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What Is Social Selling?

Trevor Johnson gives you the lowdown on the fastest growing one-to-one sales aid What Is Social Selling?

Once you could pick up the phone, reach a potential customer, arrange a meeting or book a table for lunch. Not any more. With nearly 90 per cent of executives never responding to speculative calls, we needed a new way to do business.

Now we’ve got one in social selling. Recent surveys found that connecting with a prospective client by phone can now take up to eight calls, with the chances of a positive response as low as one per cent.

Online contact

In contrast, 84 per cent of buyers will start a purchase process through social media and online contact is now involved in nearly 90 per cent of business-to-business buying decisions. In addition, a Harvard Business School study has shown that 78 per cent of people using social selling techniques have a higher selling rate than those sticking to the old ways.

Not surprisingly, major brands are deeply into social selling, from Microsoft, which has boosted productivity by 38 per cent, to UK travel firm Corporate Traveller, which has achieved nearly £6 million in new sales by reaching out online to new clients.

Dr Paul Meyer, lead of the Harvard study, says: “Social media networks reach new prospects, educate them on how your company can help them and nurture them through the sales process.

“Never have business decision makers been so young or so computer literate. 46 per cent are aged between 20 and 34 - the largest social media user group. No wonder social selling is currently the fastest growing one to one sales aid. Doing business over lunch is long gone. Now bosses send out for sushi.”

What is social selling?

If you have a Facebook business page, a LinkedIn profile or professional Twitter account, you’re already involved in social selling even though you may not call it that.

Basically, it’s developing relationships as part of the sales process, usually on social networks, and was first developed from research at Canada’s University of British Columbia in 2006, when it was found that incidental similarities between a buyer and seller created a bond that made a deal more likely.

Marketing and networking consultant Christine Forrester explains: “Social selling is quite simply using online social tools to engage in relationship building strategies that have always been the foundation of good salesmanship.

“What it’s not is bombarding strangers with unsolicited Tweets and private messages and expecting them to become your best friends.

“Social selling is not just about gaining access to contacts, but building relationships and listening for the right moment to join the conversation, so you can present yourself as a solution to a problem.”

Can social selling grow your business?

A study by business consultancy Sales for Life, involving 40,000 sales reps and 200 companies, apparently showed that reps using social selling methods uncovered 45 per cent more sales opportunities.

A report by technology company the Aberdeen Group showed that companies using social selling could achieve a 16 per cent rise in year-onyear revenue - four times more than comparable businesses still using traditional sales methods.

How will it help your sales team?

By using social tools to listen in on industry conversations - known as social listening - your team can identify new leads.

A recent study showed that one in three business-to-business professionals had found that social tools increased their number of leads and reduced the time they spent researching accounts and contacts, while 31 per cent said that social selling techniques allowed them to build deeper relationships with clients.

As Christine explains: “A strong network on social media channels allows you to seek out introductions to new sales prospects through existing mutual connections - creating an immediate sense of trust and rapport.

“This is very important for both clients and sales people, with 87 per cent of business-to-business buyers saying they would have a favourable impression of someone introduced through their professional network.”

Reduced to hard figures, the latest LinkedIn data shows that salespeople with what is called a strong social selling index have 45 per cent more sales opportunities than others and are 51 per cent more likely to hit their sales quotas.

It’s also significant that data from the Aberdeen Group shows that teams engaged in social selling have a customer renewal rate seven per cent higher than teams that don’t.

How do you get started?

Social selling is essentially about building relationships, which means choosing the right network to grow your audience. Here are some of the most popular and effective:

LinkedIn, with around 500 million users, is now used by over 50 per cent of business-to-business buyers when making purchasing decisions. Ask for endorsements and recommendations from current customers to put on your profile.

Join LinkedIn groups relevant to your industry and network with peers and prospects.

Twitter is a great network for social listening because of the ability to create lists to monitor content from specific groups, so you can keep tabs on existing customers and watch for further sales opportunities.

As you identify potential future customers, add them to a private list. Keep an eye open for requests for help or situations in which your product or service could fit the bill. Then make contact.

Join in existing Twitter chat that’s relevant to your industry or start your own.

Facebook is the most personal of social networks, so if you don’t want to mix business and pleasure create a Facebook business page.

Always respond to follower posts and ask questions to spark conversation. Posts that ask questions get 100 per cent more comments than regular text posts.

This allows you to interact directly with followers, helps you establish your expertise and create the sense of rapport essential for successful social selling.

“Sales have always been about building relationships and social selling doesn’t change that, but simply provides a new set of tools to help do the job,” is how Dr Paul Meyer puts it.

“Make no mistake, it’s the way business is going. Embrace social selling and watch your sales grow. Ignore it and get left behind. It’s that simple.”

4 keys to success

  • Create a professional brand, which will lead to more responses and inquiries.
  • Focus on the right prospects - over 70 per cent of buyers are prepared to have a social media conversation.
  • Show that you know your business - 62 per cent of buyers respond to expert, up-to-date knowledge.
  • Build trusted relationships by putting the needs of customers first and selling second.
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