It’s a business practice where you ‘court’ specific prospects on line in the hopes of turning them into faithful customers. In the process, you get to know them gradually and they get to know you – going from ‘knowing you’ to ‘liking you’ to ‘trusting you’ to ‘paying you!’ (Thanks to Joel Comm for this concept*)
Social media makes this ‘courting’ more possible than ever before. Tactics that used to be the purview of big businesses are readily available to small and medium-sized ones. Think of how a local business can create a video seen by thousands, even millions, if it is captivating and gets shared widely. If it goes ‘viral’ in other words. That renown used to be reserved for only businesses with a large advertising spend. No longer. What else can your business do to grab attention and get the love fest going?
Hint: you don’t have to put on a big production or huge stunt. Just be yourself and let your product or service virtues shine over time.
Let’s break it down now.
Exclusive contacts, hard-won connections.
In the past, representatives from big businesses would gather at industry events in order to socialize with prospects. And to sell. These dinners or galas would be where connections got made or broken, where the “real” selling went on. Think martinis, whispered conversations, shifting alliances, Mad Men style. Winning new clients was a huge boon when the account was worth millions. So large businesses would go out of their way to have their people at the right place and right time to socialize with these prospective clients.
That’s what they wanted to do: socialize, to be there, to be seen, to establish personal connection and rapport. But the ticket to socializing with the right people was buying your way into these exclusive events. Lots of travel, entertainment, schmoozing.
Now this kind of access is available to everyone at great distances and with no cost to attend, thanks to social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The idea is the same.
Rather than going at your prospects with a hard sales pitch in a tight moment, you seek to gradually develop a rapport. You establish yourself as a trustworthy source for information, as a reliable contact and as a friendly personality. Once this rapport is developed, selling is easier. It becomes the result of meaningful exchanges. It’s called social selling and it’s proving to marketers and salespeople alike that the long-game is the only game in town.
How to start social selling
Chances are you are already engaged in some of the aspects of social selling. What we’ll discuss here is making that process more deliberate and forward thinking. There are three steps to social selling: finding prospects, developing relationships, and converting.
1. Finding Prospects
Start by identifying your targets. This may come through a combination of market research, online searches, consulting with others in the industry or a combination of all of this. Get a solid idea of what business partners and prospects you are looking for and where you can find them.
Then you can seek them out on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. LinkedIn is especially good because of the data it carries about each person’s position in an organization – the whole lifeblood of the company is there for you to see. You can use LinkedIn’s Advanced Search to find people at specific positions in the companies that you are targeting.
2. Developing relationships
Now that you have found the people, you want to connect with them. Think of this as growing an affiliation, rather than strictly pursuing clients. You want to connect in order to follow them on social media platforms and come to know their interests and needs. You also hope they’ll see your content and what you ‘are about’ online. You’re not connecting in order to hard sell. Not in the slightest!
Try using an approach that emphasizes connection and hints at utility. Do some research so you can add a personal touch. Here are some examples of ways to approach prospects:
- “Hello [name]. I saw some of the work that you are doing at [name of business] and was really impressed. I would love to connect to continue to follow your work.”
- “Hi [name]. I saw some of your comments and posts about [topic]. I’d love to connect to learn more about your unique approach.”
After you connect, then you can start to build a relationship. Read what they post and comment back with your judicious thoughts. Share articles in your feed on the topic. Look for opportunities to provide your expertise, either through writing articles, writing posts, or sharing other content.
Track what you are doing account-by-account in a spreadsheet or in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) program.
It will take some time to foster a relationship. We’re talking months, not days. Developing a rapport isn’t something you can rush. Once you have built the relationship, only then should you begin to think about pitching to the prospect. And this is not a hard sell, it’s the result of an ongoing conversation where you are really solving a need for the prospect. You have established a rapport, you are trustworthy, and now you can move to address a specific problem they’ve hinted at.
One of the big issues that we see with B2B selling is that people use the social media space as if it were a cold call. YIKES! This is a big mistake. Don’t connect and then the next day say something like: “Glad you connected with me today. Can I interest you in my pillow innovation for sound sleep?” No way.
Instead, use social selling like you were going to a dinner party. Enjoy the meal and the moments. Smell the flowers. Get to know what’s on the mind of the person sitting next to you. If your companion mentions a problem in passing, respond gently. Maybe suggest your solution.
You’d be surprised by how easy social selling can be if you fully recognize it’s an investment of time and involves your steady contributions to forging affiliation.