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What’s All The Fuss About Social Selling?

by David Brock on November 13th, 2013

There’ve been a lot of articles about social selling going around.  As one would expect, many representing social selling as the answer to every sales person’s prayer. Many representing the complete opposite saying it’s a waste of time, and others.

To be honest, I struggle with the term “social selling.”  I think it conjures up expectations of managing the entire sales process through Twitter, ultimately getting a shortened link with a PO through Twitter.  Others may be looking for a shopping cart function in LinkedIn, so they can get orders and collect money.

Discussions about “How many sales has twitter/linkedin/facebook/tumblr/foursquare……. generated for you” are meaningless to me.

Camps line up on both sides of the argument, many declaring it a total waste of time–our customers aren’t buying through social channels.  Others saying it should be the only thing you do, as if an endless stream of tweets will help you get your numbers.

Before I go on with my rant, let me provide some context.  My point of view is colored by our work–we work strictly with B2B organizations involved in very complex sales/buying processes.  Typically, there are many people involved from the buying side, with long sales/buying cycles.  70% of our clients and prospects are the strongest B2B brands in the world.  So all my comments about social selling come from that perspective.

First, I can’t imagine any high performing sales or marketing professional not leveraging “social tools”  to the maximum.  Researching customers and prospects, keeping up with what’s going on in your markets, customers, competition, listening and understanding, sharing thoughtful points of view are critical to all of us.  But that’s no different than other channels or vehicles we also exploit.  Conference, trade shows, seminars, workshops, networking meetings all serve similar functions and can be important to being informed and expanding your networks.   So why would someone, on principle, not get leverage social tools to expand your knowledge, learn and network?

Is it a waste of time?  Sure it can be.  Likewise, many conferences, trade shows, networking meetings, and so forth may be a waste of time.  But over time, you figure it out.  You figure out what works, what “events,” real or virtual are good–where you lean something, where you meet people, where you expand your network and relationships.  You abandon those that don’t make sense.

Do I get PO’s through these, do my clients get PO’s through these?  For me, never; for my clients, seldom.  But that’s not our objectives.  That’s not aligned with how our customers buy.  But they are important lead sources.  Have I ever closed a piece of business through/on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or any other platform.  No!  But they are critical sources of leads for us.  But so are the other channels, as well a email marketing, some snail mail marketing, and yes–the telephone.  All of those are critical lead generation sources, we leverage all of them, though not equally.  Some channels are more productive than others, the balance shifts over time, and we expect new channels will appear which we should exploit.  We have learned, that we can’t rely on any single channel.

Like any marketing or demand gen program, we evaluate the investments in each of our channels.  We don’t expect the channels to produce revenue—our sales people qualify and manage opportunities to produce revenue.  But we do use these channels to create demand–which properly utilized produce revenue.  We invest in many channels, we invest more in those that produce the best quality leads.

We’ve also learned that our customers and prospects leverage multiple channels simultaneously.  So to engage our customers, we have to leverage the channels of their choice.  Next week, I’m going to a major conference, I’m filling my schedule with meetings with others that are also attending.  Some I’m calling on the phone, some I’m emailing, some, I’m sending messages through LinkedIn’s InMail, others I’m tweeting.  One person sent me an email asking for a meeting and I confirmed it with a text message to his mobile phone.  I knew he’d see that message before he would see an email.

Second and moving on, our customers are using these tools, so if we want to engage someone we need to be hanging out where they are.  The simplest example is anyone that calls me–someone selling to me, a prospect, a customer, my mother—-well maybe not—- I go to their LinkedIn Profile.  I want to know more about them.  I look at their updates to see what’s happened recently.  Any sales or marketing professional not leveraging their LinkedIn profile is missing a huge opportunity.  Someone trying to sell to me is putting themselves at a severe disadvantage by not leveraging this.  In the “old days” of selling, we spent some time establishing rapport and building credibility with our customers.  That’s not changed, but the tools available to to this have expanded, so why not leverage them to maximum impact.

