Social selling is one of the hottest opportunities in digital marketing today, but there's still plenty of confusion around what social selling actually is, and how it works.

So, to help marketers and sales teams get their heads around what social selling means for their specific brands and businesses, we've joined forces with Hootsuite to produce this comprehensive new 'action plan'.

As you'll see in the SlideShare embed above (click here if that's not working for you), this guide is designed to share practical tips on how to get started in social selling:

  • Avoiding silos and collaborating across teams to craft an organisation-wide approach;
  • Identifying the individual roles and responsibilities for marketing and sales teams;
  • Outlining a social selling content creation framework for marketing teams;
  • Detailing a step-by-step social selling implementation plan for salespeople.

The presentation above was designed for a Hootsuite webinar that you can still find here.

You can also download the complete set of slides by clicking here, but I thought it might help to dig in to some of the key points in this blog post too.

Social Selling in Context

Just to make sure we're all talking about the same thing, it might help to start with a simple definition:

Social selling is the process of building and nurturing one-to-one relationships that enable a more efficient and effective sales cycle.

Crucially, social selling is not about driving one-off sales through demand generation activities (e.g. "click here to buy now!").

Rather, social selling is a longer-term approach that focuses on repeat value and building enduring relationships.

In many ways, social selling is an evolution of classical face-to-face sales techniques, but - as its name suggests - social selling also takes advantage of the powerful new opportunities offered by social media platforms to share valuable, timely content with a wide range of customers and prospects.

The most effective social selling approaches combine a variety of existing concepts that many salespeople and marketers will be familiar with, particularly one-to-one engagement, employee advocacy, inbound marketing, and customer lifetime value management:

And because it brings the best of these principles together, social selling can help to add value at every step of your sales cycle too (and your customers' buying cycle):

  • Using social listening to identify new prospects and potential customers;
  • Using content marketing to inspire proactive enquiries from potential and existing customers;
  • Monitoring your network's social media activities to identify potentially valuable engagement opportunities (for example if they ask a question, or if they've just been promoted to a new decision-making role);
  • Tracking your customers' actions and your interactions with them to inform richer and more accurate CRM and customer lifetime value initiatives.

What's more, social selling doesn't just help to improve the effectiveness of sales and marketing activities. By focusing on those occasions and contexts in which customers and prospects are most receptive to relevant content, social selling can help improve the efficiency of your activities too.

A Shared Effort

For best results, you'll want to plan your social selling initiatives across different teams and disciplines. Overcome internal silos, and look for opportunities to help each other to deliver shared goals.

The following 5 steps should help ensure that everyone gets what they want and need:

Step 1: clarify and agree your overarching business objectives (e.g. an increase in sales). Expressing these as S.M.A.R.T. goals will help avoid ambiguity, and add a clear deadline for delivery too.

Step 2: Identify the highest-value needs of your customers and prospects. Value should be measured in terms of importance to the customer, but it's important to understand how your own brand's offerings tie in to these customer wants, needs and desires too. For example, you'll find it less valuable to focus on topics that don't relate to the products and services you sell, but you may find that talking about these topics can help you to build stronger relationships, which may boost your results in the long run.

Step 3: Identify any internal imperatives that your activities will need to address too. Whilst it's usually most effective to focus on customer needs, you may need to announce a company rebrand or the launch of a new company service too.

Step 4: Use the things you identified in steps 3 and 4 to inspire an overarching content plan and 'brand narratives'. These are the underlying themes in your content. For example, I use data reportstrend briefings, and how-to guides as key themes in my social selling activities.

Step 5: Identify KPIs based on the objectives you set in step 1. These should focus on the value your activities bring to the business. So, if you're using social selling to drive sales, you'll want to understand direct correlations between your activities and sales, rather than putting too much emphasis on content delivery metrics such as likes or views.

Once you've agreed all these activities, the next step is to agree roles and responsibilities across teams and individuals.

How this works will be specific to your own organisation, but our experience suggests that some activities are best addressed by either the marketing or the sales teams, so we'll outline those below.

Marketing's Contribution

It's critical to remember that social selling is not a replacement for content marketing.

These two activities are both great ways to use social media for marketing and sales activities, but each delivers its own, distinct value:

As you might expect, each approach has its own advantages and challenges too.

Content marketing is an efficient and effective way to tell a central brand story to a large audience, but it's not always the most effective way to foster one-to-one relationships, or address individual customers needs or questions.

Social selling is a great way to complement content marketing activities by 'plugging' some of its gaps.

Whilst individual social selling activities may not reach as many people as content marketing activities, and whilst they don't always tell the same core brand stories, they're much more effective when it comes to engaging individuals and addressing their specific needs and concerns.

Various studies (123, and 4) back these assertions up, offering compelling evidence that social selling adds real value to a brand's marketing activities:

Social selling activities will be shared by individual salespeople on their own social channels and profiles though, so it's essential that content is designed with those individuals' needs and jobs in mind.

