Dec 09, 2022

Successful Social Selling

Julie Atherton photo

byJulie Atherton

Posted on Dec 09, 2022

Consultant, founder, strategist, and author Julie Atherton and customer relationship growth manager at Intercom Sean Gallagher join host Will Francis to tell us why Social Selling is more about value than sales. Julie and Sean discuss their original research, which Sean worked on while undertaking his master’s dissertation under Julie’s supervision.

They also talk us through how a personal and company profile can complement one another, and how to go about starting meaningful relationships with industry leaders, among many other topics. Julie and Sean leave us with many practical sales tips on considering TikTok and other socials for selling, and the importance of consistency and genuineness in fostering leads.

If you are interested in buying Julie's latest book "B2B Social Selling Strategy" then listen now to get an exclusive discount code from Julie. 

The Ahead of the Game podcast is brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute and is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and YouTube.

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Podcast transcript

Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. I'm your host, Will Francis. And today, I'll be talking to Julie Atherton and Sean Gallagher, all about social selling. That's using social media as a key part of the sales process. Julie is the founder of social transformation advisory Small Wonder, a speaker, consultant, strategist, and author on the topic. She's written two acclaimed books on social media strategy, and the latest one, "B2B Social Selling Strategy," has recently hit bookshelves, with its indispensable advice for B2B sales and marketing professionals. And listen to the end for a discount code, which Julie is gonna give us for the book.

Sean is the customer relationship growth manager at Intercom, the popular customer communications platform. Sean uses his sales expertise to help sales and marketing teams drive more revenue, and he brings support and product teams closer to their customers. Sean was also a previous student here at the DMI, and he worked with Julie while he was undertaking his master's dissertation, and some of that research went into the book. So, together, they're gonna explain and help us understand social selling much more clearly. Julie, Sean, welcome to the podcast.

Julie: Hi, welcome. Thanks for having us, Will.

Sean: Hi, excited to be here.

Will: Great stuff. It is fantastic to have you both here, two for the price of one, to talk about social selling, which is just one of those topics that there's still, I think, a lot of, I don't know, mystery around for people. People want to know more about it. They feel like they're not leveraging it as much as they probably can. So, let's get into how it works and why, but, do you know what? I do like to start by just setting the scene on these things. Let's just recap for our listeners what exactly social selling is. Julie, what would you say it is in a nutshell?

Julie: Well, I think it's ultimately about relationship-building. So, it's thinking about how you... You know, we follow a lot of organizations and brands on social media. We engage with them. But really, what we wanna do is engage with people. So, social selling is about supercharging your personal profile, and kind of building relationships that really last a long time, and are mutually beneficial to you and to the people that you're trying to sell to.

Will: Sean, what would you say? You know, how do you describe it there at Intercom to people?

Sean: Yeah, I would definitely agree with Julie that it's something that really needs to focus on sharing value, building your network, and being able to actually leverage your own network to be able to have a greater impact for your own business, but hopefully break new ground and connections, so that you can actually help people as well. So, I think paying it forward is something that I really hold dearly when I think about trying to socially sell. It's about maybe not something that might be an instant result today, but we know that over time, it's a really good thing to do.

Will: So, because you've built that relationship in the long term, the sales efforts you're gonna make in the future are helped because ethos, you know, in sales terms, you've warmed the leads.

Julie: I think it's even more than that, actually. I think it's this value thing that Sean talked about. It's like, you don't want to focus ultimately on the sale, really. What you're focusing on is the relationship that, you know, will bring sales in the end. We know it does. But actually, the reason for those continual engagements, the long-term nature of that relationship, means that that sale may not be in the next week or the next month. And if you're too driven by those sales targets, then you're not going to be building a social selling relationship. You're just driving sales activation, which is a completely different mindset and approach, I'd say.

Will: That's very true. And so, Sean, at Intercom, when people, you know, review your work, I mean, what are the metrics that you show to define success?

Will: Yeah, I think there's a lot of different ways you can measure metrics. I mean, in a previous role, I was doing a lot of social selling as an SDR. So, I was trying to open new virtual doors, some new meetings. So, I would have metrics based on what meetings I would have. But for something like social selling, it's something that, it can sometimes be difficult to measure. And this actually links to some of the research that I did, but some of the typical activities would be getting involved in the conversation on social media. So, wouldn't necessarily be tracking for the number of activities, but each day, coming in, seeing if I could offer value, if I could start a conversation based on what people cared about, or noticing something about them or what was happening in their world, to try and build a connection.

