Here are three questions for today’s sales professionals:
- What is social prospecting or social selling?
- How do social networks change the way you sell in real life?
- And finally, should you invest time in learning these new tools?
First, let’s understand what social prospecting is and what it isn’t. Social prospecting simply means using social media and online networks to add more prospects, information, or sales opportunities to your pipeline. In other words, social prospecting is using modern communication and information networks to start a sales conversation with another person to determine if there is a reason to do business together.
There are a lot of different ways to do that, of course. You might look up a prospect online before you call them. You might send a direct message on LinkedIn or Twitter. You might research their company and its needs before your sales call. Or, you might ask a friend for an introduction to one of their connections on social media.
These new opportunities do not mean you have to throw out all of your old selling behaviors. Just because email was invented, it didn’t mean we stopped using the phone. Social prospecting should be incorporated into your prospecting mix and supplement your existing prospecting and selling behaviors. How have you changed your selling behavior to include these new options?
- You get more information, faster. Sometimes that’s a blessing, and sometimes it’s a curse. It can be a curse when you think you have a solid connection with someone, but in fact, you don’t. This misconception is quite common in online social networks. Sometimes, they make us feel like we are better connected than we are. If we’re not careful, that can create a disconnect. Also, it can be considered rude to call a prospect without looking them up first. It only takes a few seconds to make sure you have the right person, and you treat them with the respect they deserve.
- There's no face to face or voice to voice rapport. It’s harder to notice subtle cues that tell you, among other things, whether it’s okay to start or continue a conversation. I'm still looking for the special font that will allow you to know for sure when somebody's sarcastic in text or social media, but it doesn't exist. Be sure you modify your communication to fit the way the message is sent.
- You can be mistaken for a robot or a spammer. Even if you’re really uncomfortable with cold calling, at least you are not mistaken for a recording! But online, if you look like you’re spamming someone or sending mass marketing, guess what? Effectively, you look like a robot or a spammer, which means your messages get ignored or deleted. When prospecting and selling online, you need to pay special attention to how you look and sound and convey authenticity and trust in your communication. Usually, this just means being yourself and choosing short, simple messages. Don’t try to oversell or over-complicate things.
Think about that last one for a moment. If you walked into a networking event or a conference and you said to a hundred people in a row, "Hey, buy this from me," you wouldn’t find too many people who would be receptive to that message. We may lose sight of that dynamic when we’re online because there is an ability to blast messages to hundreds of people at once and a tendency to shortcut the process and go straight for the sale. And that mindset is not ideal for supporting conversations between real people, which is the goal of prospecting.
Now let’s look at our third question: Should you even bother with all this?
If you aim to take the passive approach of connecting with everyone, blasting messages, and hoping that someone sees it and contacts you, you probably shouldn’t bother. In the early days of any new marketing medium, that does work for a short time until everyone figures it out. Prospects become overwhelmed with the marketing messages and start tuning out. Marketers start yelling louder, more often, and returns dwindle until nothing is left. It becomes low-yield, unsustainable, and in some settings, illegal spam marketing.
On the other hand, if you use social prospecting strategically, in a way that respects the individuality of each person you reach out to, if you use it as a means of expanding what you know about your contacts, if you use it to accelerate the process that gets you from the exclusively digital realm into the real-time voice-to-voice or face-to-face realm with your prospects, then I predict you’re going to find that social prospecting dramatically improves your selling efficiency. You will incorporate social prospecting and social selling into your world in a sustainable way. Eventually, it will just be called “selling” because everyone will be using social networks as it makes sense day to day, the same way we use the phone and email today.
If you can overcome the fear of trying something new, the fear of technology, the fear of rejection, and use social prospecting to enhance your current selling behaviors, you will be rewarded with more prospects, better information, and bigger sales opportunities in your pipeline. And remember, even as you read these words, your competition is also reading this and getting better at social prospecting! So that’s another reason to look more closely at the best practices in this area and avoid the worst practices.