Lee Odden

5 Ways Salespeople Can Use Social Media to Grow Leads

social media salespeopleOne of the practical opportunities for companies that acquire and engage customers through a sales force, is through social media content and participation.  In fact, many corporate marketing departments have found their field sales reps active on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even YouTube before headquarters has.  Such “rogue” social media activity might be proactive, but can also create issues without adherence to corporate standards and provide conflicting experiences for customers.

A salesforce that functions as educators, consultants and in some ways “subject matter experts”, can be a formidable asset for corporate social media efforts towards engagement and customer acquisition. Rather than shutting down individual sales reps blogs and Facebook accounts until corporate gets their social strategy in place, companies should consider how to coordinate and empower sales teams as social media ambassadors of the brand to their individual circles of influence and social networks.

Those same sales people are already maintaining contact with prospects and customers through other communication channels like email, phone, snail mail and newsletters. Why not social networking and media sites?

As business managers decide how to best leverage sales people for social media objectives, here are a few ideas on tactics they may decide to implement:

1. Create a Destination – Whether it’s a blog, tumblr, posterous site, YouTube or even Facebook Fan page, a destination for social participation can serve as the hub for a salesperson’s social media activity. This is where social content is published, aggregated and curated. It’s also where calls to action, offers and invitations to engage on a more business level can be posted. The social hub scan serve as a destination for other publishers and bloggers to link to and appear within search results.

2. Monitor for Leads & Engagement – As more consumer and B2B buyers participate on the social web during the discovery and consideration phases of the buying cycle, sales people can monitor for comments and conversations that indicate engagement opportunities. IBM’s Listen for Leads program has uncovered millions of dollars in sales by monitoring social media sites for keywords that indicate prospects with questions or in the search phase.

Simple tools like search.twitter.com, board reader or a variety of Facebook search engines can provide access to discussions. Free social search engines like socialmention.com or topsy can also be used along with Google Alerts. Ideally, a robust social media monitoring tool would be used that includes advanced filtering options.  It takes some refinement of search queries to make this kind of monitoring work, but can be very effective at identifying prospect conversation opportunities at their greatest moment of need.

3. Create, Curate & Repurpose – Most Sales Reps, Account Executives and Business Development people that I know are pretty busy, so efficiency with social media and content is essential. With an understanding of relevant search keywords and social topics that matter to prospective customers, salespeople can create a content plan as a guide.

However, creating new content on a regular basis while maintaining high quality can become a challenge, so it’s important to think about where content can be repurposed.

For example, salespeople might each maintain their own blogs that they publish to once a week. But they might also share portions or customized versions of their blog posts with other industry blogs, online publications and industry newsletters. They could compile blog posts into ebooks or could be used within corporate content marketing materials.

An effective way to become a “go to destination” for information on a particular topic is to aggregate or curate news from different sources on the web to the salesperson’s hub.  Subscribe to other industry news sites, newsletter and setup Google Alerts for topics of interest to collect news. Collect the most interesting and/or themed news of the week and add short comments.  The same curation tactic can be used to create a newsletter. With some practice, the process of scanning headlines and putting together a weekly news roundup can be done in only a few minutes a day, resulting in one beefy blog post per week.

4. Participate – In the course of researching useful industry news to aggregate or to cite in original blog posts, salespeople will undoubtedly find other blogs and online publications that allow commenting. They’ll also find others discussing topics of interest on sites like LinkedIn, Groups & Forums, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others. Searching or monitoring for prospects also reveals these kinds of interaction opportunities.

Answering questions, sharing useful resources and asking questions on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ helps communicate personal characteristics and thought leadership for the salesperson. Corporate marketing might be able to use their resources with social media monitoring tools to identify social channels, groups or individuals that are most influential and relevant.  Salespeople could also use tools like Klout to find others with influence to engage with.

This can seem like a very time consuming task, but many salespeople who are the most productive with lead generation through social media make a consistent effort to participate on a frequent basis. Setup a recurring reminder in Outlook to spend 15 minutes each morning to ask/answer questions, collect, aggregate and share useful links. Spreading this activity over several days using a consistent amount of time is very productive. Schedule Tweets and Facebook updates during the day in advance using a tool like Hootsuite.

5. Collaborate – Corporate sales and marketing leadership can keep tabs on the most effective uses of social media and networking sites by their sales teams and create best practices for the benefit of all. Continuously improved processes, new social tool evaluations and tactics evolution can improve salesforce social media effectiveness and overall ability to create value and engage prospects.

In the end, it’s about empowerment, not control.

Companies can provide sales teams with templates, process and training plus regular internal networking opportunities to share best practices in order to help salesforce social media efforts succeed.  It’s also important to provide ongoing education so salespeople know what it looks like to be overzealous and forward with their social participation efforts.

As with all social media marketing efforts, mileage varies according to the target audience, industry, resources and sales teams capabilities. There’s no doubt that strategy alone doesn’t sustain long term social media marketing success. Ongoing training and feedback mechanisms are essential to improve skills and identify both productive and non-productive behaviors.

