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16 Tips for Social Selling

July 8, 2014 · Jeremy Boudinet · 16 Minute Read

The rise of social media, business intelligence, and tracking software is changing the way we source, connect with, and pitch prospects.

The good news: Sales and marketing professionals have more tools, forums, and methods for connecting with targeted customers than ever before.

The bad news: So do their competitors.

Sales teams must adapt accordingly, or get left behind on this new frontier. The purpose of this blog post is to help you work smarter to leverage social selling for your organization.

Best Practices for Social Selling 

This blog post will provide you with 16 tips that you need to navigate online prospect communication effectively. There are 4 key principles, 4 major platforms, and 4 tips per platform. We'll tackle each platform one-by-one to get through all 16 insights.  

But first, a quick overview of what you will be learning.

1) The four key principles to e-communicating effectively with prospects:

  1. Establish Credibility.
  2. Demonstrate Value.
  3. Adapt Method of Communication.
  4. Personalize message. 

2) The four major platforms for electronic correspondence:

  1. Email
  2. LinkedIn
  3. Facebook
  4. Twitter 

Sales & Marketing teams must approach each platform differently to ensure their messaging proves effective. Here is our guide for excelling in the emerging Stalker Economy.

I. E-MAIL

Everyone emails, it's just that most don't do it particularly well. Emailing prospects is still the most used -- and often -- best way to reach prospects. You might start a conversation on another forum, but email ultimately is where real business communication takes place.

Developing an effective method of emailing prospects is not just about hitting numbers, but using advanced data to tailor your pitch. There are a number of tools at your disposal for discerning which email messaging works most effectively. Use these tools and follow this four-step process to constructing an effective prospect email.

1. Finding the right email address.

Data.comProspect Ace

Found a great prospect on LinkedIn but can't locate a corresponding work email address? No worries. Websites such Data.com and Prospect Ace provide a very unique way for finding the actual work email addresses of the person that you are contacting.

I recommend only using personal email as a last resort. You want to reach out to prospects on their terms--if you do reach out via email, try to tailor the email to include some non-business purpose as well.

2. Constructing a subject line that gets it opened.

 MailChimp

Know exactly how to appeal to the person. This means research. How can your product help them? Has your company gotten any good publicity recently? Is there something in common you guys share not related to work?

Briefly describe one of the 3 in your subject line. Try these different approaches, then go back and use a tool such as Cirrus Insight or MailChimp to see which subject lines worked most effectively.

3. Making an impression in the body of the email.

Yesware  Signals

The first key is brevity--make the content as easy to read as possible.

Short paragraphs (two-three lines max) are great. Bullet points are better. And use of friendly, conversational tone is critical. When discerning what approaches work best, tools such as Yesware and Signals provide excellent insights into which aspects of your email are generating interest.

Also, as the old saying goes: flattery gets you everywhere. If you admire the company, its product, or the work that the person is doing, let him or her know. People will rarely respond poorly to a compliment.

4. Creating a call to action and instructions for responding.

CycleIO

Don't just leave the prospect hanging. Okay great, he or she is interested, what do they do next? Conclude the message with a friendly, soft sale call-to-action. Pro-tip: Don't be afraid to place a smiley-face immediately following your request, this shows consideration for the prospect.

Finally, check to see which calls to action work best using PersistIQ, which gives you analytics on how your recipients respond to your email communication.Repeat process for continuous improvement.

Key Tools: Data.com, Prospect Ace, CirrusInsight, MailChimp, Yesware, Signals, CycleIO

II. LINKEDIN

Foremost, if you still are not using LinkedIn regularly, it's time to change that. LinkedIn is a powerful tool and an opportunity for you to demonstrate just how awesome you, your company, and your product are. 

When I first signed up for LinkedIn back in 2009, my senior year of college back, I completed my profile and connected with a few friends--then stared in disappointment at my screen. Well, that was a waste of time, I thought. How/why am I ever going to use this?

A lot has changed in the last 5 years. Everyone is on LinkedIn now. It's taking the Facebook path, but in reverse. And it's the most powerful social networking site out there for a salesperson.