First up, use techniques like social listening to understand the common questions, requests and needs that your brand's customers and prospects talk about in social media today.

Next, match these customer needs against the outcomes that your salespeople are aiming for (tip: understanding salespeople's individual KPIs will be a big help).

Lastly, design content and assets that will allow your salespeople to address both sets of needs (i.e. customer needs and their own KPIs).

As part of this, you'll likely want to create content that delivers a variety of different audience benefits, from simple information, to education and entertainment, and maybe even inspiration.

In order to engage customers and prospects at different stages of the buying cycle - as well as across different social platforms and consumption contexts - it's best to explore creating a variety of different 'depths' of content too.

Think of these different levels of content in the same way that you'd want to vary your voice pitch and volume when delivering a face-to-face presentation.

For example, I find that a mix of light, medium and heavy content is the most effective way to address lots of different people's needs over time.

Sometimes, I post 'dandelion seed' content: a tweet with a single data point, or a link to a useful article.

Other times, I might share one of our slightly richer 'statshot' reports, or a more in-depth blog post.

And then, occasionally, I'll go all-out with a more in-depth guide, like the one you're reading now, or our mammoth Global Digital reports.

You'll also want to look for content that can be broken down and reused or remixed to achieve different objectives. Similarly, it can be helpful to build different content that offers slightly different perspectives on the same theme or idea too.

Sales Teams: Bringing Things to Life

Sales teams should be given the flexibility to choose what content they'd like to share, on which channels, and when, but a simple framework can help ensure that everyone gets the best returns on those efforts.

Step 1

Ensure that each individual 'social seller' understands their personal KPIs, and how and when these will be measured [it's a lot easier to score goals if you know what the goal looks like].

Step 2

Each social seller should then choose the optimum mix of social channels for their specific audiences and needs.

You'll want to factor three things into this selection process:

  1. Potential audience size and value;
  2. Opportunities to engage those audiences in specific kinds of conversation at different times; and
  3. The amount of time and effort required to build and maintain a presence on each platform (both individually and cumulatively).

This choice is mostly a question of resource, so try not to overstretch yourself; I find that a 'fewer, bigger, better' approach delivers disproportionate results.

Step 3

Take some time to craft and polish your social profile(s), which should reflect your own personal brand, as well as complementing the organisation that you represent.

Here are a few things to think about:

Many social sellers operate in B2B markets, so LinkedIn will likely be a core component of your social selling mix.

Fortunately, LinkedIn offers plenty of useful guidance when you start to edit your profile, and I find that those 'profile completeness' tips are both helpful and effective.

If you want to go one step further, LinkedIn's Social Selling Index is a great place for more in-depth advice and insights into your current performance.

Step 4

This might seem obvious, but you need to be proactive about building your social network.

Take the initiative, and invite the people you want to connect with.

That doesn't mean you should spam people though; if you want to connect with someone, help them understand why they might benefit from the connection on their terms.

Step 5

Take a longer-term view of content publishing, and craft a basic plan that will help you build a more engaging 'story' over time.

This plan should allow for flexibility and spontaneity too though, so don't worry about planning every post for the next few months; a rough publishing 'map' built around brand narratives and key events like holidays or peak buying periods should be enough.

Step 6

Publishing content is just the start of your social selling activities. In order to establish and nurture the relationships that lie at the heart of social selling, you're going to need to translate those published assets into conversation too.

Don't restrict yourself to conversations around your own content though; look for opportunities to interact with customers and prospects around their own content, and even competitors' content (remember to play nice though).

Step 7

In addition to your organisation's overall tracking of social selling activities, you'll want to run your own simple measurements too.

These measurement should focus on helping you understand which activities add the greatest value for your chosen audience and for your specific KPIs.

The metrics and approach you use will vary from brand to brand and maybe even from person to person in the same organisation, but I find that simple metrics are often the best.

For example, I measure my own social selling activities by comparing the number of inbound leads a piece of content generates to the total reach of that piece of content.

It's not perfect, and it's not always 100% accurate, but it helps me identify what adds most value, and it also helps me avoid falling into the 'click-bait' trap of sharing content that achieves high content delivery scores, but doesn't convert into bottom-line ROI.

Operational Considerations

To make the most of your organisation's social selling activities, it's worth investing in some operational elements too.

For example, it can be very helpful to build a central content 'hub' that allows social sellers to stay up to date with new content, find existing assets that can address a specific opportunity, or get inspiration from best practice.

Next Steps

Hopefully that's given you a solid framework to start building your own social selling activities, but remember that this is a relatively new discipline, so there's still plenty more for all of us to learn.

My top recommendation is to analyse the activities of the people in your network who seem to achieve disproportionate levels of engagement and recognition:

  • What are they doing particularly well?
  • What do they do differently to you and others?
  • Which of their approaches and techniques could you adopt to improve your own results?

The best thing about social selling is that it is 'social', so many of your best insights will come for free by watching others.