businessman using his digital tabletForget about social selling and focus on social engagement.

“Aren’t you afraid clients won’t need you?” That’s what a shocked colleague asked when I told him I was including my entire referral process in my first book, No More Cold Calling. Yes, I was giving everything away—my content, my best ideas, and a process that took years to perfect. Why? If you’re at the top of your game, you got there because you helped others improve their game. You shared tips and ideas, told clients when they were going down the wrong path, suggested articles and books, and (gasp) even gave them access to some intellectual property.

Today, we don’t call this giving stuff away. We call it “social engagement,” and it’s critical to increasing B2B sales effectiveness.

Social engagement is a hot topic in sales and marketing circles. But it’s not just the latest buzzword floating around sales conferences, nor is it a new concept. It’s what great salespeople do all the time—whether we’re online, on the phone, or meeting with clients and prospects in person.

Social engagement simply means having robust conversations, exchanging ideas, providing insights, and sharing expertise with clients and prospects. In doing so, we become trusted resources. Put simply: By giving to our customers, we give them reasons to buy from us.

CSO Insights explains this concept well in the “2014 10th annual Lead Management & Social Engagement”:

Not every social outreach is going to result in a sale, nor should it. As you become more immersed in the “social stream,” you’ll find it has more to do with contributing and, as a result, being recognized as knowledgeable and credible. Credibility is synonymous with “trust” in the B2B world, and for all that has changed, one thing hasn’t: lack of trust will kill more deals than lack of money, urgency, and need combined. And high levels of credibility and visibility will increase your lead flow, brand awareness, and win rates.

This proves what I’ve been saying for the last few years: Social selling only works if you’re actually social, not selling something. No pitching. No inviting people to connect with you on LinkedIn and immediately following up with a sales pitch. And no spamming people just because you belong to the same LinkedIn group. You might as well be dressed as a giant pizza slice, screaming your sales offering at random strangers leaving a conference for the lactose intolerant. That’s not selling. That’s obnoxious.

Here are four ways salespeople get social engagement all wrong:

  1. Cold Calling on Social Media
    Don’t invite people to connect on LinkedIn if you just want to sell them something.  Social media is a great tool for researching prospects and referral sources, and for positioning yourself as a thought leader. But it is not the place for a sales pitch. If you’re sending sales offerings to strangers on social media, you’re pretty much cold calling. The prospect doesn’t know you and doesn’t expect to hear from you. Whether you’re dialing for dollars, sending emails, or reaching out on social media to people you don’t know, your outreach attempts are ice cold. And you’ll get the cold shoulder in return.
  2. Asking for Referrals on Social Media
    Never, ever ask for a referral introduction on LinkedIn. You’re jeopardizing your relationship by assuming the other person even wants to refer you. Most people only refer others they know well and trust implicitly to take care of their connections as they would. And if you don’t know someone well enough to pick up the phone and have a real conversation, you don’t know that person well enough to ask for a referral.

Plus, until you actually talk to potential referral sources, you don’t know how they’re connected to the prospects you want to meet, or if they know those people well enough to make referral introductions.

  1. Forgetting to Nurture Your Network
    It’s easy to get caught up in developing new relationships and forget about existing ones, at least until we need something from them. Big mistake! We all know people who only reach out when they want something—who drop off the face of the earth until they need a referral or want an introduction to someone in your network.

You don’t want to be one of those people. Once you’ve done the groundwork to earn someone’s trust and friendship, don’t waste that effort by neglecting to stay in touch. Reach out to all the people in your professional network on at least a semi-regular basis. Find out what’s going on with them. Ask how you can help. Share your insights and offer introductions to others with whom they could have mutually-beneficial relationships. And while you’re at it, ask for referrals.

  1. Being Too “Social” to Socialize
    Remember the days when people accepted every LinkedIn invitation? We felt special and included. It was like we were back in high school, vying for acceptance and popularity, and any invite was a good invite. We were finally going to the big party!

Well, sales is not a party. Selling is about building relationships, not having the most LinkedIn connections. For social selling to work, it’s not enough just to grow your networks. You must also nurture them. That means putting in the time and effort online. It also means eventually taking those sales conversations offline and making in-person connections that count.

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