​Social selling: What it is and why it matters

Michael Krigsman



Selling is the lifeblood of most companies. But traditional, command-and-control approaches to enterprise sales may not always be best.

Among the alternatives is a school of thought called "social selling." This approach leverages social media as a mechanism to understand customers and support their business goals. More than that, social selling embodies a philosophy that says doing right for the buyer will translate into higher revenue and increased customer satisfaction. The key to achieving this magic is developing relationships with buyers.

Perhaps the most visible spokesperson for social selling is Jill Rowley. A former enterprise salesperson who carried a quota, she knows both traditional sales and social selling.

Jill was a guest on the CXOTalk video show to share her views and explain what social selling really is. You can view the entire conversation embedded below:

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

What is social selling?

I define social selling as using social networks like LinkedIn, like Twitter to do research, to be relevant, to build relationships that drive revenue. I define it differently from social media. Social media is about reach. Social networks are about relationships.

It's using these social networks to do research on the buyer, the buying committee, and their sphere of influence, to be more relevant to the buyer, to build a better relationship with the buyer. That ultimately drives revenue from the buyer.

How is social selling different from traditional selling?

Social is an incremental and additional channel to doing research, to be relevant, to build relationships that drive revenue. There are some concepts that are different, but I actually think that all great salespeople have had the mindset of what we're defining now as a social seller.

And the mindset is that you're helping the buyer buy. You're not forcing your sales process down the buyer's throat, but you have this perspective of helping solve business problems and achieving better business outcomes.

The modern buyer is empowered and can learn on her own. She can leverage the digital web. She can leverage social networks to get educated and informed. She isn't reliant on the sales professional for access to information and also access to people like reference customers.

The dynamic has changed and the buyer has changed more in the past 10 years than in the past 100, and sales has to adapt.

What is the difference between closing and connecting?

The ultimate goal of an organization is to create happy customers who are generating massive value from your solutions so they're willing to be your advocates.

But in sales, traditionally the compensation plan drives the behavior and the comp plan in sales is about getting that deal closed. It's about getting the signature on the agreement and closing that deal. That still is absolutely important. I'm not telling salespeople to stop closing, but I'm helping them do it with a different mindset. The mindset of not rushing them to signature, but coaching them to success throughout their buying process. Helping that buyer get to the point where they're able to make a purchase decision

"Always be connecting" is about understanding the buying atmosphere. It's the connection that leads to the conversation that ultimately is helping your buyer to buy, which is all about getting them to a close.

Good selling is all about understanding who the ideal customer is, who the best-fit customers are, to generate massive value for them. Understanding how you can help achieve their business objectives, their goals, their personal goals -- and looking at it through the eyes of that customer, even saying "no" to deals that aren't good for the customer.

If your sales reps are closing bad deals, your customers who were oversold will take to their social networks and say negative things. Not only that, in the SaaS world where it's a subscription they're not going to renew. They're not going to buy more. And so you're going to have attrition and churn, which is the death of a SaaS company.

What are the weaknesses of traditional sales?

Too often we're seeing generic messages, generic scripted calls, even from really large companies that should be embracing social. When I download a piece of content, I get the same generic email not showing any knowledge of who I am, my business. That's just not going to cut through the clutter. It's noise. It's adding more noise to the dramatic amount of noise that I already have.

How does social selling overcome these weaknesses?

Social selling is about real genuine authentic relationship. It's about helping, continuing to be a resource, a subject matter expert, for your customer and for new customers.

Social selling is about creating and connecting your existing customers with each other. Creating and connecting your existing customers with other new sources, resources, subject matter experts, complimentary solutions to ensure that they are more successful.

Social selling is more of a team sport than an individual sport. It's about sharing information openly and really thinking about how do we create a vibrant, more passionate ecosystem. Ultimately helping the customer in a longer term environment versus my monthly number, my quarterly number, my annual number.

Thinking about customers as people, not as targets and really thinking about how you help those people.

Many people in social selling think it's a tool. And they run out and they buy a tool and they think they are doing social selling, and a fool with a tool is still a fool. A fool with lots of tools is an even bigger tool, and so that mindset of helping the buyer, facilitating the buyer's journey, understanding the various buyers personas over the buying process, then the skills of leveraging social networks to do that help work, that sale work and then ultimately the tools.

What are the obstacles to adopting social selling?

If you think about companies that have traditionally been command-and-control, hierarchical, top-down, and less open. Culture is going to be a big deal. But done well, social selling means being found by buyers because you are sharing so much valuable information and insights and content. And you're engaging in a public way.

Companies that aren't okay with their sales professionals really creating and establishing a strong professional personal brand, they're going to struggle with social selling.

Another obstacle is sales leadership. Sales leaders who didn't grow up with social, and often without enough understanding of social for business, they might think it's social for popularity or a waste of time. And so I think there is a lot of education needed around how social is actually another channel to help meet revenue goals and success of the customer.

Oct 13, 2015