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Social selling versus cold calling in recruitment - which is the better method?

We've spoken in the past about the dangers of excessive cold calling for recruiters, but this begs the question of what alternative options are available - especially for a new business. 

The good news is, that in 2017, one option in particular has emerged as an attractive contender. That option's name is social selling. Let's take a look at how these two methods stack up against each other and see if we can't put the debate of which is better to bed once and for all ... 

What converts better - cold calling or social media?

While every business (and even every sale) is different, it's always good to look at the big picture to get an idea of what is working for other people. 

In this case, it's clear that cold calling is a real grind. A 2012 Baylor University paper based on a study of US real estate cold calling reported that for every 330 cold calls made, just one appointment was set. Please note that this is an appointment rather than an actual conversion - underlining the difficulty of this process.

While social contact is not directly measurable in the way that cold calling is, research has shown that social media is an effective way to close sales - being comparable to employee and customer referrals in terms of its overall success rate. 

Cold calling fatigue vs. a technique that's difficult to ignore

Cold calling is tiring. It's tiring not only for the person sat there making call after call after call, but also for the person sat there receiving them. Many people dismiss them out of hand - meaning that you could have the best product in the world, but that you will never make certain sales using this method.

There exists an entrenched perception among some groups, that social media is not serious - or is simply not business - no matter how many leads, or how much money you make from it.

Contrast this with social selling. While social media use is not without its problems for recruitment agencies, it has to be said that it is a difficult method to ignore. With cold calling, a prospect can simply screen their calls, or dismiss a caller out of hand - but the subtle nature of good social selling means that it is very difficult to simply blank out.

Social selling also forces the salesperson to think differently - disrupting the thought patterns they develop throughout their working lifetime and encouraging them to be more creative. This is something that compares favourably when viewed alongside the drudgery of the average cold calling schedule.  

A way to be there for your customers - and potential customers

As you're no doubt aware, just because you've identified the right person within a company to target as a potential sale, it doesn't mean that they're ready to buy right now. In fact, research suggests that as many as 50% of identified sales leads are not ready to buy

This is why the key to effective selling always has been (and probably always will be) to build up a good relationship with your prospects. That's why it's important to reach out time and time again, reminding them of who you are - the person with the great staff to add to their business.

Social media makes this whole process look easy - because it's an incredibly unobtrusive method of keeping in touch with people. Once you've made your initial contact and explained what it is you can do for someone, there are then a whole host of ways you can get them to notice you over social - without actually having to make another pitch. This leads us onto another thing that's great about social media ... 

Social media allows you to establish yourself as a thought leader in your area

Social selling isn't just about talking to your customers - it's also about marketing yourself, your employer, and your product or service. No matter what social network you're talking about - LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or something else entirely, there is going to be a way for you to showcase your expert knowledge.

So on LinkedIn, you should be publishing articles on Pulse - and doing it regularly. Don't just churn out any old dross, but try to get some actual useful content down on paper for people to read. Be original, be entertaining, be controversial. People like reading content when it feels like it was written by a fellow human being rather than a machine.

We're not going to declare cold calling dead - because it quite clearly isn't.

Share the wealth, too. If you find a tasty piece of information out there in the ether, post it to your feed so that other people can use it. While this may feel a bit like sharing out your secret weapon with all your peers, the likes and shares with your name on will be more than worth it in the long run.

What all of this goes towards is establishing your place as a thought leader in your area - someone who people turn to when they need advice. When your customers see this, and see it happening a lot, you can bet that you'll pop up in their head the next time they need to hire staff. This can go a long way towards building your personal brand.

Social gives you the power to shine like never before

Cold calling is great when it works, but it's all too easy to get put on the spot by a potential customer and fail to add any value. 

Contrast this with social selling, where the whole pursuit is carried out much more at your leisure, and adding value is consequently much easier. If a customer or potential customer comes to you with a difficult query, it's easy to stand back for a minute and gather your thoughts, speak to others within your organisation to find an answer, or even do some research that will allow you to answer them.

