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A few weeks ago I posted about content marketing, and why it is important for design and construction firms to utilize this important marketing tool to enhance brands, build reputations, and potentially generate leads.

Closely related to content marketing is a relatively new business development approach commonly referred to as “social selling.”  Of course, the very presence of the word “selling” probably makes a lot of technical professionals run screaming for the safety of their offices!  However, social selling is becoming a critical tool in the business development arsenal, and has the potential to create new lead sources while eliminating the dreaded cold calls.

So what is social selling?

According to a definition from LinkedIn, it is “Leveraging your social brand to fill your pipeline with the right people, insights, and relationships.” 

Social selling is both a research tool and a sales tool, but it is not making online sales pitches.  Rather, it is a way to compress the sales cycle and reduce low-ROI business development initiatives. 

But why would you want to use social selling?  Here’s a few reasons:

- Buyers of A/E/C services have become more sophisticated
- Clients are increasingly seeking out thought leaders to lead their projects
- Millennials are moving into decision-making positions, and they are more likely to be using social media
- Social selling elevates your personal brand
- Social selling also enhances your website Search Engine Optimization (SEO), increasing traffic

According to Kelly Riggs, a sales and management consultant to the A/E/C industry as well as founder of The Business LockerRoom, “Selling has changed dramatically with the introduction of social media.  Social media allows for a greater awareness of both buyer and seller, since both are likely using social media tools.  Social media also allows for more direct marketing efforts and for more highly targeted marketing efforts.” 

Kelly, who also authored the popular book Quit Whining and Start Selling: A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales, believes that “The changes mean that salespeople have to focus on social media or lose out to companies with more sophisticated social sales and marketing approaches.  Managing your online reputation as well as developing an online “presence” is critical to success in the social media age.” 

The SMPS Foundation team researching and writing the book A/E/C Business Development – The Decade Ahead concluded, “Owners are increasingly saying, don’t find us, we’ll find you.”  Social selling makes this possible. 

Here’s some basic steps to get rolling with the social selling process:

- Create a robust online personal presence
- Determine the type of people you want to reach, and develop a strategy
- Use social tools for intelligence gathering
- Provide a steady stream of content to engage your network
- Create new relationships and enhance existing ones

Let’s look at each of these in more depth, beginning with your online presence. 

To engage in social selling, you need to be online – and in the right places.  The best place to start is with LinkedIn.  While you may already have an account, are you really using it?  Remember, the goal here is a “robust personal presence.”  Make sure you have a thorough profile because as you get deeper into social selling, people will be checking you out.  Often when they Google you, the first thing that will come up will be your LinkedIn profile.  Be sure to complete as much information as you can – companies worked, education, skills, publications, etc.  And be sure to include a current photograph of yourself!  When viewing your profile, the right side of the screen will have a “Profile Strength Meter,” and it grades you based upon five levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert, and all-star.  The more information you add, the higher your level – and thus the more you will be found in searches.

I know a lot of business people that aren’t big fans of Twitter.  I run hot and cold with it, but at the very minimum I find it a great tool for intelligence gathering, which we’ll cover in the next post.  Even if you don’t become a prolific Tweeter, there’s still a lot of value to be gained from using Twitter as a social selling tool.  So create an account if you don’t have one, and begin following people that you know, people that you want to know, as well as accounts associated with corporations and institutions that you’re targeting for business development.  A lot of times once you follow someone, they’ll follow you back,  exposing your messages (Tweets) to them.  Be sure to also follow media – both A/E/C industry as well as publications that your clients and potential clients read. 

Facebook is another tool, although one that is perhaps less useful in business-to-business (B2B) marketing.  Some people use their Facebook accounts for both personal and business networks, while others have a strictly “personal only” rules.  So while they may connect with you on LinkedIn and follow you on Twitter, they won’t want to connect with you on Facebook.  In fact, they might feel like you are stalking them if they don’t really know you and you try to friend them!  But, you can still connect with their corporate or institutional accounts as an intelligence-gathering tool – and hopefully they will connect with your company’s Facebook business page, assuming there is one.

Blogging can be an important component of social selling, too, even though it is an important content marketing tool.  Other content marketing channels like YouTube and SlideShare also play a role, as does Google+.

The first step in the social selling process is developing an online presence.  You can’t sell socially if you’re not actually there!  It would be like showing up for an appointment with a prospect, but going to the wrong building. 

Once you have your online profiles, you can begin to develop your network and look for commonalities, which we'll cover in a future post.

Are you using social selling?  If so, what social media tools do you think are the most critical for success?