It’s what most sales reps do every day: leave voice mails to people they’ve never met and hoping someone will call back. Most often they won’t. If you follow that same person on social media and they don’t follow back, it may feel like an added layer of rejection -- until you realize what social selling is really about.
Unlike cold calling, or even sending a cold e-mail message, social selling is not merely another one-way channel for sales teams to aggressively push buyers towards a decision. It’s more like stepping into a cocktail party and shouting a “Hello!” In some cases the person you’re trying to communicate with will hear you and turn around, but even if they don’t, there are many other people around who might want to network. And just like a cocktail party (and decidedly unlike cold calling) some of the conversations will be about business, some of it will be vaguely professional and some might be highly personal.
This may not be immediately apparent because “social selling” doesn’t seem as clearly defined as more traditional sales and marketing processes. What platforms or social networks should you use? How often do you post? How do you convert social activity to closed deals? None of these questions have a simple answer that will apply to every single salesperson.
What is universally true, no matter where you work, is that social selling helps in developing a relationship with people. Remembering that the letters in CRM tools like Sales Cloud stand for “customer relationship management,” it might be best to think of social selling as a conduit for nurturing relationships with customers and ultimately learning more about them. It’s about gathering data that makes sales teams more relevant when they reach out.
Maybe comparing and contrasting cold calling with social selling will help make this a little clearer:
Cold Calling: A channel where you can use your tone of voice and personality to humanize the company you represent.
Social Selling: While tweeting or commenting on LinkedIn may seem less warm than leaving a voicemail, sales pros can convey much of the same qualities that position them (and their company) as informed, helpful, or even funny to potential customers and prospects. Probably the biggest difference is that voice mails tend to be more scripted, beginning with something like, ‘I noticed you downloaded our white paper and wanted to see if I could help you.” On social media, you’re playing the long game -- offering ideas, sharing insights from others and offering feedback that proves you’re genuinely relevant to the person you’re trying to attract.
Instead of a script, think about retweeting or sharing someone else’s post on LinkedIn and adding your own take. This could be as simple as, “I think more companies should act on this kind of data,” or “We’ve helped many of our customers deal with the same challenges that this article describes.”
Cold Calling: Limited in the number of follow-up messages you can leave before the customer or prospect becomes truly annoyed.
Social Selling: Some social networks limit the number of characters you can write in a message, but there’s no limit to how often you post an update or respond to someone else’s. Over time, the interest you demonstrate in a certain subject or a certain set of people can help boost the degree to which you’ll be recognized if/when you reach out through voice mail.
And if the prospects and customers you want don’t follow you back? That’s okay, because you can still use hashtags and other mechanisms to potentially create an impression with the people around them. If you’re targeting chief marketing officers, for instance, a hashtag like #CMO next to your Tweet may be noticed by your target’s peers, or even the people who work for them. Remember that most deals now involve account teams of at least five people or more, and you’ll realize that the reach of social is a game-changer. It’s certainly better than cold calling to ask someone “who makes the buying decision about XYZ?” every time.
Cold Calling: Where you only reach out for specific purposes, such as selling.
Social Selling: Let’s go back to that cocktail party analogy for a moment. If you were to walk into a huddle of people that included your prospect, you might be able to say something smart enough (or tell a joke) that makes them interested in you. Then, if all went well, you could subtly take that person aside to have a more one-on-one conversation that leads more directly to a deal.
At first glance, social selling may seem like activity that leaves salespeople at a distance from their clients or prospects because the conversations happening in “public,” with all of the person’s followers (and yours). Sometimes sales pros forget -- or simply don’t realize -- that all major social platforms have some kind of direct messaging feature, where you can connect as privately as if you were cold calling. These features have to be used wisely, of course, but it may be a channel which prospects check more frequently than their voice mail. Even better, there may be occasions where -- based on what the sales rep has been posting or sharing -- the prospect uses the direct messaging feature to reach out themselves.
None of this is to suggest that sales reps should ditch cold calling entirely, or switch exclusively to social selling. The one thing both tactics share is that there are no guarantees.
Still feeling reluctant? Consider this: if you’re already doing a lot of cold calling, there are bound to be lulls when you’re waiting for call backs and it just feels like torture to dial anyone else. Use those moments of downtime to begin experimenting with social selling. Then, as you get more experienced, try changing the ratio of the time to spend to each activity. It’s a matter of ongoing effort to get results, and it takes a strong ability to communicate in a persuasive way.