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Creating Crap At The Speed Of Light!

by David Brock on December 26th, 2016

I think I’m suffering “Social Selling Fatigue.”  Perhaps it’s the time of year, perhaps Kelly Riggs pushed me over the edge forwarding this article, “How B2B Sales Can Benefit From Social Selling.”  But I’ve reached a tipping point.  I usually try avoiding lashing out directly, but I just can’t help it.

The article is filled with a lot of data, much taken out of context, much from research that has been questioned or even discredited, but it supports the authors’ points and what they have to sell.

But it misses too many points, and actually misses much of the power of social selling–as well as all forms of well executed selling, whether phone, email, door to door, snail mail.

The mistake this article makes is focusing on the vehicle or tools, and not on the context and content.  As Simon Sinek has so artfully described it, this is an article that focuses on the “How,” never bothering to address the “Why,” or even the “What.”

But this is the mistake too many pundits and organizations miss.  So, I’m not really lashing out at the authors, they’ve just jumped on an already crowded bandwagon careening aimlessly down the road.

Too often, people cite that high performers are leveraging these tools, and their success is because they are leveraging these tools.  In reality, these high performers are leveraging everything available to them.  They are leveraging the phone, email, face to face.

These high performers are successful not just because they leverage social selling, but because they know what’s important to customers and engage them through many channels but in ways that engage the customer about things they care about.

Sales and marketing effectiveness, in reality is less about the tools and channel, but more about the context and the value created.

All sorts of studies cite the difficulty of reaching customers through the phone, through email, getting face to face meetings.  Many of those conclude, “social channels are the answer.”  What they miss is the “why” in the challenges of using email, the phone, face to face, or any other channels.

It’s not the channel.  People aren’t averse to the phone or email or face to face.  They just don’t tolerate the crap delivered through it.

Social channels suffer from the same problem.  If you are using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or whatever new vehicle, but you are delivering the same meaningless, irrelevant messages or internally focused messages, prospects and customers are going to shut down!  We all see this, daily, in each of these channels.

It’s not the friggin tool or the channel!

The authors cite a statistic (created by a social tools vendor), that 84% of B2B buyers are starting the purchase process with a referral.  Let’s accept that as fact for the moment.

My reaction is, “Well duuggghhh…..,” we’ve always known referrals are important.  I recall reading a sales manual published in the 1920’s for Ford Motor Company sales people talking about the importance of referrals.  There are countless statistics through history talking about referrals and the importance of leveraging them.  We’ve long been taught about the importance of strong customer references, so what’s new?  Just because referrals (positive and negative) can now be spread through channels isn’t novel.

Of course we’d be foolish not to leverage these, just as we’d be foolish not to leverage them through other channels.  Look at any user conference.  Vendors invite customers and prospects to those conferences hoping customers will engage prospects in discussions about how much they like whatever it is the vendor sells.

And of course, referrals through any channel are powerful–it’s not the channel, it’s the referral.

I do dispute that 84% of the purchase process begins with a referral.  I’ve always maintained that 100% of the buying process begins with the customer recognizing they have a problem and committing to do something about it.  Until they do that, why do they even care about referrals.

Here’s where the majority of the opportunity exists.  Helping our customers understand there may be a better way.  There may be opportunities they are missing.  Yes, content offered through social channels as well as other channels is helpful–but the customer has to be looking for it.

Recently, we implemented some new tools to help in the delivery of our services.  These tools have been around for decades (in various forms).  Our team was roughly aware of them, but frankly we weren’t paying attention to them.  It was a sales person in conversation with someone on our team that made him, subsequently the rest of us aware of what we were missing.  At that point, we did all the things a buyer might do, we engaged the sales person in learning more.  We did our digital due diligence, we looked at a few alternatives, eventually buying from that original sales person.

The point is, all the content, all the articles, everything that was available about this category of solutions was meaningless, because we didn’t recognize we should be paying attention.  Today, I think one of the most critical role of sales is helping prospects and customers wake up to new ideas and opportunities.

The authors, as others do, cite data that supports their premise and reiterate truisms like, relationships and trust are important, citing the role of social channels in building those relationships and trust.  Sure, but this is not exclusive to social channels, and I suspect other channels like the phone or F2F are significant in building relationships and reinforcing trust.

The authors cite the same tired statistic that 72% of B2B sales people leveraging social channels report outperforming their peers who don’t.  But, as I mentioned earlier, those same sales people are also using the phone, email, F2F, and other channels, but the study didn’t ask those sales people that question.  Researchers often don’t ask these questions, because the answers don’t serve the conclusion they hope to reach with their research.  The research, in this case was about social selling, so why ask anything about other methods or channels.

One could look at that same data in others ways.  28% of high performers aren’t using social channels.  Hmmm, why are they successful?

Alternatively, we know that those high performers also represent a minority of sales people.  We know that medium and low performers are using social channels as well.  The authors allude to this with the additional data point that 75% of sales people have had social selling training.

I suspect, many of the low performers are also using a lot of social selling tools (at least based on my LinkedIn messages, tweets, and Facebook, I seem to be attracting more than my fair share of them).

Again, the differences are probably less that high performers are using these channels, but they are using them in ways that are highly impactful and effective–just as they are using every other tool in ways that are highly impactful and effective.

It is more meaningful to understand what is it about these high performers that are different.  How do they think , how do they engage, how do they create value in each and every channel and interaction?

Too many focus on the tool, vehicle, and channel, thinking it’s those that drive results.  Instead, the reality is more about the why and what–it’s the level specific conversations, it’s the value the sales person is creating, it’s how the sales person helps the customer think differently about their business, it’s how the sales person helps facilitate the buying process that drives engagement and buyer/seller success.

Perhaps beating a dead horse, if 100% of sales people use social selling tools/channels, we won’t see improvement in customer buying experience, engagement, and sales results.  If sales people continue to focus on meaningless product pitches, irrelevant and unfocused communications, absence of customer research, business acumen, and understanding of customer business results, social channels will become as ineffective as other channels.

Clearly, I’m a big fan of social channels and engagement.  Why would I be blogging, tweeting, using LinkedIn, YouTube if I weren’t?  But, I’m a big fan of the phone, of email, of handwritten notes, of face to face.  I’m an enormous fan of creating meaning and value in every interchange.

I’m just not a fan of stupidity, regardless of the channel we choose to exploit.

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8 Comments
  1. Wow Dave! Thai is SO spot on!

  2. Rats, David.

    I had hoped this article was really about an app that created crap at the speed of light — or at least at the speed of sound.

  3. Dave,

    I feel like such a curmudgeon sometimes, always bristling at the lack of depth of the what often passes as sales “research” (due to the self-serving factor, most times) or how badly things get misinterpreted and then over-shared. Then, you write a post like this and make me feel so much better about myself. 😉

    Many thanks from chilly Boston, over holiday break. Have a great New Year.

    Mike

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