If you are puzzled by the title of this post because you think you are up on the latest trends and are sure that “social selling” means selling on social media, be prepared to learn something.
Social selling has a long, long history. In fact, Jesus used social selling.
What? Are you saying that Jesus preached on Twitter and Facebook?
Of course not. Social selling has nothing to do with social media. Nothing. You can use social media for social selling, and in 2016, you would be a fool not to. But social selling is about “social”, not about technology (otherwise, it would be called “technology selling”).
In the words of Jonathan Becher, Chief Digital Officer at SAP:
“While technology can help, social selling is about building stronger relationships with potential buyers, based on an authentic sense of empathy and a deep understanding of the problems they face.”
That sense of empathy is key. If a potential customer feels that you are “one of the good guys” or that you are “one of us”, he will be much more open to buy from you. There is implicit trust. So the sooner a salesperson can determine whether you are a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan, the sooner he can start sharing a common bond with you and bring you on his side.
Consider the difference between sitting across the table or across a desk from somebody trying to sell you something, or sitting on the same side of the table. Across is confrontational. Same side is cooperative. Same side of the table selling is bound to be more effective, because there is the implicit assumption that the salesperson is on the same side as you.
We humans are so easily swayed by us-and-them psychology (which is why successive Miss Universes have failed to achieve “World Peace“, but that’s another problem to ponder at some other time).
So how did Jesus use social selling? Jesus was pitching redemption and holiness and general goodness. The priests of the day were preaching these things, too, but they had difficulty reaching some of the more challenging audiences, because preaching is selling from the other side of the table. It is confrontational. Let’s face it, would you buy from someone who was sticking up their nose at your lowliness?
Jesus invited the tax collectors and the prostitutes to hang out with him. He built an affinity with them. He used social selling, and he reached prospects whom he could never have reached by preaching.
Fast-forward to 2016, and social selling is alive and well. Unlike in Biblical days, we have social media and we have tons of prospects to choose from. Thousands, maybe millions, of prospects scattered across the globe makes it more difficult than just walking up to the few dozen known sinners in town and inviting them to hang out with you.
On the other hand, technology and automation make it easier.
Before we start digging into the whole technology and automation field, let me offer up one huge warning. Be very careful where you draw the line between the efficiency of machines and the warmth of human contact. This line will be different in each market, and particularly different in consumer products compared to B2B services.
There are three things that technology and automation can do very well across all sectors.:
- Identify potential leads.
- Get connected to those leads on social media.
- Start the conversation (initial outreach).
I was introduced to Socedo, which calls itself an “Automated Social Media Lead Generation” platform. It describes its service as: “Find your target audience, engage them with one click, and fill your funnel.” In some markets, this might be all you need to make your sales, or at least enough sales to be happy. A totally automated process.
I’ve seen a lot of social media management tools, and most of them are all about what to share so as to build your reputation and extend your reach. While both of these are important, they are not about making the sale. For that, a platform that identifies prospects is much more important.
Identifying your targets is a step you can safely automate. You might miss some prospects, and you might get some false positives, but I have a hard time imagining how that can do you harm in most niches. And the more targets you identify, the better chance you will have increasing sales. As Tom Martin says:
“So while great content absolutely has a place in Social Media and Social Selling, and lack of it surely will lead to your downfall, don’t fool yourself. Numbers matter. Focus on growing your numbers.”
Connecting with them on social media is a step that can easily be automated without repercussions. Nobody will complain if you follow them on Twitter or send a friend request on Facebook or Google Plus. Assuming you’ve identified the right people who are part of your target market – Do you know who your target market is? – automatically following the people you’ve identified is just common sense.
It gets trickier from there. I was watching the Socedo three-minute video, and I think they have the right approach. They have the system set up differently for outbound marketers and inbound marketers.
In a sense, it is easier for inbound marketers, because the goal is simply to drive prospects to one’s website (landing page, content, whatever will drive sales). The whole system is fairly automated, although human intervention can often enrich the process.
For outbound marketers, including a lot of B2B services, it is less obvious where to draw the line between automation and jumping in with the human touch.
In either case, a progressive approach makes sense. First favorite a tweet, which sends the prospect an alert, so that they know you exist.
Why favorite a tweet, when a retweet would be a much stronger signal? If you were doing this manually, and could use your judgment as to which tweet to retweet, I would go with retweeting. But this is automated, and I don’t think you want your tweet stream filled with tweets that you did not carefully vet. Favoriting is much safer.
If you want to jump in manually at this point, by all means find something of the prospect’s to retweet. That would be a very strong signal and definitely worth doing for any prospect you would highly value.
Next, follow the prospect. Once again, they will get an alert, and this time it is a very strong one. Not everybody follows back, and not everybody pays attention to their alerts. This is the point in the relationship where the prospect takes control. Essentially, this is the first triage; those who follow back become real prospects. An automated direct message (DM) can move that prospect to the next step.
For outbound marketers, that next step is a conversation starter. I would suggest asking a question that has nothing to do with your product, but has everything to do with the prospect. But who am I to advise you on this? If you are a good salesperson, you will know better than I how to start an effective conversation.
For inbound marketers, that next step might be a landing page link. Just be very careful not to sound too salesy. The click-through traffic from that DM will be inversely proportional to how salesy your message sounds.
Be forewarned: not everyone will appreciate the automated DMs. Some of us – yes, me included – don’t respond to automated DMs. I don’t like being addressed by a machine and I don’t like being sold to. Then again, I am obviously not your target market. People like me will just ignore your auto DMs. No loss, no gain. Next!
There are others who hate auto DMs, convinced that they are evil and will blast you into a hyperspace vortex by slamming on the “unfollow” button. I don’t respond to automated DMs, but I won’t unfollow you for it. Still, you’ve lost nothing if auto-DM-haters unfollow you. Next!
What if they don’t follow you back? Should you direct message them anyway? It was less than a year ago that Twitter opened up DMing to anybody, even non-followers. So far, I have not heard of massive spamming, but if you decide to start DMing non-followers, you could get yourself in trouble. As far as I know, auto DMing new followers will not get you in any kind of trouble.
My suggested best practice for inbound marketers is to never DM a stranger. Stick to DMing followers. If they don’t follow you back… Next!
My suggested best practice for outbound marketers is to be very selective and very custom or personal when DMing non-followers. There are times when it is worth reaching out through a direct message to specific prospects who did not follow you back. There are some companies you might really want as clients, and you want to start a genuine human (non-automated) conversation.
A single, custom DM to get a conversation going should not get you in trouble, and it might be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. Of course, if they respond, you are free to engage in a productive DM exchange. There are some great tips on how to use DMs on the BundlePost blog and on the Social Media Hat blog.
Of course, what is safe today might be trouble tomorrow, as social media rules are in a constant state of flux. So it pays to keep up on the latest trends. Twitter publishes the rules here.
I won’t even try to guess how Jesus would reach out to outcasts today. I would like to think that he would follow my advice for outbound marketers. That he would identify them, perhaps not because they include the word “sinner” or “outcast” on their profiles, follow them on Twitter and then nurture relationships with anybody who follows back. Or he might stick to offline social selling. The truth is, we will never know.
Written by David Leonhardt
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