What is “social selling”?


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How much more salesy can you get? How much harder can you beat your sales force? How much more pressure can you put onto your customers? Didn’t you overstep the line long time ago?

Social selling is a new art, a new discipline, a more effective way to deal with more customers and be there when the opportunity is opening up. Clearly – there is nothing new in sales since 5,000 years. Yet once every 20 yeras we dramatically fine tune our engagement. Remember when “reference selling” – “consultative selling” – “whatever selling” – was better than what we did before?

Traditional sales people work cyclic with their sales quota and product promotions. They reach out to customers when they feel it is about time to reconnect. “Long time no see” – “Hey – I wanted to reach out to you…” – “We talked…. I wanted to follow up …” And whatever other monotone phrase you have to RESTART a connection that cooled down over time. The worst of all – the client knows you want to sell something and a barrier is building up immediately.

Now – I want to walk you through a 5 stages of Social Selling. But before I do so let me make sure we are all on the same page.

You are well verse with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Digg, StumbledUpon etc. AND you recognized that most of your clients and their influencer are there too. If not – never mind, don’t bother with the rest of this post, it is just this new social media mumbo jumbo and from somebody how seems to have no idea what a “real” sales person is all about. If you do have at least basic social media experience – you may like what you read.

Here are the 5 stages of social selling:

1) Understand
Understand who are the most important influencer of your client – internally and externally, like colleagues, peers, friends, supervisors. You find them all in their social networks. Create a list of all those people (you may use SRM tools like XeeSM) and make that list the core of your social engagement. Biggest change: You no longer focus on the “social geographies” like Twitter or LinkedIn to pick up some news or inputs – instead you focus on the people relevant to you, regardless where they are.

2) Visit
Visit your most important clients at least every other day on their key online presences, may it be Facebook, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, YouTube, Stubled, MySpace… Make sure you are present at all the relevant places (not relevant to YOU but relevant to THEM). It will take a few hours to find them and understand what sites they are active on. Don;t forget the blogs they may reading and commenting on. Most of the work is a one time “research project”. But hey if you are not willing to invest in your customers – you may consider changing your career.

3) Listen
This is not the typical “listen to your customer” – I know you do that every day. This is about understanding their needs, fears, issues, challenges, whether or not it has something to do with what you are selling. You will learn all that by reading their posts, tweets, comments… Be helpful in any way you can. Listen to their conversations. Find a way to be helpful. You will learn more in 1 hour reviewing their posts and conversations than in six stiff and business focused face to face meetings – never sure if you even get that far.

4) Converse
Leave a note on their facebook wall, tweet with them, ask a question, introduce them to people who maybe relevant to them, let them know about great links you found that maybe helpful to them, comment on their blogs, groups… – do everything but DO NOT SELL Take an hour or two every day and you will be able to touch more than 5 times as many clients than the best sales guy in the world doing this the traditional way. Find out what resonates and you get to a relationship before you even picked up the phone – to just leave a message on their voice box. You will be greeted at your first phone call like you’ve been friends for years. You will think: “Cold call? how embarrassing were those times”.

5) Navigate
You will know if and when the client is in the mode to talk to you about something YOU need help with – like selling your product. Then you make yourself available face to face, on the phone and in any conceivable way to attract your client. At this point you know everything about them AND they know everything about you. You have a relationship! If this is all done right, you will socialize and the order will come in without you asking for it or selling the old way – remember: “The best sales people in the world never sold a thing”.


There is no more “follow up”. There is no more “long time no see” and there can’t be anymore “just thought I reach out to you to blah blah blah…”

There is only consistent communication, knowing what your clients are up to on an ongoing base (daily), omnipresence whatever their concerns are. You cannot allow leaving your customers alone – you will need to watch them like a guardian angel. There cannot be another case where the customer made a purchase decision without you being aware of.

That is what social selling really means. ~80% of purchase decisions are based on recommendations. You need to be part of that “recommendation Chain”. If you and your products are not recommended, you need to settle for the 20% of the deals that where based only on price or other random mechanism you have no control over.

In other words, here is my definition of social selling: “Social selling is a sales technique, leveraging social media, to get and maintain a 360 degree picture of the clients and their influencer on an ongoing basis. It allows sales people to manage and maintain 5 times as many active customers compared to traditional techniques. Social selling allows an average sales person to become a top performer simply by using tools and techniques that allows them to socialize in a way that was only accessible to the top sales guard in the past.”