1. Building your profile credibility.

Now is not the time to be humble. Represent yourself on LinkedIn. Connect with as many people as possible and get recommendations to show that you are a trustworthy expert. Participate in group discussions.

All in all, make yourself visible and well-known. Over time, customers may begin reaching out to you.

2. Making the right connections.

rapportive

LinkedIn provides a tremendous service by letting you know who the right decision-maker for you to contact is. If you are selling a product designed for a company's sales force, search V.P. of Sales on LinkedIn, and find your target decision maker.

If you are selling payroll technology, search C.F.O. If you are selling a consumer product or service, scour groups that your product might appeal to and begin participating in conversations on there.

You can also reverse-engineer your search if you have additional contact information about a prospect. Rapportive is a great way to find a prospect's LinkedIn account via other information, such as email.

3. Scouting the profile for additional information.

This is the best/most important way to use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is where you can find out what a person is all about, professionally. Look at their tenure within their present company, see what accomplishments they are most proud of, see what groups they are in and what their personal interests are.

How big is their company? Do they manage a large team? This information is all out there, and it can help you develop a specifically targeted message that hits with maximum impact.

4. Assessing if it is an appropriate option for making contact.

hootsuitefive hundred plus

When it comes to actually using LinkedIn to message people, I advise against using it as a first option. Why? Well, for one thing, many people don't check their LinkedIn regularly. If you see a person on LinkedIn with only 50 connections and a bare bones profile, I wouldn't waste my time sending a message via the site.

But more importantly, LinkedIn is not the forum through which business gets transacted. You want to use email first, and then use LinkedIn. Using LinkedIn to message someone is a great way to telegraph that you're a) a salesperson (or even worse, a Recruiter) -- and b) someone who has to stoop to using LinkedIn, rather than e-mail, to reach out.

An email from your business email account to his business email account is more formalized, professional, and familiar to your prospect than a LinkedIn message. Which is why you always opt to email first. Once you do connect, HootSuite and FiveHundredPlus are helpful tools for keeping track of who you connect with, message, and follow.

Key Tools: Rapportive, HootSuite, FiveHundredPlus

III. FACEBOOK

Who would you feel more inclined to respond to--someone who wants to sell you something or someone who wants to be your friend? Facebook can be a great tool for getting through to someone in a unique way, as long as it's done properly.

The goal in using facebook to contact someone is to demonstrate a promise to add more value to them beyond just business and maybe also flatter them a little bit (this guy is so interested in me/my company, he wanted to Facebook message me). Using Facebook also inherently suggests something powerful in busines: that you want to build a relationship.

You're not going to scam somebody when they can write on your wall ("this guy is the next Dr. Oz!"). 

1. Making your profile safe for conducting business.

Have lots of embarrassing old Facebook pics? Go back and untag those or make them private, i.e., hidden from your profile. Avoid political rants, sophomoric humor, and bashing your company/co-workers.

Basically, your Facebook page is a reflection of you. It's your very own personal marketing website. Make sure the page reflects that of a professional. Use common sense. It's okay for you to post a pic of you out with friends at a bar, as long as you avoid posting anything your Mom might find offensive.

2. Ensuring visibility of your message.

social selling

If you are going to go the Facebook route, don't bother sending the message without friend requesting the person first. You must be "friends" with the prospect to avoid having your message go to the “Other” folder in his or her messages.

Don't know what the "Other" folder is? Neither does anyone else. Which is exactly why becoming friends with the intended recipient is a necessary first step to having your message actually be received.

On a broader level, if you have a company profile and want to see the breadth of your company's engagement with people on Facebook, the site's Analytics page is a great resource. Facebook Analytics provides easy-to-understand, basic metrics about who is liking your page updates, and can point you in the right direction when sourcing potential prospects. 

3. Setting the appropriate foundation before reaching out.

social selling

Don't contact a prospective customer out of the blue on Facebook. Connect first via LinkedIn or email, establish some mutual interests, and find an additional, non-business reason for Friend Requesting.

