The social media revolution has changed our lives in countless ways. We now rely heavily on social media to communicate with others and keep up with news and current events in near real-time. Social media has also dramatically changed the landscape for businesses looking to promote their product or service. Gone are the days of cold-calling and making sales pitches to individuals who have never heard of you before. Enter social selling.
Social selling is a concept that many businesses don’t understand or utilize to their advantage. What some fail to realize is that people are talking about your business online. They have researched you on social media and have read what others are saying about your business.
Customers are doing more research than ever before. They are using social media and the Internet to shape their buying decisions and help guide them to make the right choice. A recent study by the Corporate Executive Board showed that 57% of a prospect’s purchasing decision was already made before they contacted a sales rep. This is a pretty telling statistic.
Buyers are already more than halfway sure if they are going to purchase from you or not. It’s important to embrace this fact and understand that social selling can help you gain influence, establish your credibility, sell ideas, attract top talent and ultimately increase revenue.
What Is Social Selling?
All types of selling are social in one way or another. The actual concept of social selling was discovered by researchers at the University of British Columbia. They found that when there are incidental similarities between a buyer and a seller, there is a higher likelihood of a sale taking place.
In the online world, social selling is the process by which one leverages their social media networks to create and develop new connections, gain insight on customers and competition, and strategically placing their message in front of the right people at the right time.
It is important to note that social selling and social marketing are not one in the same. Social marketing focuses around producing attention-grabbing content that users will share and engage with, thereby increasing overall brand exposure and driving web traffic.
The single most important difference between the two is this: Social marketing is a one-to-many approach while social selling is a one-to-one approach. Social selling has been seen as a necessary response to the ever-changing sales environment and, if done correctly, can be an extremely effective tool for getting more qualified sales leads which can have a positive impact on revenue.
The “why” aspect of social selling can be summed up in these key social selling statistics from a number of studies that were conducted recently:
- There is a 2X higher ROI from social selling than email marketing, cold-calling, networking or trade shows (source: MarketingSherpa via Biznology)
- 78.6% of sales reps who used social selling outperformed their peers (source: Forbes)
- Sales reps hit quota with social selling—47% of reps who used social selling hit their quota. Thirty-eight percent of those who aren’t, don’t. (source: Aberdeen Research Group)
- 75% of customers say they use social media as part of the buying process (source: Nancy Pekala of AMA)
- 82% of prospects can be reached on social media (Source: Sergey Gusarov)
- 59% of social consumers are influenced by at least one social network when purchasing (Source: Salesforce)
Let’s compare the above statistics to other research that was done about the old way of selling: via cold calls, hard sells and outbound marketing:
- 91% of the time, cold calling doesn’t work (source: Harvard Business Review)
- Outbound marketing costs 60% more per lead (source: Hubspot)
- It takes eight attempts to reach a prospect via cold calls versus 3.68 in 2007 (source: Telenet and Ovation Sales Group)
- A cold referral decreases the likelihood of a sale 2X-4X as compared to a warm referral (source: Demand Gen)
Key takeaway: sales reps sell more by using social media and employing social selling tactics.
Key Components of Social Selling
There is no silver bullet when it comes to social selling. It is comprised of many different activities that work in unison. These activities will vary depending on what type of business you are in, but they usually fall in three different categories:
1. Employee Advocacy
You should be empowering your employees to leverage their own social media networks and share industry-relevant news, stories, photos and insights about your company. This can significantly increase the organic exposure of your brand, product or service. Employees should be encouraged to reach out to other individuals who they find through social prospecting and connect with them one a one-on-one basis.
Using an employee advocacy tool like Bambu makes this process extremely easy as it allows for curation of brand-specific and team-specific content which can be shared on a number of social media networks. Employee advocacy and engagement are extremely important when it comes to social selling. The more employees you have advocating on your behalf, the more individual connections you stand to form. Remember that on social media, people—not brands—are the channel.
2. Personal Branding
By using your own social media networks to establish your credibility and reputation, you are branding yourself as an expert on the topic you are promoting. Personal branding can occur in a variety of different ways from creating a compelling profile, having a relevant cover photo, sharing fascinating content and engaging with other users on your networks. By highlighting your personal information and positioning yourself as a thought leader on topics, you not only increase your personal brand exposure but also place yourself in a position to have common ground with potential buyers.
3. Social Relationship Management
You develop and nurture relationships offline, so why wouldn’t you do it online as well? Social customer relationship management is just an extension of traditional relationship management except that is done via social media. By taking the time to listen and respond to feedback online and engage with your customers content, questions, comments and concerns, you are effectively forming an authentic and genuine online relationship with them. The simple act of “Liking” or “Retweeting” a post, endorsing someone on LinkedIn or sharing a piece of content can be extremely beneficial and help to nurture lasting relationships with your online connections.