Will: That's interesting. And just to clarify, you were doing that as Sean, not Intercom?

Sean: That's a really good point, I think. And, like, Julie, maybe you could jump in on this, because I know you've a lot of experience as well in the regular digital marketing sphere, not just social selling, is that sometimes people will think about social selling as if, "Well, the company is saying this, so I'll say this and do what the company does." But we have a unique competitive advantage as having personalities, and being able to tell our own version of the story, or convey what value the business can offer, in our own way. And I think people can always pick up when you're saying what the business just said, or just reposting what the business said, or talking about a conversation that you had with a customer, and something that's happening in the industry, or, you know, just opening up a conversation that will give you a bit more credibility, I think. So, that there's not definite metrics of send this many messages or leave this many comments, but there's certain behaviors that I think are really good to do daily and over time that should help.

Will: Then, you mentioned Julie might have something to say. What have you got to say about that, Julie? You know, just this person versus company voice?

Julie: Yeah. So, I think if we think about a sales relationship, you know, so, when we're building those sales relationships. And that may be, you know, in a big organization and a kind of tech kind of company, like Sean works for. It might be in a small, you know, manufacturing business, or in a very small, maybe an entrepreneurial startup, something like that. So, there's lots and lots of different ways that we're using this kind of activity. But in each case, the individuals themselves are likely to have bigger, and certainly more engaged, social networks on those platforms than the brand is going to have. Many people follow brands, but they don't really engage with that. So we'll see, you know, 8, 10 times more engagement rate and significantly more reach when we use those personal profiles.

So, what we're trying to do is we don't want to be just using corporate-speak on those personal profiles, because the reason they're following us is because of us, who we are as people, and what our personality's about, and what our unique area of expertise and value and all of these things are about. And therefore, we have to have our own personality as part of that. And we have to empathize with our own network, because our network will be slightly different section of the population than our brand's network will be, and different from another person in the salesforce's network. And that's a real value to the business, but it also is really important for us, because it's our personal profile. So, we want to make sure we are true to our own values and our own personality, because, you know, we've built that network because of those things.

So, I think this personal profile is really important. And that's why you can't be just sell, sell, sell, because that's not why people are following you, that's not why people are engaging with you, and you'll lose that network and the value you bring to that network if you do that. So, you have to think about, you know, why people are in our network, and what they're following us for, or why they're engaged with us. And then we have to bring that value in. And eventually, you will lead to sales. But if sales are the core target, then, you know, you will lose sight of what you're really trying to do. It's interesting. So, in the book, I talked to head of social for Ericsson, and, Anita, who has that role.

She talked about, you know, when they start doing social selling with a sales team within the Ericsson Group, they wait six months before they expect to see any revenue at all. And they don't target any revenue at all. They target only how comfortable are you, how embedded are these behaviors that Sean was talking about in your team? How confident are the team, where are they on their social maturity journey? And then, ultimately, they see the sales come, so they don't need to target them with sales because they come at the end of that process.

Will: Wow. That's interesting. That's very interesting. I think that's it. It's just about timeframe really, isn't it? Because it's just a simple case of you can't just do it this week and go and measure the results next week. It's something that takes time. And, you know, what you're saying just sounds so similar to what I'm always telling my students and workshop attendees about social media in general, right? The ROI isn't something you measure next week. It's a very long-term thing. And it's not about selling. It's about building relationships with people, because clearly, like you say, the audience doesn't follow you to receive a load of sales corporate promotional rubbish, but at the same time, the algorithms are very keen to keep that kind of content hidden as well, because it just forces people off the platforms.

Julie: Yeah. And I think also, if we think about how people make decisions, and particularly if it's a big ticket item, you know, we're putting in a new IT system, or where, you know, we're gonna, you know, re-fit or move offices or whatever. You know, these huge decisions that people make in B2B, they affect... You know, it's not like me deciding I'm going for a Burger King or a McDonald's for my lunch, and I'm disappointed because I made the wrong choice. You know, if I make the wrong choice about what IT system to bring into my business, then my whole career could be on the line. Certainly, I'm gonna, you know, lose a lot of reputation within my, you know, my colleagues and the community that I work in.

