A look at social selling: Beware of a dead end

The sales department is regularly plagued by method hype. On the one hand, consultants always need new topics to sell themselves. On the other hand, digital innovations create new opportunities for sales, for which a catchy term for method marketing is usually found quickly. This is how new sales methods are constantly emerging, with which great promises are linked. The current key to success is called social selling. This means the use of social networks such as Xing or LinkedIn for sales activities.

The social selling hype

The topic is no more extended entirely new but has once again received a powerful tailwind from Covid-19. When analog access to customers is blocked mainly because companies are closed, employees work from home, and business trips pose a health risk. It becomes all the more important to find digital interaction options.

Marketing narrative: Modern sales use social selling

Salespeople who are active on Xing and LinkedIn have more contacts and are more successful. Social selling is a suitable instrument for all stages of a sales process, from initial contact to maintaining and deepening existing customer relationships. However, the focus is mostly on “lead generation”. Social selling is also highly efficient, with almost unlimited reach. Xing and LinkedIn not only help to find target customers but also support sales processes for little money. This is the bright glow of exuberant promises in the light of which so many digital technologies shine.

The gray reality of contact requests

With a profile on Xing that gives the impression that you are an expert or a manager and may influence company decisions, you can be sure of regular contact requests from strangers. These contact requests are a new digital variant of the classic cold calling: The first attempt to attract more or less potential customers to you and to start a conversation. Sales used to pick up the phone. Now he sends a contact request via Xing.

Three phenomena in professional social networks

Just as one is regularly surprised by the advertising that an algorithm has thrown on the screen, most contact requests are also challenging to understand. Xing, for example, provides vast amounts of information on its around 15 million registered members. An information paradise for sales. So why are there so many sales errands? Is that easy with the ubiquitous phenomenon in times of increasingly quickly scalable digital marketing and sales to explain? It makes no difference whether messages are sent electronically to ten, 100 of the 1,000 people if the addresses are available. People like to shoot roughly. An expression of a funnel thinking that is surprisingly still widespread: If more is poured into the sales funnel at the top, more deals fall out of the bottom.

Content of the contact requests

Often there are only meaningless standardized texts: “I am the sales manager in company X. I noticed your interesting professional. We offer the following product Y and have a lot of experience with Z. Would you like a professional exchange?” That is pure commercial amateurism. No individual approach, no exact positioning, no explanation of the benefit for me, no connection between my problems and the company’s capabilities. Sometimes inquiries are even deliberately kept neutral and suggest interest in personal contact from expert to expert. This shows less of sales finesse than of intentional deception. Not a practical first step in building trust.

Nobody used to wait for the salespeople’s call – neither does anyone today wait for their contact request on Xing.

Communication with contact requests

Finally, dealing with responses to inquiries. If you are interested in professional exchange, you will quickly be disappointed, because many social sellers no longer behave very socially as soon as they have determined that there is no sales opportunity. Then digital contacts end as quickly and suddenly as they began. Contact questions, as they are often practiced, have a particular potential for sales collateral damage. On the other hand, many social sellers benefit from the familiarization and dulling of Xing members. These untargeted and poorly worked out contact requests are too common a phenomenon to attract negative attention. What remains, however, is the problem of wasted time in sales due to unprofessional behavior, a lack of strategic alignment, and inadequate organization. 

Time wasters Xing

A sales method is just a method, a conceptual idea that must first be brought to real life through a correct implementation. Many processes take care of themselves in companies. Even if a method describes a sensible and promising sales approach, this does not guarantee that sales will benefit from attracting customers under this method’s banner. A good concept is a start. Success can only be achieved with the right implementation, and implementation can harbor many pitfalls that prevent the promises of social selling from being kept.

Social media, by the way …

Social media poses a real risk as merciless time-wasters. These platforms are deliberately designed so that users spend a lot of time there. This also applies to professional networks such as Xing and LinkedIn. As a sales representative, you can spend a lot of time there if you have an extensive network, work on its continuous expansion, and are fundamentally interested in what’s going on in your industry and with competitors.

