Social Selling mini series: What is social selling really?

socialsellingSocial Selling … hhhmmm, it seems that you can hardly open a business magazine at the moment without someone mentioning this current buzzword of the sales fraternity. The trouble is there seems to be a bit of a difference of opinion as to what it’s all about … or perhaps put a different way, everyone seems to have their own opinion of what Social Selling really is and what it can offer.

At one end of the scale, it is the “holy grail” of business development which means you never have to talk to a prospect or customer again … the sales just fall into your lap! At the other end, it’s “pie in the sky rubbish” which will never deliver any real opportunities let alone concrete sales. The truth, as you might imagine, falls somewhere between these two extremes … exactly where will depend on your own outlook on the sales process and your perception of where the application of LinkedIn can add most value as a sales and business development tool.

And don’t think it doesn’t apply to you because you don’t sell … yes, YOU, you know who you are, shaking your head there. Let’s face it, who amongst us doesn’t have at least one foot (or one toe maybe, if you prefer) in the sales arena?

We all do really, much as we might hate to admit it. As Daniel Pink states in his hugely successful book of 2012, “To Sell is Human”, when you pare everything else away, we are all salespeople … essentially. We are forever giving our opinion on things, telling people information that we have found out and consider important, cajoling our kids to do things, implicitly encouraging friends to come round to our way of thinking. “Oh, I think the Italian restaurant would be much better on a Tuesday, don’t you?“.

For want of a better phrase, selling our point of view.

So with Social Selling, I don’t need to talk to people?

Firstly, let’s be clear about one thing – Social selling with LinkedIn is not about to replace the fundamentals of the sales process you are already using. You still need to research and listen … you need to talk to people … you need to demonstrate value … you need to answer questions & demonstrate benefits … you need to respond to their concerns & highlight the benefits to them … you still ultimately need to sell.

However, how that selling process works has changed … and the reason for this is that the buying process has changed. We have to respond and adapt to that.

According to the IDC, 75% of buyers use Social Media to research vendors and the CEB reports that 57% of the buying journey is done before a sales rep even gets involved. Others put that figure considerably higher which means we need to adapt our processes to be visible earlier in the process, way before we get to actually be in front of the prospect … almost extend the top of the sales funnel into a virtual funnel, if you still use that analogy.

We need to make sure, as people go through their own individual research process, that we are as visible as possible and that we use every opportunity to enhance our credibility and demonstrate our expertise (or product and service) by what they see and read about it. Equally important is not just what they read but where they read it – a case study found on a website has impact, but a case study passed on by a trusted colleague or business associate has more … of course, a case study featuring a trusted colleague or business associate answering their needs or demonstrating benefits is more powerful still.

How can LinkedIn help?

LinkedIn at the moment has both the breadth and depth of contacts and information that doesn’t exist elsewhere at the moment which is why it remains a key tool in the Social Selling process. It certainly shouldn’t be the only tool that we use in this – far from it. However, it is one of the most versatile and far reaching because of the areas that we can tap into using it.

Personally, I view the first part of the sales process along the lines of the image – of course it isn’t a linear process but hopefully the component parts resonate with what you also see in your own marketplaces:

Social Selling Flow

For me the tool that I will turn to in most of these key early phases is LinkedIn. Groups and updates provide an excellent opportunity to research and track conversation and social sales triggers – though it has to be said that a return of the insanely handy (yet inexplicably abandoned) LinkedIn Signal would make this easier. The Personal Profile is the perfect opportunity to present yourself and your company’s sales proposition as clearly as possible – making a positive first impression is so key to re-inforcing the buyers’ perception of your credentials. The advanced search gives us enormous focus to both identify and then subsequently research the stakeholders whom we wish to talk to within the company. Then their Personal Profiles deliver both information and common connections which will help us in approaching and engaging with them in the most effective, and hopefully successful, way.

Other tools can and should be part of the mix – Twitter in particular is great for the listening and engagement pieces, but such is the variety of LinkedIn’s own toolset that it can deliver strongly in all of the above. We will be looking in more depth at these elements later in this mini series.

What’s coming up?

As I indicated at the start, this is the first of 5 part mini series that will be addressing some of the key area you need to be looking at when it comes to Social Selling.

The full series is:

1. What is Social Selling?
2. Getting your Foundations in place
3. Finding & Connecting with prospects
4. Using LinkedIn to listen, to share and to engage
5. Creating a Social Selling plan

I hope you will stick with me through it and I look forward to reading your thoughts and comments.

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