Imagine it’s a Saturday morning and you’ve made a trip to Home Depot to buy a tin of paint. It’s busy, you’re in a hurry and you really want to find what you need fast, get out of there and get to work.
As you’re picking your way through the aisles, a sales employee trots up and asks you if you’re interested in buying a lawnmower. You politely decline and continue your search for paint.
A few minutes later, the same employee pokes his head around the corner and tells you that they’re offering a special 25% discount offer on lawnmowers today. You repeat that you aren’t interested in buying a lawnmower, but ask him to point you in the direction of the paint.
The guy frowns and waves in the vague direction of the home decorating aisle. Then he says, “You know, paint is great and everything. But what I think would be really great for you is a lawnmower.”
By this point, you’re starting to wonder what planet this guy is on. You’ve explained that you have no need for a lawnmower. You’ve made it explicitly clear what it is you do want to buy. Probably, you’re more than a little bit irritated or taken aback by such an audaciously self-interested sales technique. Very possibly, you’d consider giving up altogether at this point to try a different hardware store instead.
Either way, you’ll definitely want to avoid this salesperson, and possibly the store itself, for good. Even if you did find yourself in need of a lawnmower further down the line, this is not where you’d want to buy it from.
Obviously, this is a very, very bad approach to sales. And yet, when it comes to their behaviour on social media, so many brands and sales teams seem to deem it totally acceptable.
They aggressively push out what they want to sell, highlighting their own agenda, without caring to check with those they’re trying to reach if this is actually what they’re after right now. They select people they think are good prospects and then hound them with clearly generic sales messages that don’t really align with their business goals.
All-in-all, they place too much emphasis on themselves and their needs and not nearly enough on those of the potential buyer. They aren’t listening. And that’s a mistake.
There is absolutely no excuse for this approach in this day and age – and certainly not in the social media space.
Okay, so the Home Depot sales guy can’t read your mind. He might wrong-foot the situation on the first interaction because, until he asks you or you tell him, he has no reliable way of knowing what you’re looking for. If you caught him following you and your spouse, straining to listen on your conversation for clues, you’d feel pretty uncomfortable and angry.
But the internet isn’t like that. And that’s what gives you such an awesome opportunity to tailor your approach in highly effective ways.
On social media platforms, potential customers publicly discuss their professional interests and needs. They demonstrate their endorsement for ideas, products, people, concepts and companies all the time in myriad ways that are either overt or, at least, easily decipherable.
This means that, if you’re smart, you often don’t have to guess what prospects are most likely to want to buy from you. You can get a pretty good idea of how to start that dialogue right off the bat, just by listening in on the open conversations they’re already having and adapting your business case to help solve the problems that they themselves have identified.
In other words, you can stop trying to flog them lawnmowers when what they want from you is a tin of paint.
This is called “social listening”… and this is how it works:
Far too many people treat social selling as an extension of cold calling: just another way to find contact details and scattergun prospects with pitches. This is a big mistake.
Social selling is all about social listening. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to use the publicly open information social media platforms to observe the people that you’re trying to sell to, identify what they actually want, when they want it, and approach them accordingly.
In the B2B world, that means tracking potential clients’ Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. It means joining the discussion groups that they join. It means watching what kind of professional insights, articles and studies they post, like and share with their networks, all the time really listening to what they have to say about them.
It means paying close attention to the conversations that people in your sector are having online – and understanding the issues and problems that matter to them the most.
And then, of course, it means taking an active role in that conversation.
Educate yourself. Read up on what’s happening in the industry and make considered, intelligent, targeted observations of your own on the same social media platforms, in response to what they say or post. Follow and interact with smart influencers in the field – and start working on positioning yourself as a thought leader, too.
Remember that this is all about connecting and collaborating, not closing. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Don’t try and change direction to talk about you, your company, how great you are. That is failsafe way to get people to shut down and ignore you. The more restrained you are about shifting to sales mode, the more respect and trust you’ll earn.
I can’t stress enough that this isn’t a case of simply pushing your product or service at a new lead. It’s about playing the long game, demonstrating that you appreciate what they need and that you can help to provide it.
So focus on helping, not on selling. Offer useful information. As you begin to build a rapport, start offering something more substantial: create interesting, relevant content you can share with them that solves a specific problem. Make sure that information about what you do is readily available and tailored to meet their requirements, but don’t force feed it to them.
It might feel alien, but effective social selling isn’t really about selling at all, it’s about establishing credibility. It’s about generating and nurturing leads to dramatically improve your likelihood of making a successful conversion.
That “lone wolf” killer instinct that was championed in the cold calling scene? Time to wave it goodbye. In this brave new world of social selling, it just won’t stick. It’s time to abandon the whole idea of the hard sell. Work on your humility, open your ears, and think about ways to genuinely help and create value for potential clients for free.
That’s how you know what your customers really want. And that’s how you’ll really boost your sales.