There’s an age old saying -- people want to do business with people, not brands. That’s why ‘social selling’ is marketing’s biggest opportunity yet -- and one of marketing’s biggest buzzwords.

According to research from Nielsen, 84% of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing.

Sales reps using social media consistently outsell their peers. According to a recent study, more than 40% of salespeople said they’ve closed between two and five deals as a result of social media.

Edelman’s 2013 Trust Barometer points out that 41% of people think a company’s employees rank higher in public trust than a firm’s PR department, CEO, or Founder.

Like any customer acquisition program, a ‘social selling’ program requires structure. Your marketing team needs to do more than ask sales reps to ‘just start tweeting’ -- especially since social media, in many ways, is the antithesis of sales.

Here’s how to set up a successful ‘social selling’ program.

Step 1: Stop Calling It 'Social Selling'

The fact is that people do not go on social media to buy stuff -- especially big enterprise sales offerings. People visit Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to see what their friends are up to and learn about what’s happening in the world.

That’s why a simple ‘buy my stuff’ post is unlikely to work. Instead, sales reps should focus on creating credible content and building a memorable brand.

‘Social selling’ is shorthand for ‘sharing content that builds thought leadership and community.’ The more that your sales team is able to reinforce your company’s brand -- and values -- the more likely it is that your brand will be top-of-mind among prospects and consumers.

So stop calling ‘it’ social selling. Instead, focus on sharing stuff that you find memorable and interesting.

Step 2: Create Structure

Marketers are well versed in the art of automation. But sales teams often need a little more guidance -- and help -- implementing systems to keep them moving. That’s because they’re often living in the moment and fielding new leads as they arrive. The most successful sales leaders are often walking a fine line between structured and spontaneous -- and it’s challenging.

Marketers can help by giving sales leaders the resources that they need to educate their customers in the form of case studies, blog posts, whitepapers, and guides. These resources are conversation starters and touchpoints between sales reps and prospects -- content provides a structured way for sales teams to stay connected with audiences at scale.

One way for marketers to get started is to interview sales teams about their needs -- what frequently asked questions are they coming across and what stories they find themselves telling over and over.

Create -- and curate -- content around these needs so that sales teams can distribute information more effectively, and at scale.

Step 3: Stick to it

The shelf life of a tweet or Facebook status update is short, as social media platforms are driven by real-time communication and sharing. If you want to be in front of your audiences, you need to be sharing information consistently. That means sharing content multiple times a day, over an extended period of time.

As tempting as it is to pursue initiatives with instant gratification, you need to focus on the long-term. In other words, your team shouldn’t be tweeting to generate a sale five minutes from now -- you need to be tweeting to generate the sale five months from now.

Stick to your program, and monitor growth over time. But think in terms of months -- not weeks. A successful social selling program will take time to take off.

Final Thoughts

Social selling should prioritize more than selling. The key opportunity is to start conversations, build thought leadership, and create communities around your company’s sales arms. The more content you have to fuel the ‘machine’ the more empowered your marketing team will be to reach audiences at scale.

At the heart of your social selling strategy is your messaging and core value proposition. What matters to your brand -- and why? These questions will be the heart of any program you build.