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The Benefits of Un-Selling in Social Media

By: Shannon Belew
Last updated 2/27/2014

When I talk about the concept of “un-selling,” I think in terms of putting value on building relationships first and foremost, as opposed to forcing a sales transaction. As with any relationship, these take time to build. However, as you establish and grow these connections, you develop not only relationships, but potential leads. In his book, The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk explains how he started “selling” wine through social media. Instead of jumping in and talking about what types of wine his store offered, or how good the prices were, or that he could offer free shipping, he looked for conversations about wine. He participated in those conversations by offering help—suggestions, opinions, and answers to basic wine questions. In the process, he developed a social following and a reputation as a trusted wine expert. What followed were not only leads, but customers. As he says in his book: “Social media relationships and personal relationships work exactly the same way—you get out of them what you put into them. You can't buy them, force them, or make them into something they're not ready to be.”1

That, in a nutshell, is the essence of un-selling in social media. First, you must make a connection, and then you have to invest time and effort into building the relationship. As a result of this process, you are able to establish credibility and trust, which, in turn, generates leads. As you tackle the idea of un-selling, here are the key points to remember:

Exhibit patience: Sorry to break the news, but the social selling process is not instantaneous. Un-selling is a process that occurs over time; it requires constant interaction with your prospects via social media so you can establish credibility for yourself as a good resource.

Utilize contextual (lead) scraping: Instead of looking for basic information about a prospect to fulfill the data requirements to call them a “lead,” look for other meaningful information to identify someone with whom you should connect. Contextual signals might include industry, job status, and general interests that could relate to your product or expertise.

Track customer sentiment: Like contextual signals, customer sentiment is meaningful because it's an indication of how a customer feels about a particular brand, company, product, event, etc. It can be positive (reflects a good experience; indicates a brand supporter or enthusiast), negative (indicative of a poor experience), or neutral (interested, but doesn't have a personal opinion or association, yet). Identification of social conversations that exhibit customer sentiment about your brand or competing brands provide a good opportunity to enter the dialogue and start building a relationship.

Brand yourself: Get active networking across social platforms. Even though you may represent a company or product/service you do not own, it's still important for you (as the sales professional) to become the trusted expert. After all, people don't really interact with a company or brand, but with the people within the company!

Engage with existing customers: As with traditional sales, in social selling you can benefit from the network of others. That's why, as you start building your own social circles online, you should reach out to people you know first—especially existing customers. Use social networks to thank them for their business, check in with them, and send them helpful information and tips related to your products and services.

Identify industry influencers: In addition to reaching out to customers, look for respected social influencers within your industry, whether they are bloggers, analysts, designers, trendsetters...you get the point. These are great people to connect with to help expand both your prospect base and your knowledge base!

Interact and give back: While you want others to listen to you, like you, follow you, and hang on every word you send out across the social networks, there's something even more important when it comes to building online relationships—giving back. A big part of un-selling is having positive interactions with your social connections without being a Pusher or a Lurker. But you don't have to wait for others to take action. You can be the one who gives someone a +1 (in Google+) or retweets something they said, shares a Favorite or an article they posted, or comments on their blog. Remember, successful communication is a two-way street.

Be a thought leader to build social influence: Another component of un-selling is being able to discuss and share information that reaches beyond your core products or services. If you sell premium household paint, you can certainly brand yourself as an expert in paint, providing tips and answering questions about your product. To truly build social influence, however, you also want to become a thought leader. Write blog posts, articles, and other social media posts about bigger issues or trends that relate to your industry. Sticking with the paint example, you might discuss design trends based on paint colors or how economic conditions impact the decision to redecorate a home or buy a new home.

Becoming a thought leader also exposes you to other social influencers (reporters, bloggers), who may want to interview you. That, in turn, exposes you to a wider audience, affirms your credibility, and helps expand your online social connections—all while un-selling!

Embrace consultative sales: As an established sales professional, you may want to always compare the consultative approach to the short-term transactional sales process. You may even be convinced that your product only lends itself to the transactional process—it's about a price point; it involves a quick decision; you only need to drive traffic to your appropriate Web page and start the ecommerce process. However, there's really not a product or a service or a type of business that cannot benefit from un-selling over social networks if it embraces the consultative sales approach. Consider it a longer cycle, one in which you are developing conversations that educate and assist the prospect throughout the buying process. Sure, you may not have a complicated product, but the key to un-selling is building relationships—and that naturally takes time to do it right.

Another benefit of un-selling is that it really does open the door to an increased amount of sharing by those who follow you, whether you have reached the level of thought leader or you have simply become adept at being helpful and sending out quality information. This is particularly true when you think about sharing with existing customers. As you interact with them, you are also exposed to contacts in their networks and it provides more opportunities to demonstrate your credibility and build new relationships. 

1 The Thank You Economy, by Gary Vaynerchuk (HarperBusiness, 2011), p. 63.

© Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The Art of Social Selling: Finding and Engaging Customers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Other Social Networks by Shannon Belew. Copyright 2014. Published by AMACOM.

You can learn more about using social media to sell your business at these AMA seminars:
Social Selling Bootcamp 

Leveraging Social Media to Engage Customers and Build Your Brand 

About the Author(s)

Shannon Belew is a digital marketing advocate. She is the author of Starting an Online Busines for Dummies, All-in-One, and The Art of Social Selling: Finding and Engaging Customers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other Social Networks (AMACOM, 2014), from which this article was adapted.