3 fundamentals of a successful social selling strategy

social selling

One of the most pervasive mantras on the social web is “don’t sell.” And it is certainly true that anybody out there shilling every day on Facebook and Twitter is going to lose a lot of friends.

But sometimes, you have to sell … especially if your job is in sales! In fact, in some way, every single employee can be a beacon for your brand and contribute to a holistic selling effort if they have an active presence on the social web. So today I wanted to step back and look at how social media can be aligned with a pure selling effort.

1) Tear down the digital divide

The first thing we need to do is re-frame the social sales strategy to adapt to this new channel.

Here is precisely how social media fits into the big picture: It provides the opportunity to listen, learn, and create consistent, small content provocations that can lead to awareness, engagement, and eventually trust. Now if somebody came to you offering this service to you wouldn’t you sign up right away?

Here’s the good news. It’s free, it’s tested, and it is the most powerful personal networking opportunity ever created — social media. The problem is, when many sales people enter the digital space they forget what made them successful in the first place. They turn into broadcasters and mindless tweet machines.

Step one. Take a deep breath and approach digital relationships the same way you approach human relationships because those are still humans behind those little Twitter and LinkedIn photos. Connect to people in the same way you would in a live networking meeting or industry conference. Tear down the digital divide.

2) Adopt the social media mindset

When most people first start working on the social web, they see this as another channel to place their ads and press releases.

WRONG. People spend time on the social web to GET AWAY from your ads and press releases. So we need a new approach based on the core concept of The Tao of Twitter called The Social Media Mindset:

social media mindset

This is too big of a concept to flesh out in a short blog post but let me summarize it this way:

Meaningful Content is the catalyst that drives awareness and connection on the web.

We must actively seek a network of Engaged Connections who will ignite our content.

People will shun advertising but seek out people, companies and brands who are Authentically Helpful.

What would happen if you tried to differentiate yourself and embraced social helping instead of social selling?

3) Aligning with sales success factors

Now let’s look at how social media can align with the very factors that are making you successful in your human business relationships today. In addition to being an ambassador for the company and and advocate for the customer, there are also some personal characteristics that I admire in the best sales people.

  • Intensely tuned to customer needs
  • Responsive and helpful
  • Proactive — Anticipating issues before they happen
  • Dedicated to building a personal relationship based on integrity and trust.

How does social media align with each of these traits?

Tuning in to customer needs

If a customer is active on social media, it’s likely they are reaching out to colleagues — maybe on a LinkedIn Group, maybe in a professional chat board, maybe even on Twitter — for help on business issues. Most CRM systems today provide some sort of summary of your customer social media activity so you can get a sense of what’s going on before you make a sales call.


You probably don’t have the time and money to visit your customer every week or every month. But through social media, we can provide a drip, drip, drip of helpful communications to let customers know we’re there, we’re listening, we care.


The other day I noticed a customer LinkedIn update stating that they were looking forward to attending a professional conference in Boston. Since I had just returned from Boston, I was able to provide a recommendation on great restaurant. I also knew of a friend who was attending the same conference who would be an important new business connection for my customer. I never could have provided this proactive service without paying attention to the social media stream.

Even if customers are not active in this space, the social web is an unbelievable opportunity to tune in to industry leaders, competitors, and authorities to stay on top every development, opportunity and crisis as it is happening.

Integrity and trust

Last year I had the honor of having a lengthy discussion with Dr. Robert Cialdini, the acclaimed author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I asked him, in a cluttered, information-dense marketplace, how do we stand out? His answer was wise and disarmingly simple. “Be more human.”

We buy from those we know and trust. We always have. The social web is a historic opportunity to connect with people far beyond your normal network and show what you’re made of.

I’ve had a lot of interest in social selling and tomorrow I’m going to publish a post that answers the question — What is the social sales strategy when our customers don’t use social media? I think the answer may surprise you!

Well, I’ve floated a few ideas to think about as you approach “social selling” in your company. How are you using social media in your sales strategy?

Book link is affiliate link. Top illustration courtesy BigStock.com

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  • MaureenMonte

    Love the post, and it’s timely as I had just entered a mini-rant on the lack of humanity at our local office now that everyone works remotely (no eye contact, no one speaks in the elevator, etc.). Here is my question to you: does corporate culture play into this? Are we more likely to be authentically helpful and human (to drive sales) in a company where the culture reflects that behavior (and we see that internally, that is how we get things done), or is it an individual choice, or both?

  • RandyBowden

    Great post , Mark. I think our culture has evolved to expect continuous “real” engagement, just as we once evolved the demand for better customer service. Engagement trickles through to every aspect of what companies do. It’s a complete shift, and one that I think we’ll see continuing to become further entrenched in daily business activities.