Let me know if you need any help with this


Axel Schultze
CEO of Society3. Our S3 Buzz technology is empowering business teams to create buzz campaigns and increase mentions and reach. S3 Buzz provides specific solutions for event buzz, products and brand buzz, partner buzz and talent acquisition buzz campaigns. We helped creating campaigns with up to 100 Million in reach. Silicon Valley entrepreneur, published author, frequent speaker, and winner of the 2008 SF Entrepreneur award. Former CEO of BlueRoads, Infinigate, Computer2000. XeeMe.com/AxelS


  1. I think your intent is there but the payoff a sales person is seeking is elusive.

    “There cannot be another case where the customer made a purchase decision without you being aware of.” I wish!

    Americans talk about a lot of things but rarely money; especially when tipping their hand on what they are buying. Because … we do not want to be sold to and do not trust people to restrain themselves.

    Overall, all points about Understand, Visit, Listen, Converse, Navigate, all great, but if executed poorly could be seen as vulturing. And this assumes you have less than 100 clients. But a good structure for people to adhere to. Good post.

    My 2c.

  2. Hi Axel: if you remove “social selling” from your discussion, the steps you’ve outlined describe a sales process that was effective 20 years ago, and they work very well today! You’ve connected the same steps to more contemporary social-selling resources that salespeople should be using to generate sales.

    Still, I’m not as bullish on the effectiveness of online tools. In practice, I don’t see blogs, online conversations, and other web-based resources supplanting face-to-face meetings. The idea that “You will learn more in 1 hour reviewing their posts and conversations than in six stiff and business focused face to face meetings,” assumes a utopic level of online openness. I haven’t been able to count on it.

    I’ve learned way more in a business-focused face-to-face meeting that began with “Andy, let’s take a walk to the shop floor, and I’ll show you what I’m talking about . . .” than I ever have online.

  3. @SmartAlexander
    Thx 4 feedback. Absolutely right – not just Americans – Europeans even more so and the same in Australia Africa, Latin America, Asia… “Money is something you have so you don’t need to mention it”. And YES – NOBODY want’s to be sold – so let’s stop the selling 🙂

    You sound like Willi Lohmans in “Death of a sales man” – He was all about the face to face. He was sitting for hours in front of a client office, waiting for the client to come. While the youngsters were using the PHONE. How dare they were – hoping to reduce the amount of time spending with a client by using this no invention called Telephone. Well we all know how this story ended…



  4. Axel: no need to apologize–I value the conversation!

    True that back in Willy Lohman’s day his boss would have pushed the sales force to meet with customers.

    When I started in sales, a salesperson who spent time in the office was considered a slacker–a person who wasn’t doing his or her job, because he or she wasn’t “in front of” customers. Today, of course, being in front of customers takes many forms. And those who steadfastly hold to the idea that “in front of” only means face-to-face across a desk, will get flattened on the sales gridiron.

    But so will those who can’t tear themselves from behind a laptop screen to get behind a windshield. Social media offers immense capabilities and potential for further revolutionizing selling processes. We’ve barely scratched the surface. But there are millions of decision makers worldwide who don’t Tweet, blog (or read them), or have a presence on LinkedIn or Facebook. A social-media-only selling strategy risks not reaching these buyers.

    For example, a manufacturer of commercial printing ink might have a “web presence” today–and an undeniable strategic need for it, but I can assure you that there’s a VP of Sales at the same company who expects his or her sales force to meet with clients onsite, next to the printing press.

    Selling processes must reflect buying processes. As long as buying is done face to face, face-to-face selling will remain important.

  5. Can’t agree more: “Selling processes must reflect buying processes”. And the substantial change in the buying process need to be reflected in the sales process. I see just a very few companies recognize the real change:
    – Customers don’t want to be sold (more than ever)
    – Customers no longer ask the sales people for information
    – Customers no longer trust the “references”
    – Customers no longer trust the sales pitch
    – Customers no longer buy market research from analysts
    – Customers no longer educate themselves through discussions with the experts from a vendor or their dealers.

    – Customers reach out to other customers – which they couldn’t that easily before
    – Customers read what other customers have to say on blogs, groups, communities
    – Customers verify with others what the pricing situation is instead of haggling with 3 different sources to find the price point
    – Customers are influenced by other customers not by cold calling sales people, email shots, advertising, press or analysts
    – Customers have made up their mind before a sales process even starts

    So either settle with the 20% of purchased decisions which are more random or price driven, go out behind the wind shield and chase those – or get to the 80% of the “recommendation based purchase decisions” but than you need to be part of that recommendation chain and that just doesn’t call for a face to face meeting at that point.

    NO QUESTION – there will be a face 2 face in most purchases – but it is the customer who decides who they want to see. Not the old BMW driving $200k sales guy driving around and pretending he is in control.

    So conceptionally we are absolutely on the same page – only the execution part I’m advocating has changed as the market has changed 😉



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