Social selling is one of the most misunderstood terms being thrown around modern sales and growth circles. Many sales managers, as well as traditional marketing leaders, assume that “social selling” amounts to “asking salespeople to share marketing blogs.”
Others have discovered LinkedIn automation tools (Danger, Will Robinson!) and assume that this social selling means “copying and pasting our current sales cadence to a LinkedIn spam-blaster tool”.
Neither of these is correct. As someone who produces millions in actual closed/won revenue from social selling, let me open the book and show you how to actually succeed with social selling.
So, What Is Social Selling?
Social selling is building trust and credibility with your prospects by participating alongside them in social media communities.
It can involve all of these things:
- Creating content that helps your prospects solve problems
- Showcasing your credibility and authority publicly via social media
- Increasing the size of your audience on social media
- Using your social media profile as an inbound lead generation magnet
- Participating in social conversations that lead to sales opportunities
- Developing and nurturing a niche community of your own on social media
Social selling is NOT these things:
- Using automation tools to try to land a meeting with people without effort
- As a salesperson: only sharing your company’s blog posts on your profile, without your own opinion or context for your prospects
- As a marketer: asking your salespeople to just share your company’s blog posts on their profile without context, or buying a tool to automate this activity
- Trying to increase your LinkedIn Social Selling Index score in a vacuum, without paying attention to other factors
- Spamming – in other words, promoting your product without also educating people and building relationships
Remember, buyers buy from people they like and trust, who provide value!
You can use social selling to entertain, educate, inspire, and delight your prospects:
By entertaining and inspiring people, they start to like us.
By showing up consistently and regularly, they trust us.
By educating people on how to solve problems and think differently about the challenges they’re facing, they see us as credible authorities.
We also invited experts Amy Volas and Ollie Whitfield to explain what Social Selling is, in their own words:
“Regardless of the method, it’s about people… always has been and always will be. So, to do this well, you have to show up to meet people where they are, that you genuinely care, and that you can come prepared to have a thoughtful conversation to confirm or deny what might make sense. Social platforms are a wonderful way to reinforce this (or not).”
– Amy Volas, Founder of Avenue Talent Partners
By the way, Amy has closed an eye-popping over $100M in new business over her career as a salesperson and business leader. It’s worth hanging onto her every word!
“Social selling is what selling should be, in an ideal world. Taking your time, building a bridge into your target accounts without having to interrupt their day with a call or hit their Inbox.”
– Ollie Whitfield, Growth Marketing at VanillaSoft
Is Social Selling Important or Relevant for B2B Sales?
One of the most common reactions I hear from leaders who are skeptical about social selling, is this:
“Well I know [TOP_REP_NAME] and they never touch LinkedIn!”
That’s perfectly fine! Many sellers have had amazing careers without ever using social media at all. They’ve done the work to build relationships with their customers over the years, and they don’t need to stray outside of that.
But, just because some people have had success without social selling, does that mean nobody should do it?
Of course not.
Social selling is a strategy that’s available to you – it’s not a requirement. You don’t condemn yourself to failure by not embracing LinkedIn. At the same time, if you avoid social selling, you are leaving money on the table.
Think about companies like Chili Piper, Gong, and Gravy: they’re growing at an eye-watering clip, and they’re all extremely active on LinkedIn.This includes not just their CEOs, but also their sales teams, marketing teams, and their company accounts as well as their personal accounts.
Do you NEED to use LinkedIn? No.
Will it give you an advantage, and a higher growth rate? Yes, it might.
So, if you can develop your brand on social media, get more leads, and build more trust with more prospects all at once, social selling deserves consideration.
Social Selling Best Practices
Set expectations with your team
Do this before you start doing anything. Your team is likely to not have an in-depth understanding of what social selling is. Your first task is to get your team on board with what you’re doing, so that they know what to expect.
Here are the most common expectations you’ll need to set for a skeptical Sales or Marketing leader, about social selling:
- Social selling is not the same thing as paid social media advertising – think of social selling as “organic (vs paid) social”
- The goal of social selling is not to get feel-good attention, “go viral”, or to act like a mini-celebrity: it’s to generate pipeline for yourself and your company
- You won’t just be blatantly promoting the product on social media
Take a different approach from cold calling
The etiquette is different here than when you’re doing cold outreach. On a cold call, you’re taking up 100% of someone’s attention while they’re on the phone with you, so you need to get to your point and set up a next step almost immediately.
When posting on LinkedIn, that’s not the case at all.
