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Why your team needs social selling and how to unleash its power

Human connections make us who we are. From core family groups to large communities, social frameworks help define our identities, influence our decisions and seed the dreams that compel us to alter the systems that shape our lives. When these systems no longer excite our imagination or fit our lifestyle, we create new ones that mirror shifting social landscapes.

Science provides evidence that we are genetically hard-coded to be social. So does economics. Prominent neuroscientist and psychologist Matthew Lieberman believes that the brain’s primary purpose is social thinking, building on prior conclusive research that brain size depends on the size of a species’ social group. With human brains proportionately the largest in all of nature, it’s easy to see why we socialize as much as we do. Meanwhile, some of the world’s most valuable brands such as Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn primarily operate as venues for building human connections.

Inevitably, these connections assume real monetary value. For example, GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) Intelligence reported that the mobile industry — which traces its roots from the landline telephone that allows people to talk to each other — has a valuation of more than $3 trillion. Similarly, it’s no coincidence that social selling (the stuff you get when you blend e-commerce with social connections) generated about $30 billion in 2015, based on projections by Statista.

Given the strong influence of people’s social connections — family, friends, co-workers, business partners and favored organizations — over their purchasing behavior, sales professionals and marketers scramble over each other to promote their respective brands on social media.

You can’t blame them. On the contrary, you should aggressively join their ranks if you plan on selling anything. Social media — the lively patch of the Internet where Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and other relationship-heavy and consumer-driven websites reside — accounts for 28% of the total time spent by people online, according to Social Times. And where prospects go, so should smart sales professionals.

What is social selling?

Also known as social commerce, social selling refers to a brand’s efforts at establishing trust and building relationships with its target audience on social media sites. The obvious goal is to make them subscribe to a service or purchase your products by generating interest in your business. However, the more critical and long-term objective is to keep your audience positively involved as much as possible in online conversations about your brand.

Here are some observations and facts about social commerce that will persuade you to draw up and deploy your own social selling strategy:

  • Foxwordy CEO Monica Zent wrote on Entrepreneur that social selling is the future of new business. Why? Social selling enables you to “build relationships with potential investors, employees, colleagues, clients and customers.” It also helps you develop a deeper understanding of your industry and your customers. Consumer discussions about your brand lets you discover surprising insights and gather honest feedback, allowing for a.) corrective measures when a segment of your customer base has unfavorable views about your product; and b.) aggressive follow-throughs when customers’ perception about your brand is positive.
  • Because social media sites always draw in subject matter experts, you get to learn which modes of thought pervade the market and which innovations are worth trying out.
  • Your competitors are also on social media, allowing you to glean clues about what they are up to.

Optimize social media for your brand

While social media accounts for just a small fraction of total e-commerce revenues, the pace at which it’s helping drive sales cannot be ignored. Any business that neglects social media risks losing valuable opportunities at increasing market share. Clearly, business owners will find it difficult to keep a brand competitive without a social media strategy in place. After all, even the world’s most recognizable brands have to maintain robust social media presence just to safeguard their dominant positions.

Not all social selling strategies are the same though. As commonly encountered, social media messages — especially those that are ill-conceived — can backfire, dealing significant damage to a brand in terms of public humiliation and even lost revenue. You can find cringeworthy examples in these articles from Digital Trends, Entrepreneur and Inc.

To avoid massive social media blunders, here are some points to remember:

  • When it comes to business, the best use case for social media is to drive conversations about brands and consumer needs. According to UK-based marketing agency Struto, market research and building brand awareness count among the most important benefits of social channels. However, the firm strongly discourages “spotlight hogging.” Rarely — if ever — should you use social media for closing sales or blatant, tasteless advertising.
  • As its name suggests, social media ideally encapsulates all sectors of society. This requires brands to be aware of sensitive issues such as racial, gender and religious prejudice, giving everyone the respect they deserve. As we have seen over and over, ill-conceived or inappropriate social media messages have resulted to people losing jobs and a brand’s profits.
  • It’s often difficult — if not impossible — to completely erase traces of offensive, inaccurate, or crass social media messages. Think twice before publishing anything. Be sure you have done your homework: Conduct relevant research about your topic, double-check figures and statistics, and verify whether your sources are credible.

Meanwhile, here are some tips that will help bolster your social selling efforts:

  • Hire experienced social media professionals. Many of the worst blunders were committed by inexperienced junior staffers, interns or contractuals. Ensure that your digital marketing and social selling campaigns are run by people who have strong affinity for your brand, have deep product and market knowledge, and know how to navigate the tricky streets of social media.
  • Always stay up-to-date about the stuff you care about. It’s easy to become stale and irrelevant in fast-changing business landscapes. As Business 2 Community puts it, “social selling isn’t a standing still business” and you should consciously evolve with the ecosystem, always keeping tab on current trends that affect your audience.
  • Be consistent when conveying brand messages. Brand dilution and confusion can negatively affect your bottom line. Study and adopt successful social media campaigns such as those unleashed by Sephora and Nordstrom over Twitter.
  • There will always be naysayers no matter what you do. As digital marketing guru Jawad Khan said, “Customer reviews will make or break your sales.” So respond to negative feedback graciously, leveraging the conversation as an opportunity to elevate your brand above the din.
  • The top mistake you might be unconsciously making on social media is posting the same type of content repeatedly, according to Boom! Social CEO Kim Garst. Shift gears among videos, podcasts, surveys, articles, infographics, games and other types of material to prevent your audience from getting bored.
  • Design and implement a smooth buying experience for your customers. Ensure that the user experience — from the time your customers transit your social media site to the moment they leave your online store — is impeccable.

Propel your sales performance with social

Excellent sales professionals are always on the lookout for new and better ways of surpassing targets. Arguably the most promising to have ever emerged in the last few years is social selling. While social media has been around for some time, its significant and growing impact on e-commerce revenues is on a steep rise.

Some sales experts already hail the phenomenon as a revved-up alternative to cold calls. Marketing mentor and business strategist Gerry Moran has worked with global brands such as HBO, Ikea and SAP. He prescribes social selling techniques as a remedy for the infamously low success rates of cold calling. This is not to say that you should ditch cold calls. You can still keep cold calling as an important part of your regimen, but you shouldn’t execute a sales plan without a strong social selling strategy.

With consumers using social channels more and more to help them resolve purchasing scenarios, salespeople can only benefit when they tap this market to find, qualify, engage and convert prospects. As Linkedin Global Content Marketing head Alex Hisaka said on one of her posts, “The sales professionals who continue to get better at social selling will continue to get better at sales, period.”

Perhaps more than just a place to sell, social media is a venue where game-changing ideas sometimes evolve as more people join conversations. To investor, entrepreneur and online influencer Gary Vaynerchuk, it’s where entrepreneurs can establish trust, respect and connection: the same components that make up the heart of what truly makes us human — good relationships.

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