While technology today is more sophisticated than ever, selling remains the same - you've got to find people to sell and sell the people you find. For salespeople who are already using cold calling, email and newsletters as part of their marketing efforts, increasing their presence on social media can help generate leads, improve contact with existing customers and break the ice with new prospects. Prospecting is a cornerstone of selling, yet it's also one of the biggest challenges salespeople face. Many salespeople dislike it, making it their lowest priority, while others avoid it altogether.

Simply put: if you can't prospect, you can't sell.

Making this connection with people is vital to sales success. If you don't have any prospects, you aren't going to have any customers. The first rule of prospecting is figuring out where your potential customers are. Since nearly everyone today can be found on some form of social networking, it's logical for salespeople to establish a presence there.

Social media can greatly improve a salesperson's odds of making a sale by connecting her with a large number of people she might not otherwise have reached. Connecting with prospects on social media doesn't mean that salespeople can abandon all other prospecting activities, however. A salesperson's social network contains a limited number of viable prospects. Therefore, sole reliance on a Facebook post or a Tweet to take the place of more proven prospecting practices such as cold calling is a recipe for disaster. This is why it's critical that salespeople continue all current prospecting activities.

The use of social media, in all its various forms, is a powerful tool to add to the salesperson's arsenal, but many such tools are required to build a solid, lasting sales career. The great thing about social media is that it fits so well within an effective sales methodology. In the Track Selling SystemTM, it works with the first step: approach, where the salesperson introduces himself, gets to know the prospect and establishes rapport. Creating a presence on sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook provides the opportunity for salespeople to introduce themselves to prospects and is are a good way to help them build excitement about their product or service.

They also offer an opportunity for salespeople to interact with their prospects and current customers and for those individuals to interact with each other. This can be a boon for salespeople, since the more they get people talking, the more they'll learn about what they need. Relationships on a social network should be handled with professionalism.

Salespeople want to be friendly and approachable.

People buy from people they like, so it's important to be as likable as possible. It's unrealistic for a salesperson to expect that using social media will guarantee sales. At its core, social media is a venue for building relationships. In a relationship, nobody wants to be hit with the "hard sell."

"I tell clients to think of Twitter and other forms of social media as a cocktail party," says Angela Daffron of Daffron Marketing.

"You don't use a hard-sell approach at a cocktail party. You talk and get to know people while allowing them to get to know you. You give back by listening."

Many busy salespeople think they don't have time to use social media. Smart salespeople, however, can take advantage of social media by becoming informed and using their time efficiently. With a bit of research, a salesperson can educate himself about relevant keywords to include in posts so they will pop up on search engines.

Well-placed keywords in a single post can drive traffic from multiple search engines right to the salesperson's blog or website. Salespeople who focus on topics that are important to their prospects will get more mileage out of their posts as readers are more likely to share that content. Salespeople should understand that while their community is always looking for fresh ideas, it isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel. Repurposing content from their blog or current newsletter, for example, is a great way to create solid, well-written posts while not having to do much more than copying and pasting.

Social media can make prospecting easier and help salespeople build relationships with individuals they might never have otherwise reached. While it can never replace the tried-and-true tools of a solid prospecting practice, the use of social media can help salespeople establish themselves as experts, share helpful information with clients and prospects and build relationships that can lead to greater sales success.    

Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.