The first time I heard my expertise equated with sales I cringed as the image of myself as some greasy Danny DeVito like character immediately flashed before my eyes. At the time I was working as a fundraising strategist helping social entrepreneurs build businesses for social good. As an individual who felt their life calling was to serve that of a higher and, perhaps, more noble purpose, equating my profession to that of the materialistic and money-starved stereotypical salesman was down right baffling.

Throughout my time in fundraising this parallel became more and more apparent, as co-workers, clients, and investors alike continually commented on my ability to “flip the sales switch”. In fact, once having made the decision to leave fundraising my professional acquaintances, mentors and business partners all continued to bombard me with a sloe of sales jobs. Despite my resistance to join “the dark side”, as I liked to call it, I finally began following up on all of my acquired leads, got my job search game face on, and entered the world of personal social sales.

In the non-profit world of cause-marketing social media is an essential tool for establishing brand awareness, converting fans into evangelists, and driving funds. As an individual preparing to begin the hunt for a job after several years off the market, I also utilized social media as a way to establish and amplify my personal brand, connect with job leads, and gather information about my prospects. As I phased out of my previous profession and began actively hunting it all finally clicked. Not only had I been a salesman practically my entire professional and collegiate career, I realized that I was practically a veteran at this “social sales” stuff. I had succumbed to “the dark side” and, making a swift career move I became rFactr’s resident “social sales newbie”.

Although my audience, product, and branding have changed, social has enabled me to stay agile, reinventing my personal brand and achieving credibility within a new professional industry. As a “social sales newbie” I have found the following concepts to be critical for gaining traction with leads and prospects on social and establishing professional rapport that will directly result in measurable ROI.

I. Social selling means tying a face to your brand.

Would you be surprised to know that “The Face”, pictured to the right, was coined the 2012 SEC basketball photo of the year? This University of Alabama freshman achieved instantaneous fame and ESPN glory by using a gigantic cutout of his signature “stank face” to distract opposing team players during college basketball games. Tying a face to his fandom Blankenship was able to publicly capitalize and establish his personal brand, invited to appear on national TV shows such as Jimmy Fallon Live and ESPN2 for his expertise and enthusiasm.

But what really was the driving force behind Blankenship’s rise to fame? In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, author Jonah Berger explains the theory of social contagion as it relates to the evolution of brand recognition, and the reason why some brands are doomed to undergo extinction while others become household names. Berger tells us that social influence and word of mouth are the two most powerful factors impacting what we as consumer’s think, trust, buy, and do. In fact Berger tells us that, ‘word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions’. Amidst today’s technological climate the socially connected buyer has an endless plethora of references and resources readily available at all times. In a market where the buyer is empowered now more than ever, the corporate sales organization has no choice but to even the playing field. Today’s reps must proactively pursue leads, connecting with prospects before they even begin to contemplate a purchase.

II. Social selling is a Human to Human connection.

Transparency, now more than ever, seems to be valued with the utmost regard throughout the social ecosystem. As quoted from his entry in Jeffery Gitomer’s Social Boom!rFactr CEO Richard Brasser explains that it is “the personality and unique insights” of the individual that drive people to connect and listen to what he or she has to say on social. Often times, what salesmen fail to understand about social selling is that it is the individual’s personality and intellectual flare that initially attracts a prospect and allows the sales person to establish a personal connection before entering the buying cycle.

Critical to gaining the buyer’s ear is a proactive approach to establishing professional credibility and thought leadership.

I often hear prospects discount the need for a social sales strategy on LinkedIn, 'it’s pretty self-explanatory'. The truth is that when practiced inconsistently, used unintentionally, and approached non-strategically most individual’s end up only using a small portion of the resources offered by sites like LinkedIn to help users navigate the social ecosystem. When approach non-strategically it is extremely hard to generate genuine intrigue from Fortune 500 CEO’s when you are using social media as a megaphone for simply pushing product. As individuals and companies alike use social to establish their digital DNA and amplify their brand, we all win.

Thanks for reading! Shoot a tweet with your thoughts to @Millennovator and let me know what you think!