Since when was “social selling” something new? Any accomplished sales exec will tell you, relationships have always been a cornerstone of effective selling.
But today, the explosion of online communication has given new meaning to the term. When we talk about “social selling” we’re talking about using the internet to build relationships, communicate about your brand, and generate leads.
Many people will immediately think of “social selling” as any sales activities that take place utilizing Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. That is a shortsighted view, however, and one that will lead you to less than stellar results.
Instead, think of “social selling” as any sales activities that are generated on the internet. It’s far too soon to restrict yourself to only three tools. Rather than putting baby in the corner, let’s start by figuring out how and where your customers can be reached.
Being Found By Prospects
Ask yourself this question over and over again. How could my best prospects find me and become aware of my existence online? Your answers (there are many) will be specific to your situation. Generally the path they take will fall into one of two buckets.
Proactively seeking somebody with your skillset, service or product offering.
Natural and/or random discovery via social conversations and sharing.
Let’s briefly discuss number 1.
Being Found When Somebody is Specifically Looking For Somebody Like You
This is your run-of-the-mill SEO and SEM conversation. I will leave the heavy lifting to experts in those areas. Your prospects might find you on LinkedIn, they might find you on Google, or they might find you in niche directories. Regardless of the specific platform, there are generally two ways to enhance your chances of being found, organic and paid search.
With either, the key first step is to understand the keywords that prospects will find you for. (This intelligence will come in handy throughout your social selling campaign.) For tools to help you determine what keywords to hone in on, see this article.
Improving Organic Rankings
From there, every network or platform will have a variety of things to “optimize.” Take LinkedIn for example. You’ll want to make sure keywords are placed appropriately within your profile and company pages, but don’t overdo it. The trick with LinkedIn is to place your keywords tactfully, with enough frequency to impact the rankings, but not so much that you look like a robot.
Here is what a robot looks like. Yes, this is from a real LinkedIn profile:
Within LinkedIn specifically, being very well connected can do almost as much for your ranking as keyword stuffing. LinkedIn ranks profiles, in large part, based on connectedness. Thus the more connected you are, the more visible you will be in search results. It works similarly for company pages.
As with everything else, this kind of profile ranking takes testing. You know, the ole rinse and repeat. But don’t obsess over it, especially as it relates to your LinkedIn profile. For most people, generating leads straight from a LinkedIn people search is a rare occasion.
Positioning via Paid Media
With Google, you can pay to have your advertisement display any time somebody searches for your targeted keywords. The other major platforms don’t really allow this kind of targeting, but do offer some great ways to get your message in front of your audience. With LinkedIn, you have to target more broadly based on demographic data. Thus, if you are going to utilize ads on LinkedIn, be sure you have a very clear picture of who your ideal prospect is. You can target based on geography, industry, seniority, group membership, company size, and many other criteria. For many businesses, LinkedIn advertising generates substantial ROI.
Here’s a tip. Don’t expect great results from campaigns that directly promote services. The best LinkedIn ad campaigns will lead with free content that works prospects toward an eventual sale. Keep this in mind wherever you are focusing. In the world of social advertising, it’s best to lead with value and resourceful content.
Now that we’ve gotten through the basics of paid and organic search and advertising, let’s move on to the real magic of social selling.
Being Found via Online Conversations and Sharing
More and more, this is where the best leads and relationships are being developed. They’re happening on Twitter, in LinkedIn groups, old-school online forums, private Facebook communities, and more.
Start getting involved in conversations.
Find the groups that your prospects, influencers, and potential referral partners are in. Find conversations that you can add value to. Your prospects will see you adding insightful thoughts to conversations, you’ll stand out as a smart cookie, and good things will happen.
But don’t just rely on other people to get the ball rolling.
Start your own conversations.
Don’t just rely on commenting within threads other people start…start your own! If you build the discipline into your social selling program to start a weekly conversation, and stick with it, you’ll be generating results in no time.
