3 Ways to Use Social Media to Build Rapport With Your Customers

The online world offers the opportunity to get to know your potential clients and engage them person to person.

By Bridget Gleason

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

These days, prospects and customers have more information thrown at them than ever before. From phone calls and snail mail to emails and social channels like LinkedIn and Twitter, each new way for a person to initiate contact makes it harder for companies to break through all the noise.

With sales -- and any industry, really -- the base of a strong prospect or customer interaction is a relationship. But how can you build a lasting bond when the people you're trying to connect with are constantly bombarded with other requests and information?

One solution is a practice called social selling. Between LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, customers and potential new clients are everywhere online -- and salespeople should be, too. Today's prospects don't want a traditional "discovery call." They want their sales representatives to have an understanding of who they are personally and what they need, and social media can help with this.

But how does an individual practice social selling? And how can an entire sales team implement a social selling strategy? Here are three easy steps to kick off your social selling program the right way.

1. Get to know your prospects.

With social selling, a sales representative's job is to understand the individuals they're targeting on as many different levels as possible. Maybe you both went to the same university or grew up in the same hometown. These tidbits of information make for a stronger initial engagement and can help build a lasting relationship.

Using a variety of social media networks in your investigation is important, and keep in mind the strengths and weakness of each. LinkedIn is great for finding commonalities and historical data, but is rarely the most up-to-date platform. Twitter, on the other hand, is often used several times a day for everything from announcing colds to career moves.

With social selling, it's also necessary to find the right balance between too much and not enough information. No one wants a complete stranger to know everything about them! Find logical bonding points and easy ways to bring them up naturally in conversation, as opposed to abruptly dropping in information. Noticing you both grew up in the city may be an easier entrance than the fact that you both enjoy yoga.

Related: Facebook: Where Selling Meets Social

2. Let your prospects get to know you.

When implementing a social selling strategy, you need to show not only that you understand where your customers are coming from, but also that you'd like them to know you better, too. When dealing transactionally-only, it can be easy to forget the individuals on both sides of a sales interaction are, in fact, regular people.

As salesperson utilizing social selling, you should have an active online presence, where you thoughtfully interact with various groups and gain an understanding of different digital communities. Social profiles allow prospects and clients alike to get to know you better from afar, which builds trust and shows them who you are as a person, outside of your one-on-one interactions. Most of all, it makes the individual on the other end of the phone or email more willing to engage with you as a specific person, as opposed to "The Company" that you represent.

Related: Boost Sales With These 7 Social Media Steps

3: Organize and analyze.

What good is information without organization and analysis? Just like any type of data, social media insights are only truly helpful when there's a level of understanding and interpretation behind them.

Just as you would sync direct contact with a prospect into CRM, make sure to track your social insights and interactions closely. Tools like TweetDeck can assist with segmenting social streams to help keep new, up-to-the-minute information organized, while creating a timeline within your CRM platform allows you to have all the pieces of puzzle readily available when initiating contact with a potential client.

Once you've got all your informational ducks in a row, it's time to analyze. Do you have enough of a basis to create a warm outreach, or is it better to wait until you've learned more about this individual and feel like you can build a meaningful relationship? Understanding whether you need to gather more information is extremely important, since an unprepared initial outreach could ruin a potentially advantageous relationship.

Communication is a big part of analysis among the sales team. Teammates will benefit greatly from bouncing ideas off of each other and asking for advice. For example, a sales person could ask a teammate, "My prospect just tweeted that she's going to be really busy this month. Should I wait until next month to pitch her?" or "My prospect just posted a picture of his lunch of Instagram. Is it awkward to tell him that I share his love for burritos?" Having a team member or two weigh-in can help speed up analysis and provide clarity on what's most appropriate.

Salespeople are known for being social, but in a field as competitive as sales, it can be easy for representatives to isolate themselves at the office. Sales managers should encourage sharing across the team by instilling a feeling that when the team succeeds, everyone succeeds. Sharing advice and best-practices can help each individual on the team learn and grow from the experiences of their teammates. Not only does social selling help with the initial engagement of a prospect, but the insights and connections you can gain from this technique will help set up the basis for more meaningful, fruitful engagements long-term.

Related: Prepare for That Big Meeting by Studying the Hints Your Prospect Leaves Online

Bridget Gleason

VP of Sales at Yesware

Bridget Gleason is VP of Sales at Yesware, an all-in-one sales toolkit, where she manages the company’s sales efforts. With twenty years of sales and sales management experience in the high technology sector, Bridget is an expert on the innerworkings on the sales cycle.

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