A Complete Guide to Putting the “Social” Back in Social Selling

Social selling has finally (and dangerously) reached buzzword status. Dangerously, because there are misperceptions about what it means, how to do it, and just as importantly, how not to do it. Misperceptions, because salespeople have forgotten the social part of social selling.

Instead, they pitch, spam, annoy their contacts, and think that’s actually helping them sell. It’s not, because that’s not what social media is for.

What Is Social Selling? 

Social Selling, Social Media Selling

Social selling is a misleading term. Done right, it doesn’t actually involve selling, which is good, because no one wants to be sold to on social media.

Social media is a place to begin conversations, which leads to building relationships, which can yield real-world sales. It is a place for networking, research, and engaging audiences, not for pitching prospects. Ultimately, social media selling is not about the number of contacts you accumulate; it’s about the real connections that you make.

Gartner research backs this up, suggesting that social engagement is the more appropriate term. Derry Finkeldey, research director at Gartner, puts it this way: 

“Rather than focus social selling efforts on ‘contacting more’ or ‘contacting faster,’ a more effective method is to think of social selling first as a path to improved preparation and engagement. Once that has been achieved, subsequent, more targeted sales interactions can also be made using social connections.”

Phil Gerbyshak, a social sales trainer and keynote speaker, has a similar take. He advises:

“Make friends first, do business last. One of the biggest mistakes I see social sellers do is rush to move the sale ahead. They connect, and then they pitch their product or service. I don’t like it—and your prospects don’t like it. Instead, look for what’s in common, and have a conversation about that. Be a person and make a real connection. Then earn the right for a future conversation by adding value to them.”

How can social sellers add value? By exchanging ideas, providing insights, and sharing your subject matter expertise. In doing so, you become a trusted resource—exactly the kind of salesperson people want to work with, and want to refer.

Why Is Social Selling Important?

If social media selling isn’t actually about selling, isn’t it a waste of time for busy sales professionals who have better things to do than post and tweet? Not at all.

While sales pros shouldn’t be spending all their time online, there’s value in this particular kind of relationship building. Just consider the following benefits of social selling:

  • Social sales leaders attract 45 percent more opportunities than their peers, outsell them 78 percent of the time, and are 51 percent more likely to make quota. (Source: LinkedIn)
  • 84 percent of C-Level executives say that social media influences their purchasing decisions. (Source: Bambu)
  • 92 percent of B2B buyers use social media to engage with industry thought leaders. (Source: Bambu)

Those are compelling numbers, for sure. It’s no wonder that salespeople spend so much time on social media.

But there are a couple major caveats: Too much time online means not enough face time with clients, prospects, and referral sources. And too much selling on social media means no one will want to be your colleague … or your client.

5 Social Selling Don’ts

Done right, social media selling can help you grow your referral network, deepen relationships with clients and prospects, conduct sales research, and position yourself as a go-to subject matter expert. But all that falls apart if you are:

  1. Not Being SocialRequesting to connect with someone without adding a personal message isn’t being social; it’s just clicking buttons. Selling is about building relationships, not having the most LinkedIn connections. That means 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.
  2. Pitching StrangersWhen you invite people to connect on LinkedIn and then immediately hit them with a sales pitch, you’re breaking all the rules of social selling. The prospect doesn’t know you and doesn’t expect to hear from you. That’s the very definition of cold calling. In fact, the social media version might be even more annoying because you’re wasting buyers’ personal time and basically spamming their personal accounts.
  3. Asking for Referrals on LinkedInSocial media is a great place to find out how you’re connected to your prospects and to identify potential referral sources. But when you ask for referrals on LinkedIn or any other digital format, you don’t get the opportunity to explain the business reason for the introduction or to get the inside track on the person you want to meet. You’re jeopardizing your relationship by assuming the other person even wants to refer you. Most people only refer others they trust. So, if you don’t know someone well enough to have a phone conversation, you don’t know that person well enough to ask for a referral.
  4. Confusing Social Media Connections for RelationshipsJust because two people are connected on social media doesn’t mean they have a real relationship, or even that they know each other. Name dropping mutual connections isn’t the same thing as getting a referral. A name means nothing without an introduction. The way to get to know your prospect is to receive an introduction from someone that person knows well and trusts. That trust is transferred to you, and that’s why your prospect will agree to meet. The essence of social selling is building relationships online by engaging people in conversations, commenting on their posts, sharing content, and following them. You will gradually earn their trust, which is priceless.
  5. Only Being Social OnlineFar too many people use social media and other sales technology as an excuse to hide behind screens and forgo building relationships. That’s a doomed strategy in sales, which is dependent on relationships. Take the time to build your personal connections; pick up the phone and talk to your clients. Take your referral sources out to lunch or coffee. Just get out from behind your computer and nurture your relationships—even the ones you built virtually.

5 Social Selling Dos

Why is social selling important, and how do successful social sellers spend their time online? 

  1. Researching Sales LeadsSocial media sites can help you prepare for meetings with potential clients by giving you insights into their backgrounds and their networks. Instead of rambling about the weather, you’ll have something to talk about during your first meeting. And instead of giving them your canned sales pitch, you can tailor the conversation to address their specific businesses and needs.

    According to LinkedIn’s State of Sales Report, 77 percent of buyers won’t engage with salespeople who haven’t done the necessary homework to gain insights or knowledge about their business, and 64 percent of B2B decision-makers wouldn’t engage with a salesperson if the communication was not personalized.

  2. Finding Referral SourcesIf you have been trying to get a meeting with a particular company or individual, social media can help you quickly find out if you have mutual connections with decision-makers at that company. Those referral sources can provide even more insights into your prospect and provide a personal introduction, which is a far more effective way to get meetings than cold calling.
  3. Demonstrating Thought LeadershipSocial media enables sales pros to build a personal brand and gain exposure as subject matter experts. That’s what business buyers want from salespeople. In fact, as more companies move to self-service digital models, expertise will soon be the only thing that buyers need from salespeople.

    Three years ago, in a report titled “Death Of A (B2B) Salesman,” Forrester predicted that 1 million B2B sales reps would lose their jobs between 2012 and 2020. According to that report, the only sales position that will continue to thrive is that of the skilled, consultative salesperson (i.e., subject matter experts). A follow-up study last year confirmed this prediction still holds up.

    Want to impress your clients and save your job from the robots? Social media lead generation can help. Share your insights with your network. Provide information or links that would interest them. Share interesting and relevant content from others. Share content from your marketing department, and work closely with them to ensure they’re creating content your buyers will actually want to read.

  4. Staying in TouchSalespeople often get so caught up in developing new relationships with new prospects and clients that they neglect their existing connections, at least until they need something from those folks. Big mistake!

    We all know people drop off the face of the earth until they need a favor or a referral. You don’t want to be like that. Once you’ve done the groundwork to earn someone’s trust and friendship, don’t waste that effort by neglecting to stay in touch. Social selling requires you to 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.

  5. Building RelationshipsTo 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. Social media is a place to begin conversations and to begin relationships. Then it’s time to pick up the damn phone.

When to Get off the Computer and Pick Up the Damn Phone

My best advice for social media lead generation: Remember to bring your best self to your online interactions—not the hard sell—and to eventually take 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.

There are many benefits of social selling, but this strategy won’t always fill your pipeline with qualified leads, get you past the gatekeeper, or help you secure meetings at the level that counts. Social selling is an amazing prospecting tool, but the best tool in your toolbox is still you. Get out of the digital world, have conversations that count, and ask for referral introductions from people your prospects know and trust. If you don’t, someone else will.

Want to learn more about referral selling? Check out my acclaimed referral sales system.