Social Selling? Hasn’t Selling Always Been Social?

By Paul Teshima in Social Selling

Great Sales People Have Always Been Social.

Inc.com wrote a great article on the top 10 sales people of all time.  One of my favorite people in the list is David Ogilvy, founder of advertising industry giant Ogilvy.  But less known is that David also wrote one of the first sales “playbooks” as a door-to-door cooking stove salesman. David has a great quote, which exemplifies one of the prime jobs of a salesperson:

“The worst fault a salesman can commit is to be a bore. Foster any attempt to talk about other things; the longer you stay the better you get to know the prospect, and the more you will be trusted.”

The idea of being “social” so you can build a trusted relationship has been around since the beginning.

How Has Selling Changed with Social Media?

No question that social media has changed how we connect and build relationships with people, and it also affects how people buy and sell things.  I spent the last 13 years talking about how buyers spend more time than ever educating themselves before talking to sales, and social media is a key channel in that education process.  So it is important as a sales person to leverage social media to connect with your buyers earlier.  Here are three things you can start doing today to become more “social”.

  1. Find out where your buyers are hanging out, and build a profile there
  2. Follow and develop relationships with key influencers in your space who are already in social media
  3. Listen and pass along great content when it can help one of your social connections

For a more complete guide read Oracle Eloqua’s excellent Grande Guide to Social Selling.

What Are Some of the Challenges With Social Selling?

Like many new trends, there is a tendency to recommend best practices that are far beyond the current use cases.  While I believe social selling is something that will be important for sales for a long time, I also have seen some challenges in how this is being taught today.

Challenge 1: Everyone is not active on social media.

The truth is that although 58% of Americans have a Facebook profile, and 17% have one on LinkedIn, the vast majority are passive users and rarely, if ever, post content.  In many circles it is only 1% who actively create content.   Think of your own habits, when was the last time you posted in LinkedIn? or tweeted?  If social selling tools rely on the people you are hoping to connect with “being social” on social networks,  you’re limiting yourself to only the ~1% who are actively social and ignoring 99%.

Challenge 2: What people post in social media is not always the most important information about them.

Yes there are many key personal and business facts that are now exposed through social media: e.g. have you changed roles, did your company just get funded, have you had a second child?  However this information may only tell part of the picture:

  • Have you changed roles and are now responsible for expansion into China?
  • Did your company get funded, and now are looking to upgrade your VP of Marketing?
  • Have you had a second child and now in desperate need of good daycare options?

Some of this information may only be available through traditional channels, or by spending a lot of time researching your contact.  But it is the extra information, the “old school social” data, that allows you to really help your contact, and become a key business connection they value.

Challenge 3: Aligning your sales organization by their social “connections” may not be the best way to assign territories.

Although in theory this idea should work, in practice it is challenging.  Territory assignment is a difficult science to start with, never mind adding in the qualitative, fuzzy, and ever changing dimension of “relationship strength” as part of the assignment process.  I have found that giving a sales team clear direction and purpose is priority one at the start of a year, and adding in this new twist may cause more harm than good.

Now what social selling can do in this area, is provide more visibility for sales executives into activities management.  This is a problem today that is critical to solve, as it directly impacts building pipeline, and is becoming a hot topic in most forecast meetings.

So in summary while I agree that we need to incorporate social media in how you build relationships and sell, I think there are many challenges in more advanced social selling techniques that need to be addressed.  So to keep it simple, social selling should start by focusing on leveraging fundamental sales skills in this new medium for communication.

So How Should Sales People Try and Connect Today?

All trusted relationships take time and effort.  Even sending a simple “just-checking-in-email”, make take hours of research to craft the right content, so that it will get a good response. I do not believe that social media changes the fundamentals of how to nurture business relationships, and at the most basic level it starts with sending/delivering/calling messages that get your contact’s attention.

I call messages that are effective in getting a response “nudges“, and if you spend enough time working with great salespeople, you will find they all contain these three elements:

  1. Right Person – choosing the contact that benefits you, but also factors in the history of your business relationship
  2. Right Time – an event has happened with the contact that you can help with
  3. Right Message – the content is relevant to the right person and right time

In my next post I will explore in more detail, how to build great “nudges” and how a few small nudges everyday, can help you build a high quality network that will help you close more deals.

Paul Teshima
CEO and Co-founder