When running a quick search for the #SocialSelling hashtag through any social media listening tool, the amount of data you get in return is quite overwhelming.

According to TweetReach, during the three hours before I wrote this article, #SocialSelling gathered more than 800,000 impressions on Twitter.

This is just one of the many indications that show how hot of a topic social selling is right now.

With so many people talking about social selling and its “powers”, there is also a lot of (often uninformed) noise to cut through.

Large conversations usually carry the risk of huge misunderstandings, a little like Chinese whispers.

The more people get in contact with soundbites about social selling, the less clear it becomes what this strategy is all about.

For instance, it is not uncommon to come across the misconception that social selling is all about blasting product updates and marketing campaigns on social media through sales reps’ personal channels, in the off-chance that one of their connections may be interested in it.

Another misconception I have heard more than once is that social selling programmes require a dedicated team of millennial social media gurus and huge budgets to put together ad hoc content packages.

Trust me, if that is what you have been told, forget it.

Having trained thousands of sales professionals in real social selling best practices, I have come to realise it is needed to take a step back and differentiate between what social selling is and what it definitely isn’t.

1. Social selling is a customer-centric way of reimagining sales

Starting with an accepted definition of social selling (in this case, Wikipedia’s) can help in this case:

Social selling is the process of developing relationships as part of the sales process.

The key concept here is “developing relationships” with your prospects and existing customers.

Through a proper social selling programme, companies can empower their sales teams to become more effective in understanding their clients’ needs and challenges (existing and prospective), and offer products and services they can truly benefit from.

When that happens, results follow (a Forbes study found that salespeople using social media as part of their sales techniques outsell 78% of their peers).

2. Social selling is the best way to align sales and marketing

As I wrote in a previous article for Econsultancy, factors like low digital confidence, lack of time and poor quality control are frequently stopping sales teams from engaging effectively on social media with their prospects and clients.

But when a social selling programme is in place with a defined framework (from training, to enablement through adequate tools, all the way to performance reviews), what happens can be extraordinary.

In one of his articles, Jason Burrows writes that “sales and marketing won’t exist as separate functions in a business. It’ll be the same department.”

Without going as far, there is no doubt that an optimised channel of communications between the two departments can really benefit both by aligning their goals and improving performances and ROI for both their daily activities.

(For more on this topic, see Econsultancy’s report on The Convergence of Sales and Marketing.)

3. Social selling is an assessable strategy

When it comes to social selling, real results will show especially when companies set up a programme with defined objectives, onboarding and KPIs.

When marketing and sales collaborate to put together a structure that can benefit all the stakeholders involved (whether by helping marketers showcase the ROI of their content better, or by supporting salespeople with the content they need to grow their pipeline faster), that’s when magic happens.

Please note that when the right tools are in place from the start, assessing the success of social selling is not a costly or time-consuming effort.

Marketing can monitor which content is being shared the most by their colleagues in sales, while sales reps can quickly share posts and see which ones are most engaging for their prospects on an on-going basis.

It is a learning process, but one that shows results straight away if there is a good framework in place.

Now that we have seen what social selling is.

Let’s clarify a couple of misconceptions around it that it is not unusual to run into, especially online.

1. Social selling is not something completely new

Wait, what? Didn’t I just spend the last few paragraphs describing how innovative and effective social selling can be?

Yes, and I stand by that.

But what I think is essential to remember when we talk about social selling is that a lot of its guiding principles are very much in line with human good practices in general.

Let me share an example: trying to sell to someone as soon as you connect with them on LinkedIn without nurturing the relationship or trying to understand their needs won’t do you any good, in the same way that 100% “cold” calling has a very low success rate compared to better targeted campaigns.

2. Social selling is not blasting content on social media

If the plan is to simply use your sales reps as human billboards, asking them to blast promotional content about your latest products on their social media channels, then it probably won’t work.

It is universally acknowledged that people are getting more impatient with being “sold to” indistinctively and expect brands and salespeople to tailor offers to their specific needs.

Proper social selling focuses on the prospects, building a long-lasting and customer-centric relationship, which makes it the perfect strategy for the times we live in.