Social selling is a trend we are hearing about with greater frequency; but what exactly is social selling and how does it work? Who benefits from this model and what impact might it have on B2B businesses and their customers?
In brief, social selling is when a salesperson uses social media to communicate with prospects directly. The most important things to note about social selling is that it provides a more effective way to connect with customers, it doesn’t interrupt the flow of a prospect’s day, and it welcomes a conversation at a time and platform of convenience. There is also an “opt-in” aspect to most of the platforms that signals consent and a desire to engage.
LinkedIn, the most business-oriented of social networks, has identified four elements of social selling:
The company has also established a social selling index that allows potential social sellers to evaluate their readiness and effectiveness.
Of course, LinkedIn may have an ulterior motive for promoting this concept — but can the same be said about a leading analyst firm? Forrester Research has also been tracking the idea of social selling for some time and recently released a new report, New Tech: B2B Social Selling Tools, Q1 2018 (February, 2018). The report provides a helpful framework for further understanding the technologies that support — and the motivations behind — social selling.
These are excellent categorizations for the various available technologies but do they tell the whole story? There are some important requirements for social selling that might not be adequately described or met by these categories.
One is the importance of data to the social selling process. The data that sales people depend on needs to be accurate, accessible and abundant — and this is true whether one is talking about traditional contact methods or social selling. In some respects, data may even be more important to social selling, since details on prospects and value-added information about them may come from many sources. Recognizing the role of data is essential to improving the performance of social selling.
Another is the integration of social selling to the existing sales workflow. When social media burst onto the scene, there were no established tools (or rules) for putting it to work. Perhaps it was this lack of common tools that kept B2B companies from jumping on the social media bandwagon. Now, these organizations have a variety of well-developed systems in place - all designed to help salespeople sell better — faster. To the point, for social selling to be effective, it needs to integrate into the applications and platforms B2B sellers depend on.
When accurate information is provided within existing systems and current sales and marketing workflows, then the other tools — those that improve engagement, enablement and amplification — can be used most effectively. The impact of social selling is still being evaluated, but forward-looking companies recognize that this model can be transformative. As customers become numb to traditional sales and marketing methods, sales and marketing people need to become more creative and openly engaged. Social selling is an important step in this direction.
In some ways, the rise of social selling is a sign of the maturation of social media in general. What was once the shiny new kid on the block is being taught new tricks by a new set of users with more sophisticated needs. Forward-looking sales organization are constantly on the lookout for new and more valuable tools for engaging with customers and prospects, and social selling provides a host of new and important approaches for them to consider and employ.