How social selling has evolved with the dramatic rise of social media

By Sander Biehn and Kavi Jakes | Feb 11, 2022

Sander Biehn is the co-founder of ReadyForSocial, dedicated to shifting the paradigm for B2B salespeople and marketers. He is also the author of The 30 Year Paycheck: Destruction and Redemption in Corporate America. Kavi Jakes is a Content Operations Specialist Intern at Ready for Social.

Social selling has changed drastically since I started working with it back in 2012. When I began social selling, it was a novel idea, and there were far fewer people on social media. Nowadays, there are droves of articles touching on the importance of social selling, and nearly every company is on LinkedIn, Twitter and Co. Major shifts have occurred, and you need to be aware of them as you engage in social selling. Here are the three main changes I’ve witnessed over the years.  

1. Widespread adoption of social media 

Social media usage has increased sharply in the last few years. The number of social media users worldwide has risen over 150%, from 1.4 billion in 2012 to 3.6 billion in 2020. This increase means that your business can connect with a greater number of prospect businesses and gain a larger following. However, it comes with a downside: It is much more difficult to create 1-to-1 personal relationships than when I started. Nevertheless, strong relationships are key to your success, as they lead to conversations and meetings, which are at the base of your revenues.  

As businesses have grown more accustomed to social media, the novelty of receiving a message through a platform like LinkedIn has worn off. As a result, enterprises are warier of companies cold-calling them through social media and are less likely to respond than they once were. Moreover, they can afford to ignore messages because they receive so many.  

In order to overcome the difficulty of forming close relationships through social media, your business needs to differentiate itself from others that are cold-calling people. When messaging a prospect you are genuinely interested in, specifically address their business and industry while writing in a personal, warm manner. 

2. Predetermined social selling strategies 

Social selling has undergone an automation of sorts. Set tools and processes have been developed, touting optimal solutions. These guides can make social selling more accessible for businesses, encouraging them to deploy it. However, while I appreciate how much social selling has grown to the point where so much material is available, the mindset promoted by predetermined social selling strategies can be harmful. 

Many businesses expect that a set plan will lead to set returns, but it’s more nuanced than that. The truth is, you need to tailor your social selling strategy to your business plan and brand. You can’t maximize your ROI from social selling unless you adapt your strategy based on what works best for your business. 

3. Enhanced expectations for employees 

One factor limiting flexibility for businesses is the increasing demands they place on their employees. Salespeople in all industries are given less time to figure out how to sell. They are expected to be knowledgeable about sales and succeed from the start with minimal guidance. Creativity is stifled as salespeople play it safe due to their fear of failure — far from optimal for social selling. 

Employees now enter the workforce with a stronger understanding of how to work social channels. While this is certainly a positive development, your business must ensure that you properly manage your employees by supporting them and emphasizing the importance of flexibility in social selling.  

Turn failures into learning opportunities by addressing what went wrong and how they can improve. Have a candid discussion with your employees about how creativity and adjustment can improve social selling, then give them freedom and encouragement to occasionally deviate from any “best practices” that they’ve learned. In other words, trust a combination of your leadership and your employees to come through for your business. 

What these changes mean for your business 

Each of these developments in social selling comes with pros and cons. Increased social media usage means bigger networks and more opportunities for your business but makes it more challenging to convert connections into meetings. Predetermined strategies increase the total deployment of social selling but may cap ROI by reducing flexibility and creativity. A better-educated workforce presents more talent and opportunity, but social selling isn’t always best done by the book. 

Social selling is more important than ever. Salespeople who engage in it consistently outsell their peers who do not, and the rapidly growing number of social media users represents a market too large to ignore. So, don’t shy away from social selling and the new challenges it presents. Instead, commit to overcoming them. 

Be personal and specific in your social media messaging, constantly adapt your social selling strategy to suit your business, and effectively manage your talent to encourage this crucial flexibility. These actions will help you maximize your ROI from implementing social selling. 

How are you working to adjust to these changes? What else do you notice is different about social selling today? Let us know in the comments below! 

Photos by Nick Fewings on Unsplash;  Scott Graham on Unsplash; and Leon on Unsplash 


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