The Dos and Don'ts of Implementing a Social Selling Program

As social networks have grown into a ubiquitous part of customers' online lifestyles, social selling has become an essential tool for every business with a product or service to sell. According to ComScore, 82 percent of the world's online population is reached by social networking sites. LinkedIn, for example, has 175 million members, and adds another two every second. With numbers like this, social media deserves the same treatment as traditional sales.

Social selling is the practice of leveraging social networks and the associated tools in the sales process, from lead generation to closed deal to account management. Social selling doesn't replace the fundamentals, but rather enhances them.

Prior to the introduction of sales intelligence tools such as LinkedIn, salespeople had to buy lists, maintain and manually update private Rolodexes, and utilize cookie cutter sales processes that included painful cold calls, all in an effort to reach the right decision makers. Today, social media provides salespeople with the ability to engage with future customers directly without even picking up the phone.

Social media networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Slideshare, and Quora provide detailed Internet profiles of contacts to build your network around, helping achieve the number-one sales rule in today's world: understanding your buyers' digital footprint—what they're interested in, what they need, whom they trust, and where they congregate.

With all of these tools at our disposal, organizations are able to implement strong social selling platforms. The following dos and don'ts can help your organization excel in the practice of social selling:

Do be a trusted advisor and expert. In today's business environment, helping is selling. Try to add value and build trust within your buying community. They'll turn to you when the time is right.

Do your homework. You have the data. Use it. With a combination of social monitoring and intelligence, find out what interests buyers before engaging them.

Do be authentic. Social media has no governing body. Users rule the social landscape, and they'll do everything to create a safe place to engage, making authenticity critical in your social efforts—violators of this rule are unwelcome.

Do incorporate social media into your work day. Utilizing social channels should be a part of your daily activity. Set aside time to research, curate, and share content.

Do nurture prospects and customers. Social networks allow you to remain in the hearts and minds of your buying community without having to do the dreaded check-in call or send a thousand e-mails. Buyers will follow people who add value.

Don't talk about yourself all the time. Bragging about yourself or your company all the time is a huge turnoff. Talk about and share other content that is relevant to your target audience—not just yours.

Don't overpush product. You can't be a trusted advisor if you can't hold a conversation without pitching.

Don't bombard leads. You want to be where your leads are, but don't immediately message them on every platform begging to give a demo or to visit your site. Build a relationship first.

Don't be a jerk. Social media is not the place to badmouth competitors. It's not about ragging on the competition, but sharing how you can help followers succeed.

Of these, the most essential rules to social selling are the first and last: Be a trusted advisor and expert and don't be a jerk. Always keep in mind that no matter what sales channels you use, you are representing your company's brand. Do that well to improve your chances for sales success.

Martyn Etherington is chief marketing officer and chief of staff at Mitel. He is responsible for all aspects of the company's corporate marketing strategy, brand, and digital programs globally.

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