no single way to approach social selling, and each seller may engage differently depending on their situation and existing brand recognition. However, the following social selling tips can get you started and save you from common pitfalls.
1. Boil the Frog
There’s an old wives’ tale (some truth to it) that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will sense the heat and jump out. But if you put a frog in cool water and turn up the heat slowly, the frog won't notice.
When reaching out to people you’d like to speak with, don’t come on like gangbusters. Nothing screams “jump out of the hot pot” more than a blatant “talk to me so I can sell you something” message.
Start cool and warm up slowly. Comment on their posts. Retweet them thoughtfully. Compliment something they wrote. Become familiar to someone—even if they don’t engage you right away—and it’s more likely they’ll engage with you in the future.
2. Givers Gain
The world of social media changes faster than the Clippers change coaches. But some things never change—like the golden rule of networking (social or otherwise).
The golden rule? Givers gain.
As Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote,
“If we seek out and give help to a team member, colleague, or acquaintance, we create a social obligation for that person to help us or support us at a future date.”
How do you do that in social selling? Share a white paper or ebook. Share a relevant piece of research. Provide content that’s 100% customized to the individual’s situation. Offer to make a connection or a referral. And so on.
Remember, starting relationships can take many touch points. Do this right, and people will perceive you as valuable even before you interact with them personally, and you boil the frog at the same time.
3. Strive to Make Connections
When reaching out through social media, don’t settle for anything less than your best work.
The standard “my products would be of value” overture doesn’t catch anyone’s attention. It doesn’t create any personalization or genuine connection. Once in a while you’ll encounter someone who puts effort into establishing a connection. They’re notable.
Be like these people. Find common ground, customize your outreach, and list reasons why people would want to connect and speak with you.
4. Be Brave
Call reluctance is common on the phone. It happens online, too. People don’t reach out online out of fear. "They won’t respond." "They’ll say no." "They’ll be angry with me."
In the online world, there’s a heavy emphasis on the concept of inbound marketing. It’s easy to see why—it’s a proven approach. But that doesn’t mean proactive outreach—the online equivalent of cold calling—is either dead or bad. It’s now one part of a larger sales strategy.
When you find a particular person you want to connect with, reach out.
As long as you keep points 1, 2 and 3 in mind, you’ll be fine. As business guru Wayne Gretzky said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Be brave. Take shots.
5. Be Positive and Pleasant
When some people gear up their bravery for outreach, they think, "I’m about to reach out to a big-time person. I need to seem big time too!" So they puff out their chest and brag about how awesome they are.
Who made the rule that "important" people should be temperamental and full of themselves? Not endearing. I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with lots of guru types and most of them are pleasant and humble.
Don’t try to come off as the BMOC. The fastest way to come off as inconsequential is to keep saying how influential you are.
Todd Schnick says it so well:
“Actions make you influential. Not your words or tweets. People who serve, people who help others, people who share the cool things that others are doing… those are the actions that make you influential.”
Right on, Todd.
6. Prepare for Window Shopping
When you reach out to people, expect them to check you out. When someone writes to me and I’m curious, the first thing I do is Google them and see what comes up.
Make sure when the people you’re reaching out to search for you online, you’re portrayed exactly how you want to be. Determine how your personal brand and online reputation come across—it greatly affects people’s impressions of you.
7. Release your Inner Battlestar
People build relationships with people they like. If you want to build relationships, be endearing. And the best way to do that? Let your personality shine through.
We frequently receive positive feedback on the content of our book Rainmaking Conversations. But the people who get the biggest kick out of it are the ones who catch all the Battlestar Galactica references I slipped into the chapters. Geeky? Yes. Me? What can I say.
Boring is forgettable. Personality is memorable. And social media outlets are the perfect place for you to be yourself.
8. When It's Time, Take It Offline
Social media outlets are great places for starting conversations, but they’re not the only place to have them. When the time is right, take the conversation offline.
You can start with a phone call, video conference, or face-to-face meeting (assuming you’ve boiled your frog correctly). In any case, take the leap.
Selling is a contact sport. After you’ve begun your conversation and built rapport, find a good reason to take the conversation offline and see where it takes you.
4 Benefits of Social Selling
Sellers who get on board with social selling can see numerous benefits.
1. Reach Prospects Where They Live
Social selling makes it easier to identify better prospects by engaging an audience that's already interested in what you have to say. And you can be confident that prospects can be found on social media. An IDC survey found a whopping 75% of B2B buyers use social media to make their purchasing decisions.
2. Save Time and Energy
Cultivating brand awareness through social media empowers sellers to focus on the most interested and engaged prospects. This generates better returns than cold calling. It also saves you time and energy lost chasing prospects that lead nowhere, so you can have more time for the things that matter most in your schedule.
3. Outsell the Competition
Like it or not, social selling has cemented itself as a part of the sales process. LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index provides a score of 0-100 based on a user’s sales activities on the platform. With this data, they found that 78% of social sellers outsell those that don’t use social media.
4. Build Your Credibility
In a media-saturated world, what’s the best way to stand out among the noise? Credibility! Establishing credibility is already an important step to building trust with a prospect. Through social media, this can be built up over an extended period of time and organically grow your personal brand awareness.
According to LinkedIn, 92% of B2B buyers are willing to engage with a known industry thought leader.
Getting Started with Social Selling
Social selling should be an integral part of your sales strategy and is key to connecting and building relationships with potential buyers, decision makers, and influencers in this increasingly digital world.
Getting started doesn’t have to be daunting. Pick one platform where your prospects are and begin there. For most B2B sellers, social selling on LinkedIn is a good place to begin.