Long before the arrival of social media, successful sales depended on building relationships. The big difference now is that we now have more, and better, opportunities to build relationships – remotely. Heck, back in 2009 I set up a business in the US with someone I’d never met in person, having only ever met them on LinkedIn. However, while social media offers these opportunities, maximising them means developing a clear strategy.
The modern way to develop meaningful relationships with prospects is through social selling. Like all successful relationship-building, it requires the right approach, and, unfortunately, it also provides plenty of pitfalls.
LinkedIn especially, as a business-oriented social platform, requires a better understanding of the mechanics of social selling than perhaps many people fully appreciate.
LinkedIn is a professional social network, so it is the obvious choice for engaging in B2B social selling. An IDC (International Data Corporation) social buying study has shown that 50% of B2B buyers use LinkedIn as a source to make decisions about purchasing. In my experience, this figure might be higher.
LinkedIn users can build their personal trust and business credibility by being active on the platform and extend their business networks.
More than this, it provides valuable opportunities for social engagement, but in a business setting.
Like many phrases connected with social media, social selling is bandied about a lot, but not always with a clear understanding of what it is, and what it is not.
The first thing to be clear about social selling is that it isn’t selling in the traditional sense. One of the frequent mistakes LinkedIn users make is being too ‘salesy’.
Imagine the scenario: someone asks to connect with you on LinkedIn. They personalise their message, so you accept their invitation. The next thing you know, they’re making a direct pitch to you, offering you their services.
Social selling is not the equivalent of jamming your foot in the door to keep it open or shouting loudly through the letterbox. By being too salesy on LinkedIn you run the risk of emulating this kind of behaviour.
Social selling is part of an overall process, but the key concept behind it is developing relationships, both with prospects and with existing customers, not selling to them directly.
I call this process the ‘Engagement Funnel’.
The concept of the sales funnel is a familiar one: it is the buying process through which prospects are led. Divided into phases, it typically involves awareness, interest, evaluation, decision, and purchase. Generally, in B2B, you can then add to this: re-evaluation and repurchase – where you look to renew contracts.
The engagement funnel updates or modifies this concept for the digital age and for the successful use of social media.
Where the traditional sales funnel model might sometimes unfortunately resemble a sausage-making process, engagement is much more nuanced.
Fundamentally, it is customer-centred, and it doesn’t presume that you can simply sell to people based on assumptions regarding demographics or simply that you are a connection.
Instead, it is about engaging with your target audience on a long-term basis, so that, when the time is right, they might then become your customers. The timing is in their hands, not yours.
Each phase of the engagement funnel concerns itself with the quality and depth of engagement via social media. The key is that you should be good at picking up signals from others and listening to them, first of all, to gauge what it is they are interested in or concerned about. What problems can you solve for them?
However, there is also an element of getting yourself noticed and attracting others to you. The best way to do this is with content.
Therefore, the first phase of the engagement funnel is awareness.
Awareness means two things: your awareness of others, and their awareness of you.
Raising awareness on LinkedIn requires that you build your own credibility by posting content and by responding to the posts of others. Be sure to remain in the conversations you start. You wouldn’t ask a question amongst friends at a bar, then walk away as they provide the answers. Neither should you do it on LinkedIn.
It means being consistent, and being diligent in researching your subject. It means understanding what aspects of your knowledge will have the greatest appeal to others, because these aspects address their pain points and issues.
Remember though, it isn’t just about you. To raise awareness you must also demonstrate awareness.
What are your connections, or their connections, or others posting about on LinkedIn? Start liking their posts and shares, but more importantly, comment on them. This is how you can build a dialogue and find opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge and experience.
And where others share or like your posts, comment on those too. It’s important to keep active consistently.
Participating on LinkedIn is like participating in a conversation. You may initiate a topic of discussion, or you may be responding to someone else’s topic.
The point is to add something of value and interest.
Therefore, share other’s content, but add something of your own to widen its context. Highlight important parts of other people’s articles. Ask questions about their content. Respectfully offer an alternative perspective, if you have one. People value opinions.
