We partnered with Focus.com to discuss the best practices to leverage social media for sales teams. After talking to eight of the top thought leaders in sales training and sales technology we wanted to bring their insights to you. This is going to be a 3 part series that covers what successful salespeople are doing to leverage social media in lead generation and accelerating their opportunities. Some of these experts are listed in our post on the 25 most influential sales leaders. Much appreciation to these experts for taking the time to address the question “How do your successful salespeople leverage social media for selling?

The first step and one that was consistent across 100% of the successful salespeople was to get connected.

Use your existing connections and networks to actively pursue new introductions.

“It’s so easy, on sites from LinkedIn to Facebook and more, to see who your existing ‘friends’ and connections already know. On LinkedIn, for example, you can quickly search for contacts you want to meet based on which of them are already connected to people in your existing network. This is one of the best ways to get referrals and introductions, not by asking your network to ‘keep you in mind’ but, instead, periodically asking for specific introductions. By getting specific, your conversion rate goes up and you’re talking to the people you specifically want to meet and sell to. In your existing organization, there is the sales team, but I’m thinking the rest of the company is a gold mine of potential introductions — especially founders, longtime employees and others who have spent a long time in your industry. They know people, people know them, and they’re more likely to help you make connections and new introductions.” (Heinz)

“Every time they receive a referral, email or leadership content, salespeople can highlight names mentioned in document, then research mentioned leaders, clients and customers — even competition — and send a note or invitation asking to join their conversations via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. By connecting with each other, you then can offer assistance or referrals and also build a trusted network of individuals to help build your referral base. Most people are thrilled you took the time to reach out to them when reading their books, viewing their videos, etc.” (Bieler)

“Successful salespeople are also using social media to identify the relationships that their prospective clients have to other people they already know. Successful salespeople aren’t afraid to leverage their relationships, to ask for introductions, and to rely on the people they know and what they know to open these relationships. Because these social media connections exist, what was once invisible is now visible; it’s easy to identify relationships and leverage them to find a way in. But it’s important to remember that your prospective clients are also using the tools to learn about you. Recently, I called on a major prospective client. After our meeting, he searched for my name on the Internet and found that we had a common connection on Facebook (his best friend from high school). He called his friend to get a reference on me before deciding whether or not to move forward. Fortunately, his friend recommended my work. Social media is no longer something salespeople can opt out of. It reminds me of what President Richard Nixon used to say about foreign affairs: ‘You might not be interested in the world, but it’s interested in you.’ ” (Iannarino)

Use Twitter and other social channels to build deeper, early relationships with new prospects.

“Here’s exactly how you do it (at least with Twitter, but other social channels can likely be done in a similar fashion). Build a list of the prospects in your territory or market. With the help of an admin or an outsourcing service like eLance, go and collect the Twitter handles of each company and as many of the individuals as you can find. Using your own Twitter account, follow those companies and individuals. Then, using a tool such as HootSuite, set up a separate column where you can specifically watch activity from those prospects. This makes it easier and faster to engage with them on a regular basis. Answer their questions. Share a resource. Retweet their articles. In other words, use their attention to this social channel to build value by interacting where they are already spending their time and looking for information.” (Heinz)