According to CSO Insights, and their annual Sales Performance Optimization research results, sales reps are responsible for generating almost half of their new leads.

Unfortunately, sales pros are incurring some increasing challenges in sourcing those leads. An IBM Preference Study shows that cold calls are ineffective 97% of the time, and this figure has been increasing by 7% every year since 2010. Fortunately, savvy sales pros are turning to social selling methods to pick up the slack.

Social selling is about applying the information available in social channels to aid your sales strategies and pursuits. This information includes prospect or customer social comments of all types, including questions, frustrations, concerns and inquiries, and tends to be both candid and desirous of a response.

B2B buyers are publicly sharing their opinions about what they want and need, what they like and dislike, and what matters to them. Sales professionals that harness and act on this information can engage with these buyers before the buyers have engaged with other sales competitors—putting themselves into an early and coveted position where the sale may then be theirs to lose.

But even while sales professionals tend to be social themselves, adopting online social selling techniques in order to uncover relevant conversations and unmet needs can be difficult. Here’s 7 steps to jump start your social selling strategy.

Social Listening. There are a plethora of social listening tools which monitor the social web and capture buying signals. The primary challenges here are achieving a workable signal-to-noise ratio and geo-targeting. Filtering away most of the noise (irrelevant, non-specific and duplicate data), identifying sentiment and getting a clean signal can be accomplished using a variety of techniques such as highly specific (long-tail) keywords and relevancy scoring. Applying geo-targeting so that salespeople receive leads within their sales territories is a bit tougher but can be done with specialized tools such as LeadSift, NetBreeze and Radian6 which can use locations and natural language processing techniques to cut through the millions of irrelevant conversations and deliver the most meaningful opportunities. Just as with good selling, good social selling includes thoroughly listening before talking. But listening, or just being a fan, friend or follower isn’t enough. You need to engage. Using a social monitoring automation tool, you can identify the relevant conversations, and then retrieve, categorize, prioritize, assign and route those social comments to the right resource for the right response. The ability to listen, engage, learn, scale and measure the revenue contribution forms the foundation of sustainable social selling.

Social Searching. Every day there are over 200 million tweets about companies, products and services. A very small but nonetheless material percentage of this social commenting are buyers seeking advice, referrals and information for products which you sell. Supplementing your social listening with social searching will identify sale opportunities and refine your social listening keywords. A great starting point is using Twitter’s search and advanced search capabilities to find potential prospects and engage them. Similar to setting up social listening keywords, it will take some time (more than a few hours), thoughtful analysis, experimentation and continuous refinement to identify the search terms that yield relevant results.

Social Prospecting. There are an increasing number of tools to filter social spheres and create highly segmented target lists. LinkedIn offers one of the more utilized tools, Sales Navigator, to seek out prospects and create target lists using largely demographic search criterion. Using your networks personal connections on LinkedIn can then turn a cold outreach into a warm transfer, and according to LinkedIn, a warm referral increases the odds of getting the initial conversation by 2X-4X. Similar tools from vendors such as Clintelica and Reachable create enterprise business graphs which include additional social networks.

Triggering Events. Identifying the activities or events that precede a buying opportunity can put you in front of the buyer at the beginning of their buy cycle. Events such as a new venture capital round, company acquisition, senior executive hire, product launch or geographical expansion may imply subsequent investments which a savvy social sales professional can be first to position himself early with the buyer. Sales intelligence tools like InsideView, Lattice Engines, OneSource and Zoominfo are particularly helpful in creating watch lists to identify these triggering events, and once identified, social sales pros can find the prospect decision makers or influencers, see if they have Twitter accounts, and send them a congratulatory tweet or link to useful content to begin the conversation.

Watch Lists. Once your social listening, social searching and triggering events begin identifying sales prospects, you may want to categorize or segment them for continued social media buy signals. Or in a similar way you may want to create a social targeting list for your named accounts. In Twitter, you can create lists of customers or prospects in order to curate and monitor all future comments by these leads. Other tools such as HootSuite or marketing automation systems such as Eloqua, Marketo or HubSpot can also streamline this process.

Contact Intelligence. Social media handles permit you to engage new prospects in online channels, but they're a bit cryptic and can only tell you so much about these new leads. Data append services from products such as Broadlook and eGrabber’s Account-Researcher, or providers such as's and LinkedIn can take an email address or other identifier and add helpful insights about a prospective company or contact. Taking contact intelligence to the next level can be done with marketing automation systems, such as HubSpot’s Social Inbox, and CRM systems which can link social media leads with accounts or contacts in your CRM system. Once the social lead is clearly identified, it should go without saying that reviewing the prospect's LinkedIn or other social media profile is a pre-requisite to reaching out for an initial contact.

Internal Social Network. Sometimes called Enterprise Social Networks, these internal (private) social networks enable sales staff to communicate, collaborate, perform cross-departmental business process automation and connect sales staff with the best information and experts in the company. Sales and other staff can subscribe to the accounts, contacts, opportunities or other information to which they want to be alerted when updates occur. Information can be tagged, appended and searched, and since the information is shared and visible, all team members are on the same page and up to date with what’s being communicated. A study by Nucleus Research titled The Value of Mobile and Social for CRM found that organizations which effectively used social CRM technologies such as collaboration software saw an 11.8% growth in productivity.

I’ve found this type of knowledge management facilitates new staff, or staff coming into new sales engagements particularly well. Internal social networks can also increase speed, or reduce Q&A type cycle times as any person subscribed to a feed can immediately respond to a request or question. This of course also helps when you’re not sure who to direct the question to. The value of internal social networks being tightly integrated with CRM is not being lost on the CRM software providers. CRM applications with built-in internal social networks includeMicrosoft Dynamics CRM with its Yammer integration, Oracle with its Social Relationship Management and with Chatter.

Research by Altimeter Group found that only 11% of companies used customer-facing social media efforts for sales. But while adoption is currently low, performance results for early adopters are impressive. A research report described in Forbes demonstrates the link between social selling and sales performance. Among the findings, 78.6% of sales pros using social selling techniques outperformed their non-social peers, and those social selling reps were 23% more successful in exceeding their sales quota (by more than 10%).

Social selling doesn’t replace good selling strategies and methods but it clearly adds another valuable technique to make those strategies more successful.

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