If you add value to others content in this way, it shows you’re taking an interest, and that you have something of value yourself to contribute to the discussion.
Imagine the traditional concept of the corner shop. It offers a very personal experience, both for the customer and the shopkeeper.
This is one of the reasons we tend to eulogise the disappearance of traditional small shops, even when larger, out of town stores may offer more choice and cheaper prices.
The corner shop transaction can have more aspects to it than purely monetary: it is about being social, and a sense of trust and loyalty.
The same applies to social selling, but it comes as a challenge. The internet creates a level playing field, and it transcends physical location. It provides a potentially huge pool of prospects and a correspondingly large number of competitors.
Therefore, to compete on social media, in social selling, you need to be noticeable, and to understand how to grasp and master the small details within the much bigger picture.
This is where quality counts. The quality of your engagement.
Social media can seem quite shallow. People scan the screens of their devices with limited attention spans. They post emojis in lieu of words. They do rapid-fire likes and shares.
Here’s the paradox for successful social selling: you’re looking to build depth and quality in your engagements through a social media platform.
Again, this highlights the value of LinkedIn as a B2B platform. There are exceptions, but generally it has a business-like tone. It is social, engaging, informal, but for a lot of successful people, a lot of the time, they understand what they’re on it for.
This is definitely a big help for anyone engaging in social selling. In fact, it’s a gift. Here you have a directory of thousands of business people, with profiles stating what their areas of interest are, and posts and articles to point the way towards engaging with them.
High-quality social selling is, then, about making choices. It’s about using LinkedIn as an effective resource and marketing tool.
Once you understand how to craft your own profile, put together your own posts, and strategise your own activity, it helps you understand how others are using LinkedIn too.
With LinkedIn, it’s vital to get the basics right. This means ensuring your profile is up to date, informative and, most of all, engaging.
Your profile picture needs to be appropriate, and in keeping with the business persona you’re trying to project.
Your LinkedIn headline should tell people who you are, but also what you can do for them, in 120 characters.
Then it’s a case of getting involved. Keep an eye on your network, look for relevant posts and comments. Many opportunities are out there, you just need to be responsive and look out for them.
Start crafting your own content. If you find it difficult to draft articles, look for content elsewhere that you can paste into a post with your own introduction explaining what it is, where it’s come from, and why you think people will find it useful or interesting. Add your own unique perspective.
Sometimes, social media can be a little too easy. If you find something provokes you, don’t immediately fire off a response or comment in the heat of the moment.
Always consider what you do on LinkedIn in terms of your overall business persona and your social selling strategy.
Avoid rude comments, dirty jokes, suggestive banter or anything which might be considered as trolling.
Don’t be too impersonal or reliant on business jargon. But at the same time, don’t assume everyone has become your lifelong pal and wants that level of informality with you.
You’re not a human billboard. Social selling does require consistency in building your online presence, but the stress is on quality, not quantity.
Think about the content you generate and the connections you make. It’s not a numbers game. You won’t gain by having thousands of contacts on LinkedIn if most of them are of little or no relevance to your business. If you’ve built a vast network of irrelevant connections, consider deleting some.
It’s about striking the right balance. You can do this if you understand your audience and your own personal brand.
Social media offers a fantastic opportunity to grow your business, providing you approach social selling diligently and thoughtfully.
In terms of investment, it’s an absolute bargain: all you need invest is your time.
For sheer marketing reach, it’s hard to beat.
Helpfully, there is a social selling index of success:
Optimise your LinkedIn activity. Be aware of the best times to post content, including days of the week and times of day.
Ultimately, the impression of authenticity you build will aid your social selling. Generously share what you know. Remember that social selling is about stories, not sales.
It’s also about activity. Check your profile views, because these represent opportunities, and it is the opportunities that make LinkedIn worthwhile.
In fact, they make LinkedIn invaluable. Perhaps the perfect platform for social selling?
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