Remember that you have a structure behind what you’re doing. You’re driving awareness and building trust to lead to sales. Don’t forget that you are still, in fact, actually selling.
Trust and credibility are built over time: this is human nature, and there’s no way around it.
So, you will almost certainly not ask a prospect for a meeting on the first interaction. You probably won’t even mention your product at all.
Stay close to your customer base
If you’re in sales, and your buyers are all HR VPs/Directors, guess how it looks when all you do is comment on memes and engage with sales-related content? You look completely irrelevant to them.
If your buyers are in HR, 90% of your content should be HR-related. Talent, development, recruiting, hiring, culture, and so forth.
Give yourself less than 10% of your content space to engage with and create content that is outside of your buyer persona.
Keep the LinkedIn algorithm in mind
When creating content on LinkedIn, keep in the back of your mind what the LinkedIn algorithm ‘wants’. The further you get from that, the more you’ll be penalized. For example: LinkedIn wants users to stay on LinkedIn, so guess how they treat it when you link your prospects off of the platform, such as when you post a link to a blog without adding any other context? You get a penalty, and your post will be shown to -65% fewer people than it otherwise would – unless it’s something worth celebrating, like an acquisition or fundraising or a huge partnership.
LinkedIn wants you to add value to your audience, so guess how a lazy, short post with 12 custom-made hashtags (that you thought of on-the-fly, without doing any research) is going to do? Horribly. You’ll get no engagement. Use a few hashtags in your posts, but choose ones that have enough followers behind them that LinkedIn can make sense of how to categorize your post.
Remember the field you’re playing in, and respect it. Once you’ve mastered these rules, you can start to break and bend them a bit, but don’t try it before you have the fundamentals down.
How To Create Your Own Social Selling Strategy
1. Decide on the right communities & platforms
B2B companies will almost always want to participate on LinkedIn, at minimum, as well as at least 1-2 other relevant Slack groups. Finally, consider Twitter if you sell to a market like Engineering, or Venture Capital.
LinkedIn should be considered the ultimate default platform of record to center your B2B social selling strategy around: it’s the fastest-growing, and the most relevant by far.
The beauty of LinkedIn is that you can inherently see who each person is, their title, organization, seniority, and work history. Start here, and work your way out.
But don’t neglect other communities, too: find Slack groups or other forums where your buyers hang out and talk shop.
For example If you sell to Sales Operations, you should participate in Modern Sales Pros; if you want to work with technologists, engage with Hiten Shah on Twitter.
The guiding principle here is to look for people, places, and watering holes that your buyers come to looking for actual real advice, where you can participate, too.
2. Optimize your profile
Your profile – starting, of course, with LinkedIn – is akin to your company’s website. It’s your main piece of real estate, so make sure that you look like the expert that you are.
Start with a headline that is intriguing, descriptive, or just confirms to your prospects that you’re relevant to their work:
Next, make sure your “About” section captures people’s attention in the first few lines.
Also, feature your best content that has words your prospects use, prominently displayed:
If you don’t have any content to feature yet, then keep reading!
3. Create a content strategy
If you’re in sales and you’ve never created a content strategy before, don’t be intimidated or turned off: you’ve talked to your customers for ages, so you already have a good idea of what kinds of misconceptions and objections you deal with.
That’s your content strategy, in a nutshell: write down the 5 things you wish your prospects knew, that they’re most likely to get confused about.
Then write down the 5 most common objections you get.
This is the beginning of your content strategy.
Or, if you’re a brand marketer well-versed in creating effective messaging, then this is your time to shine: document your strategic narrative in a way that makes it easy for you to come up with LinkedIn and community forum post ideas. (Need help with LinkedIn marketing? We’ve got you covered.)
4. Connect with people within your target market
Even if you already have plenty of LinkedIn connections and off-LinkedIn friends in your industry, it always pays to write a thoughtful note in a Connection Request, sent to a new buyer in your target market who is actively participating in industry conversations. Do this multiple times a day, every day, and you will steadily build up a huge amount of goodwill over time. You’ll have created the spark to form a future relationship, with hundreds of people.
Using LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a great way to identify who the right people are, to connect with. Try using a Lead Search with the “Posted In Past 30 Days” filter applied, to find these people. Click here for an example to look for the technology-industry VPs of Marketing and CMOs at small and midmarket companies who have posted lately.
Next, the best go-to tactic is to leave 3-5 comments, each day, on content you enjoy that your buyers are interested in.
