Part of the reason that social selling is gathering momentum in the modern business world is that it reflects how people today find their information and connect with others, both in their personal and professional lives. Social media enables salespeople to establish a connection with a prospect in an authentic and genuine way, once they have identified a shared interest, and then this can be used to build relationships and gain further insight into the potential customer.
Simon Preece, founder of slp Consulting, explains: “Social selling is inherently about building a better understanding of what the customer needs and empathising with their challenges over a period of time. This enables the customer to develop more of a feel for the salesperson’s business and greater trust. Subsequently if a sale is made, the customer is likely to be more predisposed to entering into a longer relationship/contract.”
Ashley Cooksley, chief business development officer at Emoderation, believes that social media has now established itself as a trusted way of developing professional relationships. “Communication via social is essential, and client relationship management now often goes beyond email, phone and face-to-face meetings, but also into LinkedIn messages, direct messaging on Twitter, etc. Starting conversations on those platforms can be fruitful if done correctly.”
Unfortunately, there are plenty of reasons why salespeople can conduct social selling incorrectly. And with social media being such a personal platform, any faux pas committed in this realm will be viewed in a particularly dim light.
So where can salespeople go wrong and what do they need to be wary of?
Social media etiquette
“Authenticity, gravitas and trust can be gained or lost quickly via social selling,” warns Cooksley. “While you can connect more quickly than traditional face-to-face meeting opportunities, you have to navigate communication more carefully. Interpreting intention and behaviour (tone of voice, for example) is more complex via social connection - it’s much easier to gauge interest and get a response from someone when you are sitting across from them at a table. It’s more difficult when you are communicating on social.”
For this reason, salespeople need to mind their behaviour in the social world. Behaviour that would normally be appropriate on social media in their personal lives, may not be appropriate with their professional hat on. Social selling should be adding value to the brand rather than inadvertently destroying it - because while it takes a long time to build a good reputation, it can be destroyed very quickly through bad practices.
Social media is ultimately about relationships, so salespeople mustn’t be heavy-handed with their selling.
“If you went to a networking meeting and saw a group of three or four people talking, you wouldn’t walk up to that group, pull out your business card, slide it in each of their hands and launch into your elevator pitch, because if you did you might get punched in the face,” says Rob Thomas, CEO & CDO at WSI-eMarketing. “And yet on LinkedIn, people exhibit those same behaviours. They join a group and before they’ve even listened to what het conversation is or understood the challenges of people in the room, they’re sending unsolicited LinkedIn direct mail or Inmail or asking to connect by just clicking on the connect button. So a lot of the barriers to success are people not understanding the medium before they start to use it.”
Mark Ralphs, MD at Bloom Worldwide, adds: “Social selling isn’t about reaching ‘more’ people. It’s about reaching the ‘right’ people. Using social to lurk and spam, to broadcast rather than engage, will inevitably fail.”
“In the process of social selling, it is always a good idea to remember “who are the people in my network” and what are they interested in, rather than what my company is interested in,” advises Ulrik Bo Larsen, CEO and founder of Falcon Social. “A good social seller would engage in conversations and discussions, and be helpful, rather than purely pitch.”
While much social activity may involve content sharing, and providing advice, there is also sometimes a need to create content, such as articles and blogs. This content should demonstrate a deep sector knowledge, and demonstrate an understanding of the prospects’ challenges.
However, salespeople may not necessarily have the requisite writing skills to generate the kind of content that will resonate with connections and prospects. For this reason, the sales and marketing teams need to work together to ensure that the salesperson is sharing the most appropriate and impactful content with the customer base on social media.
“Sales are much closer to the customer but they haven’t traditionally been the author of articles or material, so a challenge for the salesperson is to be able to access all the content themselves, so that they are sharing links and articles on LinkedIn and Twitter that have real interest,” explains David Tovey, author of 'Principled selling - how to win more business without selling your soul’. “If you’re really smart, you’ll work very intensely with your marketing team to help you do all the right activity.”
Social selling requires a very specific set of practices – from optimising profiles to growing networks, and from identifying needs to sharing content. This means that salespeople need to adhere to best practices and processes to ensure that they not only increase their chances of successful social selling, but also to ensure that they don’t commit any of the aforementioned faux pas that can damage the brand.
However, social selling isn’t necessarily the easiest discipline to train.
Preece explains: “Social selling is obviously far less ‘scripted’ than a traditional approach. This makes is more difficult to train new salespeople and requires employees with greater creativity.”
Preece believes that this means there must be an emphasis on shadowing and knowledge sharing. “For new recruits, training needs to involve more shadowing and contextual explanation (rather than scripts),” he says. “It’s even more important for salespeople to share tips and tricks with each other (while adapting them to their own style).”
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.