Before answering questions regarding “social selling” I feel that it’s important to define the term.
Let’s look at how others define “social selling.”
“Social selling is when salespeople use social media to interact directly with their prospects. Salespeople will provide value by answering prospect questions and offering thoughtful content until the prospect is ready to buy.”
“Social selling is leveraging your own professional brand and social network to gather insights and connections, then use that information to help you discover new opportunities, sell, and get business done.”
Defining social selling itself has become the topic of many blog articles, including this one by Jeff Zelaya of Triblio- “10 LinkedIn Influencers Define Social Selling”
On a very high level, it is my belief that marketing needs to own the customer experience. Since social media is, and is increasingly becoming an important aspect of the customer experience, it is logical that marketing must strive to own social media.
Yet, one has to wonder is the concept of social media counter-intuitive to the concept of social selling?
Building trust with our customers is one of the, if not the highest priority of most marketing organizations. Social media etiquette requires organizations to provide information and interactive communications that have value to our community of customers and prospective customers, without appearing to persuade or convince those customers, as in traditional marketing or advertising communications. Therefore any attempt to “sell” within the social media universe would immediately be viewed as disingenuous or as blatant self-promotion.
Therefore, a marketer’s role in the practice of social selling would be to create a content strategy that would support the provision of important valuable information to the reader that would be relevant and compelling, and would position the organization as an authority on the subject without self-promotion of the organization. By constructing a content strategy that enables sales to provide this valuable information, marketing would be enabling sales to engage with prospects within the social universe by taking the authoritative and helpful position to stay top of mind and in the prospects consideration set when a purchase decision is imminent.
In order for salespeople to leverage social networks to gain connections or to engage further with connections already made; salespeople must be able to engage their connections or future connections with something (content) that is relevant and compelling to foster interaction.
Based on my vision of social selling, the infrastructure of a well thought out social media program must either exist or must be built in order to support a social selling initiative.
In the case where an organization has an existing social media program, the most impactful quick hit would be to develop a strategy for sales to engage with customers and prospects within a few selected social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter.
To do this, Marketing would provide a program, or playbook that would educate and enable sales by utilizing the content assets available through the organizations social media program, such as blog articles, studies, surveys, info-graphics, where sales can learn to offer these assets within the construct of each social property in an acceptable communication to gain awareness and interaction with the prospect or customer.
Of course, for marketing to truly enable social selling, there must be alignment between marketing and sales. There are entire books, and entire marketing practices that are dedicated to the alignment of sales and marketing. I don’t believe that a one or two line answer here is going to communicate the importance of aligning sales and marketing and it certainly will not enable any readers to tackle an issue of this magnitude.
I would suggest that regular weekly or monthly meetings between sales and marketing is a great place to start this conversation with the future goal of SLA’s (Service Level Agreements) developed as a result of these meetings which can help guide both sales and marketing on the path to true alignment.
Organizations must be fundamentally sound in their development of goals, objectives, strategies and tactics to implement any successful program or campaign. On the subject of social selling, the fundamentals are essential to building a campaign that enables sales to engage with prospects and customers within social networks.
The very same tools that best-in-class organizations use to develop and manage social media are the tools needed to support a social selling campaign, such as Content Strategy, Editorial Calendars, Activation Maps, and especially for sales, a Social Selling Campaign Playbook that details the tactics used and the assets available to be used.
Social networks have a purpose, and that purpose is to allow people to socially interact and share ideas. Social selling infringes on the “social” part of social communities, since salespeople obviously have an ulterior motive, which has nothing to do with building an information exchange for the greater good of the community and has everything to do with gaining a competitive advantage to entice prospective or current customers into purchasing by providing valuable and relevant information (content.) Hiding or cloaking this duplicitous goal of salespeople is the greatest challenge to social selling.
Social selling can be used in Account Based Marketing (ABM). The strategies that need to be developed for social selling in ABM are slightly different than in non-ABM, where in ABM any current event or relatable information regarding the key strategic account may be in play during the content strategy construction more so than in non-ABM content strategy.
There is great confusion within organizations about the difference between social selling, and information gathering using social network information. Gathering and seeking information on social networks that help enable sales to sell through the insights of the intelligence is in my opinion of far greater value to both sales and marketing organizations than the practice of social selling, which is a deceitful way to endear salespeople to their prospects through disingenuous social engagement and interactions.
I certainly understand the need for marketing to enable sales to sell.
I would prefer to either enhance a robust social media program, or if need be, build a robust social media program for clients from the ground up, and then use those assets created as part of an overarching content strategy rather than build a patch-work band aid solution as an isolated social selling campaign.
Building, earning, gaining and keeping the trust of our client’s customers and prospective customers is always our goal, and if I feel that implementing social selling tactics would undermine that goal, I would recommend against it.
However, when goals, objectives, strategies, tactics are aligned with our client’s brand and brand value, we are very comfortable in developing a program that enables our client’s salespeople to sell using all channels, including social selling.
B2B Marketers always have 2 clients. The end user client who uses the product or service sold by the company, and the company’s sales force. By enabling sales to practice social selling, B2B marketing is fulfilling the mission of catering to the two customers that B2B marketers must accommodate.