So these people are very, very anxious about making those decisions. They take a long time, they involve a lot of people. And a lot of the research will be done upfront, you know, and hidden from the people who are selling. So, a lot of online research will be done behind the scenes. We'll be talking to other people via social networks and other means. And what we're trying to do with social selling is we're trying to be part of that conversation. We're trying to be providing that information, providing that insight, being a partner to those people, so that they feel confident making that decision with us, not about us. And...

Will: Yeah. Yes.

Julie: ...we're kidding ourselves if... They're not gonna buy an IT system off a social post, because if they did, they probably shouldn't be in charge of that, you know? So, we know that that's not gonna happen, but we also know that, you know, bombarding somebody's email is really annoying, but just dropping them a little note on social when you're connected with them, going, you know, "How's it going? Thought you might like this." You know, totally un-gate-kept, much less intrusive, much less, you know, chasey, is very, very nice way to keep what can be a long, you know, a long decision-making process going.

Will: Yeah. No, that's very true. Okay. That's interesting. We're getting under the skin of it, for sure. Sean, I'm interested to hear from you. At Intercom, where does social selling sit? Is it a sales or a marketing technique?

Sean: Well, I think something that's really important is, like, feeling like everyone's on the same team. So, a lot of the time we'll use some of the resources from marketing in our social selling effort. So, to Julie's point about having value and showing up with value. So, if there is any sort of industry research that might be relevant to some of our target audience that we're trying to build relationships with, that can be a way to strike up the conversation. You know, you could use some of that. But as far as who's doing it, it is the sales team. And I think one point I wanted to make was, I like to think of social selling and sales as an arm of digital marketing, and it's not very scalable, but I think that can be its strength.

So, what Julie mentioned about, being super personal, being able to break down those walls, so someone doesn't have to fill out a form to be able to evaluate. They could literally just be left an audio note on LinkedIn, or, often, I would be sending people videos, and be like, "Hey, wanted to introduce myself," drop you a line, and try and strike up a conversation and break down some of those walls. So, I think people can focus a lot on, "Well, once I have the script, I'll be able to know how to go about social selling, or if you just tell me the steps," that might be enough to get you started. But from my perspective, it's all about being personal, and using that as your competitive advantage, and just breaking down those walls, so people will want to know you and how you might be able to help them.

Will: Yes. Yeah, I get that. And do you think... I mean, but in what ways can marketing activity assist? Like, as someone in the sales team, like, what would you ideally wish that marketing were doing? Is it about marketing qualified leads, or is it softer stuff than that?

Sean: I think some of the times where it's worked quite well is sometimes it can even be field marketing with digital marketing. So, there might be an event. I remember one time in Intercom, we had a coffee networking event for our target audience. So, we'd work with a lot of customer support leaders. So, we were able to reach out and say, "Hey, noticed you're working on the support team in this company. We're actually having a coffee meetup in London. Why don't you drop down, have a free coffee, and there'll be a lot of other people in your industry there." So, that may not be as digitally focused, but that was a good way that we were able to team up and create that context and value offering, where we're saying, "We're not trying to force you into a meeting about Intercom, but here's something that might help you get to know people in your industry, and you might learn some stuff about support."

Will: Yeah. I suppose, again, it's that thing about value, isn't it? Whether it is an event, whether it's free white papers, or resources, articles, anything that brings people in because they find value in it is all part of... Again, as we say to people in social in general, just shouting at people isn't a great way to start a relationship, in real life, or in digital marketing. We're drawn to people who add value to our lives, right?

Sean: If you were to look at what marketing has been able to build with customer stories, and if they're in particular industries, and you see someone who's a lookalike customer in the industry, you could say, "Hey, Will, noticed you're working over in this company. Not sure if you're familiar with this competitor X. We're actually partnering with them because they have this problem. Might be interesting for you to check out, because it could be something you're experiencing." You know, and then that's a way of using the heavy lifting of marketing, who've gotten all these great metrics and really well-presented documentation. But it could be something where they're saying, "Actually, this is something we're looking into. Thanks for sharing that." Instead of, "Let me tell you about the company."

Will: Yeah. So, you mean, like, case studies, but ones that are not just shouting? Again, they're actually quite useful and informational for other companies.

Sean: If it's industry-specific, yeah. If it relates well to the person you're reaching out to, they're probably gonna wanna know what their competitors are up to, or how they're solving similar problems. And that's worked well for me to strike up conversations.

