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If sales is still a people business, built upon referrals, then it’s vital to befriend every client you can online. That’s how you’ll get to meet their friends. And the friends of their friends. And the….

You get the point. Sales means getting to know people; building a sphere of influence. Earning their trust and their referrals. It’s about listening to their needs, being in the right place at the right time. And that place is no longer on the doorstep, in the mailbox or on the land line.

The location of sales has moved to a virtual address.

Even if you believe the cliche of getting “belly to belly” with customers (an unfortunate image), you’ll have a hard time finding bellies nowadays without searching a hashtag, tagging them in an update or geocoding a video. Confused by that last part? Buying an iPad won’t help. Neither will sticking your head in the sand.

Modern sales requires – demands – you befriend your clients on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

And anywhere else they may go online in the future. It doesn’t matter what you sell: homes, cars, or coffee. In the social networking sales matrix, product specs don’t matter as much as personal cred. Trust is the currency. Referrals are the only way. Trading happens in shares, re-tweets and tags. Self-centered monologue gives way to share-centered dialogue.

And nobody worries about privacy, because everyone is all-in.

How do you sell in such an environment? Is the risk going too far – or not going far enough? Actually, neither. Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter didn’t change the game just the rules. And Facebook isn’t anything more than the modern consumer’s expression of their frustration with the old rules of the game.

So here’s a social sales primer, with six ways to sell using social media:

  1. Build relationships, not presence. Sales happen one-to-one. Even companies that ship thousands of books, computers or tickets do so on a person-to-person basis. So stop trying to be a big voice to thousands who don’t care. Start trying to be a trusted voice to one person who does. You can do a lot with a well-placed ‘like’ or a single ‘happy birthday!’ When you abandon advertising and embrace prospecting, this makes sense.
  2. Talk shop, not shopping. Social media isn’t a Sears catalog but a salon. Sometimes there’s polite chatter, the currency of relationships. Sometimes a business question, the opening of opportunities. Forget about violating the Facebook Terms of Use by posting products on your personal page. You will have already violated the terms of engagement with your friends, of which you will now have fewer.
  3. Share more, sell more. Smarter customers make smarter decisions. Brands aren’t shapes and colors, but people. People who act on behalf of their customers best interests. Share yourself – answering questions, offering advice, being available – building your customer’s competence. Smart customers will choose you.
  4. Stop worrying, get exposed. Modern customers demand genuine people. They hate spiels, and can smell a phony a tweet away. Stop being afraid to be genuine online. Be a person first, salesman second. Your tattoo pics might create a connection your scripts couldn’t. As for last-gen worries that your mobile number will get out: How will next-gen customers text you otherwise? (They aren’t going to call).
  5. Get assimilated, then lead. Influence requires trust from within, not authority from without. Old-model marketing declared, postured, positioned. Next-gen marketing inquires, shares, collaborates. Stop trying to be loudest, biggest, bestest; the attempt only fractures your networks. Real influence is done softly.
  6. Be quiet, to hear. Great social selling is done by searching. Status updates reveal more than focus groups or surveys. Consumers willingly divulge all, frequently. Simply learn translate. Nobody likes being qualified; incubated; treated like a lead. Besides, they already told you everything you needed to know, if you were listening.

Social network selling requires rethinking; and abandoning ideas of the past. None of these suggestions is much different from the days of cocktail party and golf course networking. But the comfort of telemarketing distance is gone; the passive aggressiveness of the postcard is past; the door knocking assertiveness has been medicated. Today’s customer won’t play that game any more. From Do Not Call to DND, they have set new rules for the game.

It’s still a chase: They’ve just shifted it to warp speed.