7 Tips for Selling Through Social Media

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Social media has become a critical means of communication in companies' marketing and service efforts. But the time has come to go beyond the status quo and use social for sales purposes.

Social media has become an integral part of people's lives, with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among other social channels, becoming very popular online destinations. Forward-thinking companies have recognized the value of using social media to interact with both customers and prospects.

Research commissioned by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK that was published earlier this year revealed that four out of five consumers would be more inclined to buy a brand's products more often after being exposed to the company's messages over social media. Further, 83 percent of consumers exposed to social media messages would be willing to trial one of the brand's products.

While organizations have been using social media to extend the reach of their messaging for some time, business leaders have also recognized that social channels can be useful for sales purposes. "Companies are realizing that customers are increasingly becoming engaged in the conversation and looking at social media to drive sales for the business," notes Nancy Smith, president and CEO of Analytic Partners.

However the majority of organizations are still not leveraging social media as effectively as they should and integrating these channels within their sales strategies. "Most of what we see on social media is in the form of advertising," notes Michael Castellano, CEO and founder of Engajer.

In order to effectively use social media for selling purposes, organizations should first start by understanding what their customers are saying over these channels. Here are seven tips for using social media for sales:

    1. Research what customers are saying on social media and identify pain points: Customers are using social media to discuss various issues, including their relationships with the brands they do business with, what they like and what irks them about these companies, and also products and services they're considering purchasing. Because they have information at their fingertips, customers are contacting sales persons later in the purchasing journey. But sales persons have the opportunity to really understand what customers are looking for by researching what they're saying on social media and analyzing this information, notes John Golden, president and CEO of Huthwaite. "Sales people need to change their habits and become researchers," he notes.
    2. Reach out to customers over the same social channel: Because customers are using social media to discuss issues that are important to them, sales persons have the opportunity to reach out to them with information that's relevant to what customers have been saying. Time is of essence when interacting with customers and organizations should really capture the moment and engage with customers when they've just made a mention of a brand or a product over the same channel. This is even more important when customers are already frustrated, notes John Huehn, CEO and founder of In the Chat. "Leverage the time when customers are frustrated or want something," he says, adding that it's imperative to respond very quickly.
    3. Share information that customers will find useful: It's imperative for sales associates not to start the conversation with a sales pitch. "You can't just jump into a conversation between two people and offer your services," notes Huthwaite's Golden. Not only will this make them look creepy, but will also alienate customers. Instead, sales associates need to start by sharing information that customers will find helpful, for example give them advice on how to solve a problem. "This will position the sales person as an expert who has valuable insight to share," Golden adds. Huehn highlights the importance of engaging customers in a conversation. "Reach out to them, connect with them, offer your help, and end with a question that keeps the conversation going," he recommends.
    4. Personalize the conversation: Castellano warns against using a one-size-fits-all approach and notes that instead, sales associates need to have a personalized conversation with each customer. Jessica Thorpe, EXPO's vice president of marketing, agrees. "There's more opportunity to have a one-way dialogue," she says. Susan Ganeshan, CMO at newBrandAnalytics, notes that an auto dealer in the D.C metro area used this very personalized approach by watching for local mentions of customers who say they're in the market for a car and then sending customized Tweets to invite them to visit the dealership and make a personalized offer. This is leading to increased interest by customers.
    5. Find the right time, and way, to engage: Buyers are doing a lot of research on their own and won't need a sales person's help at the beginning of the buying journey. Experts warn that sales associates should not try to push a sales pitch early on, when a customer is not yet ready to engage in a sales discussion. Instead, they need to find the right time to engage with customers. "Understand that customers don't need you in the first part of the process, which is when you should just be listening," Golden says.
    6. Integrate sales and marketing to allow for a seamless message and collaboration: When both sales and marketing departments are using social media to engage with customers, it's imperative that they don't use conflicting messages but work together. "It's critical to have integration between sales and marketing or else you're going to be marching to different strategies," notes Laura Roach, CMO at OpenSymmetry. Organization should try to break silos between sales and marketing and encourage the two to work together on a holistic social strategy.
    7. Ask customers to give testimonials on social channels: Greg Goldfarb, CEO and co-founder of Flint, recommends leveraging existing customers' social media presence and asking them to write testimonials about the company. "Make it easy for customers to post reviews about your business on social media, for example by sending them an email invite after they've made a purchase," he notes. EXPO's Thorpe agrees that testimonials on social media are beneficial. "Customers are looking for reviews from people who have already purchased," she notes.

    Finally, organizations need to understand that social selling isn't a one-time campaign but requires ongoing effort, stresses Analytic Partners' Smith. "You can't just put an ad on Facebook and you're done. You have to work hard to drive engagement," she says.

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    EXPERT OPINION