Like marketing automation, social selling can be a bit of misnomer. Many marketers believe marketing automation technology will turn their painstakingly crafted work into robotic white noise. But while automation software revolves around scheduling content and marketing messages, its true value lies in its powerful targeting and personalization capabilities.

Similarly, social selling does entail activities that advance the goals of a sales rep, like prospecting and account updates, but it doesn’t promote closing leads through 140 character tweets or hard selling every second degree connection in your network. Social selling describes the tactics salespeople use to stay relevant in their industries, connect with more prospects, and expand their thought leadership.

Unfortunately, not enough sales professionals use social selling — effectively or at all. Which begs the question: If the hype is so strong and the results are so spectacular, why aren’t sales teams adopting social media?

The truth is many professional closers may not know how to sell on social. Research from earlier this year indicates that only 31% of salespeople incorporate social mediums into their sales cycle, probably because the remainder doesn’t feel confident using social networks to sell.

The exact methods used to find new opportunities or establish a better industry profile will vary depending on the personality of each organization. But preparation and planning are common ground for anyone interested in social selling, and salespeople will need the right tools to create that perfect mix of relevancy, authority, and friendliness that generates more opportunities.

Here are examples of three types of tools that you’ll need to perform the three main approaches to social selling.

1) Listening

Before you can start garnering LinkedIn group fame and riding the wave of each industry-specific hashtag, you’ll need to do some research. Social listening tools provide sales professionals with the requisite intel to make their contributions to the social community memorable and informative.

Any article on social selling tools would be remiss without mentioning LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator. After years of building the internet’s most reliable database of professionals, LinkedIn has unveiled a tool that empowers sales reps to explore and research the organization’s sprawling network.

Like many software applications, it features tiered pricing with different levels of functionality. Some of the main features include lead recommendations that suggest prospects based on your criteria and saved leads, and the ability to view profiles outside of your third degree connections.

Twitter hasn’t produced a similarly comprehensive tool, so effective social listening and prospecting on the platform often takes more than one solution. Topsy, for instance, provides free analytics that track the historical usage of hashtags. This tool can be used to identify what topics your audience is talking about, and where you can add value.

Once you’ve identified your hashmarked terms, you can see who has been tweeting about them with Hashatit. And if you want to vet your Hashatit list for influencers and prospects, Riffle can break down their Twitter activity, reach, and interests into a single dashboard.

2) Participation

After the planning is finished, it’s time to start participating. After all, you can’t create any opportunities if you don’t engage with people. From simply liking a prospect or influencer’s status to leaving informative comments on a blog post or publishing content of your own, engaging with your community is a multifaceted affair.

Your goal should always be to keep these interactions as authentic as possible — but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from shortcuts. For example, Triggerfox is a mobile app that analyzes social data from Twitter, LinkedIn, Gmail, and Facebook and makes recommendations for how to interact with other people. A recent birthday, promotion, or professional accomplishment are all fuel for Triggerfox’s recommendations.

While keeping your one-to-one interactions authentic is crucial, posting content manually to all your networks can be time consuming. That’s why social media automation tools like Bufferhave become popular. If your marketing team is creating excellent content, then you’re well equipped to automate posts in LinkedIn groups, Twitter, Facebook, or other networks. And even if you’re not backed by an ace group of writers, you can still curate and automate content from around the web to show that you’re doing the research and know what you’re talking about.

3) Collaboration

While listening and participation take place in the digital equivalent of “the field,” collaboration and management take place at home, i.e., in your CRM platform. To help bridge these two areas, sales professionals are typically best served by choosing CRM software with pre-built social media integrations and tools.

These social CRMs will supply you with the means to augment your contact records with behavioral data from all your networks. If you want to call in reinforcements for the list of prospects you’ve built, they also make it simple for other team members to glean the most important details about each opportunity.

Finally, using business-wide messaging software will work wonders for collaboration among sales teams as well as with outside departments — like those content people upstairs who keep writing all those blog posts. This type of software has taken on many personalities, from more formal, corporate-oriented programs like Microsoft Lync to casual platforms like Slack.

Social selling isn’t only about the sale. It’s mostly about the pre-sale. Social selling dictates that even the “always be closing” sales rep takes some time to lay the groundwork for a more productive social pipeline by becoming an active member of a community rather than an interloper looking only for leads. And to do this, you need the right tool kit in place.

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