This means that an engaged recruiter who is willing to go the extra mile for their customers can thrive on social media - because it will act as a vehicle for them to let this shine through.

As above, if you are in any way a thought leader in your area, you will probably be helping people out without even knowing it - as they consume the thoughts you have put down onto paper - so this needn't even be an active process.

Challenge dangerous assumptions

As with many things in business, trying to implement a new strategy or technique is likely to mean that you will encounter a good deal of friction - often from a management level or higher. Social selling is sometimes no exception to this - even though it is now a tried and trusted method for many firms.

There exists an entrenched perception among some groups, that social media is not serious - or is simply not business - no matter how many leads, or how much money you make from it. These assumptions are incredibly dangerous within any forward-thinking business, and need to be challenged. 

The best way to challenge anything like this is often through the use of statistics - but again social suffers here because it is not quantifiable in the way that a technique like cold calling is. So it is hard to demonstrate to someone who does not fully understand the process, why you are spending time posting articles or engaging with people who are not yet clients of your business.

But there is hope - and if you are in recruitment then we can direct you exactly where you need to go ... 

Social media influence can now be quantified

If you are looking to drive a successful social media selling campaign within your business, then it is useful to have a benchmark in order to assess how much of an effect your actions are having. One way to do this is with a social media scoring system called Klout

Klout allows you to quickly and easily see how much influence you or your organisation have on social channels - giving you an easy to understand score which you can then track. It's also free to use.

Better still, Agency Central provide leaderboards aimed specifically at recruiters called the Social Recruiter 100 - where recruiters' Klout scores are compared and arranged in a league table format. This free service is available for both agency and in-house recruiters, and is a great way to see how you are doing compared to your competitors.

Our 2016 champions, Ashley Kate HR, have seen social make a big impact in their business - and they recently shared some tips with us on how recruiters can get more from social media.

Where do your audience hang out?

Just as some people have a tendency to make dangerous assumptions about the efficacy of social media as a selling tool, others tend to do a similar thing in reverse. This happens when social selling is evangelised within a company without any real understanding of how it applies to that firm's particular audience or target market.

We've made the point before that if your target market hangs out solely on LinkedIn, then there's little point jumping on the Snapchat bandwagon just to appear trendy. Actually, you're more likely to fall flat on your face. But what if your audience isn't on social media at all? What if you're barking up totally the wrong tree?

In some markets - and indeed some demographics - this is likely to be the case. You may even find that your target audience is made up largely by the type of people who refuse to see any value in social media - deriding it as a pointless waste of time. While this opinion may be to their detriment, they still represent your target audience, so you're going to have to follow them wherever they might be.

The good thing about a telephone is that more or less everyone has one - and while cold calling can be a vastly inefficient technique, there is something to be said for a method of contact that allows you to get in touch with such a wide range of people. 

The lesson to be learned from this is that you shouldn't blindly follow any technique. Just because something is fashionable doesn't mean that it will work for your particular situation or market.

In summary

We're not going to declare cold calling dead - because it quite clearly isn't. What we are going to say is that there is a new contender in the ring and its name is social selling. 

Social selling is less stressful, probably more efficient, more engaging, and more marketable than cold calling - opening up many new ways for your recruitment organisation to build a brand for itself. It can be beneficial to you in terms of finding both clients and candidates, and will allow you to build relationships that should lead to yet more business in the future.

There is still a place for cold calling - and if you are sitting on a great candidate that you just know would excel at company X, then you should totally give them a shout to let them know. Blanketing entire telephone directories in the hope of finding perhaps one or two warm leads, on the other hand, has had its day.

In 2017, you'd have to be pretty crazy to be ignoring the gains you can make through good social media usage - although it appears that some recruiters are still doing just this. Engage well, engage authentically, and engage on a regular basis. It won't take too long before you begin to make a name for yourself - which is what social selling is all about. Good luck.

Written by Matt Atkinson

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