07/16/2014 02:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

3 Common Misconceptions About Social Selling for B2B

Enough already about social selling. I had an audience member last week ask me whether or not I thought they could shift from selling to social selling. I asked him what was social selling. He said "You know. Using social media to do the selling for us."  If that's your definition of "social selling," then the answer is a big, fat "no!"

It's Not New - Just Faster

Does social selling work for Business to Business (B2B) companies? Whether or not social selling can be effective depends on how you define social selling. In a workshop I delivered to a group of CEOs last month, another attendee defined social selling as "connecting through your social networks to people who might be potential customers." Let's face it, none of this is new. It's the way we have always communicated. It's just that we now have new tools. The tools themselves make it possible to act faster than you did in the past. Online social networks are just like a car: A faster car could get you to your destination faster. It can also cause a fatal crash faster.

How It Used To Be

Nothing new has been invented in sales for the past 5,000 years. What's changed is how customers research solutions to their problems. In the past, customers would describe a problem they were having. They might speak with trusted members of their community to see if others had the same problem or knew of a solution. They would research alternatives. They might even read some content and speak with an alleged expert. Before social media, all of that research and exploring happened in a customer's local community.

What's really changed today is that the customer's community is now several communities. And rather than a tight geographic community of people they live near, the communities can now be spread across the globe. More importantly, it used to take weeks to speak with a dozen alleged experts. Now customers can get information from experts regardless of location within seconds.

Common Misconceptions About Social Selling

Social selling, to me, is about communicating effectively with your community so they know who can help them. There are three misconceptions about social selling that you need to avoid in order to succeed. It costs less and is more effective to actually create valuable content instead of making an investment to try to fake it. (SEO people who are faking it - yes, we're talking about you)

Misconception #1: All content is good. When your customer contacts you and has self-diagnosed their situation and identified what they need, which is more common? A) They got it right, and properly identified the right solution; or B) What they ultimately end up needing is different than what they thought? I've asked this question to over 1,000 executives, and the unanimous answer is that the customer didn't get it exactly right. So, when customers use information to determine the "treatment," they usually get it wrong. Let's face it, if I relied on the self-diagnosis I reached using, I would have had 8 funerals already.

Bottom line, create and share content that clearly explains what problems you are good at solving. This way, your ideal customer will see that you understand the problem, but won't jump ahead to the potentially wrong solution.

Misconception #2: Include a brief pitch for what you do. The idea behind creating valuable content is, as my buddy Marcus Sheridan says, "be the best teacher" on that subject. Think of it this way, groundbreaking articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association don't end with the message "To schedule your surgery, like us on Facebook." The goal of "social selling" is to define the problems you solve with remarkable results so that people experiencing those problems will know you can help. With a bigger audience, you need to be more narrowly focused if you want to stand out from the competition. Be amazingly specific about the problems you solve. Smart customers will read the "about the author" and figure out how to find you.

Misconception #3: eBooks and Whitepapers Sell. When executives are making decisions, they first ask, "What problem does this solve, or why do I need it?" Then they ask, "What is the likely result we'd see if we made the investment?" What this means is that your best value is in sharing case studies. Spend most of your time defining the issue the customer was facing and the associated impact of that challenge (what made it important enough to solve). Then talk about the results. Leave the description of your brilliant solution for a later discussion.

What is Social Selling

Social selling is nothing new. It's just that we now have easier access to more channels through which to communicate. Our audience is also inundated with a ton of self-promoting garbage. If you define social selling as being a great teacher to help your customers learn they can rely on you as a resource, then social selling is very effective.

It's Your Turn

Think about the questions your customers ask and the problems you are great at solving. Share your description in the comments, and see who reaches out to you.