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Buying and selling have always been social activities.

Before our lives were lit by a thousand screens full of Facebook, Twitter, and every other glowing corner of the internet, people still asked other people for buying advice, gossiping about phonograph brands over the garden fence.

And they still wrote stinging letters to manufacturers when their products let them down and scratched their brand-new records.

In the 21st century, blogs, forums, and social networks have replaced the humble garden fence, and everyone is everyone’s digital neighbor. What’s more, voices carry: Bitter complaints — whether they’re justified or not — can be public, and rapidly searchable. Just take a moment to browse Twitter for #BadService if you're not convinced.

The result has been more powerful, more connected customers.

“There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.” — The Cluetrain Manifesto

This has inspired more customer-centric companies that understand the value of incredible customer experiences. The same advances that transformed buying and empowered smart buyers are now also transforming selling — and offering huge advantages to the social-savvy.

In this guide, we’ll discuss:

  • The definition of social selling

  • Why we’re in the age of social selling

  • What’s at risk if you don’t invest in social selling

  • How to discover sales opportunities using social media

  • How to use social to get to know your prospects better

  • How to get the right help to make the sale

  • How to spot competitive moves early

  • How to prevent customer defections

 

What is social selling?

 

Social selling is a lead-generation technique grounded in social media. It allows salespeople to directly interact with their prospects on various social media platforms. By challenging the norm of how sales happen, salespeople, customer service agents, and even marketers can now reach out to customers through their preferred social platforms. The success of social selling rests on the bedrock of the community network and the trust built upon it.

 

We're in the era of social selling.

 

Right now, there are buyers the world over who want what you’ve got to sell. They have a need, they have a time frame for purchase, they even have the budget. If only you could get in front of them, they’d buy from you right now. If only.

Of course, to get in front of them you need to find out who they are, where they are, and how to contact them. Traditionally, this has been anything but easy. Fortunately, in our online socially connected world, this has now become simpler than ever before.  

When social media first appeared on every business’s radar, marketers quickly saw the value. Before long, most organizations were busily broadcasting on social channels in an attempt to load the sales funnel at the top end.

Today, however, winning organizations are increasingly using social tools throughout the sale. Whether you’re leveraging your professional network on LinkedIn for sales prospecting or building your Twitter following to build relationships in your industry, social selling is a powerful tool to have in your sales arsenal.

 

You can’t afford to live in the past.

 

Modern social selling isn’t complex, and (mostly) it doesn’t require any specialized skills. But it does require a different way of thinking about the sales process.

There were reports that only one in four sales reps knew how to integrate social media into their sales process. Yet 61% of organizations engaged in social selling report a positive impact on revenue growth.

The upside of this skills gap? For the more forward-thinking sales professional there are huge advantages in getting into social selling today. Here are some inspiring social selling stats:

  • Nearly 79% of salespeople who use social media to sell outperform those who don’t (Forbes).

  • Ninety-eight percent of reps with 5,000 or more LinkedIn contacts reach or surpass their sales quotas, versus just 52% of those with fewer than 250 contacts (The Sales Benchmark Index).

  • A lead developed via social media is 7x more likely to close (IBM).

  • Organizations using social selling have seen a 10%–20% increase in win rate, 20%–30% acceleration in cycle time, and a 10%–15% increase in revenue (KISSMetrics).

Now let’s dig into a few tips for social selling so you can become one of those reps who knows how to leverage social.

 

Discover sales opportunities with social media.

 

Remember the age-old challenge of finding the people who really need your stuff? Now, they may well be discussing their needs online — posting comments on forums, asking their followers on Twitter, and updating their status on LinkedIn.

You just need to be listening. Free tools such as TweetDeck and Google Alerts, not to mention our own Sales Cloud Contact Management and Marketing Cloud Social Studio, can offer insight into what your customers are discussing online — right now. Put them to good use, and you’ll be able to understand individual customer needs and broader market trends — stepping in to offer targeted, perfectly timed advice.

Here’s a quick social selling example:

James is head of sales for a company that sells business consulting to professional services firms. He knows that firms buy from his business when they face significant changes — like sudden expansion or contraction, a merger or consolidation.

James sets up a series of ongoing searches for trigger phrases in social media. He follows key target companies on LinkedIn, looks for new job postings, and keeps up with breaking news. He also comments on industry blogs whenever he has insight to offer.

James is far more likely to be in the right place at the right time when a sales opportunity does come up. Even better, he’s already hooked into the conversation and demonstrating value — a huge head start over his competitors.

It doesn’t take him long to set up those searches and offer up those first few words of wisdom. He’s able to get started in social selling in no time, leaving him free to spend the evening with his family.

 

Sell on social — Salesforce-style.

 

Social is deeply embedded into how Salesforce sells. Here’s how we do it:

  • We use Facebook and Twitter to keep ahead of what our customers and prospects are saying, and to spot those who need service and sales help.

  • We run our own Marketing Command Center.  Social Studio is our own social media monitoring, analysis, and engagement platform, and we continuously monitor what people are saying about our brand. This enables us to reply with comments, record sentiment (both good and bad), and try to help wherever we can, including flagging issues for other members of our team to follow up.

  • We flow what we learn into our Sales Cloud CRM platform, creating a social customer profile. Sales Cloud allows us to capture everything from Twitter handles, tweets, and LinkedIn profile pictures to details of user/customer connections — plus anything that’s public on Facebook.

