How Social Selling Jumped the Shark

There aren’t too many people who believe as deeply as I do in the power of the social tools in business. And yes, salespeople can use these tools to good effect. So this is going to sting a little bit, but here is the truth:

Social Selling has jumped the shark.

  • Too much hype. It’s never good to overpromise and under deliver. But that is what social selling has done. It has been offered as the panacea to all the problems that ail sales organizations, and in doing so, the case has been greatly overstated. Wait. It gets worse.
  • The social selling pitch has misled salespeople and sales organization. I am not sure why the social selling proponents have felt that their best argument for using social tools was to suggest that all other methods of prospecting no longer work. The tools have value without making such claims. But too many people have believed this claim, and to their detriment. Honestly, I do know why the proponents of social selling target traditional prospecting methods; that is the primary area where social tools create potential value.
  • Misreading of trends and research. Buyers are on the Internet. Why? Because everyone is on the Internet. The fact that buyers have a LinkedIn profile and a Twitter account provides no more evidence that they want an email or a connection request from a salesperson than a telephone proves they want a phone call. Let’s say I am wrong. Let’s say that buyers are burning up the web getting the evaluation stage of their buying process. That doesn’t change what salespeople need to do to succeed. In fact, it would make those actions more necessary–and more urgent.
  • The words “social selling” don’t match the outcomes salespeople need. The social tools are spectacular for researching your dream clients. For a salesperson with already great prospecting chops, they are incredibly useful. But the social tools only deal with targets above the funnel. They create awareness, brand recognition, and an opportunity to connect. They even allow you to ask for an appointment, should you be so old school. But the tools don’t lend themselves to most of what salespeople do outside of prospecting and nurturing.
  • Proponents sell the idea that to sell you have to not sell. The proponents of social selling suggest that the best way to sell is to not sell at all. Instead, you are supposed to be helpful. This pitch is very appealing to a certain segment of people who carry the title of salesperson without really embracing the role. This idea is causing salespeople and sales organizations to produce results that are less than they should be. It’s too passive. It assumes that inbound opportunities are enough or are somehow more valuable than outbound opportunities. There is nothing about outbound that makes it inherently more self-oriented than inbound.
  • The social curriculum isn’t aligned with real sales outcomes. The curriculum for some of the social selling courses I have seen are mostly built on the proper use of the tools, like setting up a good LinkedIn profile, and writing a good introduction email. They’re built on the idea that “connecting” and “sharing” is the goal. These ideas drive awareness, build your personal brand, and may even allow you to nurture your dream client. These are more marketing than sales. The real goal in any social selling program should be appointment-setting. In fact, I might sign up for a course called: “Appointment-setting using LinkedIn.” Or maybe, “How to Make the Ask Using LinkedIn.”
  • Like social media marketing, anyone with command of the tools is an expert. Try to find a social media marketing expert now. The people with true marketing chops ran away from this title years ago, when every marketing person with a blog and a Twitter account self-identified as an expert. Now they recognize themselves as content marketers or work in digital marketing. Some of the best people in this space never called themselves social media marketers at all, recognizing that the tools were not the deep, underlying force at work but enablers. But a command of the tools doesn’t translate to being able to help produce the main outcome for salespeople, namely acquiring new customers.
  • People with great prospecting chops are great at social too. The salespeople that are good on the phone, good in a room, and good in a face-to-face meeting with a prospect are also good when it comes to using the social tools. They have the requisite confidence. But the folks that lack the confidence in real life, aren’t much better with the social tools. Mostly they hide behind email, afraid to ask for the commitments they really need to create or win an opportunity.
  • The people who benefit the most from social tools and content marketing are entrepreneurs and thought-leaders. Salespeople can’t (or shouldn’t) publish. There is a difference between being a content creator and a curator. Both roles have value, but content is still King (or Queen), and it’s the creator that benefits the most from its sharing. Salespeople need marketing to give them the insights and the tools to share ideas that create value and nurture a relationship. Marketing applies these tools broadly. When salespeople market, it must be done one-to-one, as that it the nature of the relationship.

By pretending to be too much, social selling is too little. It could be more. It should be more.

The professional proponents of using the social tools understand the value that they create, but they don’t overstate that value. They also readily admit that the social tools do nothing to replace traditional prospecting approaches, but rather, they supplement them.

If you are in business-to-business sales, you need to use the social tools. Especially the most useful tool in this regard, LinkedIn. Then you need to go back to doing the work of selling.

Filed under: Sales 3.0, Social Media

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