Third, there are shameful, exploitative, bad behaviors on social channels.  So what!  Have we forgotten about junk mail, spam, telesales boiler rooms, sleazy door to door sales people?  Every channel, tool, or medium will be exploited by the bottom feeding scum–who pass themselves off as marketers or peddlers.  It sucks!  That’s the bad news, but that’s not any reason for us not to leverage these channels.  It’s cutting our noses off to spite our faces.  It’s hard cutting through the noise and clutter with quality communications and engagement.  But good professionals figure this out and do it.  A word of warning though, just because others are polluting the channels, it’s no reason to sink to their levels.  Bad marketing, bad prospecting is bad–whether it’s the shameless self centered pitch at a networking event, the bad phone call, email, LinkedIn Inmail, Facebook message, Google + message, or Tweet.  I don’t obsess over those people, I just leverage the technology to filter those out.

Thoughtfully used, social channels expand our reach and visibility–we see more and prospects we wouldn’t normally reach see us.  As Anthony Iannarino says, these tools are amplifiers.  We reach prospects we wouldn’t easily be able to reach through other channels.  They amplify great communications and engagement, and they amplify the crap.  It’s pretty easy to filter these out–so if you’re generating it–stop.  If you’re receiving it, block it.

Finally, there’s personal brand building.  This is where I will upset a lot of people.  I really run hot and cold on personal brand building.

To be honest, I leverage these channels a lot for personal–corporate brand building.  We are a boutique consulting company, I’m the spokes person building much of our organization’s visibility and awareness.  So I leverage my personal brand for building business and creating leads for partners.  Each of our partners are building their own visibility and brands to drive awareness and visibility of our company.  But we leverage our personal brands as a conscious part of our overall marketing strategies.

Now here’s where I go off the rails in personal brand building.  When the personal brand becomes more important than the company we work for, I’ve got a problem.  When the objective, if you are representing the company, is more about building your own personal presence, than promoting the company’s strategies and interest, I’ve got a problem.

So much of the personal branding people are building is a form of “celebrity marketing.”  Celebrity marketing has it’s place.  Many companies have leverage evangelists and personalities within their own companies very powerfully.  But they do this purposefully as a part of key strategies.

But I’m really not sure I want a sales force of quasi celebrities and personalities.  I’m not sure I want our customers diverted by the personality, not focusing on what we are trying to achieve.

I have a real problem with people, in an organization, spending more time building their own personal brands than doing their jobs.  Maybe I’m hard nosed or old fashioned, but I don’t care about a sales person’s personal brand.  I care about what they are doing to engage customers in selling our products and services.  That’s what I’m paying them to do!

I’m reaching the end of this post.  I’ve wandered quite a bit, my apologies.  But I don’t get this continued debate about social selling, social channels.  If your customers are using them, and they are, then why not exploit them.  Are they the only thing?  Absolutely not, any individual or company would be foolish by investing in a single channel—I don’t know any single channel that reaches 100% of and addressable market.  These channels should be part of a rich demand gen, customer engagement set of tools we leverage to amplify and maximize our impact.  Personal brand building–that may be important to you as an individual.  But as an executive running an organization, don’t let your personal brand building efforts get in the way of doing your job.

There, I’ve gotten it off my chest.  Thanks for putting up with me.

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11 Comments
  1. Great article, David and a lot of really great observations like … be where your customers are and the fact that social selling is just one more tool in our box. Certainly, it augments our traditional selling methods but it does not replace them!

    Thanks!! Love your stuff and your “makes sense” approach to these questions!

    • Craig: thanks for the comment, I feel as though we have a mutual admiration society. I like your stuff as well. The social tools are very powerful and augment those we already have. We need to leverage all the tools we have available in connecting effectively with our customers.

  2. Great article. I work with clients to prepare their blogs and social media postings and agree with the points you mentioned, especially the last one.

  3. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave, as usual you have provided invaluable commentary and insights regarding “social selling” and the productive use of it in selling today. Your comment that “no one tweeted you a PO” is an insightful commentary that the basics of selling – building trust about your services/products/brand via basic and traditional selling skills/strategies/tactics – may be getting overshadowed by the “social selling” buzz. You have reminded us that while “social selling” is important don’t forget the other fundamental selling tools, strategies and methodologies. Dave, no need to apology when you provide wisdom, insights and thoughtful reminders for all of us in the sales profession.

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