According to a recent Hootsuite report, over 70% of decision makers use social media sources to obtain information prior to making a purchasing decision. As a result we are seeing a big change in traditional sales activities such as cold calling, inbound lead generation, networking, and other prospecting methods. Even the way we maintain and grow business relationships has been transformed from combining face-to-face, over the phone and email, into a whole new era of Social Selling. This is not to say that the traditional way of selling and prospecting are dead, instead we find ourselves in quite the opposite state where we are now able to enhance our phone calls, face-to-face meetings and email efforts using the insights that we gather from social media and search.

Social Selling is about reaching your target demographic at the right stage of their buying process with the right message using the right channels. Today’s social media channels allow you, as a sales rep, to develop your own professional brand through various digital channels. By using your networks on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and other social channels, you are able to identify potential prospects, gain intelligence into their needs and challenges, and then leverage this knowledge, your brand and social network to intern provide them with valuable insights that relate to their needs. This valuable exchange of information can enable you to engage them in conversation in order to arouse their interest and get their permission to call, email, or meet with them face-to-face. Social selling provides you with a better way to uncover and establish new opportunities, and to nurture existing and developing business relationships.

Like anything, Social Selling requires the right kind of process, planning, and dedication to ensure your success. Here is the process most commonly used by today’s top performing social sales reps when developing their professional brands through social media and engaging their target audience to gain permission to sell to them.

  1. Define your professional brand.When developing your own professional brand, you need to choose how you want to define yourself. Do you want to be seen as a sales rep, as an expert in the industry that you represent or are selling into, or something else? Your answer to this question will help guide you in building your professional brand and help you determine what channels you should be using to build your reputation.
  2. Enhance/complete your social media profiles to support your desired professional brand.Once you establish how you wish to be perceived by your fellow peers and prospective customers, you need to take the right steps in positioning yourself accordingly through the various social media channels that are available to you. The following steps will help you get started on creating or enhancing your social media profiles to position you for the successful development of your professional brand:Step 1: Clean up ALL of your existing Social Media profiles. Remove quotes, photos, videos, and all other content that can hurst your business image.Step 2: Update your LinkedIn and other social media profiles with content that will appeal to your target audience.Step 3: Develop and/or share regular content such as industry news, insightful articles, case studies and other content that is geared towards engaging your target audience based on their interests, common challenges, and more.
  3. Identify the right people in target organizations.Like the general rule of prospecting, determine what level of decision makers you need to target and go find them through the various tools now available through social media. LinkedIn is great for this because it allows you to search for people by specific departments, titles, regions, industries, companies, and more.
  4. Build your social networks around these people.The best place to start is with people who you already know both socially and through past and current work experiences. Add everyone to your LinkedIn network, to Twitter, to Google+, etc. The world really is a tight knit and well connected place. Chances are that someone you know today or knew yesterday will know someone who you want to sell to or work with.
  5. Identify the social channels your audience is active on.With all of the different social media channels available to you, following all of them effectively is an impossible feat. In order to make the best use of your social media outlets you need to understand where your prospective customers go to search for info, to share content and ideas, to vent about their frustrations, and to get help with their challenges. If particular people who you want to prospect are regular contributors to any media channels or publications, then you want to follow those channels, join those groups, and subscribe to those publications because chances are that other influential people who you will want to target are already, or soon will be, followers of those channels. You want to be where they are and you want to read up on the topics that they read up on. This will help you become an even greater expert in the industry on issues that matter to the people who you are trying to sell to.
  6. Learn about your prospects by monitoring their activities on these channels.What good is joining a group or following a potential prospect when you do not know why you are following them in the first place?A big advantage that social media provides sales reps with today is that buyers are being more forthright with their needs than they were in the past. These days buyers are sending constant signals out by posting comments, sharing content, and posing questions on channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and more. Even their status updates might at times contain valuable information that sheds light into some of their most pressing challenges.Tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and Google Alerts are all examples of software that can help you monitor in real time what your prospects and customers are saying online which will allow you to respond to them in a timely manner.
  7. Offer valuable and targeted insights to engage and impress your target audience.Now that you’ve defined your brand, enhanced your profiles, identified your target market and where they spend their time online, started building your network, and began learning about your prospects’ challenges you are ready to start offering insights. In order to build trust and establish yourself as an expert in your field these days you need to share targeted valuable insights with your prospective customers in the form of content using the various social media channels they use to push this content to them at the right times.

Go through and master these 7 steps and you will find it much easier to build enough value in your prospects’ minds about you, your company, and your product in order to earn their permission to engage them in the sales cycle. A willingly engaged prospect is a warm lead and is more likely to buy form you than a cold prospect.

How do you use Social Media to engage your prospects?