In a basic sense, social selling is what professional salespeople have always done: meet people, get to know prospects, and build relationships - except that much of this can now be done faster, cheaper, and more effectively.
Smart reps and companies are making the move to social selling because it works. Social-selling expert Jill Rowley estimates that 37 percent of buyers
look for suggestions or feedback on social sites. Reps who use social selling help best-in-class companies achieve a 16 percent gain in year-over-year revenue
, four times better than typical companies, according to the Aberdeen Group. At least one survey conducted in 2012 and 2013 found that nearly 75 percent of reps using social media exceeded quota 23 percent more often
than their peers.
The first step in social selling is establishing who you are and presenting yourself as the kind of person other people in your market would like to know. "It's more and more important for salespeople to have a professional identity," stresses Koka Sexton, senior social marketing manager at LinkedIn. "When calling on people, remember that your prospects will have been using Google and looking for people who have the answers they need."
This is a new paradigm in which the prospects know a lot about you before you walk in the door. "They can find you online and know who you are and what you do," says Sexton. "If they can't find you, you lose some credibility to others who have a digital footprint."
What do you want them to know? Your online profile, your social-media identity, should include a picture that presents a professional image, not a party photo or amusing selfie. There should be a headline description of you and then a concise history of your work experience and employers. Salespeople's profiles should emphasize what they did for customers, not what they did for themselves.
Sexton recommends adding rich media. He and his head of marketing have LinkedIn profiles with embedded videos, blog posts, and other rich background materials. "We find that more people come back and look at our profiles that way," he explains.
An attractive profile will also be updated frequently, to give people a reason to check it out often and indicate your engagement with the social world. It will connect to other people in the industry or your area of expertise at other companies, so visitors can build their own connections.
LinkedIn gives you the ability to uncover hidden connections between you and another member. "We have an Influencer program on LinkedIn that allows you to follow the insights of top business professionals like Richard Branson without needing to be connected to them," Sexton says.
So the general rules for building a great social profile are analogous to rules you'd follow when presenting yourself in person. Your profile should clearly tell others who you are, what you're interested in, and what you've done for others. When done right, your social profile will make prospects curious about what you might be able to do for them.