The Electronic Retailing Association

Article, Part Two: The Secret Sauce of Social Selling by Mattias Bråhammar

#2 of the 3 Fundamentals to success in Digital Commerce

Mattias Bråhammar

Mattias Bråhammar has over 20 years of experience in Media & Digital Commerce, holding various Executive and Board level positions in industry leading corporations. He’s currently Owner and Co-owner of the companies MILAN | DIGITAL and Veespo, and also active as Industry Expert, Advisor and Consultant.

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This is the second part of a 3 part series, the first part was in last quarter's ERA Europe News

If you type 'social selling' into Google you’ll find lots of tips regarding how to use social media to sell. In my world, that is 'digital social selling', but selling using 'social approaches' has been around for much longer than Facebook and Instagram. Let’s discover what lies behind this!

Enticing a potential customer to finalize a transaction can be done in many different ways; commodity selling (“I just need some toilet paper! But quickly!!”), discount selling (“buy three, pay for two”), pushy selling (“this price only today”), over the fence selling (“I have been using these for years and never had a problem”) and word of mouth (“everyone’s changing to these nowadays, there is just no comparison to the old ones!”) are just a few examples.

Selling in a social way

But isn’t social selling equal to selling on social media? Nope! Selling in a social way has been around for years, also before TV shopping was established. Selling with a social approach, i.e. engaging customers with various tools, methods, approaches and skills that makes the shopping experience something beyond a simple transaction of a product against payment, has long proven a very strong way to both convince for the first conversion and to motivate to come back for more. Also, even more importantly, it makes customers want to tell their friends about their great (purchase) experience.

If we compare direct selling with the 'trojan horse' of giving (apparent) 'non-selling' information first, to lower the psychological barriers, the latter is a key component to social selling and lets the customers come out of the shopping experience with more than just the product they purchased: they have gained increased knowledge about collateral topics around the actual product and they also have new and interesting stories to tell their friends. All of this together produces an added value to the actual price paid for the physical product and this makes the total return more satisfying.

Examples of added value from the sales staff in different types of shopping situation:

Supermarket: variety, tips or even just helpful advice vs. boring, unapproachable and demotivated staff

Car dealer: they jump at you and ask “what’s your budget” vs. tell you the story about the brand, the new technologies and the possibilities to test drive, first awakening your curiosity – particularly important in a so-called 'considered purchase' like an expensive car

Fashion: let the customer get into the 'world' of your brand first, then socialize with them, become 'friends' and give them advice, as if it was you and your best friend trying on clothes for a Friday night out. Shopping can and should be fun!

Beauty: all skin creams are white, cold and slippery, right?! Or how about some storytelling about science and skincare, how the new trends in technology and anti-aging is helping us, or about the new trends in make up? All of these are great ways to dress up a product that otherwise could seem very similar to all its competitors, without mentioning the quite boring aspect of a white cream, in comparison to a red sportscar, a gold necklace or a swanky cocktail dress.

Using visuals to engage

Why is 'visual selling' (e.g. TV shopping, product placement in morning magazine shows, influencer marketing and endorsements) working well? Because using moving pictures to support the story telling gives the product a 'lifestyle context': we see it in a real life situation, with people we trust, admire and listen to. This adds a 'non-selling' added value in terms of additional interest: I learn something new, I have fun watching this show, I became more aware about fashion, wellbeing and trends, etc. Using moving pictures is a very powerful and straight to the heart (and the unconscious parts of our brain) way to connect with human beings, and using it as a psychological vehicle to drive sales has proven very effective as it is also appreciated by customers.

The benefits of this can be huge: we feel great about our purchase, we have interesting things to tell our friends about it (which will attract them too – virtual, free of cost advertising poles!), we feel more aware about how to make future decisions and we think of this shopping experience as a positive moment we’re looking forward to repeat, which means customer retention, without traditional advertising and churn retention manoeuvres.

The dopamine effect of a purchase already gives us a sense of satisfaction when we buy something, but if we can add the social element, we feel even richer, also getting non-selling take-aways out of the shopping experience. We have fun while we’re doing it, we feel we know more afterwards – this means we can make more aware decisions about ourselves and we also have interesting things to share with our friends, beyond just showing them what we purchased.

