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Social selling: business relations on the social net

Where’s the best place to reach out to potential customers? The answer, of course, is the place where they have the best opportunity to learn about products and services: online. And above all, on social networks, like the numerous popular social media platforms and in communities where users search for advice, purchase recommendations, and read reviews.

In today’s digital world, social selling is often used by customers when trying to build a relationship of trust with potential customers. Just like in social media marketing, this technique is less concerned with direct sales and public product displays on Facebook and Co. Instead, social selling focuses on the process that prepares the customer to make his/her decision to purchase. Where social media marketing involves communicating with fans and followers over Facebook fan pages or Twitter accounts, social selling involves engaging in a personal conversation with the customer in order to help their decision-making process.

Definition: what is social selling?

Simply put, social selling is what you’d expect from its title: it concerns the social components of making a sale – in other words, the social interaction involved in the decision to buy a product. These social components have been influencing consumer behaviour and purchasing decisions long before social media networks were even in existence. If you think about it, recommendations from our social environment, like tips or reviews from friends, colleagues, or relatives, are often a key factor in our decision to purchase something. We trust the advice of the people close to us, and unlike salespeople, they don’t even profit from a commission when we follow their recommendations.

Why is social selling important for online marketing?

Today, our social interactions with friends and loved ones often take place on social networks or messaging services. Social media has become a high priority in the lives of many users – and at the same time has become an important part of marketing plans. Your potential target audience and future customers are almost certainly active on the social web. As part of a community, they integrate themselves with other users and offer information about themselves: their wants, their needs, and their concerns. And this information is very valuable to companies. At the same time, social media offers the ideal interface for connecting with customers personally and for building a relationship of trust.

Social selling vs. social media marketing

Social selling and social media marketing have a lot of similarities. In both disciplines, the company doesn’t behave as an advertiser, but instead tries to establish itself as an expert offering advice. Making a sale isn’t the main aim here, because there exists a more exciting opportunity: the chance to get one step closer to an entire target group. Platforms like Facebook or Twitter offer the perfect environment for getting to know the wishes and concerns of (potential) customers and for opening up a public dialog.

The main difference between social selling and social media marketing is in the means of communication. When writing on fan pages and other official company accounts on social networks, you’re operating a method known as one-to-many communication. This means that you’re sharing content and information on channels aimed at a wide target group.

Social selling, on the other hand, consists of one-to-one dialog. By communicating directly with a customer, you’re getting closer to the individual, creating a point of contact, and building a relationship of trust. This offers a better chance of increasing individual customer satisfaction than classic online sales techniques. This personal and direct contact offered by social selling is also growing in importance in B2B communication.

Social selling: step by step

First step: Listen & identify

Your first step when it comes to social selling should be what’s known as social listening, because listening is the new selling. Instead of pushing advertising messages and trying to force people to be interested in your products, social selling requires you to listen actively to the needs and wants of your customers. In taking in and appreciating what they say, products or services can be targeted accordingly. Just listening isn’t good enough anymore either: you have to identify customers’ main concerns and act on this. Other marketing measures should follow this first step closely and be based on the findings you make.

Second step: Build a reputation

If you want to build a relationship with customers that’s based on trust and respect, then you have to establish yourself as a reputable brand or company. In order to build a reputation as an expert in your field, ensure that you offer consistently high-quality content that focuses on the needs and demands of the user as outlined in the social listening phase. Once you’ve created your own blog articles or guest posts, make sure you get it to the right people and in the right context, with introductory copywriting to explain why you’re posting it in the first place. 

Third Step: Establish relationships

By this point, you’ve gained insight into who your target group is and what they’re after, and in the second step you’ve also offered them a reason to listen to what you have to say. Next comes the really decisive phase: it’s time to start building a strong relationship with individual customers. This requires more than ‘likes’, ‘shares’, and ‘comments’ – you need to appreciate proper interaction with your customers. If you offer useful, researched information, tell authentic stories, and generally discuss interesting topics, you’ll find it easier to open a relaxed and constructive dialog. Important: this phase is about talking directly to customers, one-to-one, not communicating at a group of customers in a one-to-many situation.

Fourth Step: Monitoring & analysis

Social selling is also an important source of information for Big Data. Evaluating activities and individual channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks can be very useful for future strategies and planning. You can use this to find out which customers are your most loyal and therefore valuable, and which customer group is responsible for the majority of your turnover through social selling. You can see trends and patterns with this information, helping you to determine the significance of demographic or geographical factors. Monitoring isn’t just important for connecting with existing customers – it can be a useful tool in acquiring new customers, too.

Contact points in social selling

Social selling functions in many different ways: including B2C communication over Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, and B2B contact via platforms like LinkedIn and XING. Depending on the channel you’re using, there might be a wide variety of different points of contact available. Now, sales and marketing teams have the difficult task of identifying the contact points that are most suitable for entering into discussions with potential customers. Here, you shouldn’t shy away from seeking out negative conversations. Criticism and concerns offer an excellent opportunity for making contact with disgruntled customers, and to help rectify their issues politely in front of a whole community of potential customers.

Of course, a prerequisite to all this is that your company is already active and engaged on all relevant social media platforms. Once you’re in this position, you’ll have the full range of possible contact points available, including:

  • Positive reactions, such as ‘likes’ and positive comments
  • General mentions of a product or a company/brand
  • Queries or criticisms about products or service
  • Reviews
  • Discounts and conversations about similar products

Communication is a two-way street

Social selling is only successful if a company recognises the needs, wants, and concerns of a potential customer, understands and appreciates these, and then reacts to them in a positive way. Unlike social media marketing, social selling isn’t concerned with building a fan base and regularly checking in on them with new product ranges and marketing content. Instead, social selling is the process of building real, long-lasting relationships with individuals in your target market, by opening up a dialog with them and talking to them at eye level. By behaving as a point of contact, confidant, and expert consultant for your potential customers, you can create a relationship where both sides profit: the customer receives high-quality, valuable content and information, and you receive important insight into the interests and desires of your target group.

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