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A short guide to the art of social selling

by Bob Dearsley on 04-Sep-2017 07:30:00

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In the years gone by – when it was considerably easier for sales people to get through to decision makers in a business – cold calling was the norm and produced some great responses. In those days, the barriers to entry, the number of blockers between the receptionist in a business and the key decision maker, were substantially less. For salespeople, reaching a key decision maker simply required the right approach; a persuasive argument and the tenacity to talk their way up the food chain, make contact with the right authority, and arrange an appointment.

In the last decade, however, cold calling has gradually and steadily lost its effectiveness – and is no longer an approach that has any real traction. There are now far too many gatekeepers between the receptionist and key decision makers in a business, all of whom have been trained to identify and filter out unsolicited sales calls. But, perhaps most importantly, even if a salesperson were to break through that line of defence, people in positions of authority are now just too busy. CEOs, chief executives and directors have too many day-to-day pressures to even think about taking unsolicited phone calls – it’s a waste of their time.

As a result, the art of selling has changed, moving away from unsolicited cold calls to operating on and utilising the social media platforms of today, platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, to identify possible opportunities. With LinkedIn, for example, it is entirely feasible for a salesperson to find – and interact with – a key decision maker in a business, providing they do their research. Whereas on Twitter, salespeople can use #hashtags to search topics relevant to what they are trying to sell, find conversations, and see if they have opportunities to engage with their prospects. As such, social selling is inherently understanding social media platforms and using the tools available to identify opportunities and people, for whom salespeople feel they have a valid proposition for.

Social selling is, therefore, distinctly different from cold calling – salespeople are no longer trying to find out information from people in the business as they go along, but rather, researching and profiling individuals via social media platforms before they even try to engage. Of course, this process is considerably more time consuming than just picking up the phone, but as a result, it is generally – even in today’s more intense market – considerably more effective.

Today, salespeople have so many tools at their disposal. With LinkedIn, for example, salespeople can review LinkedIn profiles – which are tantamount to a CV of an individual – providing them with the granularity they need to try to understand the person they are selling to. In addition, they can review a person’s network of contacts and try to find someone they have in common who could introduce the two of them. It is not unusual to find more than one connection in common; and, all of a sudden, salespeople are in a position where they can actually engage with that key individual – that prospect.

And, through that single LinkedIn profile, salespeople can begin to start a conversation with potential sales prospects, investigate their profile and, by looking through their connections, identify they report to, who their colleagues are, and potentially who they partner with. As a consequence, this type of social researching/selling allows salespeople to understand their potential network and get themselves into the best possible position that they can engage with, and ultimately talk to, decision makers.

But the research does not stop there. In today’s social networking world, many decision makers are themselves, salespeople who are creating profiles of thought leadership and as a result, are posting online to LinkedIn, Twitter and even Instagram and perhaps to their company’s Facebook accounts.

This is, however, relatively commonplace – and decision makers will regularly receive unsolicited contact from elsewhere; and, almost invariably, will assess that contact, and quickly realise that they were being sold to. It is at this point that the decision maker tells the salesperson to “get lost” in the most euphemistic way – and continues with their day. At the moment at which a salesperson can identify a key decision maker in a business, rather than pulling the trigger and attempting to contact them, they have the opportunity to use the information they have acquired to further investigate that decision maker, such as visiting their social media profiles, to build a stronger connection.

So, if the key decision makers have Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, salespeople can investigate those profiles to find out what the decision makers are talking about, the content they are sharing and the things they are interested in. This provides salespeople with the opportunity to interact with these decision makers on social media. This could be something as simple as commenting on one of their blog posts, retweeting one of their Tweets or sharing their LinkedIn articles or sharing other pieces of relevant and informative content with them that they might like or find relevant.

Suddenly, that salesperson finds themselves in a position where they are interacting with their key decision makers in a business, far before they have even picked up the phone to sell to them. Those same salespeople are no longer selling, but are, in fact, genuinely interested in what these people have to say and  kaboom – we have contact – real genuine interaction. This process, through repetition, then helps salespeople to build a connection with key decision makers and slowly move themselves into a position where they can actually pick up the phone and engage with a decision maker; an engagement that is no longer just a cold call, but now, a call with some genuine shared interest.

Conceptually, there is a significant amount of difference between a cold call and a connection call, and social selling enables that connection. It changes the situation from what would have been a simple cold call to that of a social introduction, a digital handshake, a networking opportunity. The information that can be gleaned from social media profiles such as LinkedIn, Twitter and even Facebook, enables salespeople to have a better understanding of what it is a key decision maker – and their business – does. So, when it comes to selling, the knowledge salespeople glean from social media profiles helps them to connect with key decision makers and their business, thereby increasing the chance of a successful result.

There are, of course, other social channels that you can use to connect with potential sales prospects. In the B2B world, you would typically use LinkedIn and Twitter, but Facebook, particularly company pages, Instagram and interaction with the prospect’s blogging platform, increasingly useful in the process. I would, however, encourage a usage of all the social media platforms – but with diligence. Try to identify the channels most relevant to your audience and try to develop an understanding of whom you want to make a connection with; knowing that you have a valid business proposition for that person.

Tip #27: Social selling is inherently about using social media platforms and tools to understand those to whom you wish to sell. Blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms, provide you with the means to glean the information you need to actually engage with potential sales prospects and form a connection with them. Make sure you utilise and incorporate social media into your sales process, as it’s a great way to expand your network – and find new sales opportunities.

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This post was written by Bob Dearsley

Tech marketing director, started a B2B Tech PR shop 20+ years ago - PR veteran, Inbound Marketing disciple, SEO fanatic... Golf & Chelsea fan

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