Social Selling or SMSE

Ian Moyse, Sales Director at Natterbox

I shall start with a bug bear of mine and the biggest challenge with Social Selling, the lack of clarity I find that most I speak with have on what it actually is (and how to leverage it).  Social Selling by its name is often misleading, leading me to hear ‘Our products / service doesn’t fit being sold over social’. The belief, led by its term, that Social Selling means selling over social media, such as taking orders over a Facebook site.

So, let’s clear this up firstly, before moving on. Social Selling is a nice packaged and catchy term, which is short and the moniker we have to live with. I get it. But the fact it needs some explanation to get people on page is a frustration. A better term may be the headline acronym (which I am far from suggesting will catch on), SMSE; Social Media Sales Engagement.  Let me elaborate.

Selling has gotten harder over the past decade and the past few years. I hear and read the stats that 2 of the hardest changes being that of getting to the table in the 1st place and losing deals to deferment, the customer doing nothing. With Social Selling lets address the former of these, clarifying what it is, where it fits and how to approach it.

Social Selling is about leveraging a new medium to overcome this initial challenge of getting to the table. Social Selling is a new methodology, not a tool nor does it replace existing sales skills or approaches, it compliments and keeps you relevant in a wold where the buying dynamic has already changed.

  • ‘57% of the buying journey is done before a sales rep is involved’ (Source :  CEB)
  • ‘75% of B2B buyers now use Social Media to research buyers’ (Source : IDC)
  • ‘90% of decision makers say they never respond to cold outreach’ (Source : Harvard Business Review)
  • ‘74% of buyers chose the sales rep that was 1st to add value and insight’ (Source : Corporate Visions)

With these sample facts in mind (I could list 25 to 30 more strong ones to support the Social Selling case), either you are the lucky exception or you have noticed already it is harder to get through to new prospects than it used to be. Reports say it takes 8-9 attempts compared to 2-3 only a few years ago, with most sales people giving up at 3 attempts. Take also into account that this cold calling approach is harder and puts the prospects radar up to avoid your call further!

Social Selling offers more value and relevance in B2B where there is a typical requirement to real world person engage through the selling process. Social Media has its place in certain higher value B2C, but more often in B2C Social Media use will fall into the broader sweep used by inbound marketing techniques.

So what is it? Let’s start with what it is not. It is not the responsibility of marketing; It is not an excuse to refrain from picking up the phone and trying to reach someone the old way; It is not selling, its engagement; It is not complex or difficult to start doing; It is also not for the dumb, as you do need to apply some sensitivity and skills to it’s usage.

Social Selling is a way to open new doors, to generate new and better results from your sales efforts and time. To start to fill your pipe with new prospect engagements and suspects and to do something different, where same old/same old is no longer delivering the desired results. Social selling is about a number of approaches; Find, Connect, Listen, Share and Engage.

Using these methods over Social Media, the desired outcome is to move to ‘Real World’ engagement, to turn efforts and techniques used on Social Media into real world discussions and meetings, at this point your traditional sales skills come back into play. Thus, if you are poor at selling, Social Media is no saviour, it does not fix your shortcomings in the typical sales process. Social Selling is about adjusting to the fact that in the early part of the sale the buyers approach has changed against you and you need to adapt and change to align with this.

So, social is about finding the relevant decision makers and influencers on Social Media in your prospect account. Once you have identified them on social you need to ‘Be a little Sherlock’ I train people. Sherlock goes into a room and spots the clues there that others missed and puts them together to create a different outcome. Do the same, research your prospect to find the clues. Are they on other social platforms (most will start and end with Linkedin thinking this is Social Selling, Linkedin is a tool not a methodology!). Check the prospect on Twitter, Facebook etc. Look for articles they perhaps feature in. Look at what they share, who they follow, what they like and retweet. Who are they connected to whom you know.  You are looking for nuggets of information that form a clue as to the persons persona, angles to engage in an authentic manner. Perhaps you find they went to the same college as you, lived in the area you grew up, know a common friend, share common content as you. Sometimes you will simply hit lucky, I recall researching a procurement person and finding a small subtle mention they made of being targeted to save their firm 5-8%, a great clue to know before engaging!

Look at the person you wish to engage with and find areas of commonality. Perhaps start by following them, not linking to!  WARNING : Do not fall into the most basic Social selling error of sending a Linkedin invite to connect out of the gate and if they accept , following it up with an immediate pitching message. Shame on you if you have done this! This puts their defences up straight away and is parallel to going up to someone at an event, introducing yourself and immediately pitching. On Social you need to be even more subtle, prospects are not dumb.

A good way to start engaging is to like their posts, re-share them, add insightful comment (you don’t have to sycophantically agree, be genuine and authentic and insightful). People on social notice who like, share and comment on their content, often engaging back through their own follow back, likes, shares and/or comments. What you are looking for is genuine engagement to develop, earning the right to engage from a sales perspective naturally. The panacea being that person invites you to connect, reaches to you asking to engage. Not easy to achieve, but possible and I have had happen, many a time.

In engaging on Social make sure you address 1 mantra of sales; ‘1st impressions count’. On Social the 1st impression is typically social (you saw that coming) and having an online profile/bio that doesn’t impress and make you shine, does you no favours. Make sure your Social profile has a good professional picture, has correct spellings and cross links to your other social profiles. You can only make a 1st impression once and in today’s world it is nearly always a social one!

Social Selling is not quick, it does not deliver instant gratification and can initially be frustrating as you find your feet. Much like learning to walk or ride a bike, you will get some grazes and bumps, it won’t feel natural at 1st and it it’s far easier to give up than persist. But for those using it, and the numbers are growing as firms realise old methods are failing, it delivers results, re-engages sales teams and once over the initial learning hurdle it re-ignites that passion of selling as a skilled set of behaviours.

Social selling is subtle, a new skill to learn and is down to the individual sales person to take action, no one can do this for them. Sales Dinosaurs still have value, but if you cannot operate effectively in that difficult early part of getting the door open, your latter sales skills may find themselves homeless.

The biggest challenge of Social Selling today is that too few Sales People (and leaders)  are using it or even understand truly what it is, how to leverage it and where to start. Sales Leaders need to do exactly that, lead from the front, get familiar with Social Selling, use it yourself, demonstrate and support the new behaviours needed and dictated by your buyers or risk being replaced by someone who does. Support your sales people in learning a new skill, mentor them or get an outside mentor in to kick off the process with your team. There has never been a more important time in sales to adjust and learn a valuable new skill for those already doing the job.

Ian speaks on Social Selling often. Why not start your Social selling journey by following him at and

Authored and contributed by: Ian Moyse, Natterbox