Technology constantly changes the way we interpret and think about language. The result is that words carry different meanings for different generations. Say stream, text, cells, and tweets to a grandmother and she’ll probably think of water, a book, prisons, and birds. Mention the same four words to her grandson, and it will likely invoke Netflix, messaging, iPhones, and Twitter. Our technology changes the way we speak as much as it changes the way we work.
The phrase #social selling falls into this category. Mention social selling to someone who started out in business before the 90s, and people may have negative connotations. Social selling used to mean trying to hard pitch people in social settings – think of a guy who sees a bank executive at his daughter’s piano recital and corners him over the cookie table afterwards to try to get a sale. But social selling has an altogether new, and positive, meaning today that turns the definition of the past on its head.
Social selling maven, and CCO of Bella Domain Media, Sandy Jones-Kaminski, has a concise way to help people rethink their definition of social selling. “[Social selling is] marrying content marketing with social media,” Sandy said. “It’s harnessing the power of social media for content marketing.” While this definition may be new to some, as Sandy points out, the idea behind social selling is as old as buying and selling itself. It’s about using technology to build on the oldest form of marketing, word of mouth, to create genuine connections with customers.
Look Me in The Eye-The Direct Approach
Social selling operates in two ways: directly and indirectly. Thanks to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, it is now easier for businesses to connect with customers than at anytime in history. With direct social selling, companies can leverage social media to target potential or existing customers, and then connect with them to build relationships. Direct social selling is more specifically focused on the immediate sale.
Barriers between buyers and sellers have been removed and both parties can now have honest conversations. These do not, and should not always involve direct sales pitches.
For example, a CEO of one of your target accounts tweets about the need for greater efficiency in mining #big data, a data analysis company can retweet or share their agreement, thus beginning a conversation and relationship about how the company can help the CEO’s business. It’s not a hard sell; it’s showing relevancy and an understanding of the CEO’s reality.
“Social selling is not just about selling [people] hard – it’s about finding them or them finding you, and then it’s about connecting,” Sandy said. Once that connection is made, “it’s about engaging, finding a way to communicate and intrigue that person or company, and get them interested in you.”
A Gentler, Softer Touch-The Indirect Approach
Indirect social selling is about brand cultivation. It’s when companies use social media to prove they are industry experts or influential players whose knowledge in a field carries a lot of weight. Content often falls into this category because they’re not directly pitching customers, but instead helping a business to establish itself as a thought leader and enhance its reputation. Done the right way, indirect social selling builds customer loyalty over the long-term because people know they can rely on the information being produced. It’s why a foodie might read a Whole Foods blog about seafood sustainability even if he generally shops at his local farmer’s market. “What makes social selling work is people sharing [your content] because they believe in, or can identify with what you’ve written, and they’re basically acting as a sponsor or your advocate,” Sandy said.
But, Sandy emphasized that what remains constant across generations though, when it comes to marketing, is the need for authenticity – or as she phrased it, “being real.” No one likes to feel like they’re being sold to. It’s what causes the natural revulsion to car dealers in all of us. Brand integrity is not just a catchphrase – companies that use social selling to enhance their integrity, to prove they care, generally succeed much better with social media than do companies that constantly stick to jargon and unfounded assertions. Authenticity is the currency upon which social media operates.
For B2B and B2C companies that recognize this, and take advantage of it, there is tremendous opportunity. Word of mouth is more important today than ever. Build enough industry credibility, and your indirect marketing suddenly starts generating a lot of referrals. With the right social selling strategy, you can create advocates who want to be associated with you and consequently, do your marketing for you. They’re the ones liking your posts on LinkedIn, Facebook or tweeting about how great your shoes feel on a long run.
The only downside to this is that companies have to recognize that they are always being watched. Social media enables relationships to build, but it can also destroy them. “You have to be really conscientious about what you’re doing, because somebody is looking at you all the time as a company,” Sandy said. Engage customers in the wrong way, or appear inauthentic, and your brand reputation will suffer. Done right, however, and social selling can lead to new levels of customers investment.
Find out more about how to get started on a B2B content and social selling program.
Sandy Jones-Kaminski is the Chief Connecting Officer at Bella Domain Media. As a business consultant with 20+ yrs of marketing, sales and business development experience from working at both Inc 500 startups as well as a corporate executive, she helps entrepreneurs, corporate executives and business owners establish thought leadership, market their brands and increase their opportunities through a proprietary process that maximizes LinkedIn, online and offline networking tactics, collaborations, social selling and custom content strategies. More at belladomainmedia.com or Twitter: @sandyjk.