Social networking sites reach nearly every person nowadays. Here’s a wake-up call — almost every person on the planet who has an online presence frequents at least one social site. This is, of course, a game-changer for sales, not just because of the reach of social channels, but because people who use social sites are deep into the culture of sharing — sharing their information, insights, wishes, their favorite music, their opinions and more — in real time and in public. Your prospects are revealing more about themselves on their social accounts than you could learn through any old-school research.
Add to this the bonus of being able to talk to prospects one-on-one, and you can see that it’s a solid gold opportunity to truly know your buyer and give them timely information, entering the conversation (in a non-interruptive way) at the very moment they research buying decisions.
By stepping into the pull of social, you are much likelier to connect. By the time a prospect makes a buying decision today, they have conducted a lot of the initial information gathering before salespeople are even involved. On social sites you can establish credibility, deepen the relationship and position your company to be the right choice for them when the stars align and they are ready to buy. Do it right, and your prospects become customers, your customers become advocates and your advocates become referral engines for new business.
The three pillars of social selling
As a salesperson, prepare yourself for social selling in three main ways:
1. Establish your personal brand. Your personal brand is the way you build credibility, inspire trust, demonstrate expertise and show your experience. It’s your social footprint, the content you recommend or publish, your personality, the content you choose to share. Your personal brand is built on pillars of truth, authenticity and honesty.
2. Make your connections into super-connections. Your personal brand is built on the scaffolding of who you associate with and how important they are to you. Trust and confidence is built on the knowledge that you are committed to consistent participation in the discussion about what you sell, that what you believe in is clear, that you are truthful and helpful and that your character is revealed by how you conduct yourself.
3. Develop good habits from the ground up, as you listen and gather information about your prospects:
- Monitor — Watch who is talking and what they are saying so you can spot trends and know when to chime in at just the right time. Follow hashtags; check into LinkedIn groups to observe. See what’s going on in content and commentary on your favorite blogs. Note trends. Be in the loop. Do it every day.
- Write — Be a responsive correspondent. Help people without a sales goal in mind. Focus on their success, not yours. Be generous and share others’ content. Use proper etiquette when retweeting. Contribute to LinkedIn groups and forums. You don’t have to write long articles, blog posts or white papers — you just have to participate in the discussion. (If you don’t like to write, consider a newsletter where you can curate others’ voices.)
- Communicate efficiently and productively — Pay attention to etiquette, complete your profiles, answer your mail and respond to comments.
The arc of today’s business relationship
The phrase “helping unselfishly” is today’s synonym for “selling.” The old adage “if you make a friend, you make a sale” has never been truer. The truth is that we’re all wired to help each other.
Take the long view — your relationships are an arc, now blending personal and business interactions. A sale is just one event that may occur along that path. But if you are unselfish and open, you can feel good about the possibility of a mutually beneficial sale if one happens. Be a trusted advisor — always be genuine and give the best advice.
Take advantage of technology
Take shortcuts where you can, automating repetitive or mundane tasks. Create “templates” for tasks that come up again and again. This is part of your personal brand — elegant solutions that free you up for higher-value tasks.
As Koka Sexton of Social Selling U says: “Applications … have disrupted the sales role by giving sales people the ability to cut down research time, gather actionable insights and leverage their connections in new ways. Besides getting general information sales people can now look at multiple social insights of their customers/prospects and engage with them with more relevance than ever before.”
Sales people have reason to innovate and collaborate in order to anticipate prospects’ needs and delight them as customers. Combine solid business processes with the right social tools, and you create a powerful competitive advantage.
Jon Ferrara is a serial entrepreneur and a pioneer in the customer relationship management (CRM) industry. He co-founded Goldmine, one of the first contact management apps. His newest company, Nimble, is a social CRM service for small businesses. Find him on Twitter @jon_ferrara.