Bursting the Social Selling Bubble

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There’s plenty of hype around social selling these days and, frankly, Mike Weinberg is sick of hearing it. Learn why he’s dead set on dispelling social selling myths that aren’t just misleading, but flat-out dangerous.

You hear them everywhere these days — loud, shrill voices proclaiming that everything has changed, that social selling has replaced traditional prospecting and selling. In this week’s episode of Labcast, Mike Weinberg, founder of The New Sales Coach and one of OpenView’s Top 25 B2B Sales Influencers for 2014, explains why he believes that kind of thinking is dangerous, and why we should look to social as a supplemental tool rather than a replacement. Fair warning: This may get loud.

This Week’s Guest

“Many salespeople incorporate social in their repertoire and use it really well, but they still have to be really good at telling their story, at running a discovery session and identifying needs, at doing the hard work, at representing the company, and managing the deal well.”

Mike Weinberg, founder of The New Sales Coach

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Key Takeaways

  • The social selling balloon is leaking air fast — let’s just stick a needle in it and pop it. People are saying that everything that used to work doesn’t, that social selling is the answer, and that if you master it you will be the king of selling forever. This is exactly what the reactive, passive salesperson who is either scared to hunt or doesn’t want to hunt wants to hear. Telling them that they don’t need to proactively target, prospect, and pursue potential customers who haven’t already raised their hand is dangerous.
  • Myth: Buyer is 80% through the “buying process” before they are willing to engage or seek out a salesperson. Sure, this statement may apply to the reactive salesperson who is sitting around waiting, but no true proactive salesperson waits for buyer to be 80% down the path before engaging. By that point, too many of the cards have already been dealt and you may be forced to play a hand you may not like.
  • Don’t be late to the party. If you are waiting in reactive mode then you’re going to be late to the party and possibly last to the opportunity. That means you won’t have a hand in establishing the narrative. You won’t influence the buying criteria or help shape their buying process. Meanwhile, your more proactive competitor got in early and built a relationship before the buyer had urgency, a clear budget, and a clearer understanding of what they think their specific need is.
  • Stop calling it social selling. Call it what it is (marketing). Think of social as another tool in your tool box to help you identify potential customers and conduct pre-call activities such as research, etc. Social is great as an additional tool (not a replacement).
  • Social is awesome, but calls are still the ‘protein on the plate.’ The best use of social is as a supplement to traditional prospecting and sales techniques. Don’t be confused — connections and retweet are not sales metrics. Those who do well in sales are those who are good at the traditional aspects of selling, but can incorporate social into their repertoire.
  • 3 keys to transforming your results:
    1. Make a great list. Get strategic. Save time and energy to be proactive by going after one targeted list of prospects at a time.
    2. Sharpen your story. Stop talking about what you do and start talking about what you do for customers. Focus on what’s important to the customer.
    3. Be selfish with your time. The best salespeople time block. They spend a much higher percent of their time doing proactive selling, working on a strategic target list, asking great questions, and crafting a compelling story.

Transcript

Announcer: This is Labcast, ideas and insights for the expansion-stage senior manager hosted by OpenView Labs.

Jonathan: Hello everyone, welcome back to Labcast. This is your host Jonathan Crowe, OpenView Labs. With us today we have Mike Weinberg, he’s the New Sales Coach, author of New Sales Simplified. Mike, thanks so much for coming back. We had you last time back, I think around the holidays. We had a great Labcast around Stealing Back Your Productivity. Really appreciate you coming back on the program.

Mike: Oh, Jonathan, I love OpenView and I’m frankly just happy to speak with you and honestly, I’m surprised there’s not, like, a great depression over the city of Boston between the Red Sox collapse and then after watching the Patriots, this weekend, my goodness.

Jonathan: Ouch, Ouch. Too soon. I don’t know. There is a depression and unfortunately, we have the Celtics season to look forward to too.

Mike: Yeah, well, it is October here in St. Louis, which means it’s going to be a very unproductive month for baseball fans because it’s just another Cardinals post season. So now that I’ve got that out of the way. Thanks for having me.

