The year of social selling

The year of social selling

'Social Selling' – using social media to generate business leads – is becoming a buzz phrase for good reasons. Tom Skotidas explains how he used LinkedIn and Twitter to find and connect with hundreds of business prospects

B&T Magazine
Posted by B&T Magazine

It's been two years since I launched Skotidas, and what an amazing ride it's been.

I launched my agency so I can offer B2B marketers the benefits of 'social selling' – a new way of building a brand and generating leads; one that changed my approach to B2B marketing forever.

From 2007 to 2011, I led marketing and business development for a search engine marketing agency called First Rate. When I joined in March 2007, I inherited a tiny agency but massive revenue goals. I got to work using several marketing channels to build our agency brand and generate leads, including search, telemarketing, direct mail, email, PR and events.

While this cross-channel approach generated a good amount of PR, traffic, and leads, we were simply not generating a high enough quantity and quality of leads with decision makers, on an ongoing basis.

Enter social media. In 2008 I started using a new channel: social media. Although a member of LinkedIn since 2005, this was the first time I took it seriously. The more I participated, the more I realised I could find hundreds of business prospects. I could also connect with prospects, by inviting them to join my network and giving them a valid reason to do so.

Once I connected with my target audience, I regularly shared relevant content with them via my newsfeed – and editorialised it with my opinions and insights. I felt that if I consistently engaged my prospects this way, I could build virtual relationships with them over time. I could convert these into leads and meetings, if I reached out and gave them a good reason to meet in person.

As I developed significant momentum with LinkedIn, I started using Twitter as well. I found that I could connect with my prospects in a similar way, by following them first, prompting them to follow me back. 

I used the same streams of content, but editorialised my tweets in a different manner, reflecting the Twitter audience and its unique language. My followers started growing – and most of them were the same prospects I had connected with on LinkedIn.

By using both social networks in tandem, I was doubling my chances of my prospects seeing my content. This combination proved powerful for building my personal brand, driving click-throughs to our agency's website, and generating sales meetings.

I used 'social selling' from September 2007 to March 2011. During that time I generated hundreds of warm sales leads using LinkedIn and Twitter, resulting in dozens of pitches. In three-and-a-half years, we grew from two staff and $500,000 in annual billings to 25 staff and nearly $7,000,000 in turnover.

About $3,500,000, or 50%, of these billings came from clients that I met, and nurtured, using social networks.

What have I learned about personal brand and social selling?

Since launching my agency two years ago, I've had the privilege of working with a large number of global brands on social selling. My staff and I work with marketing directors and sales directors throughout Australia and Asia Pacific, generating leads for their sales forces using social networks.

Our clients' success in social media quietly confirmed this for me: that my own success as a social seller was not a one-off occurrence, nor the result of being some uber-salesperson. Instead, I succeeded in large part because of the strong personal brand I developed within my industry.

One of the most powerful examples of personal brand and selling belongs to Steve Jobs, who used his extraordinary brand to push millions of products to consumers. Building a Jobs-like brand might be impossible for most of us.  But building an extraordinary brand is not. This is where social networks are a game changer. Their scalable platforms and viral nature, combined with the right content, can grow the brands of ordinary people within months.

So what can your organisation do to generate leads using social networks?

Start by developing social sellers within your organisation, and helping them to connect with your prospects on social networks, either individually or via a group. Make sure to align this process to their offline sales territories.

Once connected, marketing can use social sellers as distribution channels for content, gradually building demand for your product categories. This content can be distributed via their personal newsfeeds or via groups.

You can then leverage these relationships to generate leads in several ways, such as by posting content that links back to your company's website, or by approaching connections and asking them to meet in person. The latter has an especially high ratio of meetings requested to meetings secured.

I believe that 2013 is going to be the defining year for social selling. B2B marketers and sales professionals are increasingly using the term.

My prediction? 2013 will be the year that marketers 'professionalise' their use of social networks. Although this might make organisations feel uneasy, their brand's growing market engagement will alert their executives to the opportunity they have. Companies will discover that rather than continuing as a faceless corporate entity, they can now define themselves through the sum of their people's brands.

In fact, they just might realise that their new competitive advantage – the most sustainable of all – lies in their humans and their capacity to connect.