I recently talked to Steve Masters about my thoughts on 'What's next in Marketing' and the importance of social listening when social marketing and social selling for lead generation and nurturing. It’s one of those subjects that's coming up a lot and since it was already on my mind I thought I’d expand on what I said and delve a little deeper.
What is social selling?
Social selling is basically the use of social media to engage with customers. However, rather than simply spamming all your connections on LinkedIn with your latest 25% discount offer, the idea is that you use social platforms to actually listen to what your customers are saying and then offer up strategic insights/advice/buying choices as appropriate in the hope of lead generation. Or as Hootsuite so succinctly puts it:
It’s quite simply using online social tools to engage in the relationship-building strategies that have always been the foundation of what good sales professionals do.
The reason social selling has become the phenomenon it has is the same reason we have Sales Enablement, content marketing and all the other industry trends that didn’t exist 20 years ago: the empowered buyer.
Thanks to all the information customers can consume online in the course of making a purchasing decision, salespeople are effectively being kicked out of the buying process until the price stage, by which point they often find they are too late to argue the case for their product. Social selling – and social listening – gives them the opportunity to get in earlier, while there is time to add value to the customer journey.
In fact a recent poll we ran on Twitter showed that more people than ever are turning to social media for their lead generation.
How is social selling different to social media marketing?
Social media marketing is the use of social media to build brand awareness. So the main differences are:
1) Different audience
Marketers are talking to their ideal customer base. That’s a whole load of people. Social sellers are usually talking to one customer at a time.
2) Different stage
Building brand awareness, making customers aware of the problem their product can solve and establishing a strong brand identity are all tasks for social media marketers. Social sellers step in at a later stage to tailor this value proposition to the customer at hand before talking to price.
How do Sales Enablement principles apply to social selling?
In order for salespeople to provide the value that helps to build strong relationships with customers, marketing must provide them with valuable content that is appropriate to the stage of the buyer’s journey. For example, if you happen upon a discussion on LinkedIn about whether or not it’s worth installing a filtered water tap in the office and you sell filtered water taps, you wouldn’t jump in with a discount offer. However, it would certainly be appropriate – and, in fact, useful – to provide them with a link to one of your articles about the pros and cons of filtered water taps over bottled water. If they express an interest, you might follow up with a case study showing how company A has reduced their costs and considerably reduced their plastic waste by switching to a filter water tap. Meanwhile, you could do your research and check out their LinkedIn profile to see if they are likely to be the decision maker in this instance (if not, don’t dismiss them but do bear it in mind), get to know something of their interests and strike up a friendly conversation. Build the relationship. Make sure you’re the person they think of when they decide to go for the filter tap. Only at that point do you start talking price.
The reality is, there’s huge potential in social selling. But you can only use content in this way if a) the resources you need exist and b) you know where to find them. That’s where the Sales Enablement philosophy really kicks in. Sales and marketing need to be in constant conversation about what content is needed to answer customer questions and drive sales. Working together, the two departments can develop insightful content that meets customers’ needs at every stage of the decision-making process.
So in other words, Hootsuite is right. Social selling is just good sales practice, online.