Jonathan: Yeah, I know, and thank you for bringing that up. So, Mike, now, you know, you’ve brought a sore subject up for me, I’d like to bring a sore subject up to, for you, because I know there’s something that’s been bothering you lately and it’s something that I’ve been hearing a lot about. Something that a lot of our listeners have been hearing over and over, I’m sure too, and that is social selling. Can you tell me a little bit about what’s up with social selling? Why is it bothering you?

Mike: Yeah, you know, the idea itself isn’t bothering me, it’s what happened to it. It’s kind of just blown up all over the place and what drives me bananas is that there are some really loud and some pretty shrill voices that have large platforms, social selling experts with large platforms and they are out there telling the world, boldly proclaiming, everything has changed about selling, nothing that used to work, works, and that social selling is the only way, it is the answer and if you master this, you’re going to be, like, the king of selling forever.

And, it makes me crazy because it’s a lot of people that are frankly, new to the scene, and they’ve kind of jumped on the bandwagon and today, you know, they’re experts and they’re preaching some really, really dangerous things to people that want to hear what they’re saying.

Jonathan: All right, you used the word dangerous there, I mean, that’s a big word and so, I know a lot of the reaction to some of this stuff is okay. Social selling, you know, sure I’ll get on Twitter. How is that really going to move the needle for me? But, even beyond that, you’re saying this is kind of a, this is a dangerous thing to be really promoting. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Mike: Yeah, and I’ll circle back later and we can talk certainly, there’s a ton, a ton of benefit to connecting while we’re selling socially and using the various tools and platforms that are available and I’m a fan of that and we’ll circle back. But why I say it’s dangerous is because it’s like, it’s even hard to come up with an analogy, it’s dangerous because the people promoting social selling at the expense of traditional prospecting and sales techniques are basically, telling the typically reactive, passive, scared to hunt sales person exactly what they want to hear. They’re telling them, it doesn’t work anymore, you do not proactively target, you do not go pursue a potential customer that has not already raised their hand and is coming to you and proactive calling doesn’t work anymore.

So, the reason it’s so dangerous is the typical reactive salesperson, they love hearing that because they’re the one sitting there telling everybody, “Well cold calling doesn’t work anyway,” and there are these experts telling me, you know, I got to do all this, if I tweet and blog and connect, you know, with folks online and get in a linked in group and participate and I’m going to sell everything I need to and that’s why it’s dangerous because it’s what the itching ears of the struggling, passive salesperson really, really wants to hear. It’s like permission to be reactive and wait, so I hate it, hate it.

Jonathan: All right, and so, are you saying that this is kind of an extension, this sounds a little familiar in a way, you’re kind of saying, social selling now the call for, that this is the answer. Are you saying that this is kind of similar to what we were hearing maybe a couple of years ago with all inbound, essentially going back to the argument that cold calling is dead?

Mike: Oh my gosh, you nailed it, Jonathan, that’s exactly it. It’s the Kool-Aid being dished out in large portions and it’s being consumed as fast as those purveyors of Kool-Aid can make it. Yeah, it was the inbound craze and I wrote about this in my book, you know, three years ago, where it was exactly what we wanted to hear. Don’t do it, you know, we’ll do all this inbound stuff, they’re going to come running to you and it’s the same appealing message that comes from social. But, I’ll tell you why I’m encouraged though, as dangerous as this is and as much as it makes me nuts, dude, the social selling balloon is leaking air fast, fast.

There are lots of legitimate sales authors and trainers and folks finally starting to throw some rocks, you know, and take their shots at the fallacy that social is the fix for all, you know, for all sales ills. And I’m here to tell you, it’s great that the air has been leaking out of the balloon but I would like to stick a pin in it and pop it for good.

And, here, for the audience, here, I want you to hear who’s saying this, I’m on like a couple top 30 social sales influencer lists, like, I’m a huge fan of social, I’m not saying throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I would like to silence some of these loud voices telling us that everything has changed and they keep promoting these myths. We hear all these statistics and they keep telling us this stuff and it’s not helping the community, it’s not helping sales results.

Jonathan: Right, some of those, some of those myths that you’re bringing up, I’ve got a couple of the numbers here actually, I was looking up some social selling statistics before our call here and here’s some of the numbers that jump out, you know. This is one that’s widely reported that, you know, buyers can, 80% through the buying process before they seek out a salesperson.

