Social Selling For the Early Stage Company

Old School Social Selling

What is Social Selling?

Social selling uses social media (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest) to accelerate the sales process by enabling sales teams to research, prospect and generate leads more effectively than they might otherwise.  Social selling is big:  folks like Oracle, Salesforce and IBM are all over this idea, in part because it is especially helpful in figuring out very large target organizations.

Social selling does not obviate the need for the skills traditionally associated with the B2B sale and generates challenges of its own (See “A Qualifying Note” below.)

How Can an Early Stage Company Leverage Social Selling?

An early stage company will leverage social selling most effectively if it keeps the process lean and nimble; figuring out two or three tools that work and including them in its sales process.  It is mostly about salespeople being sharp and efficient in how they leverage social media to research accounts and prospects.

What Are its Components?

There are five components to social selling (in order of importance):

  1. Network building
  2. Research/qualifying
  3. Competitive intelligence gathering/listening
  4. Content distribution
  5. Personal brand building

The first three are pretty obvious – you and your team should be using social media tools to build out your networks, research prospects and keep tabs on what your competitors are up to.  Numbers 4 and 5 are less relevant for an early stage company – you will not have the bandwidth to generate a lot of content to use to engage prospects and, while a salesperson’s personal brand is important if she is selling for a large organization, it is less relevant with a small company trying to get traction in the market.

What Tools Are Most Useful?

I find the follow social selling tools most useful (In order of usefulness):

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Twitter (With TweetDeck)
  3. Facebook (Sort of)
  4. Google+
  5. Others (Pinterest, Instagram, Vine)

LinkedIn is shifting fairly quickly away from being a dynamic rolodex and resume repository (though it is still these things) to an interactive social media tool.  Its business focus and the need that it satisfies for businesspeople to keep themselves “out there” for potential employers means that it is an excellent tool with which to research prospects, expand your network and keep an eye on what competitors are up to.

On its own, Twitter can be chaotic and overwhelming; when you combine it with TweetDeck (owned by Twitter) or other management tools like HootSuite, Tweepi or ManageFlitter, which enable you to build lists that filter tweets and edit retweets easily, it can be very powerful.  You can track competitors, potential clients, tech blogs, industry pundits etc. and stay current on what folks are saying.  As well, you can use tools like TweetAdder to build out your followers list.

Facebook has a definite B2C feel and so is less useful than other social media tools; it doesn’t hurt to repost your tweets here (You can configure TweetDeck and HootSuite to do this automatically) and perhaps maintain a company page.

Google+ is worth keeping an eye on – and certainly reposting to – as Google is making a big effort to enable it to compete with Facebook and Twitter, although it still has a consumer feel.  Other tools like Pinterest (pinning images), Instagram (publishing photos or short videos) and Vine (video) have a distinct consumer feel about them and so are less useful in the B2B sale.

A Qualifying Note

Marketing folks get breathless about social selling in part because, particularly for larger organizations, it give sales teams new ways of penetrating the market.  As well, managing social media is a lot more fun than organizing trades shows and running direct mail campaigns.

Social selling is not a silver bullet or a cure for cancer.   Your sales effort will continue to require lots of calling, pushing, waiting, grinding, wearing out shoe leather.  Social media gives an already nimble company another tool to work with but does not change the basics of the sales process – I made  a similar observation here about Sales 2.0 a couple of years ago, which was then all the rage.  And, social media can become time sink for your sales team – nothing like checking Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter every 15 minutes so as to avoid cold calls you have to make.

So, stay focused.  Use a couple of social media tools – start with LinkedIn and Twitter – and develop a process that is manageable and that does not overwhelm your sales team.

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