Finding a business solution a century ago was simple — you’d ask around, gather recommendations, and then make a decision. Today the process isn’t that much different. There is one significant change, however: The playing field is rapidly expanding through social media.
Marketers have been communicating with their customers for years through social media. As this channel has “grown up,” its younger and more impactful little brother has come of age: social selling.
You may have heard stories such as the one about Sander Biehn, an experienced account rep charged with taking over an account for a Fortune 500 company with 80,000 employees. The problem? His company had a tiny sliver of the business and wasn’t maximizing the relationship to the fullest.
But Biehn had a secret weapon: social selling. He used this tool to grow that little account up to $47 million in sales. And marketers can use the same strategies to connect with prospects in new and more impactful ways. But first, let’s start with the basics.
What Is Social Selling?
The foundation of social selling is relationships, and not just any relationships, but one-to-one relationships. Consider that the majority of B2B buyers, 84 percent, start the purchase process with a referral. In fact, peer recommendations influence more than 90 percent of all B2B buying decisions. What’s more, a large percentage of B2B buyers — three out of four — rely on social media to engage with peers about potential purchases.
It’s undeniable that prospects are turning en masse to social media to find recommendations about which products and services are right for their businesses. Social selling is about finding out what your customers are talking about and then starting a personalized, one-to-one conversation with each of those people.
Social selling is not about broadcasting useful information to many people at one time, as traditional social media outreach does. Instead, the goal is to provide useful and relevant information at the right place, at the exact moment of relevance, to nurture relationships with prospects. But where should you start?
Powerful Strategies to Jump-start Social Selling
Let’s return to Sander Biehn, who grew his little account into a value in the multi-millions. He started with some basic social-selling strategies that focused on providing people with the right content at the right moment. You can do the same thing by deploying strategies focused on better timing as well. Here are a few to inspire your efforts.
- Spend time in the right location. When shopping for real estate, you hear, “It’s all about location, location, location.” Social selling is no different. You want to be where your prospects are spending time. For the B2B market, it might be LinkedIn groups or Twitter. In fact, Forrester Research found that decision makers primarily use those two services. You can even get more specific and drill down your targeting. For example, what is the “big fish” your B2B company would love to land? Do a little research and find out what social media channels that specific company uses. Social selling uses a laser-focused approach rather than attempting to reach the masses.
- Jump into the conversation. Social selling is all about being useful in the online space, so get involved in existing conversations about topics that relate to your brand. For example, you can use Twitter’s search function by typing in a keyword related to your product or customer pain point. Who is talking about that topic? Jump into the conversation, comment, and share helpful information. You’ll be truly useful.
The same is true for LinkedIn groups. You can join groups related to your products and services — wherever your customers are spending time. Start answering questions and providing valuable resources. It’s important to note that more than 50 percent of B2B buyers seek out information on products and services via social media, so this is a great starting point.
- Create the right content. Here’s where marketing plays a critical role, because once your team dives into social selling, you may find out something important: You don’t have the right content. You may have created a ton of white papers, slide decks, videos, and other content, but is it right for social selling? For example, maybe the existing content is written with too much of a company bias — it needs to be more fact-based and neutral. You want content that does such an amazing job providing value without feeling biased. Here are a few ideas:
- reports featuring case studies;
- blogs focused on examples of companies that are solving the exact challenges customers face; and
- market trends and special reports.
- Look for mutual connections. So back to that “big fish” your company wants to land — how do you reach them? The answer is simple: You must establish a warm bond. Look for mutual connections through social media — do you know anybody in common or have any other commonalities? It can be something simple, such as belonging to the same LinkedIn marketing group. Then you can reach out to provide something of value.
For example, you might say, “Hey, I notice we’re both part of the B2B technology marketers group on LinkedIn. I just read this amazing article on the Forbes site about some unexpected trends in the new year — thought you might like it, too. Let me know what you think.” The key thing to notice here is that you aren’t promoting your products or services; you’re simply providing value. Later on, you may share some content specific to your brand, but initially just look for ways to provide value.
- Include a call to action. Marketers know that traditional marketing pieces must have a call to action. After all, without a call to action, how does the prospect know what step to take next? Social selling is no different, but how you position that CTA is critical. For example, don’t tell the prospect to visit your website to learn more about a solution. Instead, provide a thoughtful response to a question they posted in a LinkedIn group that relates to your product or service. You may say at the end of the post, “Here is a guide I created that you may benefit from because it solves this exact challenge.”
- Follow up. Have you ever had a great friendship, but got so busy that the friendship fizzled out? As time moves on, that friendship is hard to start back up again because so much time has passed. Social selling works in the same way. Make a plan to follow up regularly with those prospects with whom you’ve started a conversation. For example, this may include sending them industry news and articles they may find useful every couple of months, or providing some content they would enjoy. The goal is to continue to nurture those relationships and be truly helpful.
Selling With Greater Impact
At the very heart of social selling is the customer. How can you identify the moment their pain point strikes and deliver what they need most to ease that pain by helping to solve their problem? Master this equation, and you will build the foundation of a great relationship.
But above all, remember to be human. When customers see that a brand has a human side — one that is ready to help when they get stuck, shares information freely, and expects nothing in return — the relationship will cross new boundaries. The future of selling will no longer involve spraying customers with emails, phone calls, and other one-way outreach tactics, but instead will consist of reaching B2B customers by using the methods they prefer: those that actually help them. As a result, your marketing outreach will glide past gatekeepers, building trust while gathering a greater understanding of your customers’ exact needs.