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Social selling has finally taken hold within organizations. Salespeople who use social networks are outperforming their peers and proving out the effectiveness of this new approach to selling. IBM, for instance, increased their sales by a staggering 400% as a result of their inbound social selling program. But believe it or not, many social selling programs could be even more effective – if they just made one small change.

Social Selling Starts at the Top

Right now, many sales teams are engaging in social selling without the full support of their executive team. While your sales teams may be the ones closing deals, for social selling to be at its best, it needs to be promoted throughout the organization, and most especially at the top. This means not only serving as an executive sponsor of the program, but also being active on social networks themselves. 

Having the C-suite actively participating in social selling may seem counterintuitive -- after all, that’s why you’ve hired a sales team. Yet social selling is a far cry from traditional cold calling, or even the usual lead gen efforts that sales has deployed in the past. To understand social selling’s real value, and why it needs the attention of executives, we have to understand what social selling is at its core. It’s about building personalized relationships with potential customers. It’s about starting a dialogue so that when customers are ready to make purchasing decisions, you are top of mind and trusted.

Social networks, whether LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or other platforms, have truly changed the game for how we think about sales. With social media, we are able to track conversations in real-time and participate in them. We are able to provide advice to potential customers, promote company and individual expertise, and open the dialogue and build trust with someone long before they become a lead in any traditional sense. The ability to attract potential customers, and start conversations with them earlier has become the backbone of the most effective social sellers. It defines what selling in our modern era looks like.

Once executives understand this new value of social, it becomes clearer why they need to be involved. As an executive, you have an inherent responsibility to represent and promote your organization no matter what department you lead. You may think that as head of human resources, sales is not your territory, and while on the books you may be right, you have expertise and knowledge to share that can help promote your company.

By sharing your knowledge on social networks, you will attract broad swaths of people. Unique insights, after all, are what drive relationships on social. In turn, you will have access to an entirely different network than your sales team and you can provide a credibility within the space that not only can your sales team leverage, but one that you can also use to build net-new connections and leads from your network. Your conversations contribute to the beginning of the buyer’s journey. When followed by best practices and managed programmatically in cooperation with your sales and marketing teams, your company can capture an executive’s social engagements and convert them to real leads.

On a personal note, being active on social builds your personal brand and expertise in the process. Employees with strong personal brands reflect positively on the companies they work for, but that cuts both ways. Companies thrive behind executives with strong visions; those executives that are engaged in sharing that vision and their expertise set an example that vibrates through the entire organization.

How Executives Can and Should Get Involved

So what should executives do to think more strategically about how to facilitate social selling throughout the company? The C-suite has little enough time on their hands to add tweeting to the mix, right? Fortunately, the benefits far outweigh even the most minimal efforts, but making social engagement a more integrated part of your daily leadership has truly remarkable upside and potential.

First of all, executives need to optimize their profiles. On LinkedIn and Twitter, create a bio and profile that reflects your leadership vision and the things you care about. You also have to consciously put in the effort to be active. Social at its most effective is a daily discipline, and you will be rewarded accordingly to the time you invest.

Perhaps most importantly, be authentic and original and interesting. Your goal is not to be a corporate bot and just tweet out the latest company white paper. You didn’t reach the executive level by lack of temerity, so display your charisma, expertise, and knowledge. It’s actually quite wonderful to step beyond the bubble of the C-suite and engage your ideas with new peers, or share your knowledge with those that follow you. Show some personality and show the world that your company is made up of real people, the kind of people other people want to do business with.

Equally important, however, is to understand that social isn’t just your personal soapbox to blast your own agenda. Add value. Don’t just promote your company, but contribute, curate and share what interests you, both with relevance to your business and beyond it. Engage with others and grow your audience and network, and even collaborate by sharing notable interactions, bringing others into the conversations you’re having, and asking important, defining questions.

Posted by Henry Nothhaft, Jr.

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