Social selling and buyer engagement on social media is changing the sales landscape. As digital interactions become the norm, sales activities increasingly take place on digital channels. The buyer experience is evolving quickly, with prospects taking greater responsibility for researching a business before they communicate with a salesperson. And when prospects interact with sellers, their communication—more often than not—takes place in digital channels.

So, what’s replacing tried and true outbound tactics? To put it simply, customers and prospects are ignoring cold calls. An IDC report found that ninety percent of c-suite executives ignore cold calls. So, what’s changed?

Perhaps you’ve heard of social media. The digital media platforms, composed of individuals and their networks, are widely used to share photos, memes, and—increasingly—do business. In fact, an IDC report found that 75% of B2B buyers are influenced by social media during the buyer’s journey.

With more than 2.74 billion monthly active users (and counting) on Facebook and nearly 740 million users on LinkedIn, there’s a strong chance that your audience is active on social media. And so are your employees. In this post, we’ll explain the nuts and bolts of social selling, social engagement best practices, and how your business can stand out in a crowded digital marketplace.

What is social selling?

Social selling is the purposeful practice of leveraging social media activity and engagement as a central part of the sales process. The practice embraces two-way communication to build and nurture relationships that may eventually turn into business opportunities.

Although “social selling” sounds good, it’s a bit of a misnomer (See why here). In practice, social selling isn’t about selling in the traditional sense. Social selling activities are less transactional and more geared toward building authentic relationships. Of course, when done well, social selling can result in sales, but that isn’t the point. Social media gives salespeople a platform to enhance existing relationships, nurture new ones, and build trust at scale.

Social selling isn’t the content shared from a branded corporate account. It isn’t individual users repurposing said branded content to share with their personal network. Instead, social engagement is a soft skill that asks sellers to build their personal brand by engaging their network, interacting with content shared by others, participating in organic conversations, and sharing timely, relevant third-party content.

Think of social selling as if it were a networking event. The event is crowded and there are countless opportunities to make new connections and take part in conversations with like-minded individuals. Think of social selling as an opportunity to contribute to an interesting conversation you overhear and to which you feel you can add value. So, if someone shares interesting content, let them know that you’re interested with a comment or reaction.

What are the benefits of social selling?

In a time where businesses are competing even more to gain customer attention, social selling is an additional tool for your organization. Buyer engagement on social media generates actionable insights that help sales and marketing professionals optimize the way they communicate with their audiences and targets. Engaging with new connections on social media offers insight into what leads are interested in and, when used effectively, this information can lead to stronger relationships.

With fewer buyers responding to cold calls, social media offers an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way. Social selling holds a significant advantage over traditional outbound tactics in that it enables a less-intrusive approach to communication with prospects.

More buyers are embracing social media in the buyer’s journey. In fact, most customers want to be in control of the buying process, with B2B buyers reading 13 pieces of content before speaking with a sales representative. Instead of interrupting buyers with a phone call, social media allows sales professionals to share content that buyers can interact with on their own terms.

The true power of social selling is that it gives your sales team the opportunity to cast a wider net. For example, if a business development manager (BDM) spends seven hours cold calling and schedules a second call with two prospects, is that time well spent? If, on the other hand, a seller shares resonant content on LinkedIn to their network of 1,000 users, that content isn’t limited to their direct network. Compelling content gets shared and, ultimately, extends the reach of your communication beyond traditional methods. So, in the long run, dedicating an hour of time each day to customer engagement on social media can go a long way.

How does social selling work?

The path to success in social selling starts with setting the right expectations. The first rule of social selling is that it isn’t about selling. It sounds odd, but social selling is about building relationships and enabling trust at scale. With that in mind, a successful social selling strategy is built on authenticity. Equipping your employees with a platform that allows them to post content that aligns with their interests and expertise, opens a gateway to building new relationships. Over time, these relationships can mature into opportunities and, eventually, customers.

Social media is a broadcast channel. Social selling is a two-way communication channel. Success requires more than simply sharing the latest promotional content. It asks that effective sellers bring value through the content they share, but also through their contributions to what’s shared by others. By showing up outside the confines of your own content, you extend your reach and become more visible in the right circles.

Personalization doesn’t generate new business. Users on social media platforms want to interact with individuals or personal brands who they find to be authentic. True story: I once worked with a colleague who only posted about being a mother—a stepmom in particular. She rarely, if ever, shared content specific to her business. She didn’t use her presence to sell directly. However, the relationships she built would eventually see on LinkedIn what she did for a living and those relationships ultimately turned into new business.