Commodity 'catalogue' vs. engaging

In the digital retail era, two of the main drivers for success are storytelling and a visual approach. We’re beyond the 'e-commerce 1.0' where efficient catalogue, best price and rational logistics (S&H, registration process and CRM) were enough to be successful. These are now commodities, expectations for a 'base level' service, without which a player won’t even survive. The modern digital customers expect a shopping experience that’s engaging, social and rich, and they will prefer and turn to retailers that are able to deliver this experience. This can definitely mean that they will buy the same product from a different retailer just because the experience is more convincing and engaging, even if this might mean paying a higher price. It’s not just about quantity and efficiency, it’s also about the qualitative shopping experience.

A salesman can sell anything with this four step social selling approach

A four step social selling approach

Can a good salesperson can sell anything? Yes!

  1. Context: how does it relate to me and my current life?
  2. Storytelling: why is this product or brand different to all the other ones?
  3. Visual media and moving pictures: the 'virtual real life experience' made concrete and visual
  4. Having fun: This 'store' was great, I want to come back here again!

So yes, it’s about how you sell, how you approach your customer, not just about the product. I’m convinced you can sell 1,49€ milk instead of 1,19€ milk to more than half of the customers, if you give the first one a good customer experience with the 4 elements above. How, you say? Well, if you have read my last article you will know that the digital omni-platform, multi-touchpoint approach can give you many new ways to interact with your customers: 'prepare & aware', engage, invite, create interest, call to action, and last but not least: testify and spread to others, meaning retention and new customer acquisition. Its a bonus that many of these channels have much lower costs than traditional TV advertising or massive in-store activities.

The best outcome you will get though if you adopt a holistic approach to your customer experience – an 'omnichannel' customer journey, where your customers find relevant and useful topics and interactions on all different platforms. A masterful execution of this also includes choosing well when to 'shoot you silver bullets', also identifying your top return targets in your customer segmentation strategy. The high return targets will pull in other customers to your world, and as such will act as 'brand advocates' and virtual advertising poles, but clearly the more interesting the content, experiences and stories they have to tell others about your brand, the easier their 'job' will be.

So is there a link between social selling and social media selling?

Yes, or at least there can be. Social Media Networks have massively amplified the range of action of individuals and companies that know how to use social engagement, as described above, in the sense that their potential reachable market is now worldwide, and with a cost per engagement interaction that can be dramatically reduced compared to just a few decades ago.

The Social Media platforms also act as a bridge connection between the user’s (customer’s) personal life and interests and the brands selling the products. It now all blends together in a much more fluid way compared to before. An example is us feeling part of a certain interest group (e.g. skiing, hiking, biking) and naturally sharing experiences with rich media (images, videos, blogs) regarding our personal adventures. This easily connects to the brands of the equipment we use, the hotels and restaurants where we go during our trips as well as the travel organizations we utilize.

It becomes quite natural also for completely normal people to be the protagonists in a 'brands and experiences ecosystem' in which we act as living advertising poles, but without the perception of being paid or sponsored by the brands we use. This makes the connection and trust towards other people in our contact spheres much more true and genuine, and because of this, our 'advertising' is perceived as good advice, inspiration and true trends, as opposed to mechanically constructed marketing efforts orchestrated by the brands themselves.

15 minutes of fame

So if we agree on this psychological driver, then the same scheme can be imitated by the brands themselves, and here’s where influencer marketing comes in as a natural step - as we all know, the influencers are the new knights of the digital commerce landscape! We like to be inspired by persons we like, or even look up to, seen in a context we can relate to or would like to be part of, and when our own experiences can be described and represented in a similar way, so that both worlds blend together, the magic starts.

As Andy Warhol once said: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”, with the social media networks and influencer marketing paradigm, we can all truly feel that we get a spot on the stage. It’s just up to each one of us to step up there and take part in the sharing experience.

This is the second in a series of three articles by Mattias Bråhammar on the '3 Fundamentals to success in Digital Commerce'. This second article discusses the second fundamental and the following article on the third fundamental will be published in April 2019 at The first article which was published in October 2018 can be seen by ERA Europe members here.