Social selling is a relatively new term that has emerged in recent years along with the development of social media. In practice, it involves integrating social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, with the traditional sales work of building up relationships and getting in contact with potential new customers. Social selling can be comprised of sharing relevant knowledge, interacting with existing and potential customers, and staying abreast of customers’ needs and online activity. The goal is usually to develop meaningful relationships and create increased trust, build one’s own or the company’s brand, and be top of mind for customers when they are ready to make a purchase.
A fundamental shift in our way of communicating and interpreting the world lies hidden behind this development. At its core, behavior is largely unchanged – we have a need to interact, show off, socialize and create relationships – but the channels are new. The use of social media has increased dramatically. Today, 2.5 of the world’s 7.6 million people use social media, which is equivalent to about a third of the world’s population. The trend is increasing rapidly; it has been estimated that over 3 billion people will use social media by 2021 – an increase of over 200 percent since 2010.1
Facebook is at the top of the league, with over 2.2 billion active users monthly, followed by YouTube, which has about 1.5 billion users every month.2 That is an increase of nearly 700 percent since the beginning of 2010, when they had about 64 million members.3 According to Statista, about half of these – 260 million – are active users. In Sweden an estimated 30 percent of the population over the age of 16 uses LinkedIn sometime each year, compared to Facebook which lies around 74 percent.
When social relationships increasingly move to the net, sales reps have to follow. Social selling has become increasingly popular in a number of industries, but it is used the most within B2B sales or more considered customer purchases (such as financial advisory services and car purchases) where human interaction is important. Just as in traditional customer meetings, social selling is more about dialogue than monologue. It is not about disseminating information, which often seems to be the case when studying posts in social media. It is about interaction. Listening, inviting and conversing more than selling. In this sense the term social selling is somewhat misleading, because it implies that one should make deals via social media.
The road to success in social selling requires involving, engaging and nurturing a relationship with the customer instead of chasing them. The traditional way, where we push a message, is dying out and being replaced by inspiring and educating our target group. In the new paradigm, it is about building one’s own trustworthiness as an expert, consultant or advisor, so that the customer becomes curious and wants to interact with the seller. They want to be able to identify, belong, and know that it is worth investing time in the dialogue. Therefore, it is not about advertising for someone, but with someone. Engagement before attention. And the proof of success is shares, comments and new business relationships.
The modern customer is digitally driven, socially connected and mobile empowered. Sales reps need to adapt or be replaced. | Jill Rowley, Chief Growth Officer at Marketo
How far have companies come with social selling? Some studies indicate that many sales and marketing managers recognize the need to formalize and invest in social selling, and have made some progress. Others say that there is a lot left to do.4 According to a study by Forrester, nearly 50 percent of companies have developed a program and strategy for social selling and 28 percent are in the process of doing so.5 Forrester claims that most companies see the value of social selling. The largest reason for this is that customers are becoming increasingly digital and use social media to educate themselves and get tips and advice from their networks. According to an article in Harvard Business Review, about 84 percent of all B2B purchases currently begin with a recommendation from someone in one’s network, and that nine out of ten purchasing decisions are made with the support of a business colleague.6 The same article states that social selling is growing where traditional methods for prospecting are becoming less effective. On average it takes about 18 telephone calls to arrange a customer meeting and only one percent of customers call back when a sales rep leaves a message.
When handled correctly, there are many advantages to using social media in sales work. According to LinkedIn’s own studies, it is 51 percent more likely that a sales rep will reach their quota if they utilize social media for building business relationships. According to LinkedIn, those sales reps that actively use social media perform 78 percent better in their sales work than those who don’t.7 On the Internet one can find examples of companies that have succeeded in implementing a social selling strategy. One of those is the company NICEinContact that sells a platform for customer centers. The sales department carried out an experiment where they divided up their sales team into two groups. One of the groups was educated to use LinkedIn for sharing materials and engaging with potential clients, while the other group continued to drive their sales in a traditional way. After six months they evaluated the results. The group that worked with social selling had increased their revenues per sales rep by 122 percent.8 The trend toward increased use of social media for driving sales will likely continue to grow in the coming years. If possible in other forms and on other platforms. But entirely ignoring this trend will be costly for many companies.
4 LinkedIn (2016). What The Rise of Social Selling means for Marketers. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from: https://business.linkedin.com/en-uk/marketing-solutions/blog/posts/social-selling/2016/what-the-rise-of-social-selling-means-for-marketers
5 Forrester Consulting, 2017: Social Selling: A New B2B Imperative Embrace A
Programmatic Social Selling Approach To Boost Sales Effectiveness,