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10 reasons why social selling matters and 10 steps to get started

There are any number of impressive statistics I could quote about the growth of social media, of the main social platforms and of the level of social media activity, but what does it all mean?

First of all, it is important to point out that for businesses social media is primarily a marketing and sales tool. It should therefore form part of the marketing mix in a clearly defined marketing plan and be a part of an integrated sales plan. On its own it will most likely be totally ineffective—in the same way as an isolated piece of advertising on its own is.

Nor should it be seen as a substitute for communicating and engaging with customers and prospects, but as an additional and cost-effective method of doing so. Social selling has the potential to dramatically boost your ability to identify new prospects, connect with new clients and reach entirely new markets—I have found that from personal experience. As defined by the Aberdeen Group, social selling is the utilisation of three techniques: Social Collaboration, External Listening and External Participation.

I’m frequently asked to justify why social selling is worth the time. Some organisations promote social selling and provide social selling training for their sales teams, including IBM. Others still see it as a distraction, and believe that the sales team should be closing business rather than wasting time with social media. Think of it like the telephone; it has been an essential tool in the salesperson’s kit bag for many years but was once seen as an unnecessary distraction. Social business is like the telephone in the early days—it’s a fundamental tool for the sales person of the future.

Overcoming this misconception is critical: social media and social selling can accelerate finding, managing and closing business. If you are selling solutions that involve cloud or social or mobile technologies, then if you’re not social selling, you’re not engaging with your prospects at all. Also, the millennial generation has grown up with social tools, so as they become a larger part of your and your customer’s workforce, this is how they want to work. While traditional selling involves reaching out to customers where you think they are or want them to be, if you get social selling right, you’re reaching people where they actually are, and you have them reaching out to you as well.

There are many studies available that demonstrate why you need to evolve your traditional methods to include social media—for example, 60 percent of purchasing decisions have already been made before a salesperson is invited to the discussion.

Someone out there is educating and providing insight to your clients; if it isn’t you, then it is probably your competition. Seventy-two percent of salespeople who use social media outperform those sellers who are not using social media. And companies that have a social selling team are 36 percent more likely to achieve their quota.

If you still need to be convinced then please view these links:


Below are 10 key reasons why I believe social selling should be a priority for all B2B sales organizations.

  1. It’s proven
    This time last year, you could potentially argue that social selling was still new and unproven, but not any more. There are countless individual and team examples of how social selling is having a direct impact on closing deals, finding opportunities, increasing the velocity of deals closing and more. At the end of last year, a company followed me on twitter (@simonlporter); I engaged with them to discover that it was a target prospect, and within three months the team had closed a large contract. This was a company not on any target list provided by marketing and had not been a client of IBM previously.
  2. The leads are the same, but come at a fraction of the cost
    Some of the best tools are free. You can simply use tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer to find buying signals from prospects you care about. There are also many paid tools that can be used to find and engage leads through social media. Even the paid-for tools can be used to attract the very same customers at a fraction of the cost of paid search and other digital campaigns.
  3. Your competitors aren’t there (yet)
    It is still surprising how many companies aren’t using social selling yet, even in the IT industry. This will change over the coming quarters, but right now your customers and prospects are sharing buying signals and pain points using social channels (including complaints about an incumbent product or service) and you may well be the first and/or only person to respond.
  4. It reaches prospects earlier in their buying cycle
    Once someone is ready to buy, you might be too late. If someone gives an explicit buying signal, more people are likely listening (and the prospect is most likely to be reaching out more actively and to more potential solution providers). But on social media, you’ll hear about pain long before the prospect may think to research a solution. That puts you in a fantastic position to deliver immediate value and preference, not to mention higher conversion to sale.
  5. You get to solve problems versus sell solutions (a great position to be in)
    At the end of the sales cycle, you get to sell solutions. But before this, you need to earn the right to do so by solving problems first. Only by identifying and quantifying problems that the prospect may or may not have known that it had do you earn this right. It provides first-mover advantage, and this is where social channels allow you to do much of the work up front.
  6. It doesn’t require a big following or a big social presence
    You don’t need tens of thousands of Twitter followers, nor do you need to publish 10 times a day to be relevant. While I would encourage you to publish regularly and to try to drive up your following, social selling isn’t actually about talking, it’s about listening. And listening means you spend far more time looking for other people’s buying signals versus publishing your own. However, you need to be focused—only a small fraction of what happens online matters to you. Use tools such as Hootsuite to spend your time listening to relevant people, looking for relevant social signals and waiting to respond by providing the right value in return.
  7. It scales infinitely
    You can literally identify and nurture an infinite number of prospects via social channels. You are no longer gated by how many people you can call, or how many you can keep track of using Post-It notes, calendar reminders or even your CRM system. That scalability makes the efficiency and ROI of social selling incredibly lucrative.
  8. It gives your sales reps more control over relationship building
    The signals you’ll find through social media are all over the place, and most of them won’t have anything to do with work. But that’s a good thing. Get to know what your prospects care about at work and at play. What else has their attention professionally, and how does that relate to what you’re selling or enabling? Also note what makes them tick elsewhere—family, football, whatever? Get to know how to build relationships, preference and velocity with your prospects.
  9. It increases velocity of engagement, preference and purchase among prospects
    As long as you’re authentic and focused on the customer-centric problems that ultimately lead to change and purchase, you will convert faster and at a higher rate than traditional prospects.
  10. You cannot opt out: If you’re not an active social seller, then you’re a bad one
    Even if you’re not an active social seller, you’re already being judged by your social profile. Prospects that you meet in more traditional selling situations are already checking your social profile and making judgements about you based on what they see. If you aren’t present or have a poor profile, then it will reflect badly on you.


So what can you do to get started on your social selling journey? For part 2 of my blog, which lists the 10 simple steps to social selling, please continue reading here.

Simon Porter (@simonlporter)
VP Commercial Sales, IBM Europe

Simon Porter is Vice President, IBM Commercial Sales, Europe. Simon is leading a team responsible for IBM’s software, services & hardware business with organizations of less than 1,000 employees in Europe—the fastest growing market opportunity of over USD70 billion. Simon led the transformation of this business from a direct sales to a Business Partner-led model, working with new types of business partners and new marketing methods, to capture this high growth opportunity for IBM and our partners.

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