Simply put, social selling is using social networks to find, connect, understand, and develop sales prospects. It is the modern way of developing meaningful relationships with potential customers that keep you and your brand the natural first point of contact when a prospect is ready to buy. It is the online social tool used to engage in the relationship.

You are likely already engaging in the basics of social selling if you have a Facebook Business Page, LinkedIn profile, or professional Twitter account.

To better understand what social selling is, it is helpful to understand what social selling is not. It’s most definitely not about bombarding strangers with unsolicited Tweets and private messages. There’s a name for that: spam, and it is important to not get a reputation affiliated with that. 

Social selling is a lot more than just gaining access to potential customers, it’s about building relationships and listening for the right moment to join in the conversation. It is about presenting yourself as a solution to a current problem rather than becoming just another irritant to swipe and delete.

Let’s look at why social selling is so important for your business.

In this socially connected world, 78 percent of salespeople engaged in social selling are outselling their peers who are not using social selling. If your sales team has not embraced social selling, your sales are quite simply not what they could be. Here are three key reasons why.

1. Building Real Relationships

Nobody likes cold calling, and truthfully it is not very effective: 90 percent of top decision-makers say they never respond to cold calls. Using social tools to listen in on conversations relevant to your industry allows your sales team to identify new leads that are already talking about your business, your competitors, or your industry. You can then use this information to reach out to these people specifically.

With prospects socially sharing so much information about their needs and wants on their public profiles, even your first point of contact can be personalized, relevant, and helpful, rather than intrusive and cold. That leads to more meaningful ongoing prospect and client engagement, with 31 percent of B2B professionals saying that social selling tools allowed them to build deeper relationships with clients.

Better yet, building a strong network through various social media channels allows you to seek out introductions to new sales prospects through existing mutual connections, creating an immediate sense of trust and rapport.

2. Your clients are already engaged in social buying

What’s social buying? Flip the concept of social selling. Just as sales professionals can use social research strategies to find potential clients, those potential clients are already using social search to find potential vendors, research them online, and develop an opinion about which vendor is the best fit, all before making the first contact with a sales professional.

If you’re not actively engaged in social selling, you’re not showing up in that social purchase research: that’s a lot of potential missed sales.

3. Your top competitors are already using social selling

A whopping 71 percent of all sales professionals—and 90 percent of top salespeople—are already using social selling tools. Among younger salespeople, the numbers are even higher, with 78 percent of all millennial sales professionals using social selling tools and 63 percent saying those tools are critical or extremely critical to their sales performance. If you’re not allowing your sales team to use social tools and equipping them to do so, it will be more challenging for you to recruit top sales performers, especially from the millennial demographic.

Social selling best practices

Now that you know what social selling is and why you should care, let’s look at some important best practices for implementing an effective social selling strategy.

1. Show up

You may be tempted to save time with automated liking and commenting tools, but these do nothing to build rapport. In fact, they can do serious damage to your personal and professional brand. There are ways to incorporate social bots into marketing and customer service, but when it comes to selling, nothing beats a real, live human.

So: Show up. Engage. Be present. Be yourself.

2. Listen strategically to identify leads

Your customers and prospects are sharing incredibly valuable information on their social channels—they’re basically telling you exactly what they want and need. All you have to do is pay attention.

Having someone who will monitor what people are saying about you, your company, your industry, and your competitors are important. Watch for recommendations, which provide natural opportunities for you to provide the solution to a problem.

3. Provide value

When interacting with prospects and customers through social networks, it’s important not to get too “pitchy.” Rather than simply extolling the value of your product or service, your goal should be to contribute valuable information that can help establish you as an expert in your field. Write posts that share important knowledge, but don’t be afraid to share relevant posts from others as well. When sharing content from others, add a short comment of your own about how the knowledge can be applied in your specific field.

4. Build meaningful relationships

Stay in touch with your new social contacts over time. Pay attention to the content they’re posting, and jump in from time to time with a like or a comment to let them know you’ve read and appreciated what they have to say.