What is "Social Selling" and How Does It Work?

January 20, 2015 Steve Maurer

Social Selling

Here's a quote from Salesforce.com:

"All selling is social. Always has been. Always will be.

Before Facebook, before LinkedIn, before the web in fact, people bought from people in social ways. They asked for advice from friends, they gave their opinions over the garden fence, and they wrote strident letters to manufacturers when products failed to live up to their promises."

I had my suspicions.

Just like other Internet buzzwords, such as "content marketing" and "social networking," social selling is not really all that new. It's really a new take on an old concept. That doesn't make it unimportant—it validates it.

Let's explore further.

An Old Timer's Quick Guide to Social Media & Content Marketing

I was born in MCMLVII.

So that means that when my birthday rolls around this March, I'll be the ripe old age of LVIII. Yeah, I know it's hard to believe. But I grew up in the '60s and '70s… in an age without Internet.

How barbaric!

We had social networking and content marketing back then. It was done a little differently than it is today. But, the idea was the same.

We didn't have Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Or Pinterest, Tumblr or even Google+. We did have beauty salons, barbershops, park benches and the local diner. That's where we talked about new products, ideas, business opps… and what was going on down at the Smith's house.

Some of the best “content marketing” was done while leaning on a fence post. The county's agriculture representative or the field man for the local farmers' co-op visited to discuss current growing trends, new techniques and, yes, the newest products on the market.

A lot of stories were swapped back then. People loved stories that were engaging. (They still do, by the way.)

Technology hurt social selling for a while. It expanded our reach but shortened our vision. We knew more and more people. But we knew less and less about them.

The "new" social selling aims to change all that.

So, what is social selling all about?

An article on Forbes.com puts it this way:

"Social selling is not just about starting the sales process with social tools like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Social selling is about sales people building a strong personal brand. It is about understanding the role of content and how content can be used to tell a powerful and emotional story. And it is about growing your social connections."

The co-op rep had a strong personal brand. He found out what you really needed and supplied information that helped fill those needs. He knew you. He was someone you got to know, got to like, and got to trust.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I like the way Hubspot describes social selling:

"Social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects. Salespeople will provide value by answering prospect questions and offering thoughtful content until the prospect is ready to buy."

Thus, the use of social media in sales allows salespeople to delight their prospects rather than interrupt their daily lives with cold calls and hard sells, eventually converting them into loyal customers.

In the coming years, you'll need to ensure that your social media activity involves more than hawking your wares. While it will still be used for promotion, it must also improve your personal brand: the face that your prospects, customers and clients see.

And that's going to take a different outlook on marketing and social selling.

The Customer’s Journey

According to Salesforce’s 2015 State of Marketing report, social media, content marketing and email all figure heavily in the coming year's marketing strategies. But, many companies will be using them differently than in the past.

For example, buyer personas will be less valid as the customer's journey takes priority.

One of the recommendations the report makes is this:

"Lifecycle marketing looks at broad terms like need, awareness, consideration, selection, and purchase. A cohesive customer journey looks at the unique people interacting with your messages and profiles, personalizing the journey based on their actions and preferences… Personas can be useful when trying to imagine how common types of customers may respond to your marketing, but aim for a single view of each customer instead of thinking too broadly."

So, the Sales team must use social media for more than product or service promotion. Social selling of the Salesperson's personal brand entails social listening. Instead of finding the ideal customer, you must discover the real customer. Listening to social media feeds is vitally important.

In social listening, you're able to:

  • Discover who is talking about you and what they're saying.
  • Monitor conversations about your competitors.
  • Monitor your customers’ points of pain and concern, and be able to address them adequately.
  • Discover other relationship building opportunities available to you.

Ask pertinent questions and then listen for insightful, constructive answers—answers that tell you about your real customer, not your buyer persona.

At last, content marketing takes its rightful place

Thankfully, the call for content quality over quantity has been adopted by many companies. Instead of keyword loaded drivel, content with a real drive to educate and inform is more prevalent.

However, going forward, that may not be enough.

Using social listening, content can be created, not just for individual companies, but also for individuals in that company. For example, let's assume you are marketing forklift trucks. The C-level executives need content that is often different than content for the warehouse manager. Decisions are made based on different needs or criteria.

The customers' journeys often take different paths.

Therefore, content must address the concerns of the various stakeholders. By developing a personal brand that builds trust with individuals, the salesperson can direct the individual customer's agent to the specific content that answers his or her questions and addresses them correctly and completely.

It's through social listening that effective social selling and worthwhile content marketing is enabled. Build your personal brand, use social selling to form relationships, leverage relevant content, and you have the recipe for a streamlined and highly effective sales process.

Learn how to close more deals with social selling from expert Jill Rowley. Register for our upcoming webinar, "How Social Selling and Content Work Together."

About the Author

Steve Maurer

Steve Maurer, Maurer Copywriting is a freelance copy and content writer in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His tagline at Maurer Copywriting , Professional Freelance Business Writing – Plain and Simple, explains both his target audience and his writing philosophy. You can meet him on LinkedIn or call him at 479-304-1086.

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