What Is Social Selling?

Social Prospecting & Content Marketing

When was the last time you received a telemarketing call at home?

It's rare and when you do get a call from a telemarketer, it is typically a charity, a political organization or a survey company making the call. Those are among the five exemptions from the national Do Not Call Registry, legislation that was put in force due to consumer backlash over unwanted commercial calls.


Companies used to hire telemarketers, outfits that used low-cost labor to relentlessly ring consumers for commercial purposes. As a result of the flood of unsolicited sales calls, telemarketers were on a par with used car salesmen. The three words summed up their reputation:

  1. Aggressive,
  2. Untrustworthy, and
  3. Annoying.

They earned that reputation by interrupting you to pitch something you didn't want.

Cold Calling Isn't Dead But It Soon Will Be

While the Do Not Call Registry has done wonders for consumers' domestic tranquility, cold calling persists in the business-to-business environment. It doesn't work for the very same reasons consumers revolted against telemarketers yet some old school marketers still use the tactic, believing it's a simple numbers game.

And to an extent, it is. Referral Engine author John Jantsch shares some cold calling stats on his Duct Tape Marketing blog:

Cold calling results in about a 1-3% success rate for getting an initial appointment and it's generally abusive to both parties.

Why such poor results?

Let me count the ways:

  1. You interrupted what I was doing.
  2. I don't like being sold to.
  3. I'm busy.
  4. You don't even know if I need what you're selling.
  5. You interrupted me to sell me something.
  6. I don't know who you are.
  7. And you interrupted me and I'm really busy and I don't know who you are. Got it?

Jantsch follows up the aforementioned statistic with another one:

When that same call is made with a referral, the rate jumps up to 40% and even much higher when that referral comes from within the company.

So why does a simple referral make such a dramatic difference?


If a salesperson is referred by someone you know, there's an implied vetting process involved that makes you more open to hearing the sales pitch, if for no other reason than to be polite to the referrer.

But according to HubSpot's State Of Inbound Marketing 2015 report, 42% of salespeople say prospecting is the part of the sales process they struggle with most, while 36% cited closing and 22% cited qualifying.

Chart: State of Inbound Marketing Social Selling Sales Process-Struggles
Those stats should not be surprising when you considering they are not getting the information that may help them avoid cold calling.

Chart: State of Inbound Marketing Social Selling Lead Information
So, yeah, cold callers are dead; they just don't know it.

But they don't have to be.

Information is power and fortunately for salespeople, online activity generates the kind of information that can help identify and qualify prospects. The tools are available to build relationships that can eliminate the need for cold calling.

Social Selling

This is where "Social Selling" comes into play.

So what is social selling?

Unfortunately, the phrase is a misnomer because the emphasis is not on selling but on building the relationships that will lead to sales. Let's break down how using social media can be a crucial tool for the savvy salesperson.

Social Prospecting

CRM tools pull in a prospect's social media accounts, if they have any. These systems should have information such as company size, revenues, job titles, etc., to help salespeople qualify their leads. If yours does, then you are lucky enough to have that all information at your fingertips.

If you are not that lucky, you'll have to do it manually. You might want to consider a service like Data.com to collect more of the information you need.

If that's not an option, then use a simple Google search to find your prospect's social media presence. A simple query that contains the prospect's name, the company they work for, and the social account you want to find will usually do the trick. Examples:

  • John Doe, The Very Big Corporation Of America, Twitter
  • Jane Doe, Multinational Conglomerate X, LinkedIn

If that does not unearth your prospect's social media accounts, you might need to search directly within the specific social channel to find them. The two main social channels people use for business are LinkedIn and Twitter.

LinkedIn Prospecting

LinkedIn Prospecting
You can learn a lot from your prospect's LinkedIn profile, especially:

  • What they consider their role and responsibilities within an organization,
  • Their employment history,
  • The expertise and skills others associate with the prospect (via Endorsements),
  • Recommendations from colleagues and clients,
  • Education and schools they attended,
  • Thoughts on their industry or profession they may be publishing on LinkedIn,
  • Any LinkedIn Groups in which they are active,
  • Presentations they've shared,
  • Stories they've shared using LinkedIn's status update, and, perhaps most importantly,
  • Connections you have in common with them.

There's a lot you can learn simply by studying your prospect's LinkedIn profile.

But if they are active on LinkedIn-if they participate in LinkedIn Group discussions, if they post articles using LinkedIn Publishing, or if they simply share links to stories via their status updates-there are opportunities for you to interact with them and begin to build a relationship.