Has your organization had to deal with “rogue sales reps” initiating social media marketing efforts? How did you handle them?  Have you implemented or observed other companies effectively incorporating sales teams social media participation as part of corporate social strategy?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.


  1. Lee,

    Thank you for this.  I think the most important point you make is education. In an effort to “generate a buzz” and become the spot I have seen many sales people promote their brand like it’s nobody’s business.  What happens often times, however, is that they forget the audience and become advocates of their brand only. This is a turn off for me and I know several other people.  Educating your team on the social media best practices is essential for successful “lead” generation


    • Sebastian, that’s a great point. Approaching social networks the same as a sales call isn’t going to resonate. It’s a behavioral shift as well as procedural.

  2. Excellent post. I’m a huge advocate for companies that let their sales teams leverage social media and I am glad to see more written about the subject.

  3. Great post Lee. I agree that there are tons of great opportunities for sales people in social mendia. In fact I was just talking with a head of sales guy about it last week because he’s old school, but wants to start using social media more for work. I will definitely be passing this along to him.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • Glad to be a resource to you Sheldon and to any company that wants help with implementing this kind of social media program 🙂

  4. Fe Sinco says:

    I agree with you.  Social Media can do a lot to improving sales empowerment. Considering the marketing cost – using Social Media circulation would mean cost efficient. More power Lee!  

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  7. Very good post, I think distributed sale teams need to look at overcoming the small challenges of enabling their sales people to become socially autonomous and to create their own company supported social interest groups. The lure of social to a prospect is it’s very approachable. There is no “Fill Out your Details and we will contact you”, in most cases simply post a message on the account and the owner will get back to you. Furthermore the prospect has a history of their peers questions, answers and posts to browse, this means even before asking their specific question they get a feel for whether the company is a good fit or not.

    • Thanks Paul. Social content from the Q/A interactions within social sites is also a great source for social and search optimization. As more exchanges occur, the more content there is as a resource and to be discovered by search engines. 

  8. Madison Bushell says:

    Great article. Insightful. Going to forward this on to our sales team!

  9. Interesting read. From own experience I found it difficult to convince older sales engineers, but starting with an internal network like Yammer proved useful to get people acquainted with social media in a first stage. In a B2B environment, participating in LinkedIn expert discussions is also a good conversation starter.

    • There is an issue of social media literacy that needs to be addressed with these types of efforts and I appreciate the recommendations you’ve made regarding Yammer and LinkedIn.

  10. Lee, you make some great points about content curation. The practice is highly efficient and strategic. As a salesperson, my own curated microsite allows me to find, organize and share the ideas and topics that are most important to me and my audience, which includes potential leads. An accumulation of shared, relevant, enlightening materials enable me to become a thought leader. On top of that, I am able to annotate and contextualize the information I choose to share. I can create a personality and image of my brand in the quickest way possible; curation allows me to engage and entertain my audience in more intelligent, value-add ways than traditional promotional materials.

    -Randy Bernard, Director of Sales for HiveFire, http://www.getcurata.com

  11. PradeepNair says:

    Great article. One of the best part about generating leads this way is that they are all “Hot leads”, and as such the probability of them converting is very high. 

    @leeodden:disqus  I think it would be a great to develop a software to automate this scraping & filtering of social media mentions to get to most qualified leads. Do you have any suggestions for any piece of software that performs something like this?

  12. Thanks I really liked this, its like saying build up a network your following of people who can trust you so that whatever it is your reccommend they know that you have used it also

  13. Love the participate part. You need Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, now Google+ (when it becomes business friendly – if ever). Don’t dictate, conversate.

  14. That truly is the key. People who trust you will do business with you and respect what you are doing. It’s all about relationships and social media brings this to the forefront. Nice blog!

  15. Great tips! There is no reason why salespeople can’t use social media even if corporate doesn’t have a strategy, as long as they do so effectively and correctly. Social media is all about conversation, so that seems to single-handedly be the best tip.

    • I think they do need to follow some guidelines to ensure a somewhat consistent and quality experience for prospects/customers. But no need (in many, not all cases) to wait for some grand social media strategy at corporate before sales teams can start generating impact.

  16. Social media include each and every social networking site like myspace, facebook, twitter etc. You need good strategy on Social Media Optimization to achieve your target.

  17. The influence of social networking site like facebok, twitter and LinkedIn is increased rapidly. Facebook and twitter will give you better result if you know the social media optimization.

  18. Lee, do you have any recommendations for vendors to help locate all pages set up by employees to monitor the rogue sales reps’ engagement to ensure that it is brand compliant? Jeremiah Owyang has called it social media sanitation… 

    • “social media sanitation” that sounds about right. I’d make sure a sold social media policy was in place and communicated with those sales teams at the same time as looking for a monitoring solution.

      For Facebook, the internal search or a Facebook specific search tool might be helpful. Here’s a list: http://tprk.us/yCbY0i

  19. This is really good article about the marketing and how to increase leads via social marketing. But I am not able to imply it. I have more than 4000 followers on twitter and I am also following the 3500 people but I don’t know how to use this for my business.

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