With nearly half the world’s population now active on social media, social selling is more relevant than ever. Sales leaders who'd rather be ahead of the curve than chasing it would be smart to start systematizing the practice in their sales forces.

To support forays into social selling, we've put together this massive guide, covering everything from social selling's definition to its measurement. Our goal was to have a one-stop shop for someone looking to get started with social sales -- whether as an initiative for your sales team or for yourself.

And because it's more the exception than the rule, social selling can become a differentiator for sales organizations that adopt it early. Be where your colleagues aren't, and you'll get the deals they won't.

Download 37 Tips for Social Selling on LinkedIn

What Is Social Selling?

Social selling is the process of researching, connecting, and interacting with prospects and customers on social media networks -- notably Twitter and LinkedIn, but others certainly fit the bill. Through commenting on, liking, and sharing prospects’ and customers’ posts, salespeople create relationships with buyers and boost their credibility by taking an interest in what they’re interested in.

Instead of a hard closing tactic, social selling more closely resembles lead nurturing. Therefore, social selling isn’t for reps seeking quick wins or a silver bullet. Salespeople have to be willing to put in the time and effort to engage with their target buyers on an ongoing basis, and even then, there’s no guarantee that their efforts will pay off.

The Power of Social Selling

But data shows that those who play the long game reap the rewards. Research shows that top-performing sales reps, who close deals 51% more than their peers, consider social networking platforms "very important" to their success. Additionally, sales teams using social selling experience 18% greater pipeline volume and 21% increased pipeline velocity than those who don’t.

What does this look like in practice at a company? After adopting social selling practices and LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator, marketing software company Eloqua decreased their average sales cycle time by 20 days, and boosted the rate of leads converting to opportunities by 25%.

Social selling also makes it easier for sales reps to get referrals within their LinkedIn networks, which is significant considering 84% of buyers now begin their buying process with a referral.

Social Selling Tips

There are several steps reps can take to get started with social selling:

1. Optimize their social media profiles.

We’ll cover how to do this in the next section. But be sure to optimize your profiles before you do anything else. If you begin your social selling initiative in earnest with an outdated or incomplete profile, your effort will likely be wasted.

2. Join LinkedIn groups and other relevant forums.

Check out the profiles of your customers and prospects. What groups are they a member of, and which do they participate in? Find out, and then follow suit. It’s also a good idea to join groups on larger industry trends so you can stay informed of the challenges your buyers are dealing with.

If you have something valuable to contribute to a discussion, do it. But don’t use groups as an opportunity to hawk your products or services. Salesy comments are unsolicited, and will annoy group members just as a cold call or email would. Advance the conversation in a meaningful way, or just sit back and observe.

3. Setup social listening alerts.

Use Google alerts or a social listening tool (HubSpot customers can use Social Inbox) to set up notifications about when your prospects or customers experience a trigger event, or post a possible sales opening.

For example, if a prospect mentions a problem they’re having that you can address, an alert can enable you to quickly get involved in the conversation with a helpful piece of content or insight. Similarly, if a potential buyer’s company hires a new CEO or expands their business, you should comment on the trigger event as soon as possible to get on their radar.

4. Share content to build your credibility.

One of the best ways to build credibility and engagement on social media is to share compelling content. Don’t worry, we aren’t suggesting you have to devote your precious time to creating content, you simply need to share it.

Have you read any interesting articles related to your prospect’s industry? Share them. Seen a thought-provoking study that could be a good conversation-starter?

Share it and ask people to engage in the comments. Sharing engaging content with your social networks is a great way to provide value to others, which can help you build trust and credibility.

5. Pay attention to the comments section.

If you see posts in your feed that have high engagement, peruse the comments section to join the conversation. By reading the comments your prospects are leaving, you can better understand their point of view.

Reading the comments will also give you an idea of what kind of content your prospects enjoy and engage with, which can help you decide what kind of content to share.

For example, if someone leaves a comment on your recent product launch post asking, "Is this feature available for Light accounts?" you might respond "All trial accounts have access to this feature for 14 days, and Business and Pro accounts have unlimited access to the game-changing feature."

6. Share success stories.

Testimonials are a valuable form of social proof. Research suggests 92% of buyers trust recommendations from peers and 70% trust recommendations from strangers. Essentially, buyers trust the first-hand experience of other consumers more than they trust the brands directly.

Sharing success stories from your other customers helps build your credibility with potential buyers and allows prospects to relate to the story of others. If a prospect relates to a testimonial from one of your customers on their feed, they may be more likely to envision the same solution working to solve their problem as well.

7. Keep an eye on customer care.

More buyers are taking to social media and messaging platforms to interact with businesses. As you engage on social media platforms, keep an eye on what buyers and consumers are saying about your company and your offerings — especially in the event a customer is dissatisfied.