Julie: I just wanted to add to that, because I think, you know, when Sean's talking about, you know, using that content to kind of help him deliver those personal conversations. But if we think at an organizational level, if we think at a sort of structural level within the business, all of these individuals, like Sean, own their own social profiles. So, there's a business risk, to a certain extent, for organizations who use social selling in this way, that those individuals, you know, they build up these fantastic networks, and then they go and perhaps work for your competitor. So, you know, we have to mitigate this risk in terms of our own strategic planning at an organizational level. You know, if you're the chief exec and you're doing it, or it's your own business, you're not gonna leave. But, you know, when you've got big sales team like Sean works in a sales, you know, in a global business and they've got this, you know, a big sales team, that makes a... You know, as an organization, you've gotta think about what you do with that.

So, one of the things that marketing does, so, marketing helps you structure and work, in collaboration, exactly like Sean's talking about, what is it that we're trying to do to demonstrate the breadth of what we offer here, and the individuals that make up, that combination of individuals, make up this brand, make up what this business delivers. And so, Sean's part in that is one part, but there will be other elements that give different dimensions. But we also need to make sure that we can create the content. We need to make sure that we've got content that really does demonstrate our USPs as an organization. So, we're delivering content to Sean, and to everybody else within that team through marketing, that supports their personal thought leadership, branding, their own relationship-building, but is done and is delivered by their personal way of delivering it and their individual aspects that add value, but is also central to our core content pillars that we need to offer as an organization.

Will: And are people comfortable with that? Are people comfortable with, you know, being kind of, you know, an ambassador for the company that way and maybe in some way being, I suppose, slightly pressured to use their personal LinkedIn, or is everyone okay with that?

Sean: For me, it's as simple as, if I do social selling, I'll make more money. That sounds bad, but that's enough of a reason for me. It's not actually enforced here, so no one has to do it, but I've done sessions myself with some of the SDRs to encourage them to do it, because I feel like the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. And I will admit that there's complexity involved, but for me, I just think it can be such an untapped channel for reaching your target audience if you use it the right way.

Will: I mean, it's just an extension of you, isn't it? It's like saying, "Well, I'm not going wining and dining a client. You don't get to own my stomach, and dictate what goes in there," or something. I agree. I think, you know, look, if you wanna be a salesperson, then you use that extension of you in a worky way, and that feels appropriate. I mean, because I've had people ask me that question on my training courses, and I'll say something like... You know, I often use the analogy of football players. It's like, well, whilst Ronaldo is at Man United, which might not be for much longer, you know, he wears the Man United shirt. And then he'll go to some other club and he'll wear their shirt. You know, and that's okay. And because, you know, you see people on LinkedIn and sometimes they'll even have, like, a branded header on their profile. And great, you know, it's...

Julie: I think you're right, Will. But I think there is an ethical point that is really important, that we do reflect upon. So, as an organization, you know, you should not be forcing, I don't believe, you should be forcing people to use their social profiles to promote your business.

Julie: That is not really right. And I think you do see a lot of bad practice on channels like LinkedIn, where you've got young salespeople using their own profiles to basically spam your inbox with DMs, you know. And that is not social selling. And that isn't doing the business, the organizations reputation, any good, and nor is it doing those individuals any good for their future careers and their own personal development. Because why would I want to be connected with somebody who behaves in that way in that environment? Where social selling works really, really well, for both the individual and for the business, is where you allow somebody to build their own personal reputation, their own personal credibility, and they're using your brand to do that as well. You know, they're benefiting from the fact that they work for your organization, that they've got this content to demonstrate their knowledge and thought leadership that's coming from the marketing team and from other areas, and they're growing their own career and their own profile with your, you know, with your endorsement on that.

And then, the quid pro quo bit is that the business benefits from this broader reach that they've got, this depth of credibility that they have with their target audience, and these personal connections that these individuals have. And it doesn't just have to be salespeople. So, perhaps you've got a really great data expert in your business, who's, like, a genius. Build their personal profile too. They won't do any direct selling for you, but they will grow your reputation, your organization's reputation, in a really meaningful way, as well as you growing their reputation. So, I think if you can... And this is why the process is about changing the culture within the business when you start to use social selling. It's not about going, "Okay. Now we're using social media. We want even more leads from you next week than we had last week." It's about, "How does social fit in with all of the behaviors and those conversations that people are having, and how do we as an organization harness that in a way that's positive for our staff and ourselves?"