Some easy ways to do this:

  • Like or comment on your prospect's status updates,
  • Share or comment in a meaningful way on any blog posts they have published, or
  • Contribute to any discussions in which they may be participating in a LinkedIn Group.

If you have a connection in common (see the How You're Connected section when viewing their profile), you can ask that person for an introduction to your prospect.

If that's not an option,  you can use InMail, LinkedIn's internal email system, to ask for a connection. Be thoughtful about your connection request and how you might provide value to your prospect. Think about what's in it for them to connect to you.

Of course, being active yourself on LinkedIn will go a long way toward demonstrating why someone should connect with you there.

If you consistently share articles that would interest your prospects and/or publish your own thoughts on LinkedIn, your prospect will think of you more as a go-to source of valuable information than simply a salesperson who wants you to buy something.

This is a way to earn their trust.

Twitter Prospecting

Screenshot: Twitter Notifications
Since LinkedIn is the resume of the Internet Age, most professionals will have a LinkedIn presence to one degree or another. The same cannot be said for Twitter, but for those prospects who are active on Twitter, this channel can be the easiest and most effective way to build trust and a relationship with them.

Twitter is by default a public medium (you can set your account to private but most people do not) and therefore you can follow anyone without their approval (you can be blocked but only bots and the truly obnoxious get blocked).

Twitter isn't interesting in the particular but it is in the aggregate. That is to say, I may not be interested in what you had for lunch (though if it's a restaurant I want to try, I may very well be) but over time, bit by bit, status update by status update, I get very rich sense of who you are as a person and what interests you by what you share there.

Based on what I learn about you from Twitter, I can identify areas where our interests and passions overlap that might form the basis for building a relationship.

6 Things You Can Do To Prospect On Twitter

1. Build A Private Prospect List

To get started, find your prospects on Twitter and add them to a private Prospects list so you can follow just those list members' status updates instead of all the people you may be following.
You'll want to keep it private so they don't get notified when you add them to your Prospect list, as would be the case with public lists.

2. Add Prospects To A Flattering Public List

If you want to get their attention and begin to build some awareness and goodwill with them, add them to a public list that would be flattering for them to be on, such as Industry Experts. They will then get a notification that you've added them to your Industry Experts list and will likely want to check your profile out as a result.

3. Tweet About Things That Would Interest Your Prospects

You'll want to be active on Twitter and sharing information your prospects would find valuable when they think about following you. Put yourself in their head when they're viewing your profile and ask yourself what's in it for them to follow you? If you're seen as a resource and someone who shares valuable content, they'll be much more likely to follow you.

4. Mine Your Prospect List For Tweets To Favorite & Retweet

Once you have your private Prospect list created, you can view just that list and find tweets from your prospects that you like and Favorite them, or retweet them if your followers would find it valuable, or retweet them with a comment. Your prospects will get a notification any time you interact with them in this way.

5. Share Your Prospects' Content

If a prospect is creating their own original content, consider sharing links to their posts or videos or photos with a comment of why you like them. Again, this will build goodwill and can prompt conversations with your prospects that can spark a relationship.

6. Watch For Buying Signals

Finally, many people turn to their social networks for recommendations about what to buy or which product or services to use. Be on the lookout for these especially and be ready to respond helpfully. The more helpful you are, the more likely they'll want to ultimately buy something from you.

Earning In-Bound Prospects

Inbound Marketing Line

Image courtesy Blake Patterson


While using social channels for identifying and qualifying prospects is a crucial element of building the trust and relationships that lead to sales, you'll also want to get those prospects to come to you and these days that is done through content marketing.

Think of the entire content ecosystem of what your prospects are interested in and create content that serves those needs.

A guitar shop, for instance, may want to write blog posts about humidifying your instrument, how to set the string action the way you like it, or even host instructional videos about how to play popular songs. A pool supply company may want to write about keeping toddlers safe around the pool or share recipes for a pool party.

This type of content helps identify the audience that will most likely be prospective customers and helps feed the top of the funnel.

But also think about the type of information people need throughout the decision-making process specifically and create that. Think of every question prospects may have or obstacles they may encounter during the buyer's journey and create content that addresses those needs.

These days, people don't want to talk to a salesperson until they are very close to buying. So, the more you can educate them and help them prior to that point, the more they'll think of you and reach out to you when they're ready to buy.

Finally, by drawing them to your site, you'll gain valuable insight based on their website interaction history that was cited in the above chart. By understanding what content they are looking at on your site, you can understand where they are at in the buyer's journey and find natural points during which you can interact with your leads.