A Warning to Sales People About Social Media

A Warning to Salespeople About Social Media

Almost daily I see social media folks with good intentions suggest that cold calling is dead. They (incorrectly) write that selling is dead, that no one likes salespeople, and that even salespeople don’t like being salespeople.

With good hearts, they suggest things like changing your title to disguise that fact that you’re in sales. They insist that you abandon your outbound efforts and find your way to the promised land that is inbound marketing. In their mind, the ideas are mutually exclusive: you are either an old-school salesperson or you are enlightened, social-media wielding, non-salesperson.

Unless you want a career change imposed on you in the not-to-distant future, you should ignore this advice.

Advice Worth Taking

It reminds of an often told story about Gandhi. A mother waited all day to ask Gandhi to tell her diabetic son to stop eating sugar, that it was bad for his health, that it was harming him, and that it could kill him. Gandhi sent the mother and her child away, asking her to return to him in two weeks. The mother returned with the boy two weeks later. Gandhi told the boy directly to stop eating sugar. The mother asked Gandhi why he couldn’t have told the boy to stop eating sugar two weeks earlier. Gandhi replied that at that time he also was eating too much sugar.

Gandhi didn’t believe that he had the moral authority to tell the boy to stop eating sugar. He wasn’t willing to ask the boy to do something he wasn’t willing to do.

Social media provides a terrific set of tools for prospecting. These tools allow you to research your clients. They allow you to listen, to pay attention to what is interesting and important to your clients. The tools allow you to connect with your dream clients in a way that was never as easy as it is now. When used well, social media provides an excellent set of tools for lead generation.

But these tools work better for some than others. They work well for consultants. They work particularly well for social media consultants. By themselves, the social tools don’t provide enough opportunities for people that carry a quota. I promise you that no one that would dole out the advice that you use only social media would take their own advice were they selling what you sell—or carrying your quota.

Social media? Absolutely; you can’t be a Luddite, either! Exclusively? Not if you want to succeed and make your number.


What percentage of your existing opportunities came from social media?

What percentage of opportunities do you expect to generate through social media?

What percentage of your time and energy should spent investing in the social channels?

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  • http://www.5toolgroup.com/ Jay Oza


    This is a very good post.

    All the football and baseball games are on TV, yet both sports break attendance records every year. Why?

    In the late 90s, I used to see analysts come on TV and state that one will be able to roll a bowling ball in a mall real soon and not hit anyone. Well, more than ten years later, the malls still stand with people in them all over US.

    On the other side, I recently met couple of sales managers from a major IT company in NYC and discovered that they did not use social media at all. In fact, they did not even have Twitter accounts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/impactpeoplepractices Christine McLeod

    One of the most refreshing posts I have seen in a while! Looking forward to meeting you at Sales 2.0 – social media is not the magic wand- if someone can’t interact with others, build relationships in person, they certainly won’t be able to do it online- and those who believe the “online” is the only thing that matters- sadly mistaken.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      I couldn’t agree more. See you in July! Make sure to say hello!

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Amber King

    Social media is indeed a good place to generate leads. Like you said, it works for others and for others they do not. It is a matter of knowing how to reach your market.

  • king of sales

    cold calling IS dead – the only people that don’t know it are the fools still doing it (and their bosses who make them). Selling is alive and well – if you’ve moved up to the 21st century

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      I couldn’t be more honored that you weighed in here, Mr. Gitomer.

      Is this semantics?

      Are you suggesting that salespeople should NEVER pick up the phone and call a prospective client that isn’t already expecting their call? Or are you suggesting that they should do enough in front of that call to make it warm?

      So there’s no confusion, you’re not suggesting that salespeople write a blog, throw out a few tweets, update their Facebook status and wait for the inbound calls to come pouring in?


    • http://twitter.com/jkostyzak Jon Kostyzak

      I’m with the king on this…no reason to cold call with all the info available via the web…use that time to investigate the next prospect!

  • http://www.brandonuttley.com/ BrandonUttley

    TV didn’t kill radio (but it made for a more complete entertainment experience). DVDs didn’t kill movie theaters (but they made it easier and cheaper to watch more movies). Email didn’t kill off snail mail (but it made it easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly to send messages worldwide).

    Generally, the new thing doesn’t necessarily kill the old thing altogether. But it makes it a whole lot less effective in many cases. Such is the case with cold calling. It was a wretched practice to begin with, this auditory dart-throwing, and now there’s hardly an excuse for any call to be truly “cold” anymore. That’s where social media and other online tools help smart sellers educate themselves before picking up the phone for any reason.