Will: Yeah. I like that idea that, you know, it's let's grow together. You know, it's mutually beneficial. Everyone wins. And for employees feel good about being supported in their career, being developed in the long term, and the business can only gain from that. Yeah. Clearly.

Sean: Well, could I add to that point? I just wanted to say something quickly on that, is that I totally agree. And I think one of the ways it helps me do it is when I think about, if we're moving forward with the company, the mission of where I work is make internet business personal. So that kind of gives me free rein to be super personal, but also there are some company values as well. So, I feel like when there is a personality or a context in which you know how to put out the content, you can still make it your own, but still feel like it's aligned to the business. So, that's helped me a lot by saying, "Well, actually, this aligns very well with where the business cares about," so if I behave in that way, it's a nice way to steer how I behave.

Will: Hello. A quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI, so that you can enjoy loads more content, from webinars and case studies, to toolkits, and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing? Head to to sign up for free. Now, back to the podcast.

You know, I'd love to dig in to the research a little bit, because, Julie, I know your book that's just come out, it's got an element of original research from Sean's master's dissertation. I'd love to hear from both of you about that. Sean, you first. I'd love to hear, what were the most surprising findings that you unearthed during your research?

Sean: I can definitely get into that. I wanted to say really quickly though, that I really enjoyed doing my master's at DMI. They're not asking me to say this, but I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it, and did the postgrad, and then moved up to the master's. So, as someone in sales, I still think you can get a lot out of it. So, that was what was exciting for me taking on this research, was being able to see how it actually helps me and my sales career. And I still think there's a lot of crossover.

As far as your question about what was surprising, I suppose the general consensus is that everybody knows social selling is good and we should be doing more of it. But one of the things is just how little people actually know how to go about it. So, there's a level of the unknown. So, enablement, people not actually knowing how to go about it, and managers being able to support the salespeople in how to actually get people up and running so this can actually work well.

The last point I'd make is that often, like, you spoke about metrics, and often they would ask salespeople, "Well, how many calls did you make, how many emails did you send, and how many of this did you do?" And for stuff like word-of-mouth in marketing, we all know it works. And I feel like social selling can be in that bucket. So, maybe there needs to be more of a movement towards doing what we know works, even if we can't measure it.

Will: God, yeah. I think that is... Like I say, the pressure is on in that regard. I think that the way that social works, a lot of that is, yeah, is in some way untrackable, but we kind of instinctively know whether it's working or not.

Julie: I've got a really good example. There's a really, really good example in the book, actually. So, I interviewed a very senior person at SAP. And when they introduced social selling into SAP, they took a two salesforce. So, two sales teams who were doing know, said they were doing social selling, were using social media within their sales technique as part of their sales armory. And they took one group and they said, "Just carry on." So, they were both in the same region. They both had very similar sort of sales target, you know, audience for what they were doing. And they had a very similar kind of revenues they were making.

So, the first group, they said, "Just carry on doing exactly as you're doing." And the second group, they gave them all of the things that came out in Sean's research. They hadn't obviously seen Sean's research, but they did all of the things that were in Sean's research. You know, setting clear goals, making sure people really understood that they didn't have to be really so target-driven by this social selling, that it had a different role to play. But what were the goals, what do we want you to think about?

They gave them some support. So, lots of training, lots of encouragement, and someone to go to to really help them deliver that through. The other thing they did was they had modeled behavior. So, this came out very highly in Sean's research. You know, we need the leadership team, the managers, to be demonstrating good practice, and doing it themselves. And then we... And then finally, they showed them some evidence of whether it had worked or not. And that might be over quite a long period of time. So, SAP put this into place. One team they did all this support, and they gave them a strategy, they worked through it with them, and the other team they didn't. Nine months later, seven times the pipeline value, and much faster sales decisions.

Will: Wow. That's incredible, isn't it?

Julie: And so, you know, it's very, very... And that's only at the beginning. You know, because if you think about, this is a long-term relationship. This isn't about just, it ends. It means that when those people go on to work in another organization, that relationship goes with them, or when they come to buy something else in the future, or, you know, a organization like SAP's got so many add-ons to their sort of basic packages... You know, it's a very, very powerful tool, but we need to remember it's about people's personal relationships. It's about their own personal credibility, integrity, all of those things. So you have to give them the freedom to behave how they want to, how they feel comfortable, and support them in that. And that's why you've got to be a very mature organization in terms of your social mindset, in terms of the way you operate in social media, in order to give that freedom, and have the confidence in the people who work with you to behave well.

