How long would your friends stick around if you were constantly selling to them? Think about social selling in the same light. It’s a way to engage prospective buyers (and figure out what they do and don’t like) without hitting them over the head with a sales pitch.

In essence, social selling is using such social networks as LinkedIn to start conversations and develop relationships online. Anyone using this type of networking to blatantly sell a product or service will soon realize that this is often worse than doing nothing at all. Instead of not being known, you’ll be branded for hawking your wares and lose most, if not all, credibility.

On the other hand, used appropriately social networks can be powerful tools. Notes Jill Rowley in a report entitled, “One Team, One Goal: Sales & Marketing Alignment for Successful Social Selling,” “Social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter…integrate knowledge from various sources about the buyer. If you can know who’s in their circle of trust, where they’ve worked, studied, have insights about their skills, passions and more, it can significantly     help bring greater insight into each interaction.”

A Social Selling action plan by Hootsuite points out the importance of timing: “With so much information at their fingertips…buyers do their own research…today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. By the time they’re willing to engage with you, they’ve come to their own conclusions and you’re just there to fulfill an RFP.”

The Hootsuite document continues, “If you want to succeed in this sales environment, you need to reach buyers at the right times and know more about them and their needs than they know about you and your product.

This is where social selling delivers. By being present on social media wherever your buyers are, you’ll be better informed and more engaged with them at the critical moments of their decision-making process.”

A report entitled, “LinkedIn-The Sandler Way” lists some keys do’s and don’ts of social selling.

The do’s are:

1. Connect, inform and engage. Every business post should aim to connect with a specific type of person, provide relevant/previously unknown information, and engage to determine if your product/service is a good fit.
2. Let the data work for you. Social networks can provide valuable insights into customer demographics, in turn helping “you focus more closely on your clients and target customers more specifically.”
3. Research the competition. Social networks provide considerable intel about competitors. For example, people often will post their complaints about a company on social media. Tapping into this information can help target competitor vulnerabilities.

Don’ts on the LinkedIn report include:

1. Don’t assume everyone is a prospect. Social network friends or connections don’t automatically equate to prospects.
2. Don’t mix business with socializing. Particularly on LinkedIn, business is business. A discussion about a kid’s graduation probably doesn’t belong there.

When it comes to social selling, first make friends. Properly cultivated and maintained, those friendships will pave the way to new selling opportunities.

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