Social selling: by now you’ve certainly heard of it, but you may not be entirely sure what it means. Is it the same as social media marketing? (No.) What about social media advertising? (Nope, that’s something else altogether.) So just what is social selling? Is it simply one more digital buzzword soon to be relegated to the virtual dustbin of 2016?
With sales professionals who have incorporated social selling into their sales process way outperforming those stuck in the pre-social sales funnel (we’ve got the statistics to prove it below), social selling may be a buzzword, but it’s in absolutely no danger of being tossed away.
Instead, it’s an important new approach to selling that allows salespeople to laser-target their prospecting, establish rapport and trust through existing connections and networks, and possibly even ditch the dreaded practice of making cold calls. If you have not yet incorporated social selling into your business, you’re likely already losing sales to your more socially savvy peers.
Social selling is the art of using social networks to find, connect with, understand, and nurture sales prospects. It’s the modern way to develop meaningful relationships with potential customers that keep you—and your brand—front of mind, so you’re the natural first point of contact when a prospect is ready to buy.
It’s quite simply using online social tools to engage in the relationship-building strategies that have always been the foundation of what good sales professionals do.
If you have a Facebook Business Page, LinkedIn profile, or professional Twitter account, you’re already engaged in the basics of social selling—even if you’ve never actually used the term to describe your online activities, or thought all that much about exactly what social selling really means.
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Perhaps equally important to explaining what social selling means is to explain what social selling is not. It’s certainly not about bombarding strangers with unsolicited Tweets and private messages. There’s a name for that: spam. And you shouldn’t do it.
Social selling is not just about gaining access to contacts but about building relationships and strategically listening for the right moment to join the conversation so you can present yourself as a solution to a current problem, addressing a pressing need to make your prospect’s life easier rather than becoming just another irritant to swipe and delete.
Now that you understand what social selling is, let’s look at why doing it (really) well is so important for your business.
You’ll read a lot of statistics in this next section as we look at why your brand should care about social selling. But really, there’s one big 800-pound gorilla of a reason to care: social selling works. Period.
In this socially connected world, 78 percent of salespeople engaged in social selling are outselling their peers who are not using social selling. If your sales team has not embraced social selling, your sales are quite simply not what they could be. Here are three key reasons why.
Let’s face it: Nobody likes cold calling. And the truth is that it’s not very effective anyway: 90 percent of top decision-makers say they never respond to cold calls. Using social tools to listen in on conversations relevant to your industry—known as social listening—allows your sales team to identify new leads that are already talking about your business, your competitors, or your industry, so you can reach out to them slowly with useful information when the time is right.
In a recent survey by CSO Insights and Seismic, one in three B2B professionals said that social selling tools increased the number of leads they had to work with. Even more—39 percent—said that social tools reduced the amount of time they spent researching accounts and contacts.
With prospects socially sharing so much information about their needs, wants, and pain points on their public profiles, even your first point of contact can be personalized, relevant, and helpful, rather than intrusive and cold. That leads to more meaningful ongoing prospect and client engagement, with 31 percent of B2B professionals saying that social selling tools allowed them to build deeper relationships with clients.
Better yet, building a strong network through various social media channels allows you to seek out introductions to new sales prospects through existing mutual connections, creating an immediate sense of trust and rapport. That trust is an incredibly important resource for both clients and salespeople, with 87 percent of B2B buyers saying they would have a favorable impression of someone introduced through their professional network.
With social sellers accessing all of these important advantages that give them the jump on their less socially minded colleagues, it’s no surprise that internal LinkedIn data shows sales professionals with a strong social selling index—a measure based on how well salespeople build their personal brand, focus on the right prospects, engage with relevant content, and build trusted relationships—have 45 percent more sales opportunities than others, and are 51 percent more likely to hit their sales quotas.
What’s social buying? Flip the concept of social selling on its head. Just as sales professionals can use social listening and other social research strategies to find potential clients, those potential clients are already using social listening and social search to find potential vendors, research them online, and develop an opinion about which vendor is the best fit, all before making first contact with a sales professional.
In fact, CEB found that customers are, on average, 57 percent of the way through the purchase process before they ever engage with a sales professional, and IDC found that 75 percent of B2B buyers and 84 percent of executives use contacts and information from social networks as part of their purchase process.
If you’re not actively engaged in social selling, you’re not showing up in that social purchase research: that’s a lot of potential missed sales.
The good news is that, according to LinkedIn, 76 percent of buyers are ready to have a social media conversation with potential providers, and more than 62 percent of B2B buyers respond to salespeople who connect with them to share insights and opportunities relevant to their business. Even better, 92 percent of B2B buyers are willing to engage with a sales professional who is a known industry thought leader, a reputation you can establish by consistently posting thoughtful, relevant content on social media.
Beyond the initial sale, keep in mind that 53 percent of customer loyalty is driven by a salesperson’s ability to deliver unique insight, a skill that salespeople can initially demonstrate through their social media content sharing, and later confirm through their ongoing social connections with past clients. Perhaps that’s why data from Aberdeen shows that teams engaged in social selling have a customer renewal rate seven percentage points higher than teams that have not embraced social selling tools.
A whopping 71 percent of all sales professionals—and 90 percent of top salespeople—are already using social selling tools. Among younger salespeople, the numbers are even higher, with 78 percent of all millennial sales professionals using social selling tools and 63 percent saying those tools are critical or extremely critical to their sales performance. If you’re not allowing your sales team to use social tools and equipping them to do so, it will be more challenging for you to recruit top sales performers, especially from the millennial demographic.
And brands in just about every industry are embracing social selling tools, whether it’s Microsoft boosting productivity 38 percent by socially prospecting for leads for a new cloud computing offering, U.K. travel firm Corporate Traveller achieving £5.5 in new sales by using social selling to reach out to potential small and medium-sized business travel clients, or the Vancouver Canucks using social selling to help increase hockey ticket sales.
Sales has always been about building relationships, establishing rapport and credibility, and providing the right solution to the right prospect at the right time. Social selling doesn’t change that. It just provides you as a sales professional with an additional suite of tools to incorporate into your work so you can focus on the most productive parts of the sales process and maximize the benefits of existing relationships and connections to build an expanded network of prospects who actually want to hear from you.