I’ve been reading about social selling for a couple of years now and see many of my technology clients struggle to implement a successful social selling strategy. When we talk about it, there seems to be a lot of confusion behind what it is, how to do it and what it takes to be successful.
It’s still a bit of a mystery for a lot of people so, today, I’m going to try and demystify social selling for you and give you practical tips for building a plan and getting started in your organization.
Some of this confusion around social selling might come from where we’re getting our information. Maybe because I’m a technology marketer, I know my own knowledge of it came from tech-driven articles and white papers mostly from CRM and marketing automation companies. They all have something in common—they start with the technology, and mandate a reliance on it, which can be overwhelming and confusing.
Social Selling vs. Social Marketing
There’s also a lot of confusion between social selling and social media marketing. They definitely are not the same (and they don’t overlap). Social selling is a direct one-to-one relationship with a prospect that happens to take place, at least partially, through social channels. Social media marketing is one-to-many, generally focused on awareness through posts and ads.
You’ll see I reference LinkedIn throughout this article and perhaps should call this Social Selling with LinkedIn. While social selling certainly involves more than LinkedIn, for my fellow technology marketers—this is where it all starts. If you are successful with LinkedIn, you might want to expand to other networks and opportunities (including those that are unique to industries you are targeting).
Before I jump into the “how to’s” of social selling, here’s just a bit on what it is—and isn’t—so we’re all on the same page.
What social selling ISN’T:
- It isn’t social media marketing.
- It isn’t a replacement for marketing.
- It isn’t a replacement for traditional sales or sales methodologies. This is critical. Not everyone is active on social media. Engagement may vary based on industry or role in a company. You absolutely need to continue to reach out through other channels.
[bctt tweet=”Demystifying Social Selling: what is #SocialSelling and how do you get started? ” username=”PartnerMktGrp”]
What social selling IS:
The best definition of social selling I’ve seen is from LinkedIn Sales Solutions:
“Social selling is about leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships, and ultimately, achieve your sales goals.”
That’s pretty much it. It’s nothing more than another channel for finding, connecting with, and nurturing prospects. Think of it as a digital networking event. Going a step deeper, social selling also helps you:
- Find and focus on the right prospects. Unlike that local networking event you attend, social selling allows you to expand your reach while narrowing your focus through search tools. You can better reach prospects that meet your specific criteria.
- Build relationships and nurture your prospects without interruptive and intrusive activities (like call downs). Since you’re connected via social, sharing insights via thought leadership content is easy.
- Know what’s happening with your client and use “triggers” (such as job changes, company re-organizations, etc.) to have a reason to connect.
So if it’s so simple and so effective, why do so few people implement it and why all the confusion? That’s probably due to a few reasons:
- It’s an investment. Like any business development or marketing activity, social selling needs a plan, tools and resources. Jumping in without these basics or buy-in from leadership will lead to the same old “it doesn’t work” mentality.
- It’s scary to change. If your sales team has been more focused on traditional activities such as call downs, the shift can be daunting. Training, and working together on the approach, can help. Additionally, remember (and remind everyone) that social selling is NOT a replacement for traditional sales activities—it’s a supplement.
- It’s overwhelming. Back to those articles I read that sent the message I couldn’t do social selling unless I had the most advanced CRM and marketing automation tools. I will admit sometimes I stopped there and I suspect others did too. Will those tools help you be more successful? Probably. Can you be successful without them? YES. Don’t let the need to have a perfect environment out of the gate stop you from taking that first step.
What DO technology companies need to be successful with social selling?
- A strong online presence. If you connect with someone on LinkedIn, they are going to look at your LinkedIn profile. That means you need s strong and compelling company page with regular updates. Everyone engaged also needs a strong personal profile. Consider a training session for your sales and marketing team to help everyone put their best foot forward.
- Lockstep alignment between sales and marketing. I talk about the need for alignment between sales and marketing all the time, but in this case you really shouldn’t even think about social selling until your sales and marketing teams are completely on board and connected. You will need each other to be successful with this and there is no way around it. Without alignment, collaboration and full buy-in, your plan will be doomed from the start.
- LinkedIn Sales Navigator. The few companies I know that DO have some version of social selling in place are doing it ad-hoc. They use LinkedIn to find and connect with potential prospects, but it’s one off—doing some searching, and then usually going off-line to contact them if they don’t have a shared connection. I can’t say that’s wrong. It’s still social selling in some form, though incredibly inefficient. Without getting into a whole features list of what LinkedIn Sales Navigator can do, it basically allows you to build and maintain a portfolio of your best prospects, monitor their activity and then reach out to them through private InMails (with up to 20 InMails a month). Coming in every day to this type of dashboard (along with recommendations the system makes based on your search attributes) is a significant benefit. Additionally, in the last few months, LinkedIn has added a powerful new tool, Point Drive, that offers a more professional way to deliver content resulting in even higher responses and engagement.
- Content. All marketing is (or should be) content-driven and social selling is no exception. In fact, it may be even more critical here. LinkedIn is a relationship platform so you need to look at social selling in that light. That means no “buy now” messages. Instead you want to connect and provide high-value content that helps your prospects do their job better. Pieces that share trends and tips are great for attracting prospects, while use case scenarios and case studies can be great further into the sales cycle.
One final “must have” to be successful—a plan. You’ll be most successful with social selling if you have a clear, strategic plan that covers:
- Your targets. Who are your key targets? By industry, geography, size and title at minimum. This will help your sales team build a portfolio and your marketing team build appropriate content.
- Training. DON’T overlook this. This is a new tool and approach so don’t wing it. You can get great information from LinkedIn directly via their Sales Solutions Blog and their sales resource center. One of the best training courses I’ve seen for Sales Navigator is via Lynda.Com (well worth the $19 monthly cost to access ALL the trainings they provide). You may even want to watch that one before moving ahead with the plan so you have a good idea of how it all works.
- Content development. You need content for each target audience and for all the stages of the sales cycle. This includes awareness content like posts and articles, as well as thought leadership pieces. Mapping this out will help make sure it gets done.
- Your overall LinkedIn presence. How often will you be posting? Will you be publishing posts only or will you also be sharing long-form articles? Which key groups will you be targeting and who should be involved in them? Will you be doing any sponsored posts? LinkedIn is a robust platform with many opportunities to connect with your prospects. The more you take advantage of them, the higher your success rate.
- Internal communications and alignment. Create a consistent schedule for sales and marketing to get together and share what’s working and what’s not, as well as any other key learnings. Sales should be prepared to share what they are hearing from prospects and what their content and communications needs are. Marketing should be prepared to discuss current campaigns, resources that are available and any analytics that will help the sales team.
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Is social selling for you?
It should be. According to a survey by InsideView, 82% of prospects are active on LinkedIn. Another survey by Sales for Life shows that 61% of companies active in social selling have reported a positive impact on sales.
If a good number of your prospects are active on social media, and you can make it a strategic part of your business development, then it’s clearly worth the investment. Just make sure your whole company is committed and that you invest the time and resources to do it right.
The Partner Marketing Group team is here to help with consulting on your social selling plan development, content to fuel your plan or professional writers and designers to make your professional LinkedIn profiles and banners shine. Contact us anytime with questions or more information.