Marketing and the art of social selling

Is social media now just another battleground between sales and marketing?

It shouldn’t be. Together, sales and marketing can focus serious strengths on social prospects. Sales has the one-to-one relationships and has logged the time getting to know the customer. Marketing knows know to put together timed, triggered, or sequential messages that influence decisions.

But social selling means behavioral changes, and those never come easy. Here’s how marketing can help.

Why social selling is important

Social media provides sales with solutions to two significant challenges. First, all the corporate right-sizing (ahem) of the past two decades drastically curtailed free time to shoot the breeze with a cold caller. Second, there’s an entire generation of young buyers out there that hates the phone.

“It’s virtually impossible to set up meetings because buyers are so busy,” says Jill Konrath, sales strategy author and speaker. “But salespeople are visible to potential customers virtually every day of the week, and often have direct access to the people who are worth meeting in a buyer’s organization.”

Social outreach isn’t always better than a cold call, but (assuming you aren’t blocked) it can build the same kind of credibility and familiarity. “Social techniques help you pay the price of admission to get to a real meeting with a buyer—to show that your focus is on their issues, concerns, and objectives,” Konrath says.

Social selling also creates unlimited potential for salespeople to establish themselves as a vital resource and a connection hub, by facilitating more connections between individuals with similar interests and problems. Back in the day, salespeople would arrange “accidental” meetings between like-minded clients at a bar or golf outing. Now it can be done with a couple of clever tags. Adam Lasky, Spreadshirt‘s head of D2C marketing, North America, puts it succinctly: “Get out of your customers’ way and let them talk to each other.”

How social selling provokes resistance and breeds failure

From the days of the earliest sales automation tools, sales professionals have resisted close monitoring of their activities. Phone and email logging were bad enough (so the holdouts say), but social selling creates a new layer of oversight.

“A lot of what sales has done was offline and not trackable: dinners, conferences, a lot of shaking hands and other personal interactions that can lead to an opportunity,” Susan Marshall, CEO and cofounder of Torchlite Marketing .

Others quickly grow impatient because they take a hard-sell approach to their social networks and are frustrated by a lack of response. “It’s best when reaching out via social channels that you’re not selling, but being informative and helpful, just like at a social event,” Marshall says. “A broker wouldn’t walk up to somebody at a party and say, ‘I can double your income in two years.’ You’d provide advice, talk about trends, and let that person make a call saying they need your help managing their stocks.”

It’s not tough to spot a social selling washout, but getting past that failure can be as simple as convincing them to take their foot off the gas.

“They push sales messages and list services that they offer and provide, but often fail to show their expertise, knowledge, and personal side,” says Bill Corbett Jr., president of Corbett Public Relations. “Those in sales and marketing who focus on long-term strategies of personal branding, expert positioning, and audience building will be able to build better and more productive relationships.”

Marketing and content to the rescue

Marketing won’t always be able to help sales avoid the big social gaffe. By focusing on programs and content, which marketing does really well, it can at least pave the path for success.

“Marketing has to understand that their job is to create helpful, interesting content that can be shared over and over again by salespeople,” Konrath says. “You don’t want sales to be promoting and sharing weak material.”

That means working closely with sales to identify crucial points during the purchase cycle when new content would be helpful, both from syndicated content and original work. It also means exercising judgment and being willing to push back against unreasonable requests, however strident. Before commissioning an expensive white paper for a hot prospect, consider carefully whether this is a very niche circumstance that may never arise again.

Marshall advises easing sales professionals into the process of social selling by asking content marketing professionals to ghostwrite their first few items. The individuals who buy in to the process will ultimately ask for more targeted content, and start taking it upon themselves to write their own.

Sure, it creates extra work for the marketing organization, although asking for some budget offsets from the sales group might ease the pain. More importantly, Marshall says it’s more likely to lead to social selling success, which should be the shared organizational goal. “You can’t just tell sales they have to post once per quarter on LinkedIn.”

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.