How to sell on social media

If Glengarry Glen Ross was set in 2014, instead of staging a break-in to steal sales leads, the underhanded tactics of the big screen’s most memorable real estate salesmen would probably have included hacking into a top dog’s LinkedIn account.

Social media has completely changed the sales process, and your ability to accelerate your career in sales. It’s a living, breathing digital Rolodex – connecting you beyond phone numbers and business small talk over cocktails to helping you build relationships, find leads and gain insights into what your customers are really looking for.

According to the Manpower Group, sales positions are the hardest to fill in the Asia Pacific. Having been in sales management positions for more than 20 years, it’s no secret why. Sales, especially B2B sales, are tough – it takes relationships, knowledge and the time and ability to build a referral network.

Socially connected people are now using social media on the job to monitor potential clients and competitors, gather intelligence, network and more – and it’s giving these people a significant edge over the competition.

A recent study found that salespeople using social media on the job outperformed peers not using it by a whopping 73%. They also exceeded their quotas 23% more often than their counterparts who were not using social media.

I know social media can boost sales success because I’ve seen it work within my own company Hootsuite. All of our sales people tap into social networks daily to engage clients.

Here are three tips for making the most of social media as a sales tool:

1. Use social media to break the ice: Social media can be a great resource for gaining unique insights into leads that can help you make a more impactful first contact. Discovering a decision-maker is a vegetarian, for example, gives me a great personal lead-in when making that crucial first contact. Full disclosure: I use our own Hootsuite platform to follow and analyse trends, brands and decision-makers. This kind of investigating has been invaluable in uncovering crucial information on businesses, enabling me and my sales team to optimally time our outreach.

2. Tap into social networks for warmer referrals: Social media can be a major asset in getting people to be more receptive to you. Let’s face it – gone are the days of big entertainment expense accounts. Today, in the business of the famous ABC (always be closing), it’s even more crucial to “always be connected” – socially. I often seek introductions from common friends or business associates. None of this, of course, is rocket science. A warm referral is known to increase the odds of sales success by 200% to 400%. What’s new and powerful here is leveraging social media to transform a cold referral into a warm one.

3. Catch new opportunities with social media: There is nothing more tragic than a lost opportunity in sales. Our sales reps have found one easy way to avoid them – working with departments (other than just marketing) to gain valuable intelligence. For example, one of our customer support reps recently spotted someone on Twitter complaining about an unsatisfactory sales demo they’d just had with one of our major competitors. She immediately blasted the message over to a sales manager, using our internal tasking tool. The manager took it from there, looking up the tweeter’s professional information on LinkedIn and then tracking down his contact information. This all ended up becoming a promising new opportunity worth tens of thousands of dollars. Often clients are pleased to hear from us in this way, and to be offered a potential solution to their business problem.

Social media-assisted selling isn’t just happening at my company. More and more salespeople in both large and small businesses are adopting social media. Last year, for example,IBM reported a stunning 400% surge in its sales after implementing its social selling pilot programme.

Tapped into networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook company pages, and Twitter, salespeople can empower themselves with useful information and data that gives them a truly competitive edge. Social media won’t necessarily replace the phone or email, but it’s a new and revolutionary tool that sales departments can add to their arsenal.

The writer is Ken Mandel, managing director for Asia Pacific, Hootsuite (pictured)