When a sales rep is on the phone, making a series of cold calls, it’s easy for managers to conclude they’re being productive. 

Same goes for spotting them creating a pitch deck for a prospect, or writing a follow-up email after a recent customer meeting. 

Watching them scrolling through or “liking” posts on Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand, might look like they’re taking a break at best — and just goofing off at worst. 

The concept of “social selling” is still new enough that judging how well reps are doing it is somewhat less than intuitive.

If they comment on a post or reshare posts, are they doing a good job? 

Or should you simply look at their win rates or whether they’re meeting their quota, and assume social activity accounts for some of it? 

These questions may have led some companies to conclude social media investments shouldn’t rank very high on reps’ list of daily priorities. If that sounds like your firm, you’re probably making a mistake. 

Why social makes sense as a sales tool

As much as you’ll likely still nurture customer relationships and close deals in person and via phone or email, those are no longer the only channels where customers spend their time. 

Given that we’ve now had major platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn running for more than a decade, there’s an entire generation of business professionals who have grown up on social media. They expect to share their experiences, have conversations digitally and to get a lot of news and information using such services. 

Social media also serves as a reminder that making a purchase is not something that happens in isolation, but is a series of steps that smart businesses recognize and through which they support their customers. 

Yes, they may ask key questions during an in-person briefing or phone call, and they might sign off on a deal via an email. Long before, though, they’ve gotten to know your company and its products through a variety of ways, social media included.

It could start with a link shared by one of their friends, peers or coworkers that takes them directly to your site. It might be a short post that serves as a mini-review of your firm. Sometimes they might ask their network for product suggestions, and your firm’s wares are among those mentioned. 

This is all part of the customer journey. The rep can wait to make cold calls or follow up in some way after monitoring social media activity, but the better approach is to get actively involved as such conversations unfold. 

Using social to set the stage for selling

Reps most likely realize that being too direct or pushy on social will backfire, of course. No one wants to scroll through their Facebook comments or direct messages on Twitter and find someone saying, “Are you interested in our industry-leading product?”

Figuring out what they should say, however, could be a little less clear. 

Here are three key ways social can be woven into the sales process that helps reps succeed, while avoiding the risk of damaging customer relationships: 

Bringing personas to life: Sales and marketing strategies are often informed by developing a target customer persona — the key traits that represent the needs, challenges and other characteristics of those who make purchases. 

Personas can only take you so far, however, given that real-life customers will always have unique traits of their own. Social media is a great way to do a bit of field research, observing what they say and how they say it in a public environment. 

Instead of simply resharing their content, liking a post or making a generic comment like “Great post!” reps should interact on social with questions or comments that reflect a genuine interest to get to know them better. 

Social media — even consumer-oriented ones like Facebook, if they’re willing to accept your friend request or make their posts public — can help nail down the details about a customer. 

This includes their goals, the barriers they’re trying to overcome and even who else might need to be part of a purchasing discussion. 

You don’t want to pummel someone on social with questions, obviously, but good sales reps often have a great ability to network and socialize. Now it’s a matter of applying that ability to social media channels. 

Warming up a lead: A customer or prospect might have downloaded an eBook or attended a webinar. Even if a rep follows up by phone or email right away, however, they might not be quick to respond. 

If they’re sharing their thoughts about their business priorities on LinkedIn, on the other hand, reps can remind them of a key piece of advice from the eBook or webinar that they could use. 

If they attended an event your company hosted, meanwhile, you could tag them in a Twitter or LinkedIn post that summarizes the key takeaways. 

This may not be something that converts into a sale right away. Just as you probably won’t close a deal immediately after meeting someone at a cocktail party, this is about getting to know someone better and letting the relationship evolve naturally. 

Arranging or confirming a meeting: Customers may have an overwhelming number of email messages in their inbox. They may not be eager to return voicemail messages. 

If they spend enough time on social media, however, “sliding into their DMs,” or direct messages, could be a better way to take an opportunity to the next stage by suggesting you connect, or reminding them about connecting. 

Bear in mind that it’s up to an individual whether their DMs are open to others, especially if they’re not following them. This is also not a place for relentless followup — if they don’t respond through such channels, try other ones. 

If you encourage reps to make use of social media with these kinds of approaches, monitoring performance and coaching becomes easier. Make sure part of your regular touchpoint with each rep includes a discussion on how they’re using social and the end results, or encourage comments among the team during group meetings. 

Should social media be part of your sales strategy? If you want sales to continue growing, the answer is a resounding “yes.”