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Social Selling, where Sales meets Social Media

Social selling is not a mysterious “snake oil” that one needs to be wary of. It is also not a magic bullet that instantly erases obstacles in the sales cycle. Instead it is a knowable, repeatable process that requires investment, training, patience and attention if it is going to pay off. For sales leaders, it is about designing a more proactive and creative approach to reaching new customer markets.

All selling is social. Always has been. Always will be

For both buyers and sellers, we are in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to interact with one another and to take action outside the traditional framework of sales. In fact the traditional sales funnel, that we are all painfully familiar with, has been turned on its head. Did you know that was first drawn in 1924? We have to question if it is still relevant today?

Look at how much change has gone on in the world in the past 5 years. In the past decade, change has accelerated at dizzying proportions. We are in a constant state of disruption. Just when we think we’re getting to grips with the new, it’s already old.

The most significant change in our world is that digital connectivity has put power in the hands of the buyers. Instead of being passively influenced by marketing and sales, they actively search, research and compare.


This same digital connectivity is now providing sales people with a multitude of new ways for lead generation, account management and in connecting to buyers. Social selling sounds simple but maybe it is time to ask yourself – are you using these new sales avenues as much as you should be?

As social selling grows in importance (and it is), it will not only affect individual sales people but whole departments. SMEs, PR companies and large businesses will feel the effects of the shift in attention to this new sales process. The question that businesses need to ask is not how do we enhance our sales team but how do we socialise our business as a whole?

Across the globe, successful sales organisations are including social selling as a sales enablement tool in generating new leads, engaging customers and as a means to increase sales productivity. The reality is old sales processes and methodologies are dying. Cold calling effectiveness is declining and cold outreaches to prospective buyers have limited returns. To prepare sales people for the new generation of connected buyers, business leaders need to consider how they build the social capability into their sales efforts.

These selling statistics may help reinforce why this sales activity is proving so compelling.

72% of B2B buyers used social media to research their purchase decision.

79% of sales people that use social media outsell their peers.

53% of buyers said they seek peer recommendations before they make a purchase.

65% of buyers feel the Company content (content marketing) had an impact on their final purchase decision.

Social selling is about moving sales people from old world selling into the social selling world. To get sales team switch from the world of cold calling to the world of value selling across the social networks. Companies need to leave behind the “interruption sales model” where sales people bluntly call prospects indiscriminately, to a sales model where the sales people share and inform their prospects with insights to earn their awareness.

Research articles on social selling states “78.6% of sales reps using social media as part of their professional outreach outperformed those that were not”- Forbes Magazine. The same research indicates how sales people using the social networks as a tool were also more successful at exceeding their sales targets. Sales teams embracing the social media channels won more often, and lost less. The top 3 social selling platforms were LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. However there are many more social networks and forums where lead generation is thriving.

Before you utter the words “social selling does not apply to our business” because our target segment does not use social media that much. Then consider this, your buyers or potential buyers may not use social media but they DO consume it, from articles on forums or LinkedIn, to white papers published online or industry research shared. They read and are influenced by peer comments which by default raise the awareness levels for brands or companies. The social selling statistics we listed above prove it. There are many industry specific social platforms or forums that will work for most sales efforts regardless of industry type

“By 2020, 80% of the buying process will occur without any direct human-to-human interaction.” – Gartner and Forrester

Independent research by Gartner and Forrester suggests that by 2020, 80% of the buying process will occur online without any direct human-to-human interaction. Industries that rely heavily on sales teams today may not require any direct phone or face-to-face sales engagement with customers five years from now. While these dramatic shifts in buying behaviour are now well documented, many of today’s organisations continue to over-rely on traditional marketing and sales channels to reach, engage, convert, and expand their customer relationships. The cost of this failure to adapt could be HUGE.

Three-quarters of B2B buyers conduct more than half of their research online before ever contacting a sales representative. – Forrester

Using the social networks to sell, requires sales people and content marketers to stand out from the noise and low quality social conversations. Sharing relevant content, insights and useful information can make any sales person stand out from other suppliers, and present you less as the “interruption” sales person of the old world and more of a quality connection for the future collaboration.

It is important to set the expectation that no company is going to sign a contract through a Twitter direct message. Social selling does not replace sales.  Sales leadership must embrace social selling as a means to build buyer relationships and nurture leads, to become the trusted advisor as to get into the final sales presentations.

Social selling is THE way to start and build relationships with prospects away from bland sales emails and blunt cold calls. When used effectively, social selling can help generate a warm sales lead, get invited to make a sales call, nurture relationships, help acquire more customers and ultimately drive revenue.



Brian O’ Connell is an IMI associate who teaches on the NEW Social Selling as a Lead Generator programme. 

Brian has over 25 year’s sales, sales management and marketing experience. He has held director positions in sales and marketing with both Dell and Oracle. He also writes extensively on social selling, sales and marketing. 


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