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There are a lot of questions about how small and medium-sized businesses can best make use of social media. Everyone is tweeting or talking about it, many salespeople are asking: "Should I abandon what I'm doing and embrace 'social selling,' or continue along the same path?"

The better question is: "How can I leverage both to achieve sales success?"

Sellers, like any other group, are a target for marketers who pitch them "things" to help them get better results. What makes salespeople good targets is their natural propensity to seek out "silver bullets" to deal with processes they don't like, and their deserved reputation as "early adopters." Just the right combination for the advent of "social selling."

We have seen the impact the Social Web and Web 2.0 have had on the way people interact, but it doesn't follow that social selling is driving the same changes in sales. Technology has always been an enabler, but from a business-to-business (B2B) sales standpoint, it has not changed the underlying nature or function of buying and selling, it has merely enhanced or enabled the way sales are executed.

Success is still very much about strategy and execution, driven by your market and your specific customers. You need to evaluate how you use social the same way you would with any other tools. Does it bring you closer to the buyer? Does it allow you to deliver your message and value in a way that helps buyers decide you are the provider to trust, partner with and have a relationship with? If so, then it needs to be part of the overall approach. If not, then as the saying goes: "A fool with a tool is still a fool."

Social selling impacts people pitching in the business-to-consumer (B2C) sales space differently than B2B, which is my focus. Despite the hype, the B2C social selling successes have not been realized in the B2B space – in the process, this distracts people and resources from things they could be doing to make social pay. The suggestion that traditional B2B sales strategies and tactics no longer work, and the notion that we need to abandon them for social selling or perish, is false, dangerous and a risky proposition for business owners.

What many people call social selling is, in reality, social marketing, which is why it's more effective in the mass B2C market than B2B. While it has a role in B2B, it is a role, not the entire sales process, as some might suggest. There are definitely times when social helps a sale, just as there are times when social has no positive impact, or even hurts your efforts.

For example, social tools can enhance awareness – generating leads or casting a more targeted net, the early steps of engaging with a potential buyer. Coincidentally, the part of a sale many sellers neither like nor are good at is prospecting. The perfect pitch for the wave of social-selling merchants is to offer a way to eliminate prospecting, but there are traditional steps you still need to take to initiate direct relationships.

The operative words in social media are "connect," "follow," "like," or "friend." In B2B selling, the focus is on direct contact: relationships, personal interaction, and occasionally intimate interaction between two people is crucial to success. Many social sellers advocate "being found" rather than taking an active approach to prospecting and initiating first contact with potential buyers. Social media may enhance direct interaction and relationships required in B2B sales, but it cannot replace them.

Social-selling pundits who create the illusion that a seller's role is to be "found" through the buyer's use of social media, give them all the excuse they need not to perform a key part of their job: prospecting. A simple question to start with is "how many of my customers are using social media to source the products or services I sell?" If few of your buyers are using social, very few will find you, no matter how well you do social.

Besides, being "found" works with buyers who decide to act on a need by going to the web. If they use search, they are less likely to be impacted by social selling. Even if they turn to their social sphere for peer input, traditional selling will play a major role in converting a connection to a direct interaction. By the time that buyer is on the web it's too late, you are competing with the pack. Use social media to identify, target and leverage trends, then execute a direct sale, and you will be there long before the social crowd.

A sound strategy to segmenting and targeting your market, then executing your plan with a combination of traditional marketing and social marketing, will take you further and faster than going strictly social. As with most trends, it's not a question of one versus the other, but how to leverage the best of both.

Tibor Shanto ofRenbor Sales Solutions Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author ofShift!: Harness The Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers. His blog isThe Pipeline. You can reach him at

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