This post on social selling was originally published on Nov 17, 2016 and updated on Feb 13, 2019.
I often get asked to give a talk on the power of social media and how that works in the profession of sales. There’s still a lot of buzz around the topic of social selling and it makes sense with more professionals using platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter for business. But make no mistake, social media is not a substitute for strong sales skills and processes.
Social media is a powerful tool and has changed how we market, prospect, and sell. But social selling shouldn’t be overhyped at the expense of other elements in the sales process.
First Rule About Social Selling
Here’s an observation I noticed about social selling in our current digital economy:
We live at a time where it’s easy to identify our contacts and decision-makers, and even easier to find relevant information about them, but harder than ever to reach them.
Think about it. There are lots of people coming at you from all different directions and generating a lot of noise in the process. How often do you get a message in your inbox from a prospector or recruiter? And of those messages that don’t get trashed by your spam filter, how many of those do you actually respond to?
Here’s a stat to consider about LinkedIn. At last count in March 2017, LinkedIn had over 500 million users. And at that time, LinkedIn’s monthly active user base (MAU) reached 265 million. Now, that’s a lot of users. But you have to remember something that I tell everyone in my programs when I talk to them about making phone calls: No one is sitting by the phone waiting for your call. Likewise, no one is sitting at their desk, logged into LinkedIn waiting for your inmail.
So if you’re trying to contact a guy who’s (a) busy or (b) doesn’t plan on job-hunting anytime soon, he’s probably not logging into his LinkedIn account regularly. Consequently, it’s not a good way to connect with him about your solution. That’s one of the challenges with social selling. If people are out doing the things they were hired to do, then they aren’t staring at their phones preoccupied with their social media stream.
Social Selling Is a Tool, Not A Sales Strategy
Here’s a personal example. A guy I know, Jim, works for an employee benefits company. He’s in sales and has reached out several times to ask if I could setup a connection between him and someone in my LinkedIn network.
Now, I feel like I’m your typical LinkedIn decision maker – I use it intermittently. Jim, when he needed a referral, only communicated to me through my LinkedIn inbox. So, by the time I logged in and got to his message, it was too late to help him. Jim should have called me, emailed me, texted me or all of the above versus just putting a message in my LinkedIn mailbox.
And that’s where the rubber meets the road with social selling: It can’t exist on its own.
You have to pick up the phone, you have to take the person to lunch, or you have to get on Skype or Google Meet. Whatever the next step is, you’ve got to initiate the next step in the sales process. You have to take the initiative and make something happen.
I’ve done training with sports teams where younger sales reps will tell me, “Oh, I targeted him on LinkedIn and sent him a message.” That’s a personalized marketing process. That’s not selling! Sending isn’t selling! Sure, LinkedIn is a great platform for conducting a personal social marketing campaign. But it’s still a tool, one of many in your sales arsenal.
The Shortcomings of LinkedIn and Social Selling
When we ran our demand generation operation and generated meetings for our clients, our research revealed that it takes about 6 to 8 mixed touches to targets to make contact or yield a response. Those touches include LinkedIn, voicemail, email, USPS, and sometimes other forms of social media.
Social selling works as a way to identify leads, target decision-makers, find information when composing your impact statement, and put people in buckets. But it doesn’t work for the close. It’s not where you get the sale — or even where you make the ask.
Hopefully most people know this by now. But I still run into many freshman salespeople who seem to think there’s some magic sauce behind social selling. There’s not. It’s a good first step, or even a first and second step. But it’s not the close.
Now let’s say you start using LinkedIn and are getting some momentum. Prospects are responding and they are taking meetings. This is great news; your pipeline is starting to fill up! But there are few things to keep in mind that we found. There’s a big cancellation rate when you use social channels to set appointments. It’s not as definitive. And this can have a big impact on your time as a salesperson and the opportunities in your pipeline. A high cancellation rate could lead to you becoming a prisoner of hope.
While there is a huge opportunity for social selling in today’s marketplace, organizations still find ROI their big challenge when creating social media marketing and social selling.
5 Ideas for Using LinkedIn in Your Sales Process
Now I’ve outlined a bunch of challenges. What do you do? Here are our top 5 ideas:
Don’t be a professional stalker
Social media is a great way to to identify a target. But you also need to figure out how to engage your prospect. Remember, the first word in social media is social. So start socializing.
Critical selling conversations are not for social media
Never use one way communication for resolving objections, dealing with issues of credibility or talking about critical solutions. Pick up the phone, and have a conversation.
Use a mixed approach
Social media can be great for prospecting and keeping in touch with decision makers in your pipeline. Just make sure it’s not the only way you are prospecting and communicating. Remember, sending isn’t selling. Pick up the phone, send an email, or drop by the office if you can. Whatever it takes to get their attention and to move the sale.
Remember your sales skills
Just because you are communicating via a virtual platform, doesn’t mean you lose the key skills it takes to be successful in sales. Ask good questions, build rapport, and overcome objections. Remember, you are communicating with other people, not machines.
Develop a social process
One of the key factors to success with social selling is your process. Develop a process for outreach. Test it, tweak it, and perfect it. Make it work for you. And remember, even a solid social selling process is only a small piece of your greater sales process.
Remember, LinkedIn is a great place to run your social marketing campaigns and chasing down your next lead. But you still have to do the hard work of introducing yourself and talking with them. Once you realize that social selling is a supplement to the sales process, not a substitute, you can start using it to open more deals and expanding your effectiveness.
You’ll find more ideas on migrating your sales skills over to your social media platforms in Lance Tyson’s book, Selling Is An Away Game: Close Business and Compete in a Complex World available on Amazon. Get your copy today!