For example, you see that you and your prospect both live in the Deep South and are huge Nebraska Cornhuskers fans, exploit that commonality. You are not just connecting for business purposes, but as a fellow football-obsessed Big-12 fan deep behind enemy lines in the heart of SEC country.

Facebook's Graph Search is an awesome tool for finding prospects with shared interests or a predisposition to the product or service you are selling. Use it.

4. Adapting your style of communication appropriately.

The above caption is an actual Facebook message that I sent to Mark Cuban. Note that I kept the text short and sweet, and made the message about him by thanking him for being an inspiration. I also made it a point to share that both he and my mother attended high school together, as a way of distinguishing myself from the thousands of other people who probably reached out to him that week alone.

Point being: on Facebook especially, make your opening communication with the prospect occur on a personal level, not a professional level. Along those lines, it makes sense to be more conversational on Facebook--you are "friends" with the person, talk to him like one. Otherwise, you come across as disingenuous and sleazy.

So did Cuban respond? Not via Facebook, but I was able to open a dialogue with him on Cyberdust using a nearly-identical opening message. How? I established a unique connection we shared, made the message about him, and didn't ask for anything. That's the approach to take on Facebook.

Key Tools: Facebook Analytics, Graph Search

IV. TWITTER

Don't think Twitter can be a useful way for reaching out to prospects? Think again. When you are a sales person reaching out to a prospect, the real war you are waging is for that person's attention. People have less time than ever to dedicate their attention to you, Mr. or Ms. Salesperson. Which is why you use Twitter.

Refine a 140 character pitch, contact the person on a forum where they will definitely notice you, and see if you don't generate a response.

1. Ensuring your Twitter account is right for conducting business.

Twitter can be tricky. If you're like me, you use Twitter to tweet about Deadspin articles, links to the new 2 Chainz video, and inside jokes with your old college buddies. We do not want our prospective customers following us on Twitter. 

Which is okay, because you can always create a separate Twitter account dedicated to professional purposes. Follow thought leaders, news sites, related companies, etc. Draft tweets targeting your area of expertise and your customer base.

A majority of your tweets on this account should somewhat business-related. At the same time, I advise throwing in the occasional off-topic tweet to show that you have some personality and aren't a company-owned cyborg. 

2. Demonstrating that you can add value via what and how you tweet.

buffertweetdeck

Sound like someone who knows what he or she is doing. Retweet really interesting news that is coming out, mention a recent success story you just had, involve yourself in discussions about relevant topics.

In general, enter the conversation and hold court intelligently. Engage consistently with thought leaders, local movers and shakers, and non-competitor businesses in a similar space to your own. 

When managing multiple accounts, apps like Buffer and TweetDeck are a must, allowing you to easily transition between you personal and business accounts, set timed tweets, and so forth.

3. Figuring out who to follow and what to tweet about.

Remember: Twitter is not about pitching your product. It is about getting your prospect to notice you.

Engage your prospects in a dialogue, promote their product, or openly ask them a question. A tweet that does all of the above is most likely to generate interest from your prospect. You can also tell a lot about a prospect's personality/conversation style by the nature of their tweets. Tailor your tweet accordingly.  

4. Constructing a tweet that gets answered 

This final tip requires an anecdote.

Our company was recently propositioned on Twitter to join a conference in New York City. It was an interesting situation, because the person who tweeted the request kind of put us on the spot by making it visible to all of his followers--and we needed more information and were not really in a position to say "yes" anyways. 

Ultimately, I contacted the requester on LinkedIn and thanked him for his interest, but informed him politely that we would be unable to make the conference. But an interesting thing happened: I feel a connection now with that person. I know what his conference is all about/that it exists, and he made an impression on me that I will not forget.

That's the best kind of "no" that can happen! And he did all of this in a 140-character tweet that he probably wrote in under 30 seconds.

He flattered us, he put his request out in the open for all to see, and he basically created the conditions necessitating a dialogue. That's how you use Twitter. And once you develop a decent twitter presence, I recommend Sprout Social as a great tool for tracking the engagement of your twitter account.

Key Tools: Buffer, TweetDeck, Sprout Social

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