The best way to start a conversation is through a simple question like this:
If you know exactly who it is you want to target, go find them. Figure out where they hang out online, and make yourself known in those places.
I talked recently with Tommy Walker, Founder of Social Filter about this very thing. His insights are spot on: “The real power of social media lies in our human need to belong to a group. Fortunately, people form groups online around common pain-points all the time, and they’ve been doing it for years. Your job as a marketer becomes infinitely easier once you understand how to find those groups (learn to be a better searcher), read between the lines, and provide real value by answering questions thoroughly, starting thought provoking conversations, and preemptively providing resources because you understand what that group as a whole will need next.”
Tommy went on to add that the “tragedy of “social media marketing” is that we’ve opted to broadcast our messages from the top of our Facebook Pages and Twitter Feeds, thinking “if I just write a catchier headline, more people will pay attention.” Relying on catchy headlines to sell has done so well for the newspaper and magazine industries, so it only makes sense to apply the same logic to busy social media feeds. “
And that bring us to our next point.
Sharing From Your Social Profiles
Of course, sharing regularly does generate results.
Pushing out regular content (curated or original) is a tried and true method for growing your community, staying top of mind with your community, and moving a percentage of people deeper into your sales funnel. People see links to your content, click some of them, come to regard you as an expert, sign up for your offers, and engage you deeper in your sales funnel. But if you are not combining sharing with real conversation, you’re missing out.
Dovetailing Trends and Hashtags with Conversations and Sharing
It would be remiss to have a discussion about “online conversation” without sharing some additional tools and tricks. Specifically, let’s talk a bit about industry trends and hashtags.
The first thing you need to do is ask yourself “why?” Why should you follow a given hashtag or invest in monitoring trends? Just to stay up to date, and find things to share? Better yet, use this sort of data to plan your content approach.
Opening The Toolbox
Hashtags galore. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram…hashtags are pervasive these days. For certain types of businesses, they offer a method for finding conversations that your prospects are having about your industry, their pain points (that you can solve), and sometimes even talking about you specifically.
You can use tools like Opentopic to filter through the garbage. Software such as this can allow you to not only “follow” industry trends, but efficiently distribute the best of the best to your networks. And, to find new conversations that you need to be a part of. All of this will help position you as a leader. Continuously monitoring hashtags for direct business opportunities is a chore that most don’t have the resources to maintain.
In the B2C space, hashtags can be a brilliant place to engage directly with customers. For B2B, I argue that is not often the case. As such, a B2B social selling program should largely use hashtags to find influencers and build relationships.
Everything we’ve discussed so far serves a few primary goals:
Build your status as a thought leader and expert.
Grow your digital presence, i.e., database of prospects.
Insert yourself into conversations with influencers and prospects.
All of which are aimed at the ultimate goal, developing more leads.
Yes, this work requires a commitment to long-term execution. But if you plan properly, you’ll see results quickly. The reason why so many people claim social media is a “waste of time” is because they are indeed wasting time.
So what is the value in social selling? Well, it’s not only about generating more leads…it’s also about generating BETTER leads. Let’s touch base with Tommy (SocialFilter.com) again: “Doing this regularly conditions your market to invest in your name and your avatar instead of headlines that use “power words” “big lists” and other short term gratification techniques designed to catch the eye of the impulse clicker. And when you think about it, on a longer timeline, who do you think will be a better customer? Someone who can be so easily enticed because you used clever tactics, or someone who has a real investment in your face and name?”
The decision is yours. Clever tactics? Or real relationships?
Josh Turner is the founder of Linked Selling, a B2B marketing firm that helps clients systematically build relationships with cold prospects, to turn them into warm leads. The tools they use to achieve this are LinkedIn, webinars, content and email. He is also the founder of LinkedUniversity.com , a leading online training program for business professionals who want to learn how to leverage LinkedIn for marketing and sales.