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“Hiding” Behind Social Selling

by David Brock on June 4th, 2013

The post, “What’s All This About Social Selling,” provoked a lot of reaction.  As I started reading the discussions, I started thinking more.  Do the “social tools,” make us less social?

As you know from the article, I believe “social selling” or “social business” starts with a set of beliefs or values about how you want to connect with, engage, and create value for the customer and prospects.  Selling has always been “social,” it’s always been about people connecting, engaging, creating value.  The channels by which we connect change and technology enables this.

But do the many of the social tools and technologies make us less “social” or even “anti-social.”

Being social implies vulnerability.  Someone may disagree with us, someone may not “like” us, someone may not “want to engage with us,” yet is willing to “engage with our competitors.”  Prior to a lot of the social technologies, “social” was one to one, a personal connection.  As with any personal contact it creates vulnerability.  Sales people faced rejection, ambivalence, or even hostility.  It was expressed directly to them, and they have to overcome it.  Being social and selling put each of us at risk–and we had to deal with it.

But many of the social technologies enable us to hide behind the technologies.  We collect followers–many are faceless and even nameless, but we measure our relationships by the quantity of followers we have collected.  We auto-follow, we are open networkers, we measure our influence and relationships not by quality, but by statistics and volumes.

We put ourselves out there–but do we really put ourselves at risk?  Sure someone might disagree with us on a forum.  But we don’t know them, we have nothing at stake in the relationship.  We build communities, we selectively respond to what we want and ignore everything else.

Sometimes we get lost in our communities, failing to reach out to connect with individuals.  Sometimes we hide behind our networks and communities, using them as excuses not to put ourselves at risk.  But they also keep us from moving forward, from actually selling.  People in our communities use the technology to hide from us (As an example, I get a large number of comments on this blog site where people hide their identities and names.  I refuse to publish those comments–if you aren’t willing to stand by your words, then I don’t want your comments.).

Social technologies enable us to be “connected,” but incredibly anonymous.  How do we sell when faced with anonymity?  We need to connect and engage, we need to have conversations.  We need to understand and reconcile different point of view.

As sales professionals, we put ourselves at risk.  We have to be comfortable with that risk and vulnerability–we don’t have to enjoy it, but we have to be able to deal with it.  We have to connect and engage.  Until we do, it’s just broadcasting or listening as part of the crowd.

The social technologies and tools extend our ability to connect and engage.  They can provide us great power, but only if we use them to connect and engage–with people, individuals.  Like any tool, they can be used to help us produce tremendous results–or they can help us produce nothing–or worse.

Social selling is about putting yourself out there–taking responsibility for it–dealing with it–but always connecting and engaging for a shared outcome.

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  1. Hmmm, I’m not buying it. I purchase goods and services using social media tools all the time — I never expect sales reps and companies to be vulnerable. I want knowledge, information and real experiences. Social media is great for that. I now do all my pre-purchase work with other interested people. They are not vulnerable, they are engaged.

    BTW, it doesn’t matter at all if the persons picture or name are real — only that they have something to contribute to the conversation.

    • Russell: Thanks for the comment. Perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree. Much of the market research, including that done by the CEB (Challenger–Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson), Rain Group (Mike Schultz) and others point out the sales person–and their ability to engage the customer in unique conversations about their business and problems is the ultimate differentiator—at least in complex B2B sales. The way the sales person engages the customer, the credulity, trust, and knowledge are key elements in what drives B2B Sales (Challenger data puts the sales person and their ability to provide insight and help the customer learn puts the role of the sales person as 53% of why customers buy.)

      I think you may have misinterpreted the term vulnerability. Vulnerability means that we put ourselves at risk. For example, you have put yourself at risk by expressing an opinion, as I do in writing the blogs and responding. We are engaging each other and that process requires openness to different point of view, flexibility in potentially changing our positions, and so forth. It’s the sales person who risks the customer saying “No,” or “I’m not interested.” We can’t be successful unless we put ourselves at risk and make ourselves vulnerable–which I think is a root cause for much of the aversion people have and why they tend to hide out.

      We all clearly know that customers are leveraging the web for self educating about products and services. But in complex B2B sales, there is still the “last mile” problem. That is, the customer still needs to know, “what’s this mean to me?” “what’s the impact to me and our organization?” As Brian Bachofner states in another comment–ultimately it’s about establishing a 1 to 1 interaction.

      Finally, complex B2B selling is a people business. While we may be leveraging technology to accelerate and enrich the experience, it’s about people connecting and having a conversation. Using fake pictures of false names betray the important element of trust. When people deal with people they want to know they are credible and can be trusted.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your views, I appreciate your courage in putting yourself at risk. I think, however, we’ll agree to disagree.

  2. Great post! I like what Joe Galvin says about social selling “to take 1- many and transition into 1-1 relationship”. As a “tools” company we can help accelerate that transition, but ultimately real 1-1 interaction needs to happen. If not, our customers fail which means we fail as well.

    • Simply brilliantly expressed Brian, thanks so much! “Tools” like Insideview enable the sales person and the customer to have a much richer conversation, much faster–as you point out. So the tools and technologies are important in extending our capabilities, accelerating the engagement process, and providing the potential–through more information of a richer and deeper engagement. It is truly about enabling the 1 to 1 relationship. A couple of months ago, I wrote about it:

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation with such a great insight!

  3. Fantastic post, Dave. I love discussing this issue. From my observations, there are two extremes upon which salespeople find themselves…

    First, there is the stereotypical old-school salesperson that steers clear of these new-fangled technologies and views them as games for the kids. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the stereotypical young salesperson who grew up with the social web and thinks that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the only valid ways of communicating with customers.

    I think both of these extremes are dead wrong–and for the same reason. They’re both entirely too focused on the tools and not focused enough on the relationships. The old-school salesperson rejects social technologies because they dislike the “tools” and the new-school salesperson embraces social technologies because they like the “tools.”

    I think that old school salespeople need to start viewing social technologies as a potential means to an eventual face-to-face conversation–the same way they view the telephone.

    However, I think the bigger problem is the newer salesperson (the one you’re describing here) who doesn’t know what social means outside of the technology. This salesperson–as the more aged skeptics suspect–is often just wasting time, playing a game.

    The people I have seen who are really successful in social media are those who were first successful in building real-life relationships and then transferred those skills to the social web. I think that all salespeople should first learn interpersonal, face-to-face communication. Only then will the tools be meaningful in any real way.

    • Awesome insight Doug! Thanks so much for sharing. As sales professionals, we should leverage all the tools we possibly can and use the most effective tool for the job. As they say, if all you have is a hammer, pretty soon everything looks like a nail!

    • Doug, sorry for the slow reply. I can’t add anything other than “well stated!” (With a bit of envy that I didn’t express it that way myself)

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