Why can’t we agree what Social Selling really is?

The IT industry has a reputation for appropriating the latest concepts and buzzwords in order to seem more relevant. A couple of years ago, it was Big Data – everyone and their dog went to great lengths to find tenuous links to the concept.  Even Artesian jumped on the bandwagon (see footnote).

Social Selling is the latest one. It’s hot, and most companies with an offering somewhere in the sales stack say they ‘do’ Social Selling in one way or another.  Frankly it’s all getting a bit confusing.

Personally, I think the word ‘Social’ is confusing things, because it implies it’s all about Social Media. I think the Wikipedia definition of Social Selling captures the concept rather well:

Social selling, not to be confused with Social marketing is the process of developing relationships as part of the sales process.  Today this often takes place via social networks, but can take place either online or offline.

Examples of social selling techniques include sharing relevant content, interacting directly with potential buyers and customers, personal branding, and social listening.

Social Selling is gaining popularity in a variety of industries, though it is used primarily for B2B (business-to-business) selling.

In summary, Social Selling is about building trust with your customers or prospects, but not exclusively through social media.  In fact, once you have engaged with a specific person or company, in most B2B sales cycles its common for people to switch from social media to more traditional platforms such as mail, telephone or face to face.

From the customer’s point of view, they are more likely to engage with you if you have taken the time to understand their world; from your point of view, you will find conversations with customers easier.  As an added bonus, some of those engagement triggers will alert you to potential risks during the sales cycle, and also unearth new sales opportunities.

So why can’t we all agree what Social Selling actually is?

The truth is that Social Selling can cover quite a broad remit across the sales stack, so many companies are able to legitimately state that they do it, albeit only for a short period during the sales cycle. Here are some examples of company categories and how they could help with Social Selling:

  • Engagement platforms (e.g. Artesian) help you Social Sell by identifying companies exhibiting buying behaviour, then providing insights to maintain engagement with them throughout your entire relationship – identifying further leads, relationship triggers, and potential risks along the way.
  • Data platforms invest most of their resources merging massive amounts of disparate company data.  This is useful but of limited use for social selling because the data doesn’t change often enough to be of use for continual engagement. These platforms tend to also contain some engagement functionality, but it’s not really their core business.
  • Contact networks (LinkedIn) help you Social Sell by finding and connecting with people using shared connections, then seeing what those people post and sharing insights.  Shameless plug: See here for how Artesian can enrich this environment.
  • Top of the funnel lead identifiers – these companies sometimes say that they help you to Social Sell, and they kinda do, right at the top of the funnel.  They provide you with a list of potential prospects matching a specific need, and usually some information to get the conversation going.  From then on you will be on your own – reliant on other Social Selling platforms to drive the sales cycle.
  • Social Amplification/Employee Advocacy products are more about marketing than Social Selling – they help your organisation share curated social insights to promote your organisation – typically outbound marketing about you, rather than insights about the person you are targeting.
  • Social Media Monitoring/Management products tend to be more about Brands than Prospects. They are most used to analyse what people are saying about your company, and then engage with them – this is more about brand management and customer service than Social Selling.

It’s a fascinating area – as you can see, many of the above tools or services could co-exist within the same sales stack. The key for you is to decide which aspects of Social Selling are important for your business, mapping the benefits of each, right from the top of the funnel through to your ongoing relationships with long-term customers.



* The Artesian Big Data story:  To deliver business context from the news, we have access to 1.5m articles a day, looking for references of up to 25 million companies every 60 seconds, and cross-referencing a topic taxonomy amounting to thousands of search expressions. To do this results in us handling up to 50,000,000,000,000,000 indexing operations per day, whilst providing simultaneous filtered live access to tens of thousands of users.  That’s a lot of data!

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