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 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.
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. By 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.
The Art of Social Selling
Data shows that those who play the long game reap the rewards. For example, top-performing sales reps, who close deals 51% more than their peers, consider social networking platforms "very important" to their success. Additionally, social selling leaders create 45% more opportunities.
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 referrals account for 65% of companies’ new deals.
Know social selling is important but unsure how to get your sales team on board? Check out this deep dive on training your sales team in social selling by Sales for Life CEO Jamie Shanks:
Make sure your team understands why social selling is important and how to do it responsibly. Then, invest time and resources into training, and see the benefits for quarters to come.
Social Selling Tips
There are several steps reps can take to get started with social selling:
1. Optimize their social media profiles.
We’ll explain more about this further below, but be sure to optimize your profiles before doing anything else. You will likely waste your effort if you begin your social selling initiative with an outdated or incomplete profile.
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. Sales-y 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 that tell you 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. This content can be original insight and tips or anything external that you think is relevant to your audience.
For example, 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 as a means of starting conversations.
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, as research shows that consumers rate people like themselves as more credible than other sources, including brands themselves. 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. Be mindful of customer support opportunities.
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 if a customer is dissatisfied.
Not only can you give your customer support 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 expresses dissatisfaction with your company’s product or service, take note of the issue. If your company’s marketing or support teams haven’t yet responded, make them aware of the comment so they can address it, and note the language they use for the resolution.
8. Be consistent.
Spending all day on social media may not be the best use of your time, but you should for consistent posting and engagement.
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.”
9. Track engagement.
Social media engagement metrics include likes, comments, and shares, and high engagement is an indication that a piece of content truly resonates with your audience. Be mindful of the engagement on your profiles, and learn from what works best so you can continue to share the most relevant content with your audiences.
For example, if you notice that content about B2B sales tools gets the most likes, comments, or shares, that’s a good indication that the 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 blogs. Then, share the articles you think would be particularly interesting to your buyers on LinkedIn or your preferred social profile.
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. You can then request a referral from your mutual connection — warm lead unlocked.
12. Know when to move your conversations off social media.
If you want to land the sale, you’ll eventually 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 pain points or situation, which can help you gain the clarity you need to land the sale.
Tyre says that if a series of interactions with a prospect that fits his vertical market and ideal customer profile seem to move in a positive direction, he’ll seek out the contact’s email address to set up a call and continue the conversation off social media.
13. Optional tip: Subscribe to LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a premium service priced at $79.99 per month, with a discount for annual subscriptions. The tool helps sales reps identify new leads based on their location, industry, company size, and other attributes to help you build a prospect list. You can view social selling trainer Gabe Villamizar providing a demo of the service here.
14. Optional tip: Blog.
Sales reps don’t have to blog for effective social selling, but reps who are inclined to start creating original content should consider doing so, as it is a valuable way to attract prospects. You can build your influence in your industry and provide original insight and thought leadership for your audience to benefit from.
Here are some tips for creating a post that will grab your prospects’ attention:
- Choose a topic that you know your audiences care about.
- Write title that will capture attention.
- Don’t make your post too sales pitch-y.
- Include your perspective and insight.
Share your posts on your social profiles, like Twitter and LinkedIn, and use relevant hashtags to help with discovery.
Optimizing Social Profiles for Social Selling
In the world of social selling, your social media account needs to be more than a digital resume. Your profiles should actively help you cultivate a reputation with your buyers as a trusted advisor who brings fresh insights to their business. Given this, your profiles should be made for your intended audience of potential buyers.
Since you don’t have much real estate to work with on Twitter, a makeover is relatively simple to pull off. Follow these steps:
- Use a professional picture for your profile photo.
- Use a positioning statement in your bio that includes a mini-insight.
- Link to your company’s Twitter account (Example: Sales Rep @company).
- List your LinkedIn profile.
- Include relevant hashtags that your buyers follow.
Optimizing your LinkedIn profile is 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 tips to ensure your LinkedIn profile is optimized for social selling:
- Have a current, hi-res picture. According to LinkedIn, profiles with pictures get a 40% InMail response rate.
- Don’t just use your job title make your headline a mini value proposition. For example, consider answering two questions in your headline: Who do you help, and how do you help them?
- 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.
- Post a few pieces of visual content that will be helpful to your buyer.
- In the experience section, emphasize how you enabled customers to improve their business, not how many times or by how much you exceeded quota.
- Seek recommendations from customers to increase your credibility.
- Join groups that your buyers are in.
For a visual template of what an optimized LinkedIn profile optimized for social selling looks like, click the image below:
How to Engage With Your Buyers on Social Networks
As mentioned above, social selling is all about engagement. But, bear in mind that your interactions should be thoughtful, relevant, and personalized.
Social engagement comes in four primary forms: sharing content, liking, commenting and connecting.
Post content that your target buyers will be interested in, and post it often. You can link to your company’s content and what Jill Rowley calls 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.
When you don’t have time for a comment or don’t have anything substantial to add, a like or favorite works just as well. Likes also work as a thank you when others share or retweet your content.
A comment should not just be a sales pitch or a link to your company’s website. Instead, it should be a thoughtful and thought-provoking response to an article.
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 not to request someone until you’ve had a meaningful interaction, either in person or online. Then, you can send a personalized invitation explaining why you’d like to be in their network. For example, 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 landed me my current advisor position. Several people have mentioned you 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 it 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. Ben Martin, Director at Automation Squared Ltd, recommends the following 12-step process that can take as little as 30 minutes per day:
- Find relevant content to share
- Share the relevant content to social networks
- Check on who’s viewed your LinkedIn profile
- Interact with target buyers that look at your profile and send connection requests (we'll cover why this kind of request is OK here)
- Monitor engagement on your content
- Interact with those who engage with your content
- Review LinkedIn alerts
- Organize target buyers in a LinkedIn folder
- Share content with target buyers
- Review any additional trigger event alerts
- Respond to messages
- Initiate 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 drawing 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 most challenging 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 the number of deals closed. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t measure social selling at all.
The majority of the metrics available today assess an individual’s social selling aptitude, like Buzzsumo insights. LinkedIn has created its own tool, the Social Selling Index, to help those with Sales Navigator Premium accounts understand their effectiveness on the platform.
Social Selling Index
The Social Selling Index (SSI) measures how effective you are at establishing your professional brand and presence on LinkedIn.
The tool requires a subscription to LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator Premium, in which you’ll get access to a daily-updated dashboard (as shown in the image below) that gives insights into your effectiveness in establishing your personal brand, reaching the right people, engaging with insights, and building relationships. Your effectiveness is scored out of 100.
Stats show that those who use the SSI are more effective as a result, as social selling leaders are 51% more likely to reach quota, and 78% of social sellers using the index outsell peers that don’t use social media.
On a larger scale, a company can also add a "social" source of deal options to their CRM software to see how many customers are coming from social selling.
Sales leaders who’d like to conduct a study 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 the new routine has on closed deals 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.