Social media has settled in among us and business are clearly asking more about the nature of this marketing tool. I hear many social media practitioners struggling to differentiate social media from other forms of marketing. We talk a lot about how it is different. So while we all look for THE way to describe the uniqueness, it is forgivable that we have often defined social media by what it is not:

Social Media isn't advertising
Social Media isn't couponing
Social Media isn't about telling
Social Media isn't brand control
Social Media isn't a fad
Social Media isn't selling…

The list could go on and on, but, what has my attention (and aggravation) is that last one on the list: “Social Media isn't selling.” The untruth in this statement isn't so much about a misunderstanding of social media as it is a misrepresentation of selling. So, on to my soap box.

Soap Box – I have great difficulty tolerating the negativity associated with sales. People seem to be afraid of sales people. There is a bad rap associated with sales people. They are viewed as pushy, overly talkative and dangerously manipulative.  "He could sell ice to Eskimos," is often said. Eskimos don't need ice - so the implication is that the sales person could get someone to do something stupid.

I'm not saying there isn't a reason that this reputation exists. There are plenty of reasons. There are unscrupulous sales people that do trick, lie and deceive in order to get people to part with their money. On the other hand, there are countless quality, well trained sales people who make a living everyday helping people, honestly representing companies and products that people truly need. Sales is the fuel that moves our economy. We are a consumer based economy and if not for sales people - small and large, real and virtual - our economy would very quickly sputter to a halt.

If we think about it, we all know quality, professionally trained sales people. They tend to be concerned, attentive and helpful people. They are often very focused on relationships. Their journey to a sale likely begins with a lot of listening and questions. What’s the problem? How long has it been this way? What have you tried to do? How did that work? What are your goals currently? What ideas are you considering? These questions are designed to get clarity on the situation, learn about needs and discover the depth of a problem. Once the sales professional knows this, s/he can begin to look for a helpful solution and offer assistance.

For the sales professional, offering a solution is often about giving choices, options, and letting the client choose. The seasoned sales professional knows, “If I say it they doubt it. If they say it. It’s true.” So, rather than being pushy or argumentative with a single “best, limited time deal,” the quality salesperson offers solutions that provide varying degrees of assistance and lets the client choose.

If this process of choice is going to be successful, there is a need for honesty and openness. Communication needs to be clear and precise and so many sales professionals spend time developing communication skills. Honesty and transparency are better than selling through “smoke and mirrors.”

So, with this cursory understanding of professional selling, we can ask the questions, “Is social media selling?”

Social media and professional selling have these things in common: Connecting via relationships, spending a lot of time listening, asking questions, offering a variety of options, letting the individual choose, etc.
So, dear digital darlings, it would seem to me that Social Media is selling at its best. Let’s test this idea. Look at the list below. Begin each sentence with the words “social media.”

________ is 2/3 about listening and 1/3 about telling.

_________ is about identifying real problems

_________ is offering helpful solutions

_________ is relationship driven

_________ is about connecting

_________ is understanding obstacles and finding ways around, over or through them

_________ is about mutual benefit, the win-win

_________ is about helping someone else be successful, promoting others

_________ is about honesty and acceptance

_________ is about knowing the nos

Now, begin those same sentences with the word “sales.” Go ahead…I’ll wait.

Social media has more in common with professional selling than is first apparent. Let’s say it together: “social media IS selling.”