What Is Social Selling?
Social Selling: Definition, Benefits & Tips for Sales Leaders
Discover why social selling has become a leading modern sales approach. Create genuine connections with prospects and increase your revenue streams.
With almost half the world’s population active on social media, utilizing powerful sales tactics like social selling is more important than ever. This form of modern selling — also known as virtual selling or digital selling — is essential for sales leaders looking to improve the way they present their offerings, increase outreach, and grow revenue streams.
Social selling has evolved from just referring to and using social media as we’ve traditionally come to know it. Instead, it encompasses the entire digital ecosystem ranging from social media to the internet to the sales tech stack. Top-performing salespeople today utilize social selling through sales technology and tools, like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, to leverage all the data they need at their fingertips to reach out to the right buyers with the right message at the right time.
It can be challenging to stand out as a brand competing for a social share of similar products and services. But with social selling, both beginner sales reps and seasoned sales professionals can be well on their way to shining, even in saturated markets.
To get you started on your social selling journey, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide that includes everything from the definition of social selling, its best practices, and how to measure its success.
What Is Social Selling?
In a nutshell, social selling is a strategic method for sellers to connect and build relationships with prospects through social networks. In recent years, social selling has morphed into virtual selling as sellers are increasingly using sales technology and sales tech (and not just social media) to connect with buyers. Social selling and virtual selling allow salespeople to build trusted relationships, boost social credibility, and ultimately reach their sales goals.
As technology and communication methods continue to advance and change, connecting with potential customers in both B2B and B2C markets has replaced outdated selling tactics. These older sales techniques, like cold calling, lack the convenience and more personal nature of social and digital selling. Using your brand’s social media channels and the sales tech stack to actively engage with prospects and develop a connection with them can help you reach your business’ sales target.
Traditional selling vs. social selling
- Buy lead lists
- Limited personal contacts
- Blocked by gatekeepers
- Outdated / random contacts
- Limited data records
- Non-relevant information
- Rely on cold calling
- Push sales scripts
- One-size-fits-all process
- Use professional networks
- Connect on social media
- Access to key decision-makers
- Focus on real connections
- Gather online intelligence
- Discover social insights
- Leverage warm introductions
- Have pertinent conversations
- Guide through the buying process
Social selling is not just about adding new contacts to your sales list, though. It’s about forming meaningful social interactions and presenting your brand as a trusted source to solve a customer’s problem via your product or service.
Rather than a hard closing plan or one-and-done deal, social selling is more closely related to lead generation — the process of forming and maintaining relationships with customers through every stage of the sales pipeline and sales funnel. With that in mind, sales teams must be willing to put in ample time and intentional effort to engage with their prospects and buyers on an ongoing basis.
Why Is Social Selling Important?
In today’s digital-heavy world, social selling is a great improvement over conventional sales forms that can often feel impersonal. Through direct engagement like commenting, liking, and sharing customers’ posts, alongside sales technology such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator, companies can naturally build social credibility and generate “free” advertising to turn their prospects into buyers.
Top-performing salespeople — which we've defined as sellers who have reached 150% of quota or more — were more than twice as likely to have expanded their LinkedIn network in the past year (53%) compared with their average peers (25%), according to the 2022 LinkedIn State of Sales report.
Still wondering why your company should take advantage of social selling? Let’s get factual.
Social selling leaders get better sales results
Social selling leaders create 45% more opportunities than peers with lower SSI.
Social selling leaders are 51% more likely to reach quota.
78% of social sellers outsell peers who don’t use social media.
Social selling gives sales leaders better results
Simply put, it works! In an internal study we conducted, we found a strong correlation between sales reps with a high social selling index (more on that below) and achieving sales goals.
- Leaders in the social selling space create 45% more sales opportunities than those with a low social selling index
- Businesses that prioritize social selling are 51% more likely to reach their sales quota
- 78% of businesses that use social selling outperform those that don’t
Social selling helps you form real connections
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we network and build relationships. Instead of businesses finding prospects at industry events, trade shows, and conferences, they’ve turned to digital channels to find those same connections. This massive shift to online relationship building has made social selling a necessity.
Your prospects are engaged in social buying
More people are currently active on social media, which has led to a massive increase in e-commerce sales. Many businesses are offering their products and services in the online space versus just in person, so the potential for brands to make social sales is huge! Consumers are also utilizing social media platforms for brand and product research, so they’re already getting ready to buy.
Your main competitors are already social selling
Finding prospects doesn’t always lead to immediate sales, but as you reach out to more and see how they respond, you’ll start noticing patterns in their behaviors. Conducting market research can be a useful way to determine why customers enter the market to buy certain products and how to best sell. These insights can help sales reps target and contact specific prospects while enhancing their long-term strategies.
Now that we’ve identified the benefits of social selling, let’s see some rewarding case studies.
96% of B2B content marketers use LinkedIn for organic marketing, helping them gain visibility and recognition within their market.
200 million Instagram users visit a business account per day, and 80% of users are researching a company’s product or service on the platform.
1 million brands sell on Facebook and over 200 million active monthly users interact on Facebook Shops. Many brands see great results, including higher order rates on the platform than from their websites.
Social selling success stories
With the launch of their social selling program using LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Microsoft boosted their sales productivity by 38%.
By social selling through LinkedIn Sales Navigator and leveraging LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index to highlight best practices, PTC gained more than $4.5 million in closed deals.
Sales reps at Genesys who use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to post content, follow accounts, and connect with prospects increased the size of their deals by 42%.
Social Selling Best Practices
No matter which platform you intend to use to reach your target audience, make sure you’re following social selling best practices. Here are our 4 key pillars of social selling:
Create a professional brand with value
When engaging with prospects and customers on social platforms, it’s important to avoid being too salesy. If your brand is new to a social network, don’t dive into social selling right away. To build trust and provide real value, you’ll first want to establish your position as an expert in your industry.