Not only can you give your customer care teams a heads up, but you will be more prepared to talk to prospects who may have seen disgruntled customer content.

For example, if you see a comment on social media where a customer is expressing dissatisfaction with your company’s product or service and note what the issue is.

If your company’s marketing or customer care teams haven’t yet responded, let them know about the comment so they can address it, and note the language they use for the resolution.

8. Be consistent.

Lurking on social media every day is probably not the best use of your time. However, for maximum engagement, you should aim to post and engage consistently.

HubSpot’s own Dan Tyre recommends sales reps post at least weekly on LinkedIn with individual follow-up for prospects who engage with your content. "The key is to have three or four interactions within 10-12 days, which shows professional persistence without overwhelming your prospect," he says.

9. Track engagement.

How often do you look at your social media engagement? Social media engagement includes likes, comments, and shares, and higher engagement is an indication that a piece of content truly resonated with your audience.

By paying attention to what content gets the most engagement with your audience, you can see what content or conversation topics are of interest to your prospects, which is a good indication that you should share more about that topic.

For example, if you post helpful content to your LinkedIn profile weekly and notice content about B2B sales tools gets more likes, comments, or shares than any other content, this is a good indication that topic especially resonates with your audience and is something you should discuss more.

10. Subscribe to blogs.

How will you know what to talk about with your prospects on social media? By reading. Check out what content your buyers are sharing, and subscribe to those channels through email or with an RSS reader. Then share the articles you think would be particularly interesting to your buyers on LinkedIn, or tweet them out.

11. Seek referrals.

Once you’ve identified specific stakeholders you’d like to be introduced to, stop by their LinkedIn profiles and see if you have any connections in common. Then request an introduction from your mutual friend. Warm lead unlocked.

12. Subscribe to LinkedIn Sales Navigator (optional).

LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a premium service priced at $79.99 per month, with a discount for annual subscriptions. The tool can help sales reps identify new leads based on location, industry, company size, and other attributes, and build a prospect list. You can view social selling trainer Gabe Villamizar providing a demo of the service here.

13. Blog (optional).

Sales reps don’t have to blog to use content effectively in social selling -- becoming an effective content curator is more than good enough. But reps who are inclined to start creating original content as a way to attract their prospects to them should.

Here are some tips for creating a post that will grab your prospects’ attention:

  • Choose a topic that they will care about
  • Write a catchy title
  • Don’t make your post a sales pitch
  • Include your perspective

Make sure to publicize your posts on Twitter and LinkedIn, including all relevant hashtags to ensure it can be easily found.

14. Know when to take your connections offline.

If you want to land the sale, eventually you’ll need to take the social media connections you make offline. After making a solid connection with a prospect on social media, offer to hop on a call to continue the conversation. This will allow you to learn more about the prospect’s current challenge or situation which can help you gain the clarity you need to land the sale.

According to HubSpotter Dan Tyre, if after a series of interactions with a prospect that fits his ideal customer profile or vertical market on social media are moving in a positive direction, he’ll seek out the contact’s email address to setup a call and continue the conversation off of social media.

Optimizing Social Profiles for Social Selling

In the world of social selling, salespeople’s social profiles should be more than digital resumes. They should actively help you cultivate a reputation with your buyers as a trusted advisor who can bring fresh insights to their business. For this reason, you should redo your social profiles to change the intended audience from recruiters to potential buyers.

Twitter

Since you don’t have much real estate to work with on Twitter, a makeover is relatively simple to pull off. Follow these steps:

  • Post a professional picture.
  • Write your positioning statement.
  • Link to your company’s Twitter account (Example: Sales Rep @company).
  • List your LinkedIn profile.
  • Include hashtags that your buyers follow.
  • Offer a mini insight.

For a good example of a social selling-optimized Twitter bio, check out Zoe Sands’.

LinkedIn

Rewriting your LinkedIn profile is more labor-intensive, but it’s an extremely valuable exercise. A good question to ask yourself while working on your profile is "would my target buyer care about this?" If the answer is no, it should probably be scrapped.

Here are seven steps to give your LinkedIn profile a social selling facelift:

  1. Have a current, hi-res picture. According to LinkedIn, profiles with pictures get a 40% InMail response rate.
  2. Make your headline a mini value proposition. Don’t just use your title. Consider answering two questions in your headline: Who do you help, and how do you help them?
  3. Write a 3X3 summary -- three paragraphs with three or fewer sentences each. Reiterate your value proposition in the first, and provide some social proof of how you help clients achieve results in the second. Include a concise call to action in the last that explains why and how a buyer should reach out to you.
  4. Post a few pieces of visual content that will be helpful to your buyer.
  5. Write the experience section with an emphasis on how you enabled customers to improve their businesses -- not how many times or by how much you exceeded quota.
  6. Seek recommendations from customers to increase your credibility.
  7. Join groups that your buyers are in.

