How to Drive Business With Social: Tips from A Social Selling Expert

Are you getting business results from your activities on social media?

In our latest Hootcast podcast, we chat with social selling expert Koka Sexton about how to find and engage potential customers on social media.

In this podcast you’ll learn:

  • What social selling is and why it matters
  • How to build long-term relationships on social
  • Tips on how marketing and sales can work together

Press play to hear the show in its entirety, or if you don’t have a set of earbuds handy, read the transcription of our conversation below.

Q&A with social selling expert Koka Sexton

Tell us a little bit about what you do and your path in business so far.

My story is a little different than most in my position. I started off in sales many, many years ago—I don’t want to date myself. As a new salesperson I was still trying to figure out how I was going to fit into this new ecosystem that was developing around social media.

I first signed up for LinkedIn in 2005 and then I signed up for Twitter in 2007. And it was at that moment, shortly after joining Twitter, that I realized that social media was going to play a bigger part in my career as a salesperson than anything else that was available to me.

Social was one path that made it very easy for me to connect and engage with the decision makers I wanted to do business with.

For those out there who may not be as familiar with the term social selling, could you dive into that a little bit and tell us what that really means?

My definition of social selling is: leveraging your professional brand to fill your pipeline with the right people, insights, and relationships.

But at a very base level, it’s how a salesperson uses social media to listen and engage with decision makers that are on these networks asking questions and looking for help.

Could you tell us what marketers can learn from social selling, or what you could pass on to marketers hoping to generate more leads or concrete numbers from social?

The one thing that marketers should pay attention to is the pain points of their buyers. Salespeople live in their own worlds in many ways. They’re just hunting for new business. And that’s where marketing fits in. Marketers have the insights about what the buyers are thinking and doing and they can help sales professionals understand where they need to inject themselves and how to best engage in conversations.

You’ve pointed out that marketers are much more involved in the actual sales process through things like social than they were before when you first started.

With marketing now being being measured on some pipeline generation activity—be it marketing-qualified lead all the way to a sales-qualified lead—they have to be able to show that in any given quarter, they developed a certain number of pipeline that closed.

As marketers become more aware of how important that’s going to be for a company, their tactics are going to adapt to help their sales team be more effective.

Definitely. Are there any tips that you could give us for social selling?

The first thing you should focus on is your professional brand. A salesperson could be trained in the best practices of identifying and engaging decision makers across any number of social platforms, but if their professional brand looks like garbage they’re going to be discounted immediately.

Another tip is a mantra that I’ve based my entire career off of, which is that visibility creates opportunity. And a salesperson needs to find ways to be visible on the social networks that their buyers are spending time on. And until they can get to a point of being visible, there will be no opportunities.

Finally, you need to be a point of resource for your industry, even if it’s not originally-created content. You’re going to find more and more business coming to you because of that expertise that you are illustrating through your social channels.

You mentioned earlier that you found your way as a salesperson through social. Do you have any tips or tricks for how to stay organized on social? Were there any methods or strategies that you developed?

Well it used to be a big mess, right? That’s why I initially gravitated towards using an application like Hootsuite, because I found very quickly that the value-to-noise ratio was way off. And I needed to find a way to cut through that noise as fast as possible.

The ability to have filtered searches within streams in Hootsuite made it much more digestible and offered an easier way for me to engage.

What are some strategies out there for managing potential customers? How do you identify and approach them?

This is where sales and marketing alignment comes into play. Marketing should already know who the buyers are. They should have buyer personas put in place. And if that work hasn’t been done I would challenge all marketing teams to actually figure that piece out.

When they know who their buyers are, they need to pass that information onto the sales team so it’s not living in the silo of marketing. Unfortunately, a lot of companies aren’t deploying training or education to make this process smoother.

So how would you recommend that a salesperson who’s on social nurture a relationship? What would be some signals that they’re ready for a sale?

Every salesperson needs to get in the habit of sharing the right content. Find the stuff that’s adding value into your network. Based on keyword searches you can figure out who else is talking about this stuff. You can also search by specific titles.

