Social Selling: That Sounds Fun.

Does this mean conducting business transactions by relating to people where buyers enjoy communicating during the process? This is a sales concept that has worked throughout generations and is still working, but the fielding play has changed. Enter social media.

According to HubSpot, “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”.

It’s all about being human. Social media allows the selling of products to happen in a personable way. This involves meeting prospects on their turf, speaking in conversational language, and providing solutions in an unobtrusive matter.

The interactive conversations that happen in social media groups, blogs, and tweets give customers proactive means to assess buying decisions. Social media has added a level of empowerment where customers no longer have to be formally pushed toward a certain product or service. Rather, customers have the power to research products or services on their own and discover what others are saying about the brand.

Does this mean that a salesforce can sit back and wait for customer to come to them? The simple answer is no. Traditional selling is just being supplemented because customer relations has changed a bit. The new rules of the communication game expect pieces of content on social media channels that can speak to a company’s products or services around the clock, and around the globe. Therefore, social posts and tweets are now lead-generating nuggets. Essentially, social media is growing a company’s reach in a viral way and permitting customers to engage with them in an interactive dialogue. That online engagement gives life to simply another form of relationship building.

So, how does online engagement happen? It has a little something to do with building online credibility and worth. This happens by providing helpful and accurate information. Say, a person has read a consulting firm’s entertaining tale of how it saved a Fortune 500 company time and money. In reaction, the ideal would be for that reader to then inquire with the consulting firm to learn how they could receive that same treatment. Sounds like a fairy tale, but sometimes, it’s as simple as that if a consumer is at the end of the buying cycle and ready (budget in hand) to make a purchasing decision. In the long term, sharing valuable knowledge has the ability to elevate your brand to sit among thought leaders.

Marketo has created artistic infographics that depict how leads and storytelling can work together. In their “Use a Story Arc for Your Nurture Communications”, they explain the type of content that is most fitting for each stage of the buying cycle:

Nurture1

In Marketo’s complementing infographic, “Elements of a Good Lead Nurture Story”, they reiterate that promotional content needs to feel genuine while, at the same time, preserving a brand’s voice. As a personality is unique to each person, a brand voice should be unique to each organization:

Nurture2

As companies fill their social media channels with riveting narratives and trendsetting educational videos, it is important to ask if their metaphorical ocean is big enough as they cast their content nets. The answer is similar to the answer when you ask a five-year-old what size ice cream cone they would like: it could always be larger. This is where the cycle of social selling becomes complete. Salespeople are consistently gathering customer feedback and can provide insight to marketing departments in order to generate useful content. After marketing departments generate new content and deploy it on corporate social media channels, the salesforce can take one final step. Salespeople can share this same content with their own social media networks because they are the ideal brand advocates who already have customers’ attention.

9 comments

  1. Interesting post! Social media has become an important market place. As in real life customers’ emotions are an important factor – as shown in the second info graphic (“Elements of a Good Lead Nurture Story”). But I am not sure what is meant by “uncertainty”. The associations that come to my mind when I hear that word, are mostly negative. But maybe it can/should be seen as a supplement to curiosity. When you do not know everything you feel you should know (uncertainty), you try to get more information (curiosity).

  2. I’ve been intrigued by the term “social selling,” and it scares me a little bit. Mainly I think that all selling is and has always been social. Now, there are just new tools through which to do it. My fear is that companies misuse them and treat it more like telemarketers and badger you after every moderately relevant tweet. That could make the platforms dry up really quickly.

  3. Alyssa Frey · ·

    I agree with Prof. Kane – selling is most definitely social, and coining the term “social selling” could lead to increasingly complex interactions between businesses and consumers. Consumers already expect so much of businesses, and with social thrown into the mix, consumers feel entitled to request whatever they way. What happens when the businesses start chasing consumers online?

  4. I really liked this post! I recently went to see the Hubspot offices in Cambridge to learn about social selling and inbound marketing. It’s a fascinating and innovative marketing/sales strategy that seems to have the potential to revolutionize marketing/sales altogether. Hubspot noted that it takes about 17 months of the customer using their product to make up the amount spent on their marketing and sales teams. While Hubspot seems to be using this strategy effectively, I wonder whether it is replicable for other companies.

  5. As Professor Kane noted above, I also worry that this form of selling will almost turn into telemarketing and I’m sure that some company will come up with a software to block people from selling through social media. I certainly think it is an innovative method and that it creates a less formal environment between businesses and their consumers, but I’m not sure that its the best thing. I think the most face-to-face communication with the consumer, the better, which is lost in this new scenario.

  6. tcbcmba2015 · ·

    Interesting topic and something definitely worth exploring further. I’m not sure selling via social media is really all that different from how the process works now. Social media is richer than email, and could probably be more helpful for both parties than the phone. But sales is all about lead generation and cultivation into client. Sales people are always going to stick to the tools that provide them with the most consistent success – whatever platform or media. While there is the potential for abuse by many sales teams, in the social space the user has better control of their privacy and who can contact them or who they choose to respond to. The challenge, as always, is for the sales person to be engaging and convincing to hold your attention.

  7. Great post! I started to hear the term “social selling” this past summer during my internship. I worked in the Sales Enablement department, and a huge initiative that they were working on was encouraging salespeople to use social media to generate leads and maintain relationships. I agree with the comments above that of course selling has always been social. Now, its use a matter of taking advantage of social business in order to communicate with prospects and customers in additional, and perhaps more helpful ways. Something that struck me when I was learning about this topic during my internship was that most prospects before meeting with a salesperson will search them on LinkedIn, and as a result will already have an idea if they will buy the product of not based on the person’s page. I am not sure what the statistics are on that, but I definitely agree that social media is becoming increasingly important in sales. Very interesting topic!

  8. I think this is an incredibly interesting post that really speaks to the current state of business as a whole. So many business are right on the edge of how they manage technology with actual human interaction. So much in terms of manufacturing has turned to automated technologies that it feels as though business is losing a certain human touch. Reading this blog made me think of the George Clooney film “Up In The Air”, which offers slight commentary on the necessity for human interaction in some underrated aspects of business. Sales is definitely one of those aspects where customers are far less less likely to interact with an automated robot than an actual human. I believe that the art of sales is a true interpersonal skill that will never be overtaken. I really enjoyed this blog for raising up this idea.

  9. Nice post. I’m not entirely sold on social selling (haha) but I definitely think there is value in at least some stages of the buying cycle, notably lead gen/early stage and after the customer has already bought the product or used the service. It will be interesting to see how this space evolves in the future.

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