Will: Yeah. That's very interesting, that. I mean, Sean, when you were doing that research, not necessarily around SAP, just, you know, in general, what were the most common mistakes? I mean, you've sort of touched on it already, just people, like, banging out messages on LinkedIn, but, yeah, what were the most common mistakes people were making when they weren't getting it right?

Sean: I think a lot of it is trying to understand how to go about it. So, it's very similar to what Julie was saying in that you can, as a manager, just ask your team to go do it. But for some of the people, I mean, like, I've always used social media. I obviously did the course, have a good idea about social media, but some salespeople could be starting from, like, you know, they haven't used different social channels. So, I think there has to be a level of compassion there from the company, to say, "We're gonna give you everything you need, and we will have sessions, so that you're able to..." Or even, again, like Julie mentioned, to have someone who's setting an example and saying, "Well, this is why it works well, and this is how your leader is going about it." And that's a great way to learn as well. I think when you just declare that, "Go do it," I think a lot of people are just, they're overwhelmed with all their other daily targets that they just go, "I'll do that later."

Will: Totally. I think that's a really good takeaway for people as well, this kind of model behavior, making sure that the most senior people are also doing it in some way. For sure.

Julie: SAP had a train-the-trainer kind of approach. So, as they rolled out across each market, so they would have... We trained somebody to lead it within each team, and then those people, you know, were part of a collaborative group that worked together. But you might just be, you know, an individual. You might be an entrepreneur, and you wanna grow your business, and you haven't got all of those things. So, but wherever you sit, I think you have to start off with this auditing. You know, where are we? How confident are we in social media? What do we know? How comfortable are we? And then find the information, have the training, do the learning.

That might mean you go and get some coaching on personal branding, or you get some training, like Sean did, on how to use digital marketing channels. You know, so you might have to have some of that. And then embed that behavior. Give yourself time just to listen, to be on the platform, to see how it works, to understand who your audience are, and then start to build those relationships, you know? And eventually, those sales will come, but you've gotta take the time to build that network and the quality of network to be able to deliver that. And that's not an overnight thing. But it also needs some support. You can't do it on your own.

Sean: I think as well, something that you mentioned, Julie, is, like, the value, and knowing what the right type of content would be to share with your audience. So, if you're able to stand back and think about the top five problems that you're solving for your customers, and if you're able to be having content that makes them feel like they're learning and they're getting value, it's more reason for them to follow you or join the conversation, versus if it's maybe only about the company, because it's just not really very interesting for people.

Will: I mean, but I think that's the point, isn't it? I mean, a lot of times when I see... I don't know if they're consciously doing social selling, but a lot of times when I see people in advertising and marketing, who are most of my network, sharing content that's done really well on LinkedIn, it's not about the company they work for. It's just thought leadership, or it's, you know, they're just sharing some cool innovation they've seen, and people really love it. I mean, that's what we're talking about, isn't it? It's not... You know, I know you said it's not always being the corporate tone, but it's not even talking about the company you work for most of the time, I would've thought.

Julie: And also you don't have to think about content creation. I think a lot of people are scared that they've gotta write content, they've gotta suddenly become really great bloggers and all this kind of stuff. Actually, it's really about curation. It's about what you bring and what you identify as being important to your audience, and how you package that up for them. So, you might find some of that information within your business, but you might also find exactly some of that information in what you heard on the radio driving in to work, or, you know, what somebody told you in the pub, or just from your other kind of, you know, browsing on social or on other platforms.

Sean: We are talking a lot about the context of the business, and driving sales for the business, but also there's a piece of your own personal career journey as well. And that could be super endearing. So, maybe you don't know immediately how to do this, but by putting yourself out there and maybe putting your hand up when you learn something that might be something that your audience wants to learn, everybody can get behind that, because it's a bit more humility. And often people will say, "We're the best company ever," or "I'm the best salesperson ever." But it can be quite interesting if someone's like, "Here's something that I got completely wrong, and here's how I figured out why." And that type of stuff can really help people lean in, I think. So, being your real self, easier said than done, but I think that the more you can lean into that, the more people will notice.

