The idea of social selling isn’t necessarily new, but it’s certainly improved.

Back in the day, salespeople used to call individuals and companies to get to know them better. The goal was to build a relationship by connecting in-person or on the phone and continuing both tactics in order to stay top of mind for when the buyer was ready.

A cold call or two was considered a social activity, even if it was a long-shot. See Michael Keaton in The Founder as a bedraggled milkshake hardware salesman doing in-person cold calls, schlepping around his products. Incidentally, this is how he met the McDonald’s brothers, the originators of the fast food model we know today.

In 2017, however, everything about the sales process has changed, including the way we approach social selling.

According to HubSpot, modern social selling is defined as “the way salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects, or provide value, by answering prospect questions and offering thoughtful content until the prospect is ready to buy.”

Prospects can control when and how they interact with a salesperson or brand and skip the cold call and hard-sell interruptions altogether. As a result, customers are in control of most of the sales pipeline, including the stage they pop into it.

Now it’s up to sales teams to get on board with social selling and open ways to build brand loyalty, one person at a time.

Sales Tactics: The New Normal

Social media, and its subsequent refinement, has irrevocably changed the way we connect and sell things to each other. Sales cycles are 24 hours a day, all over the world. In B2C selling, brick and mortar store does not guarantee sales but now often serves as a way for people to touch, feel, and price-shop before buying online through special deals at their convenience. For B2B organizations, the virtual experience is perhaps even more critical.

The transition toward increased social selling changed more than the sales process; it changed what we allow ourselves to see online and how we allow brands to connect with us on our turf.

Sales representatives are now only a very small part of the process, as customers educate themselves and price-shop way before making a purchase. Brands have to be better than ever at social selling and connecting with the unique and diverse reasons people want to buy throughout each stage of the buyer’s journey.

In fact, LinkedIn research states that 78% of social sellers outsell in comparison to colleagues who don’t use social media.

Before you say, “Wait a minute—that’s for B2C!” remember, B2B is a personalized human connection game, too. The nature of B2B commerce is the human piece: cultivating long-term relationships with interested connections so you’re their first choice when they’re ready to buy.

So the question now isn’t about the value of social selling with its modern twists but how salespeople can get on board and embrace it to reach out more strategically and effectively.

When sales representatives drop little bits of educational social content online, potential customers get a better feel for the brand—the integrity and knowledge it brings to the table. In other words, customer support needs to go way beyond the product and service you sell to include high-quality, consistent education, customer care, and support pre- and post-purchase.

What most people don’t acknowledge is that social selling offers a deeper level of lead-nurturing power for a brand.

Being an active part of social platforms where potential customers hang out ensures you get direct access to what they want and need. It also offers a glance into where they may be unhappy with current vendors, what topics they want to learn more about, and biggest pet peeves.

This insight is like finding buried treasure in plain sight. Each comment, complaint, and line of praise can be mined to connect with individuals on a deeper level and offer more targeted support and customer service.

These social media tidbits also provide plenty of fodder for blog posts, educational videos, customer service upgrades, and more to leverage through social selling.

Up Your Social Selling Game

To implement a higher level of quality social selling into your marketing mix, start simply.

Be a Source

Don’t give customers a reason to research without you. Offer consistent insights via social selling that share information on the latest trends, industry news, or simple hacks for current customer pain points.

Remember to share links to brand blog posts, videos, or white papers that offer additional educational insights and showcase the brand’s expertise. Also, share or comment on insights from potential customers to get an actual conversation going.

Save the Dates

Create an editorial calendar and use it to reach out periodically.

Social media is inherently supposed to be social, which means consistency is key. If you post once and no one sees content for another three weeks, traction and credibility are lost. Make sure to share content with a conversational flair that invites others to share their perspective, too.

Find Leadership

Connect with thought leaders in a few select social networks and follow them.

This gives you a lead into what customers are reading and offers access to a thought leader’s social followers. Think of it as a built-in lead qualifier.

Tell Their Stories

Share customer stories, in their words.

Customer experience stories are like catnip to other customers. Buyers want an honest experience without brand-speak, so find a way to help your most important customers communicate the value of your offerings in a unique and personal way. Use written testimonials, video, or in-person presentations.

Mix It Up

Build and share content comprised of a mix of images and written content.

Images grab eyeballs, but valuable written content is what keeps them reading. Do more than rehash and re-share, create something unique that shows your personality as a salesperson and marketer and how you personally support customers as a brand ambassador.

Lead Them, Don’t Tell Them

Drive traffic to the brand website using blogs, videos, and other educational content to position the brand as an industry expert that’s approachable.

Remember: show, don’t tell or brag. Infomercials are best left in the 90s.

Stay on Target

Be purposeful about the types of content and topics featured in blog posts.

Create content consistently throughout the year and include a variety of long-form and short-form posts. Rather than rushing to hit publish, task one or two people with creating content to help the brand feature a consistent voice and message in each post. And be mindful of topics that can help generate comments and conversation.

Provide Answers

Answer questions people are asking in the social forums.

Why not answer the questions you know people are already asking but aren’t asking you directly? Provide value with things you know people already want or need to run their business better. Supply helpful responses both to connect and get them talking.

Maintain Connections

Stay up to date on social profiles for industry leaders and potential customers.

As fast as social selling has changed the way we buy and sell, it’s also changed the way we work. People change jobs more frequently and shift into fresh, innovative service areas that are created in real time.

When you stay connected through social platforms, you can maintain the relationship regardless of where they end up. You can also keep an eye on shared connections that may have similar interests to the people you follow.

Key Takeaways

The most important thing when it comes to social selling is for B2B sellers to stop being stubborn and open up to the opportunities of social selling throughout the buyer’s journey.

According to the recent Forrester report, “Hitting the Restart Button on Social Media,” salespeople are holding themselves back from success: “Too many B2B marketers still think social media is only good for building awareness, best suits consumers, and can’t be connected to revenue.”

In addition, “Fewer than a third of B2B marketers rate social as one of their top-four most effective demand generation tactics in the awareness stage of the customer life cycle,” while social media tactics lag in various other aspects of the sales cycle as well.

One last great takeaway from this same piece is: “Social-media-based conversation will foster insights and touchpoints to shorten time-to-sale through increased trust, drive credible advocacy through social connections, and increase renewals by encouraging loyalty. To reinvigorate their existing social programs and achieve these goals, B2B marketers have various options.”

When brands actively listen more, rather than trying to sell more, they might be surprised how natural the sales process can be. People have problems and want solutions. By listening then reaching out in a useful way, you’re set up to nurture social selling in a way that feels authentic on both sides of the transaction.

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Katrina Pfannkuch

About Katrina Pfannkuch

Katrina Pfannkuch is a creativity consultant specializing in writing, editing, strategy & coaching. She's a bit of a data nerd & loves seeing how pieces of the informational puzzle come together to paint a creative picture. Catch Katrina & her insights on kick-starting creativity at @creativekatrina on Twitter.