I have written and presented on the topic of social selling, but my voice is just one among many and it seems that often these voices are not in harmony. I find that many people often confuse social selling with social media, thinking it is a relatively new phenomenon. But the truth is social selling is as old as the concept of sales itself. The fundamentals of effective selling remain the same. Empathy, relationship building, active listening, providing insight and reinforcing value are essential. New collaboration platforms and virtual communities haven’t changed the rules of engagement, but they have changed the tools of engagement. Social media channels are merely another way for salespeople to exhibit these behaviors. B2B sales coach, speaker and author S. Anthony Iannarino, thoughtfully reminds us, “It’s never good to overpromise and under deliver. But that is what social selling has done. It has been offered as the panacea to all the problems that ail sales organizations, and in doing so, the case has been greatly overstated.” If selling hasn’t changed, what selling skills should we emphasize that will be enhanced by the new social media?
Traits of a social salesperson
The effective salesperson takes advantage of the most effective and relevant communications tools to enhance his or her capabilities and success engaging audiences, whether it’s blogs, on-line communities, webcasts, LinkedIn, Twitter or the traditional in-person approach. The effective salesperson has a high degree of curiosity and desire to discover more about his or her customers to solve their problems. We’ve found that successful salespeople possess the following characteristics:
- An attitude focused on superior customer value creation, differentiation and experience,
- A disciplined and diligently executed customer engagement plan,
- A highly motivated, performance-focused commitment to “getting it done” and “doing it right.”
With these characteristics, the following “tricks” enabled by social tools can enhance the salesperson’s effectiveness.
Ongoing relationship nurturing through the right channels
Customers are continuously changing the way that we need to engage with them. Studies show that buyers have gone through almost 60 percent of their buying cycle before an initial contact with a salesperson. The salesperson can no longer be a company brochure; buyers may have already learned what they want to know about the company by the time a salesperson is engaged. The effective salesperson will identify and use the right channels not only to engage customers and prospects but also to learn about and listen to the issues that are important to them. This creates an opportunity for salespeople to offer insights in a relevant manner through channels their customers are using every day. Effective salespeople also recognize that they don’t always have to be content creators. By curating content, they can also provide value and insight to their audience. Salespeople must understand the importance of providing insights that are available to audiences when and where they want to consume them, in a sustained manner. Social sellers understand the importance of continuously building trust and staying top-of-mind with customers and prospects. By building trust and providing insight, sellers will ensure that their company and offerings are part of the consideration set when the buyer is ready to evaluate solutions and make a purchase.
Dialogs, not monologs
The word “social” implies collaboration. Imagine how unpopular someone would be at a party if he or she talked only about himself or herself without concern for engaging others in the conversation. The same principle is true for successful sellers and their use of social channels. Using platforms to broadcast is a sure way to alienate an audience. In the end, this style of communication creates more noise and is certain to damage one’s credibility as a thought leader or, even worse, ensure excommunication from online communities. Done strategically and thoughtfully, social channels provide a forum for dialogue that can cut through the noise and offer impactful insights that will resonate with audiences.
Social selling didn’t arrive with the advent of social media. Successful sellers have always recognized the importance of applying these concepts to developing relationships with customers. Similarly, the rules of social etiquette carry through to the use of any form of communication – social media included. In the end, it’s not the salesperson with more than 1,000 contacts on LinkedIn or a hashtag guru on Twitter who will close the most deals and cultivate lasting relationships. The rewards will go to the person who knows how to listen, collaborate, engage and deliver meaningful solutions. This is the way it has always been.