    I agree with you, Anthony, social media by itself isn’t the answer to making your numbers. It’s a growing part of the sales person’s repertoire, certainly, but will never replace face-to-face and voice-to-voice in all sales situations, especially long, complex cycles.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brandon.

      I might go the other direction. Social media hasn’t made cold calling less effective. It’s made it more effective. Getting real, actionable information about your prospects was difficult. Now, it’s easier than ever. You can make a smarter call now.

      I agree with you that I don’t think it will replace the telephone or face-to-face, but then, I have clients now who prefer text to email.

      The interesting part about all of this is that our clients communication preferences are changing. Some still prefer the phone. Some still prefer face-to-face. Some prefer the first contact to come over LinkedIn. I believe we need to be agnostic to method, recognizing our clients have their own communication preferences.


      • http://www.brandonuttley.com/ BrandonUttley

        Anthony, that was my thought as well, that social media makes cold calling more effective, by taking out the cold part (with a nod to the awesome book of the same title by Sam Richter).

  • vniven

    As the CEO/founder of a new social prospecting tool (NeedTagger), I completely agree with your article. Breath of fresh air.

    Social lead gen/prospecting is just one of many ways to reach a potential customer.

    On our blog, we recommend keeping your Twitter prospecting time down to a few minutes to at most an hour each day. Our tool’s objective is to maximize the value you get in that time. LinkedIn usually deserves more time than Twitter, but it kind of depends on your type of business, as you said.

    And cold calling still works! If you’ve tried everything else and can’t fill your book, then that’s what you do. Every sales person who’s met their quota knows this – including social prospecting tool vendors!

  • http://www.obsessedwithconformity.com Jim Mitchem

    Social media is just part of the sales algorithm. A very important part – especially concerning the data available through these emerging digital channels. Researching prospects has never been easier in the history of sales. While I don’t necessarily endorse in the idea of people picking up the telephone to call prospects who aren’t expecting that type of correspondence – I definitely do believe in cold touches via email or social media. After all, every touch in social is a cold touch to begin with.

    You can’t kill off a technique (cold calling) though you can definitely use different technology. Cold calling is just as relevant as ever. It’s just not ‘calling’ anymore. I think the key is to utilize proven core sales concepts and push these techniques into the new channels. The sales algorithm has expanded beyond one or two ways to discover and touch prospects. It’s an exciting time to be in sales if you ask me.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      It is exciting, Jim. I think you’re right. There are a lot of channels, and we should learn to use all of them. I notice more and more that my client’s communication preferences are changing.

  • http://twitter.com/RussThoman The Responsive Edge

    One reason cold calling will never go the way of the cassette tape is that people don’t know what they don’t know. A buggy whip manufacturer in the late 1800s would never have thought to google “internal combustion engines.”

    “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” ~Henry Ford

    Great post, Anthony.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      Great point. More salespeople should think of insights and business acumen in those terms.

  • WilhelmtheSad

    While it is true that you can generate leads from social media here is reality: “if you have not spoken to a prospect before, it does NOT matter how much information you have about them or if you have chatted with them online…when you call them AND YES You will have to call them on the old telephone..THAT IS STILL A COLD CALL…you may know more about them BUT you still will not know if 1. they are able to purchase your product or service or 2. if they are willing to purchase your product or service. You will have to do the hard work, contact, speak with, listen to and then pitch….Sorry if you think you are now in some electronic utopia but people are NOT going to buy from you without some human interaction and they are not going to get that human “touch” with out personal contact.

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      I think you are right, Wilhelm, people still need the human interaction. Social media helps, but it isn’t a substitute for human connection.

  • http://twitter.com/MrMattYoung Matt Young

    Hi Anthony, I am one of those ‘social media types’ but I agree with what you are saying. SM is just a set of tools which allows us to communicate more easily with more people. It shouldn’t be there to replace anything, just compliment it. Of course, there will be exceptions to the rule but generally speaking, a company will need to market themselves correctly using traditional methods but add to that social media, and, if used correctly and with a little flair, sales will be increased. I am an advocate of beginning relationships online but then take them offline and either meet up or at least pick up the phone to really grow the relationship. Good post. I was driven here via you taking over Chris Brogan’s Sunday post… smart move Anthony :-)

    • http://www.thesalesblog.com S. Anthony Iannarino

      You’re spot on, Matt. I have another post on my editorial calendar that echo’s your response exactly!