Another one here we have, you know, 54% of social salespeople, whoever those people are, have tracked their social selling back to at least one closed deal. One closed deal, that’s maybe not a lot to write home about for some people, but that’s a stat they’re throwing out here too. Average cold calling appointment rate is 2.5%.

So, a lot of stats being thrown around here. Can you talk a little bit about those or some of the other myths that you heard?

Mike: Well, I’ll affirm the second stat. There are sales people that can point to success they’ve had from engaging on social media. They give the credit there, frankly, I’ll give credit. I have a couple long-term clients that found me through social. One of them came from a blog post that I wrote with a specific prospect in mind and got that in the hands of the right people.

After my deal had kind of gone dark on me and they kind of stopped responding, I wrote an article about issues that I knew were relevant to them and got it in their executive’s hands and within a week I had a face-to-face with the CEO and they became a long-term client. So, I saw that work. One of my longest-term clients met me on Twitter. Another sales blogger retweeted something that I had said. This gentleman read it and called me up. Heck, we’re good friends and he’s still my client three years later.

So, I believe that we can point to successes that came from planting seeds and networking and using social in a marketing, pre-selling, connecting research sense, which I think, frankly, is its best use.

But let me address that first stat. I get angry. If you haven’t heard the intensity in my voice yet, here it comes. That stat is crap. That’s a straw man. That stat that says the buyer is 80% of the way through the sales process before they’re willing to engage or seek out a sales person; I don’t know where that comes from. Everyone wants to quote it.

First of all, I think it’s a lie. Second of all, it’s not true. Third of all, it’s one of the greatest causes of sales short fall and lack of opportunities in the pipeline that I see across a variety of companies in many industries that I’m personally working with. That stat is only true if you’ve got a sales organization or a sales person who sits on their a** and waits for someone to call them or waits for that fantasy “Glengarry Glen Ross,” the hot leads to be handed to them by the sales manager or that the inbound marketing formula was perfect.

No true, proactive sales hunter who makes a living by finding and creating and identifying new opportunities is waiting until their buyer is 80% down the path before engaging the prospect.

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So, that stat is crap because it only applies to the non-proactive sales person that’s sitting around waiting. Does that make sense?

Jonathan: Yeah. Absolutely. The one word that I keep hearing over and over again in your discussion is proactive versus reactive. So, it seems like that’s kind of one of the main things that’s getting you riled up about this issue. For the people who are inclined to do so, it can really kind of promote being more reactive than you should be when sales is all about being proactive. Is that fair to say?

Mike: Yeah. Let’s go back in history here. I think part of the reason that people like me have so much business in our consulting and training practices is because a very large percent of the population of sales people today lived most of their careers during either good economic times or they were part of hot industries.

When you’re selling in a great economy or you’re part of an industry where you’re riding a wave, you can be reactive and still have a pretty good amount of success. If you know your product, if you’re relational, if you can handle inbound demand well, you can make a pretty good living when there are an abundance of leads and people knocking on your door. So, you could live in reactive mode.

But when your industry cools off or the economy slows down and you’re still charged with bringing in new business and you’ve done all the farming you can do and sitting around waiting for someone to give you a warm lead is a recipe for disaster. So, I’m all about proactive versus reactive. That leads to some consequences.

One of the things that really scares me about the continual promotion of that statistic that you go engage people socially but don’t dare call them or try to get a meeting because that’s inappropriate until the buyer is 80% down the process. The two major consequences come from that.

One, we have entire sales organizations that have empty pipelines because there aren’t enough opportunities being created or identified either through inbound or through social activity. So, we have a shortage of opportunities to work when we live in reactive mode. But I think even worse than that, if you are really waiting and you’re living your life as a sales person in reactive mode and the buyer is way down that path in the sales process before they engage you or, the way I would say it, before you engage them, then you end up being what I call late to the party. That’s one of my not-so-sweet 16 common reasons that I always talk about why sales people fail to get new business.

When you’re late to the party or last to the opportunity, then bad things happen to you. When you’re late, when you’re at the very end of the line because you waited for the potential customer to engage you, you didn’t influence their buying criteria. You didn’t help shape their buying process.

