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For many business owners, social media is a double-edged sword. They understand they should be embracing it but aren’t altogether convinced it’s actually effective.

This is perfectly understandable. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social media began as ways to keep in touch with personal contacts, and imagining it in a business context is tough.

You can grow your business with marketing and selling that makes use of social media.

I encourage business owners to think about social media less in terms of posting status updates, and more as an important tool for building relationships. In this context, it’s much easier to understand how social media has become a key B2B marketing and selling tool.

What’s the difference between social marketing and social selling?

Social marketing can help you develop your brand, express your point of view, and establish long-term customer relationships. Your marketing team can use social media to build a community of like-minded people who share a general interest in the products and services you offer. This allows you to:

  • Position yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
  • Tell your “brand story” to people who are likely to care about it.
  • Have meaningful two-way interactions that lead to long-term customer engagement.
  • Build brand loyalty by sharing content that’s genuinely helpful.
  • Collect valuable feedback from leads and customers.
  • Encourage positive electronic word of mouth (eWOM) on social media.

Social selling is the use of social media to determine an ideal time for contact from your sales team. Social selling is about paying attention to what B2B leads are posting on social media so that sales can provide them with timely, relevant help they’ll genuinely appreciate (e.g., a whitepaper that explains a concept they were unclear about, a phone call to answer a question they raised).

Social selling is not about closing deals. The point of social selling is to use social media as a cue for your salespeople to initiate beneficial interactions with leads, thereby accelerating the buying process.

What Can You Do?

Marketing automation can play an important role in social marketing and selling—it uses keywords, lists, and pre-determined triggers (e.g., clicked on a certain link) to filter social media streams and alert the appropriate people. This makes social marketing and selling feasible, because no one has the time to constantly scour social media.

But for the most part, social marketing and selling require a human touch. Although some social marketing can be automated (e.g., generic auto-generated tweets that look like they’re not auto-generated), responding to a lead’s specific post or tweet usually requires a corresponding specificity that can’t be automated.

Social selling really can’t be automated at all.  With social selling, you’re trying to establish a relationship between your salespeople and leads—and reaching out with an automated message won’t accomplish that.

Social media is called “social” for a reason—it requires human involvement.  Therefore, your success with social media will largely be dependent on the people in your marketing and sales departments.

To get you going, you’ll need a marketing person dedicated to setting up your social media presence, creating and managing the automated filters, providing ongoing content via social media, and, in general, being the social media “go-to” person.Using social media effectively requires human involvement, often from a B2B marketing services agency.

You may have to bring in outside help if you don’t have anyone with social media expertise on your team. This could be a new full-time position, or an intern who has a strong understanding of social media. Often, this will be a younger person—because they’ve grown up with social media, it seems to come more naturally to them.

You can also hire a B2B marketing services agency with social media experience and proficiency.

You’ll also need to make sure your sales team understands the difference between social selling and a sales pitch. They should know how to be judicious—not every social media trigger will justify a sales contact.

And when they do make contact, they should be friendly, helpful, and not “salesy.” Social selling could rightly be called “salespeople doing marketing,” and your sales team needs to get this.

Be pragmatic about it. Some salespeople simply aren’t going to be good at social selling. Perhaps it’s someone who doesn’t like using computers, but whatever the reason, don’t force it. Social selling when done wrong is counterproductive, so it’s best to leave this selling tool to the salespeople who are comfortable using it.

The Bottom Line

Social media has become a key B2B marketing and selling tool— and it’s not going anywhere. If your marketing and sales teams use social media effectively, social marketing and social selling can help you build your brand, generate demand, shorten customer lifecycle stages, increase conversions, and create long-term customer relationships that keep your business growing.


Upper image courtesy of Sofiaperesoa, Creative Commons. Lower image courtesy of Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Creative Commons.

Topics: marketing automation, customer engagement, messaging, social media