B2C Social Selling Best Practices
The biggest difference between B2B and B2C social selling is that B2C happens in a much shorter timeframe, so it is important to be timely with your strategy and not leave customers waiting for you to chime in. Below are some best practices for B2C social selling:
- Listen. This is probably the most important aspect of social selling. You need to understand who your customers are and understand what they expect from you. By doing this, you put yourself in a better position to identify new customers and cater to existing customers’ needs.
- Create useful content. By creating and sharing useful content that engages your fanbase you position yourself as a thought-leader in the industry. Be consistent with the type of content you share and the rate at which you share it.
- Engage. This goes hand and hand with the previous point about listening. Be part of the conversation. Talk with your customers and not at them! If you comment, share, like and Retweet content from individuals that you’ve identified through social prospecting, they are much more likely to reciprocate with the content you share.
- Collaborate with your customers. Your business should be about your customers. They are the sole reason you stay in business especially if you are in a B2C setting. Take the time and show some love to your customers by occasionally featuring them on your own social media profile.
- Provide customer support. People expect exponentially more from brands now than they did 10 years ago and it’s important to meet their expectations. A study by the Edison group found that consumers expect a timely response on social media to their inquiries. 42% expect a response within an hour, 25% within the same day and 9% want it in five minutes. By using social media messaging tools like Sprout Social, you can provide an easily accessible customer support channel through your social media presence and address your customers concerns in a timely fashion.
B2B Social Selling Best Practices
In B2B social selling, you are focusing on the long game. It is important to realize that the average B2B buyer is 57% through the sales process before they even engage with a sales rep. They have done their research on you, your product and your competitors. Here are some best practices for B2B social selling:
- Building a relationship is your first priority. Never throw your sales pitch at a potential customer before building rapport with them. This will get you nowhere and is analogous to making a cold call.
- You need to provide value before asking for anything. Give your prospects something of value at no cost. By doing this you not only start building rapport with them but also lay the groundwork for a sale to occur. Relationships take time but prove to be worth it in the end.
- Refine your follow-up process. Sales usually don’t happen on the first contact, so it’s important to have a follow-up process and stick to it. Did you know that 48% of sales reps never follow up with a prospect and that 80% of sales happen on the fifth to twelfth contact? The biggest and most profitable sales come from relationships that have been built over time. Be consistent and confident in your approach as this will only benefit you in the long-run.
- Have specific goals and build buyer personas. It is important to ask yourself specific questions about your buyers to be able to target them more effectively—what is their title within the company, what cities do they live in, what level of education have they completed, what are their interests and hobbies? By moving away from macro-level targeting, you spend more time reaching out to the individuals that matter and relating to them in a way that can assist you in making the sale.
- Always customize your messages. You should be tailoring every message you write to your prospects. While it is ok to save time by using templates, you should be customizing parts of each message to fit your needs. Taking a few minutes to customize each message can really pay off in the long run.
Measuring Your Social Selling Efforts
Numbers speak the truth. They give insight on what is and isn’t working. Measuring social selling efforts can be somewhat tricky as there are many different variables at play. But if you are planning on measuring your social selling efforts here are some metrics that are worth looking at:
- LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index. If you are doing a majority of your social selling on LinkedIn, then you should pay attention to this number. LinkedIn’s social selling index is based off four metrics that measure how well you establish a professional brand, find the right people, engage with insights and build relationships. Each is assigned a value of 1-25 and the total of the four values equals your SSI score.
- Size and quality of your network. How many followers or connections have you had since you’ve started implementing social selling techniques? How many influencers or thought leaders have you acquired? How many C-level executives have you connected with? Your network connections on social media are public, and you can be assured that potential prospects will be doing their research to see how connected you are.
- Conversions via social. Track social conversions via Google Analytics. With goals in analytics, you can see how many individuals converted who came directly from social media, or if social media contributed to the conversion.
- Number of referrals received and from whom. There’s really nothing better than receiving a referral. Most of the time they are coming from someone that they trust, and it makes the sales portion much easier. You should keep track of what networks your referrals are coming from, and who is feeding them to you.
The environment of sales is rapidly changing. Seventy-one percent of salespeople believe that their role will be radically different in five years. Social selling is becoming the new norm, and for good reason. The old saying “everyone is in sales” really holds a meaning now. Every employee within your business now has the ability to contribute to some part of the sales funnel.
The bottom line: Social selling works and if you aren’t taking advantage of it you’re missing out on a plethora of opportunities to find new prospects, bring in leads, and ultimately make more sales.
Is your business using social selling? If so, do you have any additional tips to be successful in either a B2B or B2C setting? What social networks do you find it most effective on? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.
What Is Social Selling? A Powerful Benefit of Employee Advocacy
Written by Andrew Wasyluk on October 05, 2015