  • That is a really good question. I think culture plays a big part of it in the long term but certainly I think the best sales people in almost any company “get” the fact that relationships matter even if that doesn’t come from the top. Interesting discussion though.

  • I was a sales account manager at various levels for eight years and I can tell you that is absolutely true, even before social media! I had some huge accounts (one over a billion in annual sales) and yes, they expect you to be always on!!

  • Where are the humans in that funnel image?

  • MaureenMonte

    I shared your blog internally and it’s generated quite the discussion! 🙂 This is a good thing. We all see it happening in our culture (little eye contact, etc – both in and outside the office, by the way) , but agree that individuals can make a difference… one person at a time.

  • not the best image. I was in a rush.

  • Cool. Look forward to the feedback on the discussion!

  • I feel your pain! :-). By the way, excellent article.

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  • Thanks Randy. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Bravo Mark! Great article, using all 3 fundamentals you have brilliantly, skillfully, and thoughtfully presented… Thank you for being in my life ~Rae

  • Megan Conley

    Very insightful post! The other piece I find compelling is extending the idea of being human to being personal. Often in sales and social, people struggle to step out of their work persona or messaging and connect with customers on a personal level. Your restaurant recommendation is a perfect example of how powerful this shift can be! I always try to engage via social on a personal level, which builds trust and ultimately better positions me for business conversations.

  • You think marketers are moving away from Twitter to Facebook to be more human? This article made me think that I use Twitter A LOT less lately. Of my 750+ accounts I follow on Twitter, I think most of the humans left. My typical Twitter stream now seems to be filled with 90% ad-like tweets, or the “re-tweet of some fancy article / link that makes me look important” tweet. I have little desire to be on Twitter these days. But I guess I do the same thing. I’m much more engaged with my customers …no, wait …better description: my company’s tribe …while on Facebook. And I’m guilty, too, of just regurgitating my human side on FB to something less in 140 characters to put on Twitter.

  • When it comes to incorporating “social” into any sales effort, one of the biggest challenges I see with clients is getting them to engage in conversations outside their comfort zone, their circle of familiars. Be sure you are constantly reminding your clients to comment on relevant blogs, even competitor sites. Get out there, and dive in! Folks are looking for critical thinking, participation, and passion. They know when you are trying to “sell” your wares. And frankly, they are expecting it at some point, but be sure it the right time. This takes a huge quantum leap of faith, and a shift in the mindset of many in sales, and for that matter, even in marketing. We marketers tend to avoid customers like the plague, even though we all talk the talk of the new age of social.

  • “We marketers tend to avoid customers like the plague, even though we all talk the talk of the new age of social.” <<< Like

  • I think you hit the nail on the head with authentic. Be yourself, your human personable self and people will flock to you. Personable is important too. You mentioned being responsive, I would also add polite and respectful. Answering email inquiries, even to say no will go a long way to distinguishing yourself from the crowd.

  • It is curious that nowhere in your article do you mention “marketing” or “public relations,” but only “sales.” Do you predict marketing-like roles at organizations to change as the result of the internet?

  • I write about marketing and PR all the time.Tried something different today. I actually think a lot of the digital competencies will be out-sourced over time due to the rate of change.

  • Well said Michael. Thanks for adding your wisdom today!

  • I love my customers. I guess I’m an oddball : ) Great comment Marty. Thank you!

  • A common refrain these days I think Frank. I still get a lot of value out of Twitter because I am constantly renewing and revitalizing the tribe. A lot of that comes from the blog. It’s still fun and relevant for me buddy.

  • Boom. Great comment Megan. Thank you!

  • You are so sweet. I appreciate your support!

  • meaningful content + being human are two crucial elements to sell effectively. and you can’t have one without the other (or…maybe you can but it won’t be effective). great post, Mark!

  • Our job, as marketers and business people, is to provide the right person with the right messages and offers at the right time via the right channel. So, if we are talking with a qualified buyer via social media and they express a desire to buy, why wouldn’t we extend the offer right then and there? Why would we force that buyer to another channel?

    “Oh, you sound like you might like to try our offering…please Exit Twitter and go immediately to our website or call us at….”

  • Thanks Jessica. The irony is, most sales people instinctively know this but forget everything when they go online! : )

  • Of course you would provide the offer right there. Maybe I was too philosophical with my advice? I guess my underlying assumption is that people would use common sense but maybe I need to take it down a notch? What do you think Pat?

  • Mark, your comments were spot on for the majority of folks out there. My comments were driven by some recent conversations with (what I hope is a shrinking) group of people that are really struggling with “…but social is for conversation, not sales…”

    Sorry, I drug you into my “personal hell”. 😉

  • Honestly, it might not be the majority. I work with a wide cross section of companies from basic materials to healthcare and defense and they are all struggling in some form or fashion.

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