Fora visual template of what a LinkedIn profile optimized for social selling looks like, click the image below:

Optimized LinkedIn Profile

How to Engage With Your Buyers on Social Networks

Social selling is all about engagement. But bear in mind that social networks should not be treated like a new platform on which to spam. Your interactions should be thoughtful, relevant, and personalized.

Social engagement comes in four main forms: sharing content, liking, commenting, and connecting.

Sharing Content

Post content that your target buyers will be interested in, and post it often. But don’t just link to your company’s content. Jill Rowley recommends getting down with "OPP" -- other people’s content. Switching up your sources will nix the perception that you’re self-serving.

Jill Konrath, keynote speaker, sales expert, shares helpful content with her target audience on both her LinkedIn and Twitter pages daily. Jill uses her expert knowledge to share tangible advice and draw in a captive audience.

Liking

When you don’t have time for a comment, or don’t have anything substantial to add, a LinkedIn like or Twitter favorite works just as well. Likes also work as "thank yous" when others share or retweet your content. They don’t take long, so don’t be stingy.

Commenting

A comment should not just be a sales pitch or a link to your company’s website. It should be a thoughtful and thought-provoking response to an article.

This example kills two birds with one stone. Lisa Dennis, president and founder at Knowledgence Associates, not only shares posts that her target buyer would care about but adds thoughtful comments to others’ content as well.

Connecting

On Twitter, you can follow prospects to your heart’s desire. But on LinkedIn, you should be more judicious.

A good rule of thumb is to not request someone until you’ve had a meaningful interaction — either in person or online. Only then is when it’s acceptable to send a personalized invitation, explaining why you’d like to be in their network. Reference a blog post the person wrote or a piece of content they recently shared to show that you did your research.

Here’s an example of a strong LinkedIn invitation:

"Hi Jaime, we share 25 connections here including Michelle Lee who introduced me to Amy Chang which resulted in my current advisor position. You have been mentioned by several people as someone I need to meet. I would love to connect."

Working Social Selling Into Your Day

One of the most significant perceived hurdles to adopting social selling is that is takes too much time. How can sales reps keep up with their buyers on LinkedIn and Twitter when they’re also trying to, you know, sell?

Like anything else, developing a routine around social selling will cut down on the time commitment. An infographic from Ben Martin walks readers through such a process that only requires a half hour per day.

Martin recommends following a 12 step plan every morning:

  1. Find content to share
  2. Share it to social networks
  3. Check on who’s viewed your LinkedIn profile
  4. Send a connection request to any target buyers who looked at your profile
  5. Look at who liked or commented on your posts
  6. Send connection requests to people who engaged with your content
  7. Review LinkedIn alerts
  8. Organize "hot" buyers in a LinkedIn folder
  9. Share content with hot buyers
  10. Review any additional trigger event alerts
  11. Respond to messages
  12. Create a handful of new conversations

Is Social Selling Creepy?

Many reps are hesitant to adopt social selling because they fear it will come off as "creepy" to buyers. After all, nobody likes the feeling that they're being researched by people they don't know. Salespeople sometimes worry that starting a cold email with "I noticed on LinkedIn that you ... " or "I liked your tweet about ... " might scare prospects away instead of draw them in.

If you’re worried about turning off prospects when social selling, here are some best practices for interacting on social media in a way that doesn’t feel creepy:

  • Don’t send messages out of the blue. Ideally, you should be engaging with prospects who have expressed interest in your products or services by commenting on or sharing you or your company’s content. Messaging prospects when they haven’t expressed interest in your content can be considered creepy.
  • Customized messages are on the whole perceived to be less creepy than generic messages.
  • Don’t reach out to contacts on non-professional accounts such as personal Instagram or Facebook accounts unless they initiate a conversation first. For many sales reps, LinkedIn is your best bet for professional, positive engagement with prospects.
  • "Light" social selling interactions (liking, favoriting, retweeting) are considered to be less invasive than more in-depth interactions, such as messaging or commenting.

Remember, you want social media interactions to feel natural and conversational for both you and the prospect.

Measuring Social Selling Success

Measurement is arguably the hardest part of a social selling initiative, because the effects aren’t linear. There’s no formula (yet) that correlates the number of content shares or likes with number of deals closed. But this doesn’t mean that social selling can’t be measured at all.

The majority of the metrics available today assess an individual’s social selling aptitude, such as LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index and Buzzsumo insights. On a larger scale, a company can also opt to add a "social" source of deal options to their CRM softwares to see how many customers are coming from social selling.

Sales leaders who’d like to conduct a study within their organizations on how social selling translates into sales should first systematize the practice and train reps on social best practices. They can then measure what impact -- if any -- the new routine has on deals closed by comparing future results to historical numbers.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in November 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Originally published Oct 29, 2019 5:24:00 PM, updated October 29 2019

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