  • We treat ourselves to a guilt-free coffee break, safe in the knowledge we’ve a single, multidimensional view of each customer, and that it’s available to anyone involved in sales.

  • When a sales opportunity is identified, we use Chatter, our employee social network, to help us leap into action — marshalling resources and keeping everyone up to date.

 

Use social to get to know your prospects better.

 

You may be pitching the best product or service around, but that’s no guarantee you’ll win the business. Sales success depends on insight and — even harder to quantify — empathy. That’s why every good salesperson researches their prospects prior to making contact.

Before social media, this could be tough. The best a salesperson could do was check out the company’s website, wade through their annual report, and check for mentions on trade websites. Salespeople often felt like they were merely skimming the surface — with little hope of gaining the deep insight into a prospect’s needs that it takes to really tailor a pitch.

Today’s socially savvy salesperson can dive much deeper. With relatively little effort, you can discover:

  • Who to target within the organization

  • Who you know who’s already in contact with them

  • What’s happening in near real time

  • How engaged prospects are with their own customers

  • What those customers want from them — and what they’re complaining about

Armed with this information, it’s a lot easier to put together an insightful, emotive sales pitch — one that’s less “me, me, me” and more “you, you, you.” Salespeople can show how products and services directly solve the issues their prospects are facing, even issues that prospects have yet to identify themselves. Plus, they’ll have a far clearer picture of whose buy in is critical in making the sale.

 

Get the right help to make the sale.

 

Some sales are gloriously simple. A customer comes onto your site or into your store, he or she chooses a book, a sandwich, or item of clothing, checks out, and you’re done.

Most sales, however, are much more complex. If you sell high-value items — cars, houses, kitchen renovations — or sell to other businesses, the chances are your sales take time and involve multiple interactions.

Such complex sales can also involve any number of people. There may be multiple buyers, each with his or her own role to play and needs to be met. You might need to involve a lot of minds on your side too, as you gather the expertise and knowledge necessary to build a compelling case.

Here again, getting more social has much to recommend it.

Social collaboration tools can connect salespeople with in-house experts quickly and easily, letting them ask questions, publish insights, and create documents on the fly. Which means you can bring the full weight of your organization’s expertise to bear when making a sale.

These tools also offer a simple way to keep every team member in the loop; salespeople can “socialize” an opportunity, letting people follow it in real time and gaining instant status updates to their desktop.

 

Spot competitive moves early.

 

In sales, getting the drop on the competition can be the difference between a monumental deal and a crushing disappointment. Increasingly, you don’t need to wait for your rivals to take out a banner ad to discover their latest play.

Major initiatives are generally the result of months of planning — months in which core themes will be trailed in presentations and conference speeches, and may even be discretely tested on chosen segments of the market.

Social tools can help provide advance notice of such significant shifts in positioning. They can help you monitor what your competitors are saying, what individuals within their company are saying, and the responses they’re receiving — letting you spot competitive movement earlier and react faster.

 

Learn five ways to monitor competitors with social media.

 

  1. Set up Google Alerts for terms related to the competition (brand names, products, or key people).

  2. Join key customer groups on LinkedIn and begin monitoring what they’re saying.

  3. Monitor SlideShare and Scribd for new presentations and documents created by your competitors and their partners, and for events they may be attending.

  4. Follow customers, competitors, and thought leaders on Twitter.

  5. For additional insight, look at Q&A sites such as Quora.

 

Prevent customer defections.

 

On average, companies lose half their customers every five years. But your company can do a lot to pull that average in the right direction. Very few customers leave on a whim — after all, moving your business to another supplier costs a heap of time and money.

Typically, any loss (especially in B2B sales) will be marked by weeks or months of debate about what’s going wrong, as well as extensive research into the other options available.

At one time, this activity might have reached you as gossip and rumor, nothing a supplier could act upon with any degree of certainty. Now, however, everything is more public. You just need to know where to look.

Peer recommendations have always been the trusted source of information for any business decision. But today, the definition of “peer” has widened considerably. It’s no longer simply those we work with or have worked with in the past (though the influence of this group has grown exponentially with the popularity of professional social networking sites like LinkedIn). Today, our peers include a vast range of people, connected in a wide variety of ways.

Social networks glue these connections together. They make it easier than ever for people to share information and solicit recommendations about services and suppliers. And here’s the kicker: They’re public.

Social tools don’t just help you monitor the competition. They show you what your customers are doing and saying too, offering precious insights into issues you’d fail to spot by any other means. Proactively address those issues, and you stand to save both you and the customer a costly breakup.

 

Discover three key social selling tools.

 

Social CRM: This includes the social connectors for our own Sales Cloud. Social CRM helps you get through to the right person, pre-armed with the right information.

Social listening: If you want to spot relevant social activities, some form of social monitoring is essential.

Social collaboration tools: How do you ensure that everyone can contribute to a sale at the crucial moment?

The time to begin social selling is now.

 

There’s never been a better time to embrace social selling tools — to find new customers, craft pitches to meet their deepest needs, and bring the right people together to make the sale.

We hope you’ve found this mini-guide useful. Ready to take a deeper dive into social today? Check out our e-book How Top Marketers Excel at Social Media