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Posted: May 20, 2013

Social selling

A new way to prospect

Sam Reese

In the sales world, it’s always been important to do your homework and get to know your prospects before going after the sale. For generations, that meant traveling across the country for face-to-face meetings, teeing up together on the golf course, or doing dinner to talk shop. While the goal is the same, the medium has changed drastically over the last several years.

Social media has changed the way we do business, and has become a legitimate communication and sales tool. “Social selling” is the practice of using common social media platforms to target potential customers. Platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter have made it easier than ever to research prospects, establish connections with them, and maintain relationships. 

Through social media, you can maintain connections with hundreds or even thousands of people. But, social selling is about making those connections work – communicating with potential customers, giving them reasons to stay engaged with a company until they are ready to buy, and nurturing that connection afterward.

Social media has done a lot to help sales people. The ability to access information and gain critical information about the customer quickly is easier than ever. Conversely, social media has also empowered consumers to do the same by putting facts about almost every company and what their customers are saying at their fingertips. The entire sales environment is now much more transparent.

So, how do you use the access and transparency social media provides to strategically connect with your prospects?


STEP 1:  SOURCE
These days, it is typical for an organization to involve several people in evaluating a major purchase. To be successful, a salesperson must identify and sell to those who have decision-making power. The problem is that decision makers or buying influences can be different at every company. Job titles are helpful, but not always accurate in sourcing the appropriate people.

Many sales consultants start with the company’s website for general information, then move to a social media platform like LinkedIn to dig a little deeper. Start by reviewing your own contacts to see who may have connections to your target company.

From there, reach out to your connections to get more insight on the company as a whole, or more specifically, who the potential decision makers are within that company. If there’s not a natural connection to the decision makers themselves or you don’t feel quite ready to reach out, you may find a connection to someone within that company who can act as a coach.

Either way, by leveraging social media to source, you’re seeing and making connections that you’d otherwise never have.

STEP 2:  SEEK
Social media can reveal insights about specific situations and challenges your prospects face on a day-to-day basis. Once you know to whom you are selling, you can research his or her social presence to determine how and when to connect.

Perhaps this person has updated her LinkedIn profile with a new title, or used Twitter to share her views, ideas or even gripes about something. Seeking information via your prospect’s social presence helps you better identify trigger events like promotions, partnerships or severed relationships that can signal an opportunity.

Obviously, because social media is so transparent, it’s also an excellent way to get-to-know people before you sit down in an important sales meeting with them. Using social media tools like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and forums are an effective way to pull more information on the people sitting across the table from you. In doing this, you can relate to your prospects on a personal level, which can make connecting on a professional level even easier.

STEP 3:  CONNECT
By now, you’ve sourced the right decision makers and you’re armed with insight about your prospect’s situation. When you approach prospects with what they actually want or need, initiating a relationship and making the connection is much more likely.

Now, determine the best way to connect with your prospect. You might engage in a Twitter conversation about a hot industry topic or headline, or comment on or share your prospect’s most recent blog post.

If you use LinkedIn, explore ways to go beyond simply connecting. Participate in groups relevant to your prospects, comment on specific topics or provide white papers, blog posts or other relevant content when it makes sense. Demonstrate your areas of expertise and how you’ve helped companies like theirs in the past.

And, of course, always use the information you gain through social media with care and professionalism. Don’t inundate new contacts with unsolicited or irrelevant information, and respect the boundaries of this new connection the same way you would in person.

Though most sales organizations have not yet formally embraced social selling as a distinct sales discipline, most sales professionals employ some form of social selling on their own. The companies doing it best know social selling isn’t a fad. They’re embracing it as a true sales strategy that requires structure, training and development, and one that can pay off when done right.
 

Sam Reese, chief executive officer of sales performance leader Miller Heiman (www.millerheiman.com), which includes the Miller Heiman Research Institute, a research organization dedicated to improving the performance and productivity of complex, b-to-b sales organizations. He can be reached at sam.reese@millerheiman.com or 303-991-2367.

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