You have to build relationships in a way that is constantly adding value without any expectation of anything coming back on the other side. And I say that, as a salesperson, you need to add value in excess of whatever it is you’re asking for in return.

We have a pretty similar mantra with marketing, that you need to give value to get value. People understand when they’re being sold to versus when you’re giving honest, transparent advice to help make a decision.

Yeah, I don’t know anyone that actually likes to be sold to. They just want to make educated, informed decisions. And so the role of the salesperson has shifted. You are now the concierge of all this information and a resource for buyers to make the most educated decision, even if it’s not with your platform.

When I talk to sales teams I say they have to learn how to disqualify faster than they’re qualifying prospects. You have to get these people out of your pipeline faster than they’re coming in. And in order to do that effectively you have to have the right definitions. You have to understand what those buyers are actually looking for.

Yeah, you’re more likely to have long-term customers if you’ve qualified the right people. In your experience as a salesperson and marketer, have you seen a process come out?

There’s always some layer of variety, depending on the individual itself, but I’ve actually started creating a flowchart that shows a general process. From the moment of a trigger event, be it somebody who looks at your LinkedIn profile, somebody says something in a Tweet that you’re able to trigger off of, what does that look like?

When the buyer engages with you two to three times, that’s when you should try and connect with them. The first thing I do is I go to Twitter and see if they’re on there. If yes, follow them, add them into a list on Twitter for my prospects. I create a hidden list for all of this stuff.

Then I start following them on LinkedIn. Have they written any articles? Are they sharing any content? And I will start liking and commenting and re-sharing the stuff that they’re sharing across social media. Once they start realizing that I’m paying attention to them, they’re going to start engaging back with me outside of that initial trigger event.

And that’s when you know as a salesperson that you’ve got their attention. You’re no longer interrupting them. That’s when you can connect with them.

The worst thing you could do is start pitching your product. That’s not how you add value. You want to get to a point with decision makers on social where they’re asking you to come to them with information, and you need to focus on moving the conversation from online to offline.

It’s really nice to hear you talk about a clear process because it clarifies the term social selling. There’s a finesse and art to it.

I think social selling is usually misconstrued as social prospecting, but that’s a small piece of the pie. You know, you’re not actually selling anything; that’s the beauty of it. You are just constantly adding value and becoming a resource for your industry.

Social selling is more about social listening and engagement, because at the end of the day, you’re trying to foster these buyers in such a way that you are the only obvious decision when it comes to making a buying decision.

So it’s really like the white to the black that is cold-calling or blanket emailing?

Correct. And I don’t think that the phone is dead. You know, I used to use that as a sensationalized headline when talking with people, “cold-calling is dead.” I still think that there is a time and a place for it. Same thing with email cadences.

But the reality is that the success rates of those are low. Social selling has a higher success rate if the buyers are actually spending time online. But it’s really about finding that blended approach within your company.

You mentioned LinkedIn. Are there any other platforms that you see as good ones for social selling?

I think that Twitter is the gateway drug into this, because most people are more open on Twitter than they are on LinkedIn.

I think Instagram is another one that keeps popping up. The same way that I viewed the relationship between the professional contact of LinkedIn and the personal context of Twitter, I find Instagram being the next layer of that personal level. You’re going to get a different view into your buyers and understand what’s really important to them. That’s how you are going to become relevant in a conversation.

What are some of the exciting things you see happening in the social selling space?

Well there’s so much. I’ll be a little biased because I work here now, but I think the products and positioning of where Hootsuite is going in the social selling space is very encouraging. It’s bringing this vision of an integrated dashboard for salespeople to use social.

I think that the idea of listening is becoming an integral piece for sales teams using social media. How are they listening for these conversations within their assigned territories or specific keywords around the products or services that their company can solve?

You’ve given us some really good insights on how you see social media playing a role in marketing and in sales. Thanks so much for stopping by the studio.

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