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Welcome to 2014, the Year of Social Selling

Social selling. We’re calling it as the tech buzzword of 2014.

Social selling is not only about getting your internal sales force to integrate social media across their broader digital sales toolkit. It’s using social media to find and intercept audience pain points, then using those key insights to inform content creation efforts to drive leads.

If it were simple, everyone would have flawless social-selling integration. For B2C brands, a small amount of social selling comes naturally in the 21st century; for B2B brands, using social media for sales is more complex.

We’ve been tackling social selling for a couple of years now. Here we will drop our top three social-selling tips to get you thinking in the right direction.

How can B2B organizations best use social selling?

Foremost, social media should be used to build relationships, not just to push a sales agenda onto customers. The customer you are looking to engage with or intercept on social media has a problem — a problem that you can help them solve. Reach out with existing knowledge sources, like white papers, articles and cost calculators. Position yourself as a thought leader, and make sure customers know they can come to you for knowledge, not just to purchase a product. It might seem like a lot of work, but remember: Though prospects might not be ready to buy right now, when they are, they will know where to ask for help.

Does social selling produce results?

Social Media Today states that 79 percent of marketing leads never convert into sales and that a lack of lead nurturing is the common cause of this poor performance. By using social media to open your channels of direct engagement with existing and potential customers, you have an easy tool to nurture your leads, and convert more of those elusive 79 percent into actual sales.

How’s this for results: IBM recently reported that 15 percent of the overall wins for its cloud computing sales efforts could be directly attributed to its social-selling efforts. Additionally, 55 percent of buyers search for information using social media channels, and 75 percent of buyers are likely to use social media somewhere in the purchase process.

Those numbers show that if you’re not developing a B2B social-selling program, you could be missing out. With social selling, you’re not email spamming your customers, you’re not leaving five voicemails that may or may not be sent into a black hole. You’re nurturing prospects directly.

How do I know if social selling is right for my business?

If your target industry is socially active, then, yes, it’s right. Think about how you want to engage prospects, overall and individually. Understanding your audience means knowing that each prospect has a preference for being contacted and engaged. Some prospects prefer LinkedIn, while others might be looking for knowledge on Twitter. Social selling might not be the right program for your business if your target audience isn’t using social media. From our experience, B2B targets in the banking industry are usually socially silent because of industry or privacy regulations. So, it’s necessary to research your prospect’s social activity first.

Social selling is the exciting new buzzword of 2014, but a solid B2B social-selling program can take years to develop. If you think you’re ready to get started, do your research, and then enlist some pros to help. B2B brands that use social selling to generate and nurture prospects — with conversation and engagement, not sales — will see the benefits of a more integrated demand gen program.

Ginny Torok is a social media analyst at Harte Hanks.

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