Social selling is a hot topic in the worlds of sales and marketing these days. At its most basic, social selling is a way to use social networks to establish and further relationships with influencers and decision-makers within organizations that are prospects for your products or services. By building a strong personal brand within the online places and communities that your prospects frequent, you can make connections and open doors in ways that traditional sales tactics like cold-calling cannot.
I recently participated in a great conversation about social selling on VoiceAmerica. One point I made during the broadcast is that the term “social selling” is actually a bad name for what we are talking about. Yes, at the end of the day social selling strategies and tactics can help sales people gain access to accounts and spawn relationships and conversations with executive contacts they may not have had otherwise. But if the implication of the term is that we are always “selling” in our online engagements, then we are violating one of the core principles of digital discourse: Authenticity.
Nothing damages your online brand faster than parroting a party line, prematurely pushing your relationships into a transactional conversation, or joining an affinity group solely so you can chase its members for business. I don’t know how many times I’ve joined a group or accepted a LinkedIn connection, only to have people immediately descend like locusts, pushing their products and services.
To me, social selling done well is about four things: Listening, Voice, Content, and Network.
Listening. Would you walk into a room full of strangers and start shouting? Of course not. The best sales and marketing professionals have always done their research and listened closely to the customer before talking. The same goes for social selling. In fact, 80% of effective social selling is using social and digital tools to gather rich insights about prospects and customers. Once you master the art and science of listening with social media, you will be better able to engage with insights, improve meeting outcomes, and share content based on the interests and priorities of the individuals and groups within your network.
Voice. Your ability to be an effective social influencer is largely determined by the voice you bring to the conversations you have in online engagements. You must be authentic, open, and transparent. You are an ambassador of your brand, yes, but you must also be an expert in your own right and have a point of view that stands on its own within the context of the conversations that your network is having. Over time, an authentic and relevant voice will drive more and deeper engagement that leads to business opportunities than trying to quickly turn new relationships into transactions.
Content. Content is king, and the need for great content only grows over time. This is one of the great challenges of scaling a social selling program and in my opinion is where Marketing organizations will deliver the greatest value once the social selling wave moves past the missionary phase into the mainstream. Content is more about curation of other people’s great content that your creation of your own. To me, the right mix is probably 90/10 or 80/20 curated vs. original.
Network. Despite claims to the contrary, size doesn’t matter when it comes to your personal network. Quality matters. The level of engagement matters. The ability to reach the right people and have them react to your content, share or challenge your POV, and give you access to their networks is more important than sheer numbers. The key here is if you do Listening, Voice, and Content right, the size and quality of your network will grow in response.