When a reference is made to social selling in a business setting, it is quite often easily misunderstood as merely navigating the sales process using social networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter. However, while these technologies are a large component, social selling is defined by a much deeper way of doing business. It is the art of building stronger relationships with potential buyers based on authenticity, empathy, a touch of benevolence, and a deep understanding of your buyers’individualchallenges.
In the early days, businesses practiced outbound marketing techniques that were fundamentally characterized by the need to find and educate their audience. Push marketing was commonplace, with the use of traditional media such as TV, print and radio, broadcasting messages far and wide. Any knowledge of or pitch to an individual or personalized profile was missing.
With the evolution of technologies came telemarketing call centers, which leveraged the ability to connect directly with customers at a scale unheard of at the time. Technological advances also saw email direct marketing becoming more prevalent, and it was steadily adopted as the new tool for salespeople to communicate to prospects.
Ultimately, as more and more organisations became involved in selling via these technologies, it became a massive numbers game, and the overuse led to a rebellion againstcold calling and email marketing, and the labeling of it as spam. The birth of social media with its inherent benevolent nature, free of any “quid pro quo” obligation, contributed to any sales messaging being regarded as distasteful.
During this transition, customers also increasingly began to do their own research online creating an ultimate shift in the customer education process, putting the power directly into their hands. Brands could no longer educate customers on their own terms. They needed to cater to various stages of the customer’s decision process and differentiate the value they offered. The rise of social media and the popularity of search engines only encouraged this shift in the selling landscape and put pressure on businesses to react and adapt to the new generation of consumers.
This heralded the era of inbound marketing whereby the challenge was how to be found and easily differentiated by educated consumers who were well informed and ready to buy. Personalised web experiences, targeted content, and mobile responsiveness are some of the mantras of inbound marketing.
Today, sales people face the challenge of engaging customers that live in a digital world characterized by infinite choice, mobility, information overload, and rapidly changing technology. The art of social selling may be the key to enabling sales people in converting potential prospects to being long-term, brand-loyal customers.
Building a personal brand
In order to be successful in social selling, sales people need to build a strong personal brand. This is comprised of making newly targeted connections, nurturing existing ones, and sharing great content.
The sharing of content should be predicated on the understood needs of the contact (careful, they are not a consumer at this stage) and in most cases will share little in common with the organisations solution or product offering. Such value adding after time however, “earns” the organization, or more importantly, the social sellers therein, the right to connect and perhaps promote. We therefore now have a new third marketing strategy appearing of “earned” outbound marketing.
Digital channels – social media in particular – increase our opportunities to find, connect, and build rapport with the right people in an authentic and sincere manner. Therefore, it is important to start by identifying your target audience and connecting with their network of influencers.
Being accessible and showing personality in your communication and content can pay huge dividends when it comes to building an avid audience.Aside from sharing great content, Mark Schaefer from the popular Business Grow blog is strongly known for his positive and personal interactions on Twitter, which has won him plenty of kudos and business.
Stopping the pitch and providing value
Social selling involves engaging the right people with only those topics that interest them and could ultimately lead them to doing business with you. First and foremost, this means stopping the overly promotional content marketing.
Instead, generate content that encourages a more open conversation about the problems they face, taking your product momentarily out of the picture. Content creation should be based on adding value to your audience interactions. This is especially true for the first couple of exchanges with a new connection. Provide insights or ask for assistance to start a conversation, but completely avoid a sales pitch.
Genuine thought leaders also develop a point of view around their particular industry or niche, and are willing to discuss it publicly as a means to springboard further conversation. For a lot of contemporary thought leaders, a well-developed perspective on their particular topic takes years of reading about the subject, generating content, debating the topic with others, and connecting with likeminded thought leaders in similar fields.Being persistent and resilient is key, as it will certainly take time – but if done correctly, it will be self-generating once you establish a high level of trust and respect within your industry.
Having a multi-channel presence
Your customers conduct research and purchase products through multiple channels, so it is fair to say social selling success is strongly linked to having an omnichannel presence.Aligning multiple digital channels through technology can help map customer journeys and give you the opportunity to deliver the right message not only at the right time and on the right channel, but when your customer is most attentive, receptive and willing to act.