Will: Right. When this episode ends, and the music plays, and I thank people for listening, at that point, what should people go away and do straight away to get some sort of social selling, effective social selling, activity rolling?

Julie: Well, I probably would say this because I'm a strategist, but I think you have to have a plan, a strategy, a goal that you want to achieve, and some steps in place to get there. And I think that's probably the most important thing. So, you need to be able to do that organizationally. So, you may lead your organization. That's fine. You can make that decision. But if you don't, then you need to bring know, it has to come through that, through everyone within that organization with the culture of that business. Because I think social selling depends on a collaborative, consistent, unified approach that sits with your personal brand and your company brand working in synergy together. So, unless you've got that collaborative approach, and unless you've got a clear plan of how you're going to deliver that, you know, you risk damaging your business rather than empowering your business.

So, that would be my first point. I think my second point then sounds odd, because I've probably scared people, is don't be as scared. So, go and have a listen, you know, which of the channel that you need to be on, and spend some time there just watching, listening, finding out what's going on, and seeing how that works. And then the other thing I would do is I would really analyze and audit my network. So, many people accept every request to go in there to be in their network, because they think bigger is better. It isn't. It's actually the quality of their network that's really, really important. So, you can download your own data from LinkedIn, you can have a look at who's on there, and actually you might find you've just got loads of people who are totally irrelevant to you building your profile.

And what I mean by that is not just your profile for the business that you work for, where you can support them in social selling, but your own personal profile, about what you want to stand for in the industry that you're in. And therefore, you may find that you are underrepresented with the types of people who ought to be in that network. And before you start social selling, you need to find a network that's right, and you need to be having relevant conversations with them. You know, you need to be important to that network. So, understand who they are, understand who you are in relation to that, and that will be a really important starting point.

Will: That's very interesting about quality. Just to pick up on that, I've not really thought about that so much. You're right. If you've got 10,000 connections, and only 1,000 of them are the ones that you want to hear from you, and there's an average of let's say a 5% organic reach on your average post, I'm oversimplifying here, you're actually reaching 0.5% of the people that you want to reach, because they're only a 10th of your audience.

Julie: Yeah. And they might all be the irrelevant ones, because actually, what you... And you think about the way the algorithm works as well, in terms of the relevancy scores and all of those kind of things, if your audience is too disparate and too...

Julie: You know, because we're not all, you know, Richard Branson, or, you know, like, Bill Gates, who, you know, they're gonna get seen whatever they do.

Will: Yeah. You want the high engagement rates, because you want the algorithm to go, "Wow." Yeah.

Julie: We'll only get that if our content is relevant to them and to us, and our thoughts and what we're sharing is relevant. So therefore, the quality of that network, the depth of that network. You know, I'm much better off having five connections within one organization that might be really important to my career or to my business than I am having, you know, 1,000 connections in a load of random organizations or random roles that are never gonna be of importance or of relevance. So, we have to think about that. You know, I think that's very important. And most people, I don't think... Well, my experience, you know, when I work with organizations, is most people never look at who they're connected to in any kind of strategic or structured way. They just kind of carry on accepting people, and don't look to, you know, who they should be connecting with in a strategic way, even, sometimes as well. So, yeah, that's really important.

Will: Sean, what would you say to a listener, to your average listener wanting to kind of get some of this stuff moving, as just very, very practical things that they could do straight after listening to this show?

Sean: Absolutely. So, if you're in sales, if you're thinking about getting into social selling, I think a good exercise might be to sit down and think about what value you could bring to the audience that you're trying to reach. Also, what value the business can bring, and maybe try to do a bit of a mind map, try to take it apart and really understand where the value is. I'd also have a look at someone else in the industry that is, you know, the standard you want to hit. So, why are they doing it well? What is it about the way they do it? Simultaneously, I still think it's really important to be yourself and make it your own. So, I wouldn't say copy someone, but I definitely think the secret sauce, I think, is being able to be yourself in this context. So, getting to know yourself well. Like, as an example, you know, I'm a runner. So, maybe if I'm able to tie in some of that to how I frame my learning or ways that the audience can get to know me, what's the unique thing that you bring? And I think that's gonna really hook people in because they'll say, "Oh, that's the guy who talks about these things, but he's also doing this other stuff." So, getting to know yourself is the first point.

