Social Selling: Listening Is Your Most Powerful Communication Tool.

. 5 min read

How often do we mindlessly scroll through our LinkedIn feeds, half-reading posts, while trying to juggle five other tasks, paying no real attention to posts from our network that contain messages ranging from humble brags to cries for help? Your LinkedIn network, and all of your social media tools, provide a powerful tool for reaching viable prospects. It requires a brief but intentional investment of time and effort, and a strong desire to introduce people that trust you to an opportunity in which you believe.

Several months ago, I decided to take on the challenge of closing an investment subscription to one of our funds. I actively supported fundraising efforts for several of my colleagues and understood the process in great detail. This shift to applying the process in an independent way was a bit daunting, but I trusted myself and began my research. I determined that the only possible way that I stood a chance of closing a subscription within a tight time frame was to work from the foundation of influence and equity that I had built with my own personal contacts. I started reaching out to my LinkedIn network and quickly realized that I had not been optimizing my social media accounts as much as I needed to in order to reach my objective.  

After spending 45 minutes scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, searching for people and companies that might have an appetite for investing in private equity, I came up with a list of ten contacts that I knew personally that seemed to fit the target LP requirements. I sent each of them a message on LinkedIn that briefly described the opportunity and asked if they had any interest. Only three of the ten replied, but that 30% response rate was promising.

Of the three, one person from my initial outreach came back to me after early conversations with some serious questions. We moved the conversation offline, met face-to-face, and they decided to commit to the fund. I had done it. I had used my personal network to find a prospect, engaged with them, presented the opportunity and progressed forward, then took the relationship offline, walked them through the subscription contract, and completed the task of finding a new Limited Partner for our fund.

What I learned is that I had been developing relationships as part of my personal sales process for years, if not decades. I am not now nor have I ever had the title of sales representative. However, this experience gave me solid evidence that we are all sales representatives. “We live in a world where we sell ourselves, our ideas, our thoughts, and our desires to someone else every day.” [1] We connect to a network of contacts via social media that we are often undervaluing, to our detriment.

What is Social Selling?

Social selling is the process of cultivating an online relationship using social networks such as your personal LinkedIn or Twitter to find and develop relationships with new prospects. In the B2B world, LinkedIn and Twitter are platforms where social selling feels most appropriate and is often the most effective.

Social selling begins with listening. Your first objective is to observe your network, take the time to understand the sector trends of those around you, their business objectives, personal goals, and challenges faced, personally and professionally. Once your contact’s needs are identified and organized, the “seller” is then in the best position to offer personalized solutions for his or her buyer.

Simply put, social selling is an online relationship-building methodology that almost anyone can use. If you have a LinkedIn account that you regularly check, then you are halfway there. The only difference between social selling and online networking is that social selling involves additional steps: taking the conversation offline, building rapport with the contact’s genuine benefit in mind, responding to due diligence intelligently as a sample of customer experience, then closing the sale.

My experience validated the related research findings. While I am cautious about the potential for bias, LinkedIn’s own research discovered that, “78% of sales professionals that practice social selling outsell in comparison to colleagues who don’t use social media”. [2]

Social Selling is Sector-Agnostic.
Sales representatives across all business sectors are shifting to the view that social selling provides a target-rich environment, ample opportunity to listen and learn, and a scalable relationship-building method that is just as important as emailing and calling prospects. Naturally, some salespeople tend to focus their communication efforts on the features and benefits of their product rather than nurturing the relationship. Ample evidence exists in favor of reprioritizing that behavior. In a study done by Super Office, it was reported that, “64% of sales representatives who use and invest time in social media as part of an intentional process will hit their sales quotas. Of those that don’t utilize social media, only 49% reach their quotas”. [3].

For leaders inclined to discount the positive effect of social selling, studies show that sales professionals who incorporate social selling into their sales process help their companies achieve a, “16 percent gain in revenue year-over-year”. [4] Social selling provides a meaningful increase in desired outcomes and can be used in many different ways by almost anyone. Because almost everyone has access to social media and business networks, we all have the opportunity to listen for tangible needs and become influential in the sales process.

Time is Precious. Invest Your Precious Time in Relationships.
Social selling is an invitation to deepen relationships, especially referenceable relationships. With a small investment of your time spend sharing and educating, your network can better understand your business objectives and send referrals your way. By paying attention, you will identify new target prospects, establish meaningful rapport, and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships. Simply put, it works. Social Selling benefits both the seller and the buyer by opening a dialogue about needs and objectives.  

For example, if a sales representative leverages their own personal network, let’s say LinkedIn, they would be cultivating relationships from a foundation built on a validated interest in a mutually beneficial relationship. Because the sales rep has a network of hundreds of contacts, of which at least 50 could be viable prospects at any given moment, the time spent nurturing those relationships allows for greater familiarity, knowledge, and trust, all of which can be leveraged to create material efficiencies in the sales process.

You Have the Tools. Start Today.
The time to incorporate social selling into your selling activities is NOW.  In the B2B market places, LinkedIn and Twitter are platforms where social selling is the most effective. It is never too late to get started. If you need help or are looking for ways to be most effective, check out my colleague, Dasha Trakhimets’ article on the 11-Steps To Optimize your LinkedIn Account for Social Selling.

For more information about implementing intentional social selling programs and training, please feel free to reach out to VP of Sales, Justin Ewards at jedwards@mercatopartners.com or Kate Racker at kracker@mercatopartners.com

Work cited:

[1] https://akshatrathi.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/we-are-all-salesmen/#:~:text=The%20fact%20of%20the%20matter,world%20from%20our%20view%20point.)
[2] ps://www.forbes.com/sites/propointgraphics/2016/08/07/what-is-social-selling-and-how-do-you-do-it/#3d58be896827)
[3] https://www.superoffice.com/blog/social-selling-statistics/
[4]https://business.linkedin.com/sales-solutions/social-selling/how-to-guide-to-social-selling-ebook