Contact inquiries generate responses, which in turn have to be responded to. This can take a lot of time, and there is no guarantee that these activities will lead to additional sales. To Xing but the effect to unfold, sales staff need to attract content deals to be attentive to make, be active in groups or custom groups to moderate to become visible and build a profile as recognized experts. You have to be always present and react quickly and competently to feedback.

It is a severe misunderstanding to assume that social selling makes sales work much more comfortable for individual sales employees and enables them to quickly and easily win new customers. Xing offers a variety of illustrative material on how not to do it. Also, most social sellers use a dual sales system with Xing or LinkedIn, i.e., work in a parallel world without an automated interface to their company’s CRM system.   

Social Selling in Sales Efficiency Analysis

Thus, social selling would lead to precisely the opposite of what a sales organization strives for: To use scarce sales resources efficiently to build long-term relationships based on trust and add value already in the purchase decision process to donate for customers. This requires customer knowledge, adequate preparation, a systematic approach, time, and personal customer contact. The US consultancy Forrester has developed a straightforward tool to analyze and improve the efficiency of sales teams. It also helps to classify social selling in sales and decide how social selling should be structurally anchored in a sales organization.

Four different types of sales activities are distinguished in a four-field matrix, depending on whether they are internal or customer-related activities on the one hand and very productive core or supporting sales activities on the other.

  1. Internal administrative activities such as internal meetings, reporting, and CRM maintenance or travel time should be reduced because they do not bring any advantages for customers.
  2. Internal supporting sales activities such as target customer identification, initial contact and lead qualification, preparation of sales activities, or preparation of presentations and offers should be automated if possible and taken over by central units to relieve sales employees with customer contact.
  4. It is supporting direct sales activities such as attending special events or telephone advice that should be optimized.
  5. Direct contact with customers, for which more time should be available, is the activity with which sales can distinguish itself from customers and develop the most significant effect.

Social selling is operated in very different forms. A considerable part is accounted for by acquiring new customers—keyword contact requests. Individual sales employees use Xing more or less intensively, more or less strategically, more or less professionally, more or less effectively, with a more or less steep learning curve and more or less coordinated with colleagues in sales and marketing. According to the Forrester matrix, these are internal activities of category b) that are not very productive in sales, and some cases perhaps also category c). So these are activities that should be highly automated and organized centrally.

Organize social selling properly

So that there is no wide gap between promises and reality when it comes to social selling for companies, the following points should be observed: Social selling is a strategic sales issue. The use of this sales method should not be left to individual salespeople. If companies intend to use social selling effectively, then they need a strategic and conceptual framework. A uniform conceptual understanding, binding guidelines, clear goals, and responsibilities, and the measurement of communication activities’ success in social networks are essential.

Social selling is a task for specialists.

It is not an instrument that should be given to all employees. Spending half an hour a day on Xing to write a few messages, send contact inquiries, follow what has happened in the network, forward an interesting article and comment positively on a contact’s contribution is not yet social selling. This is a gimmick on the verge of wasting time. Companies need professional social sellers who focus on the strategic support of new and existing customers in social networks, who initiate and moderate their groups, build a reputation as experts, and appear in the analog world as speakers at specialist events to step.

You are also responsible for managing the internal support processes that a social seller depends on: be it the identification of target customers, the creation of specialist articles and group contributions, or technical support for particular topics. Social selling is a special skill that requires experts and not a decentralized task that the entire sales team should be entrusted with.

More than just selling

Social selling is a cross-departmental task in which sales and marketing, service, and product development have to work closely together. Successful social selling is based on high-quality content, professional competence, and personal support. A well-made contact request is the first and easiest step. Companies must draw attention to themselves again and again with interesting customer-problem-related content, address specific questions, and slowly build a relationship. The biggest challenge for many salespeople is to appear as experts to the customers who support them instead of selling them.

Conclusion: Get noticed through good social selling

Since a lot of what happens in terms of sales on Xing and LinkedIn is not convincing, there are ample opportunities for companies to stand out from the gray mass of immature social selling through professional social selling. Customers have a clear view of quality and appreciate individual expert support. Companies should use this consistently. Social selling has considerable potential. But many companies are still at the very beginning with their first awkward steps.

Categories: Digital Marketing, Marketing, Social Media

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