Sales prospecting is arguably the most critical aspect of selling.

For those new to the concept, prospecting is that first step in the sales cycle when you scout for and contact potential customers. It sounds straightforward enough, but if you don’t know how to identify sales prospects effectively, the odds of making your quota drop precipitously.

Fortunately, the structure and popularity of social media make it today’s richest prospecting environment. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of adults in the U.S. are active on at least one social media site. Not only that, but social media allows you to fine-tune your target market, spot ideal sales prospects, and connect with them where they are.

If you haven’t started using social media for sales prospecting yet, here’s a step-by-step guide for making the most of this powerful medium.

1. Sketch Your Ideal Customer
Have you evaluated your target market lately? Effective prospecting starts with a clearly defined and accurate target market. You can achieve this by crafting a customer persona who embodies all the things you’re looking for in a potential customer.

Develop this persona by looking at your existing customer base and identifying the key characteristics of people who buy from you frequently or complete large transactions. Find the commonalities within this group, including their demographic attributes (age, gender, geography, etc.), psychological factors (personality, values, etc.), and the reasons they chose your company over another (price, availability, customer service, etc.).

SEO keyword usage can also help you refine this customer persona. Conduct a Google search with the words you think your target customer uses to find you. As you start typing, jot down the autofill options that emerge, as well as the related searches at the bottom of the page. Analyze which of these keywords most closely correlates to your business and your target market’s needs.

2. Identify Your Target Audience’s Favorite Sites
Next, take your updated customer sketch to social media channels to find out where they visit and post the most. Enter your newly discovered keywords into the search tool of various social networks to see what and who comes up. You want to be wherever the most conversations related to your industry are happening.

For B2B sales professionals, LinkedIn is the most obvious choice, but there are plenty of other options too. You’ll want to have a presence on industry-specific sites and forums as well as popular networks, including:

Twitter
Instagram
Facebook
Quora
YouTube
Reddit

If your best prospects are gathering on a site where you don’t have an account, sign up for one.

3. Sculpt Your Social Profile
Once you know who you’re selling to and what sites they spend time on, you’ll want to take a close look at your company’s social media presence. If you don’t have one, now’s the time to start.

Your LinkedIn page, Twitter feed, and other social accounts are critical extensions of your brand, and it’s important to make sure they’re updated regularly and reflective of your brand identity. If you already have social media profiles, make sure they’re optimized to draw in new customers.

Your profiles should:

Use a photo that shows you as professional yet approachable
Offer detailed information about who you are and what you’re about
Include a link back to your business website and a call-to-action
Update your account settings to notify you when potential prospects that meet your criteria post

4. Engage with Others
The whole point of social media is to be social, and that means starting conversations with potential customers. But when it comes to prospecting, fight your natural inclination as a sales professional to jump right in with a big pitch.

Instead, start by listening. As you do this, you learn what interests your prospects, what problems they have, and who they listen to. Once you have a strong understanding of what conversations your prospects are having and how your business can help them solve problems, try:

Sending a personalized comment about their posts
Sharing their big announcements or achievements with your network
Joining live chats where prospects are participating
Responding quickly to direct messages

5. Inject Ideas into the Conversation
The best conversations require both active listening and useful contributions. After proving yourself as an active listener, start adding more substance to the social dialogue.

Start by creating and publishing value-added content on your company blog. This might be a thought leadership article, a relevant infographic, or a video. When you share this information through your social media feeds, you offer valuable ideas to the community while enticing prospects to click through to your business website.

Again, resist the urge to turn these contributions into sales pitches. At this stage, the goal is to educate and inform prospects so that they begin to view you as a credible expert in your field.

6. Follow and Create Groups
Keep in mind that you’re not the only one with valuable information to share. Connect with and follow industry leaders, and join groups related to your business. This provides you with more insight to share with your prospects.

Once you’re ready, you can even create a group of your own to host conversations or address specific issues important to your target market. You naturally draw prospects to you when you take the initiative to start a group focused on that issue.

Don’t forget about your competition. Find out what they’re up to by following their conversations.

7. Make Your Case
Once you’ve established yourself as an active, informed, and authoritative participant in the conversation, it’s time for your pitch. But be careful: sending the same canned message to all prospects defeats the purpose of everything you’ve done up to now.

For the best results, use all that you’ve learned about your prospect to craft a personalized pitch. An automated sales engagement tool like Sharetivity can help streamline this process by researching and aggregating news and posts from prospects, suggesting effective icebreakers, and providing personalized messages that will resonate with the intended recipients.

8. Measure Your Success
Track your success by comparing your monthly KPIs before and after you began using social media to prospect. You can determine what’s working and what isn’t by measuring:

Fresh leads identified
New customers added
Total sales in dollars
Percentage increase in sales

Supercharge Your Sales Prospecting with Sharetivity
Now that you have the lowdown on improving your sales prospecting, are you ready to get started?

Sharetivity finds news and information relevant to your target market. Automated engagement makes personalized outreach easier and faster compared to doing it all on your own. Try Sharetivity for free today.