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Is Social Selling Missing The Digital Revolution?

by David Brock on October 23rd, 2017

Step back a little more than a century as electricity was being commercialized.  I’m sure in bars and meeting rooms, sales people and marketers were talking about how wonderful electricity was and what it could do to improve sales and marketing.  I can imagine conversations like:

Sales person:  “We can now light up our displays at shows, so people can really see our products and how cool they are.  We could never do that with kerosene lamps or candlelight….”

Marketing person:  “We no longer have to work in the dark, we can work longer hours, producing more content for you to hand out to customers.  Imagine all the brochures, flyers, data sheets we can produce…..”

Customers were independently thinking:  “Now we can inspect these products more carefully, we can shine a bright light to make sure they are great quality….”

Roughly the same time, the telephone was coming into popularity.  Conversations probably were:

Sales person:  “Wow, now I don’t have to actually see the customer, if they have phones, I can just call them up……We can start a movement called telephone selling….”

Marketing people were probably equally excited:  “We need to get all their telephone numbers and start calling them every day about our products……”

And customers were independently thinking:  “Imagine if they invented something like Caller ID, I could avoid all these annoying calls…..”  (OK, I’m getting carried away.)

Those sales and marketing people learned these tools, electricity and the telephone, augmented and helped everything they did in selling and marketing.  It shifted a lot of investments into leveraging these technologies.  For example, the concept of the “traveling sales person,” was changed somewhat, but still a very important element of sales execution. After all, our ability to connect and communicate is still far more impactful face to face.

But electricity and the telephone weren’t just about sales and marketing.  They revolutionized the way we live, the way businesses work, and created literally millions of new opportunities for business, societies, and people.

Fast forward to today,  sales and marketing people are engaged in the same conversations–not surprisingly on social media–LinkedIn, Twitter, SnapChat, Facebook, and thousands of other sites and blogs. Our customers are embracing their digital buying journeys as well.  They leverage digital sources throughout their buying process–both out of convenience, because of the abundance of information, and out of avoidance–the desire to put distance between themselves and sales people.

Our conversations are similar to those imagined conversations decades ago, they focus on how we leverage social channels to sell and market, and how our customers leverage these channels to buy.

Ironically, these discussions rarely capture the bigger implications of the digital revolution in which these social tools actually play a very small part.

Digital Business Transformation impacts every one in the world, it impacts and is reshaping our businesses, societies, and cultures.  Just like the previous industrial revolutions, virtually everything will change.  Business models, that were once very successful, are being shattered.  Everything we thought worked in the past is being challenged.

Our own organizations and our customers’ are challenged with making sense of the opportunity digital business transformation presents.

Focusing only on our customers’ digital buying journeys or our own social selling efforts limits our abilities to understand and address the opportunities and challenges of digital business transformation.  It restricts our thinking for our own businesses–both how we leverage these tools and the solutions we offer.  It restricts the value we create in helping our customers make sense of their own digital business transformation.

Yes, we absolutely have to engage our customers in their digital buying journeys, we have to leverage these tools in our own selling and marketing.  But we can’t  stop there, we have to re-imagine whole new businesses, completely new solutions, and completely new ways of serving and engaging our customers.


  1. From time to time, I read some interesting things from analysts and consulting firms about digital business transformation with real details, use cases, and examples, but most of the stuff I read is so amorphous that it’s hard to decipher.

    I think it’s sort of a limitation of most people that we can’t see around corners or get out of our current paradigms enough to imagine what the future might look like, or even see the change coming.

    I’m guessing that’s why we often get caught by surprise when travel websites disrupt the travel-agent model, or digital media messing with the music industry, or internet streaming disintermediates video rentals, or elearning reducing classroom ILT (happening slowly), or advanced digital meeting technology disrupting the conventions industry (sooner or later). And of course, there’s the now-oft-discussed AI and Machine Learning impact on transactional sellers (whether it’s augment or replace, change is coming).

    Some of these have happened; others not yet but are going to accelerate. Most of these changes have been coming for a long time, very slowly, like a glacier. It’s always funny to me that they become “an overnight success” and disrupt industries that just “didn’t see it coming.” (Railroad companies, anyone?)

    I think you’re right that digital business transformation is going to change a lot – far more than many expect. Right now, I’d be happy if my bank would just remove the limits on the amount of checks I can deposit via their mobile app, so I can stop going to the physical bank building, which offers zero value to me and costs me time, money and energy.

    • Thanks Mike. We are just seeing the very tip of the iceberg. Over the coming decades, we will see huge transformation of businesses. This will create huge opportunities/threats for buyers and sellers alike. If we continue to focus only on the customers’ digital buying journeys and social selling, we will miss the huge opportunity we have in front of us.

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