Open up your feed at the linkedin.com homepage when signed in, and look for content that your buyers are engaging with, such as this one:
How do you know that the post is something your buyers enjoy and are engaging with? There are a few ways to know:
- You’re using a tool like our Aware product, to tell you when the most influential posts are published 😉
- You’ve seen that the author of the post has had good engagement with people in your industry, previously
- You look through the people who engaged with this post, and see that it includes people you’d love to work with
All you need to do now is leave a comment of your own, on the post. Try to go beyond “Great post!!”, or “Awesome.” Instead, tell a story about a time you experienced something similar, share your opinion on the topic, tag a friend who would also want to read the post – you name it.
If you’re not sure what to do: share your natural, professional, positive, authentic response.
5. Follow others to learn from & engage with
Over time, if you start to declutter your feed by unfollowing people who post irrelevant or not useful content, and you follow people who post interesting and highly-engaging content in your industry, you will have a much easier time of knowing “what to do” every day, on social media.
The same goes for groups and communities that you’re a part of: if a community goes downhill over time and the real decision-makers abandon it, consider spending less time there.
Contact me on LinkedIn here, if you would like a list of influencers that we suggest following, for your industry. I’m happy to send you a list to get you started.
6. Use social listening tools for research
The problem with the majority of ‘social listening’ tools out there is that they’re made for company social media managers to follow certain hashtags being used, and company names mentioned, on social media.
The problem with this is that traditional social listening is NOT the same thing as social selling. Social selling involves hand-to-hand communication with your buyers.
So, if you want to do true social listening, you’ll need to pay attention to the particular people that matter:
- Key customers of yours with a voice on LinkedIn
- Competitors that are active on social media
- Industry influencers that affect the opinions of your buyers
- Prospects that are building up a brand for themselves
Fortunately, RevenueZen has created a unique platform that helps social sellers accomplish exactly that: we alert you on a dashboard, and also via email, Slack, and directly within your Salesforce CRM, when a key interaction happens between a prospect and another stakeholder that you care about in your industry.
It takes the guesswork out of social selling and knowing where to focus your energy for the most impact.
Now, let’s talk about how to prove the value of social selling internally at your organization, because this is often one of the hardest things to do – not every team or executive “gets it”.
7. Once you earn trust don’t overpromote
People will come to you when they are interested or ready to buy, but first they must like, know and trust you.
So once you’ve earned their trust, keep your content and conversations light. Then stay patient.
How To Measure Social Selling Success
You’ll know you’re succeeding at social selling if you notice the following happening:
- Prospects, customers, and partners are consuming and engaging with your content on LinkedIn
- Prospects contact you and mention that they found you on LinkedIn, and/or have been following you or your team on LinkedIn
- Prospects already know key concepts and share core beliefs of yours, as a result of having consumed your LinkedIn content
- Prospects know your name, face, and company name because of interactions they’ve had with you on LinkedIn
- You have an easier time connecting with partners, prospects, investors, and other stakeholders because your profile and its content are compelling and convincing, and because they’ve seen your content multiple times before
One of the most common questions I get is also one of the most frustrating: How do you track KPIs for your social selling efforts?
Unfortunately, platforms like LinkedIn do not make it easy to track this.
Let’s start with sales results.
If you use RevenueZen’s Aware platform, you’ll have a much easier time with tracking leads sourced from social selling in your CRM.
At the end of the day, marketing and sales must collaborate to ensure that the Lead Source field in their CRM accurately reflects social selling (or “Organic LinkedIn”, or whatever you want to call it) for closed/won deals.
Ideally, you’ll also keep track of:
- Mentions of your LinkedIn content during the sales process, especially when that’s associated with an easier and faster sales cycle
- Improvements in your company’s overall growth rate
- Prospects and customers beginning to use terms and ideas from the content you’ve posted, when they describe the problems they’re experiencing
- The number of followers and engagements your posts, and your team’s posts, get on average. You can use products like ShieldApp to track detailed statistics on the performance of your and your team’s content.
- How many sales meetings each person is sourcing from social selling, and the increased Win Rate % that your Account Executives see with leads sourced from social media
This is just the start. Here’s the big picture with social selling: help other people in public, and be seen doing it. Teach as many people as you can. Put in the work to learn valuable knowledge, and then pass that knowledge on.
At the end of the day, you’re NOT doing social selling for attention. You’re doing it for stronger customer relationships, the growth of your brand and your revenue, and your business results.
Need helping bolstering your social selling plan, or just feeling like chatting about the power of inbound marketing? Contact us today. We promise: we’ll always listen.