One way to do this is by sharing interesting, valuable content. If you’re a B2B brand or business tastemaker, you can utilize LinkedIn by sharing content written by others that aligns with your brand. Or write and share your own relevant content that others might find useful to help establish your brand as an industry thought-leader. The goal is to show prospects that you’re providing something for them, rather than just out to get something for your business.
Build relationships with the right prospects
Social selling is not about increasing your contact list — it’s about building rapport with the right prospects for your brand. If you reach out to prospects that aren’t a good match for your solutions, you’ll come off as inauthentic and your sales reps miss out on forming more genuine connections.
Use social selling tools and methods (more on these in the next section) to identify prospects that meet your criteria, including function, role, or industry. When you do, you’ll make more meaningful connections and have more success converting prospects into paying customers.
Sharing your insights and providing useful information that addresses your prospects’ pain points builds trust. Communicate with authenticity and focus on the needs of the prospect first and selling second.
Just like the importance of writing unique cover letters when applying to multiple jobs, instead of sending a cookie-cutter note to numerous potential buyers, take the time to personalize your social selling messaging. This could mean acknowledging shared professional contacts, referencing a piece of content you both engaged with, or highlighting something you have in common.
Stay informed and consistent with insights
Don’t expect immediate results — social selling takes time! Even if some prospects you’ve reached out to may not be ready to purchase what you’re offering, stay in touch. Maintaining meaningful relationships will keep you at the top of your prospects’ minds when they’re ready to take the plunge.
Many social media platforms also have built-in tools to measure the success of your social selling efforts (more on that below), so you can identify what’s working and when you may need to adjust your tactics.
Now that you’re well equipped on the core principles, let’s dive into how to get started with social selling:
Optimize your social media profiles
Even after you’ve established your professional brand on social media, it takes time to build a true presence with credibility. Along with consistently producing and sharing valuable content, you’ll want to ensure your profile is optimized to directly cater to your prospects. Keep reading for our tips on how to optimize your LinkedIn profile.
Join LinkedIn groups and other relevant forums
What groups are your prospects and customers engaged in? Once you find out through their profiles, follow suit with a thoughtful message. Joining relevant groups is also a great way to stay informed about what’s happening in your industry, along with any potential challenges your buyers are facing.
Create social listening alerts
Sales reps can go a step further by using Google alerts or social listening tools to set up notifications that identify prospects talking about their business or service. This way, you’ll reach an audience that already has an interest in what you can offer so you can more authentically connect with them. Authenticity leads to trust, which leads to customer loyalty.
Share content to build credibility
As outlined in our core principles to social selling, sharing compelling, relevant content is one of the most effective ways to build credibility while increasing your engagement on social media.
Anytime you come across interesting articles that are relevant to your industry, share them! These easy conversation starters are a great way to lend value to others while establishing trust with your prospects.
Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator
Our B2B social selling tool can help you find and target new leads based on specific criteria like location, industry, role, and more. LinkedIn Sales Navigator can also help you better understand your performance with in-depth lead tracking and analytics.
With social media being the key to social selling, your brand profile should help you establish a reputation with your customers as a trusted expert. Since LinkedIn serves as an unapparelled lead generation platform, it’s the perfect place to connect with potential buyers.
89% of B2B marketers use LinkedIn to generate leads.
62% of B2B marketers indicate LinkedIn generates leads at twice the rate of the next-best performing social platform.
75% of B2B buyers use social media to make buying decisions, with 50% using LinkedIn as a trusted source.
Start social selling on LinkedIn with these four steps:
Optimize your profile
Creating a strong profile that showcases all the critical information about your company will help you gain your target audience’s trust. Some other important ways to make your LinkedIn profile stand out include:
- Add a current, high-resolution profile picture. Our research shows that profiles that include a picture are 14x more likely to be viewed than those that don’t.
- Go beyond just your job title in your headline and call out what you do and how you do it.
- Bring your skills to life in your summary. Reiterate your brand’s mission, provide social proof, and include a brief call to action to help buyers reach out.
- Request recommendations. These personal testimonials can further establish your credibility.
Prospect and connect
LinkedIn is one of the most effective online platforms to learn more about your prospects, customers, and industry. Use features like Advanced Search, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Sidebar, Lead Builder, Saved Search, and LinkedIn Pulse to prospect and connect with your audience.
Build and grow your network
LinkedIn is known for creating networks. By joining groups relevant to your potential customers and sharing and engaging with useful content, you can help increase your reach.
Keep things relevant and concise
Avoid sending too many connection requests or cold messages — remember social selling is about forming genuine relationships! Keep your interactions as relevant as possible, with concise yet valuable information.
Measuring social selling success
To identify if your social selling techniques are bringing in results, which strategies are helping your brand’s social profiles, and which methods are outperforming others, you’ll need to measure your social selling performance.
Enter the Social Selling Index (SSI) — a social selling measurement tool LinkedIn produced to help quantify the value of your social selling efforts. The SSI measures sales success based on 4 skill points:
Establishing a professional brand with a well-optimized profile
Finding the right prospects
Sharing relevant, useful content
Building and strengthening relationships
Each of the above elements is assigned a value between one and 25, and the sum of all four elements results in a total SSI score between 0–100.
To find your LinkedIn SSI score, sign into your LinkedIn account and navigate to your Social Selling Index dashboard. Treat your score as a starting point to determine how to improve your social selling performance. And if you’re looking to improve your score, that’s where LinkedIn Sales Navigator comes in to help make your social selling journey as effective and successful as possible.
Learn how social selling is made easier using LinkedIn Sales Navigator