A Social Media Connection is Not a Sales LeadAre your sales reps clueless about how social selling really works?

Sales reps abuse social media to the extent that I typically delete more LinkedIn invitations than I accept. They invite person after person to connect using the same old standard invitation, and then immediately blast sales pitches to anyone who accepts.

This bad behavior is not entirely the reps’ fault. Sales leaders understand that relationships drive sales, yet they measure their teams on the number of connections accumulated, calls made, and emails sent.

The problem: Just because someone agrees to connect on social media does not make that person a sales lead. Qualified prospects are actually interested in your product or solution. They want and expect to hear from your salespeople. Otherwise, sales reps are simply using social media to cold call, which is both annoying and ineffective.

Social Selling Isn’t About Selling

That’s why I resonated with Christy Pettey’s Gartner article, “Why Social Selling Should Focus on Engagement, Not the Hard Sell,” which explains why social selling is not selling at all.

She explains: 

“Social anything” is about developing a mutual relationship and requires give and take. When considering whether to establish a relationship, salespeople should ask themselves if they can offer this contact something of value over time, rather than a one-off transaction … Content curation is a great way to start or join conversations. Identifying relevant content, then sharing it when appropriate, provides real value for participants.

As engagement deepens, the opportunity to move toward more of a true selling focus may arise. When it does, it is driven by the engagement and understanding that has developed between the customer and the social seller.

Pettey’s perspective—and Gartner has research to back it up—echoes what I’ve been saying for years: Social media is the place to begin a conversation, to begin a relationship. It’s not a place to sell.

She also quotes Derry Finkeldey, research director at Gartner, who explains how social selling and referrals link. As Finkeldey puts it:

It is natural to ask the customer if there are others they know that would be interested in the discussion. Those connections present new opportunities to prepare, engage and then sell—if appropriate. Best of all, these introductions start from a referral, which usually increases the willingness to connect since a context for engagement has already been established.

(Read the rest of the article.)

Simply put: To turn a stranger into a sales lead, sales reps must first prove their value and build authentic relationships. Then, and only then, do they have any chance of converting connections into prospects.

When It’s Time to Sell, Pick Up the Damn Phone

My advice for social sellers: Remember to bring your best self to your online interactions—and then take your relationships offline and have real, live conversations. Actually talking to people strengthens connections in a way that just doesn’t happen when we’re staring at screens.

Of course, the best way to get a qualified sales lead is to get a referral introduction from someone that person trusts. When reps have that kind of “in,” they don’t have to mess with social media at all.

Want to learn more about how social selling and referrals link? Download my free ebook, “Facebook and Face Time Matter: The Role of Technology is Sales.”

Join the Conversation: How do you ensure that your sales team focuses on social engagement, rather than just pestering LinkedIn connections with pitches?

Connect with No More Cold Calling

Follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.