You can use social media to land a sale–but only if you’re following these key principles.

I just celebrated my 100th discussion on the same topic with the same client. We talked yet again about selling and social media. Before your eyes glaze over, let me quickly add that the conversation ended with a meaningful shift in point of view for me. I’ve decided that the idea becomes much more valuable if I look at it as “social selling” rather than “social media.”

In Matt Heinz’ book, Successful Social Selling, he helps turn the social media noise into real strategies. I called him, and learned four key principles from the discussion:

1. Getting more “followers” is not a goal.

There is an implied causal link between “followers” or “likes” and real sales activity. However, that link has low correlational accuracy. Most people are talking about themselves and hoping you’re listening. Coupons, special offers, and event postings may get some strong responses from people who are already transactional customers. But if the goal is to get qualified prospects, then you need different metrics for judging the success of your social selling.

2. Connection is not engagement.

Social selling is about engagement and that comes from effective interaction. Posting material in any form and simply waiting for your connections to respond is not engagement. What are they posting that you are responding to? Learn from those interactions. You can’t sell if you’re just pushing messages and your expertise.

3. Buyers signal by declaring problems.

Listen for the buying signals from the social Web. If you use a third-party tool, such as HootSuite, to compose your messages and read what your followers are writing, make full use of its search capabilities. Look for certain key words as a way to listen for people who have a problem you can solve. If you sell routers or servers, you can flag the words “router” or “server failure,” giving you a way to watch across all open platforms for anyone who uses those words. You can even segment it to a number of miles from your office location.

4. You are not in control.

Many sales folks believe this is the way the process works: Get followers and then provoke them to want what you sell through your posts. The truth is, it rarely happens that way. The reason is simple: If you tweet, blog, or post about a solution, idea, or product that a person does not have, they won’t necessarily connect with you. If you are listening to the social Web and hear someone declare a problem that you can solve or a question that you can answer, giving you an opportunity to send a relevant response, then you are truly engaging.

Through a market- and solution-specific effort, you can find great opportunities. Want to know more? Matt gives a great case study example of how a world-class sales rep has been blowing away her quota using just these tools in my interview with him.

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