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Why the Future of New Business Is Social Selling Social selling is happening now. Here are three steps to help you leverage the power of this strategy.

By Monica Zent Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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If you thought social media was just about being social, think again. Today it's about "social selling."

Potential investors, employees, colleagues, clients and customers are literally at your fingertips. But it is up to you to build relationships and establish trust. And that is what social selling is all about.

Social selling is no longer optional for your business. It's a powerful strategy that can help sell your ideas, establish credibility, secure funding, attract talent and win customers.

Social networking takes up nearly a quarter of all time spent online and reaches more than 75 percent of all Internet users. If you're engaging with your target audience on any level via social media, whether for business development or promoting your brand, that is social selling.

Related: This Is the Secret to Improved Social Selling

As Dale Carnegie wrote in his timeless bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, building relationships and changing people's thinking are the linchpins of success. Today, social selling is the optimal tool for achieving both.

Here are three steps to help you leverage the power of social selling:

1. Do your homework.

The basis of every good relationship is understanding. Take time to understand your prospective customer, talent, investor, co-founder, business partner or client. Building a relationship with this person starts with knowing who they are.

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social sites give us access to key information about each other. In an era when people are quick to open up online, you're able to discern whom it makes sense to connect with and uncover valuable information about them, from their job to their alma mater to their reading habits.

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people." Because people are increasingly willing to share through social media, it is easier for you to identify and learn about your targeted customer or group.

Related: 6 Steps to Launching Your Social Sales Campaign on LinkedIn (Infographic)

2. Be authentic.

Once you identify people you want to have in your network, begin to engage with them. Find common ground and use it as an entry point to initiate dialogue and establish a connection.

Making friends is easy when you're authentic. Like walking into a dinner party where you know only the host, your inclination when striking up conversation with other guests is to find a common thread. Find it, and you've got an authentic conversation starter.

It's no different on social media. Interact authentically by responding to someone's blog that you truly liked or give a shout out to a recently promoted prospect. Ultimately, you'll be in a better position to create a tailored and authentic "pitch" with relationships already in play.

3. Nurture your relationships.

The next step is to deepen your relationships, the crux of selling anything -- including your credibility. People want to invest in, work for and partner with professionals they know and trust. Forge relationships; don't seek transactions. Social selling is about engaging with people in a disarming way. It's about giving and receiving. Nurturing relationships takes time and calls for authenticity at all times.

This strategy generates 40 percent more qualified leads than cold calling and allows you to build genuine connections. Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower cost. Although these statistics might refer to a more traditional sales process, entrepreneurs would be remiss not to take notice.

Related: 9 Steps to Get Your 'Social-Selling' Program Off the Ground

Monica Zent

Founder and CEO of Foxwordy

Monica Zent is the founder and CEO of Foxwordy, a private social network for lawyers and founder of ZentLaw, an alternative law firm.

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