Best Practices in HR
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Joanne Black
  March 21, 2016

Social Selling: What the Sales Pros Do Differently

What makes the most influential sellers so successful on social media?

Any sales professional who says it’s easy to keep up communication on social networks is either lying or doing it incorrectly. Done right, social selling is a time-consuming task that requires thought and focused effort. Your marketing department can help by providing relevant content to the sales team. But sales reps have work to do as well.

Social media is a place to begin conversations, which leads to building relationships. It is a place for engaging audiences, not for pitching prospects. Posting without a personal message isn’t being social; it’s just clicking buttons. And that’s why so many salespeople get social media all wrong.

Ultimately, social selling success is not about the number of contacts we accumulate; it’s about the real connections we make. And that doesn’t happen overnight.

My Social Selling Strategy: A Good Start, but Not Enough

I thought I was doing all of the right things on social media—posting regularly, sharing great content from others, re-tweeting, and connecting with people by sending personal invitations. I never use the standard LinkedIn invitation. Instead I take time to introduce myself and explain why I want to connect (no pitching, no selling). People even write back and tell me how much my messages resonate with them. And that’s how relationships begin.

But that’s just the ticket to play. I’m missing the real power of social media.

When Onalytica announced the top 100 Influencers in social media, I was curious. What does “influencer” really mean? How did individuals and companies get on the list? And why was I ranked at #50 while Tim Hughes at Oracle, Jack Kosakowski at Creative Agency, Koka Sexton at LinkedIn, Kim Garst at Boom! Social, Kurt Shaver at The Sales Foundry, and Jill Rowley comprised the top six?

But it’s not just their ranking that impressed me; their influencer scores blew me away.

1. Timothy Hughes—45.44

2. Jack Kosakowski—27.75

3. Koka Sexton—16.45

4. Kim Garst—14.17

5. Kurt Shaver—13.04

6. Jill Rowley—12.32

My score: 1.81.

What were they doing that I wasn’t? The answer was unexpected. It’s the influence factor.

What Makes an Influencer?

As I quickly learned, being a real influencer is not just about your social media score, the number of connections you have, or the number of posts you tweet and re-tweet. It’s about your impact with a larger audience.

Here’s how Onalytica puts it:

The key to successful influencer engagement comes down to whether your influencers are actually changing the behaviour or actions of your target audience as opposed to simply re-publishing content on the Internet. This is the acid test of how you can differentiate between who is an influencer and who is a key influencer.

One of the ways in which we believe the propensity to influence should be measured online is to assess an individual’s potential to drive earned media attention beyond their primary network of connections. This measure identifies which influencers have the largest networks and are therefore likely to exert more influence than others.

The challenge with online engagement therefore becomes a question of time and money, and how to integrate influencer engagement with your day-to-day priorities. A key influencer has a lower social media score, but their network is deeper, and their followers go on to influence more people, meaning what they say has a greater impact on earned media attention … the real challenge comes with how to manage influencer engagement at scale.

Put simply: If you want to be an influencer, you must engage with influencers and audiences. Not just “connect” with them, but build real relationships with them. Anything less isn’t enough.

Are Your Sales Reps Too Social to Socialize?

What’s the lesson here for sales reps? A LinkedIn connection is not automatically a relationship, and it’s definitely not a sales lead.

Remember the days when people accepted every LinkedIn invitation? We felt special and included. It was like we were back in high school, vying for acceptance and popularity, and any invite was a good invite. We were finally going to the big party!

Well, sales is not a party. Selling is about building relationships, not having the most LinkedIn connections. For social selling to work, it’s not enough just to grow your networks. You must also nurture them. That means putting in the time and effort online. It also means eventually taking those sales conversations offline and making in-person connections that count.

To turn a stranger from a contact to a connection, sales reps must first prove their value and build authentic relationships. Then, and only then, do they have any chance of converting connections into prospects or asking for referrals.

What I Plan to Do Differently

Cracking the top 50 is a good start, but I still have plenty of work to do if I want to become a key influencer. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Onalytica has a free Influencer map. If you plug in a URL from your blog post or upload an article, Onalytica provides a list of all of the influencers who write on the same or similar topics.

I’ve already done this for myself. Going forward, I will:

  • Read influencer posts, comment, and share.
  • Invite them to connect with me on LinkedIn (using a personal message, of course).
  • Follow them on all social channels.
  • Re-tweet their posts.
  • Introduce myself to the ones I don’t already know and start conversations with them.

What I will NOT do is pay people to share my posts. That goes against my values. Either my content is relevant to their connections or it’s not.

To me, a “pay to play” approach is akin to offering incentives for clients who provide referrals. And that’s something I never do. Both social media and referral selling should be driven by an authentic desire to build relationships and help other people make mutually-beneficial connections—not a desire to get kick-backs.

My advice for social sellers: Remember to bring your best self to your online interactions, and whenever possible to take those conversations offline. Actually talking to people strengthens connections in a way that just doesn’t happen when we’re staring at screens. Also make an effort to identify influencers in your network. Reach out, comment, share their wisdom. Don’t be a secret. Become an influencer yourself!

Join the Conversation: What steps will you take to become a social media influencer?