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In today’s world of online marketing, we’re saturated with information from all sides in both the B2C and B2B space and constantly looking to make connections. But how do we develop strong relationships that not only last but also regularly lead to sales?
In this article, we look at what social selling is and how it’s likely taking the place of cold calling when it comes to digital sales strategies.
What’s social selling?
Social selling is exactly what it sounds like: using social media to essentially sell a service, good or product. But unlike the typical sales call or direct marketing campaign, for instance, the act of social selling is more of a lead generating activity, and therefore it sits at the top of the sales funnel.
To that extent, the term social selling can be a little bit misleading in that it’s not really about 'the sale'; rather, it’s about prospecting, engagement, and relationship-building. It’s also a very useful tool when it comes to informing, educating, and building brand awareness.
(While social selling can also happen face-to-face, for the purposes of this article we’ll mainly stick with the digital aspect of social selling.)
Why does social selling work?
According to Sirius Decisions, 67% of a buyer’s journey takes place in the digital sphere, and most of the time these days people are doing online research before making a purchasing decision.
This means that the information they’re seeing about products and services in their social feeds is bound to make an impact. And in the B2B sphere, there’s plenty of reason for people to be choosy and careful about who they’re partnering with.
Social selling is also useful for connecting with others, especially influencers in their field such as thought leaders or celebrities. When you’re networking, you’re usually looking to follow others with a strong social media following so that you can essentially tailgate off of their audience.
The reason why social selling works and cold calling (mostly) doesn’t is that it’s offering us a new way to have real, two-way conversations. As consumers and clients, we don’t need to listen to a 'pitch' when we have more and more information available to choose what we purchase and who we partner with.
To put it simply: social selling is more meaningful than a cold call so even though it may not convert directly, it’s probably just going to feel more like an equal exchange and less like a one-way conversation.
Does 'cold calling' or 'cold pitching' still work at all?
In the past, the cold call was more or less the only option for salespeople – that is, knock on someone’s door or look them up in the phonebook to try to convert at that first point of contact. In those instances, a salesperson probably would have one chance to “talk a person up,” so there was pressure to make an immediate sale.
Today, of course, we have plenty of other marketing options. Finding and nurturing leads is easier than ever, not only because we have a greater variety of tools to do so, but also simply because it’s more natural to be connecting with strangers over social media regarding products and services that interest us.
Cold pitching – for instance through email – can still work as a general introduction, but it’s not a good idea to try to do a hard sell from the get-go. The best salespeople (in B2B or B2C) will use a variety of methods to generate leads but the traditional method of cold calling is no longer valid – but finding other ways to connect with people in the online world certainly is.
Connecting Without Cold Calling
The concept behind social selling is that it allows your prospect to engage with you in a low-pressure way – that is, by choice.
Traditionally, cold calling is both invasive for the receiver and nerve-wracking for the caller, making both ends easily tense and awkward through the introduction. However, using social selling can be more effective because:
- It gives the receiver the option of responding when they have the time
- It allows the receiver to gather information about a product or service so that they can make a choice as to whether or not they want to have a conversation about it
- It relieves the emotional pressure on both ends of the conversation
The idea behind social selling which is opposite to the original “cold call” concept is that you have an opportunity to share, educate, or even offer something of value without pressuring the receiver to give you anything.
In other words, you can frame it as a genuine offer instead of an ask. When you approach people cold by giving them information, they are more likely to offer you something in return, if they feel they’ve been given something that’s genuinely useful or valuable.
How can social selling grow your business?
When you are engaging with people in your field, especially leaders who you learn from, you’re doing some form of social selling. And connecting with them need not be daunting or complex. There are plenty of tools out there to help you understand who you want to connect with as well as how you connect with them.
So long as you understand what you’re offering, you can use any social media platform to connect with people in your industry – in the B2B space, LinkedIn will be the best option, simply because it does have a decidedly professional focus.
If you are innovative about using the tools provided on the site, you can find people easily – for instance, by asking for referrals from existing contacts, using endorsements, or creating specialty searches.
LinkedIn Tools that Help with Social Selling
There are a number of tools that you can use either within LinkedIn or in conjunction with it that can do a lot of the legwork for you – research that in the past would have been quite time-consuming to do.
For instance, Crystal gives you information and insights into people’s work styles and personality types in order to guide you towards the best ways of connecting with them. And tools like SalesLoft Prospector gather data for you across multiple channels in order to offer real-time information about various companies and contacts.
Even if you’re just sticking to LinkedIn for your networking, there are plenty of opportunities to boost your authority and visibility via simple blog posts and Slideshare slideshows.
How is social selling useful for marketers?
LinkedIn claims that 78% of those using social selling are more successful than their peers who aren’t – here’s why. The website also states that more than 75% of buyers are prepared to have a B2B conversation, so there’s no need to be hesitant about approaching people in your industry.
The main thing that must be emphasized when it comes to cold calling versus social selling is that cold calling typically is not going to be your best bet when it comes to long-term relationship-building unless you are using it strategically in combination with social selling strategies. Social selling simply offers more opportunities to grab new leads in a more subtle and authentic way – it’s warmer and gives the person on the other end more room to choose their response.
Another area that social selling is useful for is personal branding. If you think about popular thought leaders in the digital marketing sphere like Neil Patel or Jay Baer, they’re using social selling to market themselves in such a way that combines both a personal and professional presence. They are marketing their entrepreneurship but including the human element – and it’s exactly this transparency that makes people trust what they’re doing and what they have to say.
The Bottom Line
While cold calling can be successful in certain circumstances, in today’s world that’s dominated by social media, most of the time people in any field are going to be better off social selling, simply because of the way people are consuming information, goods, and services these days. There may, however, still be a case for using both social media and cold calling in conjunction with each other, but it should be done with care.
In today’s world of digital media, it’s clear that there’s a strong argument for social selling and that the selling technique of cold calling is, at least in most cases, not going to be worth the effort. This is because when people want to buy or even partner up, they’re going to probably do a quick search online and then go from there.
They are more likely reach out to their trusted peer groups, which includes social networks and LinkedIn prospects. They may read reviews online, have discussions in Facebook groups, or try to connect with professional contacts on LinkedIn.
The main thing is that social selling is about long-term relationship building, whereas cold calling is just to “make a sale” – and with today’s discerning audiences, it’s just not enough to make a one-time sale these days.