And then the second point, and it's kind of a boring one, but it's a typical sales one, is just be regular, be consistent. Keep doing it. Even if you feel like it's not working, just do it again. And good enough is good enough. Have faith in what's gonna happen if you invest in this and you believe in yourself over the days and weeks and months, because no one else is doing this. And if you just have faith, the results will come. So don't give up.

Will: Yeah. That's very, very sage advice. Nice one, Sean. One final question for you. Just give me one trend that you think that is emerging. You know, one change that you envisage emerging in the domain of social selling in 2023. Julie, have you got any thoughts on that?

Julie: So, I think there will be a clear...and I think it's already emerging, this clear demarcation between the businesses that empower and support their teams to use social media effectively in this kind of relationship-building, and the kind of organizations who see social as another channel to push sales messaging through. And I think that demarcation is starting to emerge, and I think it will continue. And I think some organizations are very fearful of giving control, or allowing individuals to do exactly as Sean's been talking about, this get their personality in there, to grow their own personal profile alongside the business'. They're much rather, much happier saying, "Send out these targeted messages through your InMail," you know, using InMail.

So, I think that separation is gonna get more extreme. And I think the danger is that if we have too much of this kind of spamming going on, it becomes more and more difficult for people who are relationship-builders, natural networkers, you know, interested in this value conversation, you know, it becomes more difficult for them to separate themselves from those two things. So, I'll be interested to see how that plays out over the next year really, because I think that's already started to happen.

Will: That's very interesting. Sean, how do you think social selling might develop over the next year or so?

Sean: One thing that I've noticed, I recently downloaded TikTok, and I'm definitely addicted to it, is how much founders, and sometimes startup founders are showing the journey of their business, alongside building their brand. And I've seen even some B2B companies really embrace the humor and, you know, build an audience on newer channels like TikTok, if you'd... I'd consider TikTok newer. Anyway, I'm probably getting old now. But I've found that to be quite engaging because, you know, getting these videos, I'm laughing, but I'm also learning about the business. So, some people are doing this really well and very effectively, and you'll end up following them and then, yeah, you're learning about the business as well. So, I can see that being a big movement, leaders getting much more involved in social in a very casual way, to break down some of those barriers.

Julie: LinkedIn isn't the only social selling channel, though. You know, all of the channels are used in very different ways. But, you know, as an individual, because it's you and your personality, and you're building your own personal profile, your favorite channel might be Instagram, or it might be Facebook, or it might be TikTok. And there's no reason why you can't use that. LinkedIn's got a very nice, you know, integrated platform as a way... You know, it's kind of built for social selling, but that doesn't mean it has to be the social selling network. And certainly, in lots of other countries, LinkedIn is not. You know, it's just because in the U.S., the UK, Northern Europe, it's a really powerful and important channel, it doesn't mean to say it's the same in other countries. And so, you know, we have to remember that, that, you know, it's not all LinkedIn. I think that's a really good point.

Will: Yeah. True. Look, I've taken up lots of your time. I feel like I've learnt loads. And all that really remains for me to ask you is just remind our users, before we go, where they can find and connect with you online. Sean.

Sean: Connect with me on LinkedIn. I haven't deleted all of my connections yet. So still plenty of room for all of you. But yeah, that's on my to-do list now after Julie shared that.

Will: Julie, where can people connect with you, find you online?

Julie: So, you can find me on LinkedIn or on Twitter, @JulieAthertonSW. And if you'd like a discount code for the book, then go to Kogan Page and use AMK20 at checkout.

Will: Ooh, thank you. That's great. Money off. No, the book sounds really useful. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. So, thanks for that. We will do that. Well guys, thanks so much. I really appreciate you taking the time, both of you, to come and, you know, share your insights and your knowledge. I think that was a very useful episode for people. So yeah, thanks very much.

Julie: Thank you.

Sean: Thanks a million. Bye-bye.

Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to Thanks for listening.

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Julie Atherton

Julie is an award-winning digital strategist, with over 30 years’ experience. Having worked both agency and client-side, she has a wealth of knowledge on delivering marketing, brand and business strategy across almost every sector. In 2016, Julie set up Small Wonder. Drawing on her past experience, she now supports a wide range of businesses, from global brands, to educational organisations and social enterprises.She is the author of the book, Social Media Strategy which was a top read chosen by Thinkers360. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.