How To… Social selling demystified

Social selling - core to our business we're told and ultimately essential to its success. But what is it, how does it work and what can you expect from it? In this first part of OPI's How to... guide to social selling, content marketing expert Th


Let’s set the scene. Originally understood as 2.0 forums or enhanced address books, social networks have blossomed into media or even metamedia. Their aim is to attract content – and lots of it. They want to host communities and they make most of their profit from advertising revenues, along with the database of your fans, followers, contacts and friends – all of whom belong to them.

It’s a system that came into being long before Admen. But only being interested in the traditional advertising dimension, the ‘push’ of social media, is to look at one side of the coin only. Social media have so much more to offer you: the targeted diffusion of content that belongs to you; the ability to interact with your audience; and the opportunity to develop the individual authority of your sales people and help them to develop their own network.

What is social selling?

Social selling is the umbrella term for all practices that consist of using social business networks to promote the performance of sales teams. 

Sylvie Lachkar, Social Selling Evangelist at SAP and author of Social Selling Explained To My Boss, presents it like this: “Social selling enables sales people to improve their performance by using social media”. In other words, it’s not a revolution, but simply a new channel used by sales teams.

Social selling enables sales people to find new prospects via social media, facilitate contact with them, initiate an appointment more easily and then to enrich the way that appointment pans out and make the process smoother. 

Contrary to what it sounds like, social selling is not a method of online selling. Instead, it’s a sales facilitator that takes advantage of new business customs as well as new tools that are now accessible to sales teams.

For a sales person, social selling is about:

  • observing and locating new prospects and customers
  • developing a position in social media that is professional and reassuring for the target audience
  • looking for the right people to talk to
  • interacting with prospects, based on relevant details gathered in advance.

These all seem like fairly conventional ways of building and preparing a sales strategy, except that social selling uses new channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter and any other of the many social networks. It involves identifying the target, catching the prospect’s eye and establishing contact. But with social selling, the ‘boots and all’ approach does not work. Sales people in too much of a hurry will find the door slammed firmly in their face!

Make yourself useful

Social selling can be a difficult things to implement, because rather than selling something straightaway, sales people have to really understand how they can best serve the needs of their customers. Yes, ultimately there’s a product being bought, but the journey is about the soft-sell of trust and relevance. It means putting the target in the centre of the relationship until such time as the sales person manages to become indispensable. By being more interesting… than interested. 

Caroline Sautereau, Web and Social Media Manager at Edenred, a global leader in prepaid corporate services, confirms this paradigm shift: “What we invite our teams to sell using this process is not our products, but our company’s expertise and what goes with it.” 

Where do you start?

First and foremost, start by focusing on your target audience. Who are your customers? What do they have in common? What’s happening in their market? What are their business-related questions? What’s on-trend for them at the moment? The Persona method of identifying customers and prospects is very much part of the process.

You need to get your own profile right – that magic encapsulation of you that describes you on a social network: your photo, who you are and what you have to share. Once you’ve done that, all you have to do is share content regularly on the social network that focuses best on the concerns of your new business prospects. The next step is networking per se. 

The bigger the sales person’s social network, the easier it will be to make contact. And the more the content is relevant to the prospect, the more sales people can become a useful point of contact. They know who works where and with whom. They also know how close they are to these targets and what the chances of becoming a useful intermediary are. And when all that is in place, they can even try to make a direct contact.

These days, most CRM and marketing automation solutions include social networks. Independently or – better still – combined, here are some useful social selling tools:

Sharing content

Curation tools enable you to share observations of your target audiences. The best known of these tools is based on your keywords, suggests a range of new publications online each day. The ones approved by can then be shared automatically across a group of selected social media. 

Other tools include Mention or, to a lesser extent, Inoreader or RSS aggregator tool Feedly.

Distributing content

You can automate the distribution of your curation or blog content on the social networks of your work colleagues, adding in simple rules such as frequency and periodicity, as well as propitious times during the day. You can give preference to one network over another using keywords and you can add hashtags.

All of this is part of social media marketing automation. Services available include Sociabble, Brainsonic and Sociallymap.

Managing contacts

LinkedIn now offers a service aimed at simplifying sales prospecting – the LinkedIn Sales Navigator. This tool provides a fast way of finding the most interesting prospects, in particular by proactively recommending the prospects who correspond to what you are looking for. It also makes it possible to track what prospects are doing, so that you can engage in potentially profitable conversations at the most appropriate time. 

Other services available include Nimble, a connected CRM tool offering similar services, but not just on LinkedIn. Nimble traces the activity of prospects on social networks, enabling a contact to be tracked in your conversion funnel. There are numerous other solutions available in CRM packages.

Thierry Gillmann is an advanced content marketing evangelist with an entrepreneurial background. He is CEO of Voicings, a French content consultancy boutique specialised in B2B and technology sectors.