There’s a good chance at that point your more proactive competitor got in there early because they were not reactive and waiting. They actually went in to build a relationship before the deal was perfectly qualified, before the buyer had urgency and money available and a specific need and decision authority that minute, which is what happens when people over-qualify. I’ll circle back to that in a little bit.

So, if you’re late because you’re waiting, the buyer is down the path. You have a very hard time bringing value because your competitor is in the consultant’s chair. He or she got in there first. He started the relationship. They asked the good questions. They painted the picture of a brighter future and a different potential results. And then the buyer requirements started getting shaped.

By the time you’re being asked for a quote or to come make a presentation, you’re nothing more than a vendor who’s putting forth a solution. They don’t see you as a value creator at that point. You’re just another price. Unless you have an incredibly different product or a very low price, which is not often the case, we often don’t have the lowest price and our solution is not that much different. It’s very, very had to set yourself apart when you’re last to the party and late to the opportunity.

Jonathan: That’s a really powerful point. Switching gears just a little bit, we’re talking a lot about how sales people shouldn’t be thinking about social. What about ways they should be thinking about social and ways that they can actually use that to be proactive, putting that as a part of their other activities, their other work that they’re doing?

Mike: Yeah. Good question. Here’s how I see it. I see social, in fact, there’s even a movement right now among some authors I really like that I’m reading to stop calling it “social selling” because it’s really marketing. It’s research/presale activity.

Jonathan: Right.

Mike: So, if you take that approach to it, that social is yet one more tool in your toolbox or, maybe even better said, a variety of tools in your toolbox to help you identify potential customers, to help you research and learn more about what’s on the mind of people that should be on your target list. In my framework for developing new business, the first step is we select strategic targets that we need to pursue.

So, once you’ve identified a really good list of potential customers that look, smell and feel like your best clients, your best customers, once you identify those potential customers, as part of your research process, use social. Find those people on Twitter. Follow them. Get on LinkedIn and see what their updates are saying. What are they reading? What are they promoting? What groups are they in? You can even engage with them. Ask a question. Provide an answer.

Feel free to connect on LinkedIn. Please, everyone, I don’t know how many times we’ve all written about this—it’s sales malpractice if you send a generic LinkedIn invitation. It’s so easy today. You see someone’s profile and you want to connect and you just hit “connect” and LinkedIn sends that automatic generic, stupid, “Because you’re someone I trust, I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn.”

Is there anything more insulting than getting that note from a stranger that you know was a sales person? That’s not social at all. I ignore the many, many invites I get that are not personalized. So, for goodness sakes, if you want to connect with someone, take the extra 45 seconds and write a few sentences and a personal note about why you’re asking to connect with them. Maybe even include a little bit of your sales story.

So, those are a lot of ways you can use social; research, try to connect, Twitter, LinkedIn, other platforms, Google+, my goodness. You can bring value in a teaser-type fashion as you’re looking to plant some seeds before engaging someone in maybe a more traditional telephone dialogue or face-to-face meeting.

Jonathan: Right. So, using that as a supplement per se, using it to help your efforts but not getting too confused with the fact that connecting with someone on LinkedIn takes the place of something like a phone call and really just replacing that very necessary thing that every sales person knows they really need to do at the end of the day.

Mike: Yeah. In fact, you used a word right there I liked. You said supplement. I’ll quote my friend Anthony Iannarino, who wrote the forward to my book. He’s, I think, one of the great sales authors of today. He’s got the TheSalesBlog.com. He puts incredibly quality out every single day. The way he says it, he says that the telephone, like it or not, is still the protein on the plate. You can’t have a good meal without it. It’s an important part of our job.

The way I’ve been saying it, this is since a few years ago, but it’s even more true with social than it was with inbound, social is great. It is a great supplement. It is a great additional tool. But it is only a supplement. It is not a replacement for traditional prospecting in selling.

I’ll go so far, Jonathan, as saying to you as I look across my clients in all kinds of industries, high tech and low tech, small and big companies alike, short sales cycles and long, the people who are killing it today, who are bringing in new business, who have full pipelines and identify opportunities and move them through the funnel, the people that are winning those deals are the same people that always won those deals. They are good at the traditional aspects of selling.

Yes, many of them incorporate social into their repertoire and they’re using it really, really well. But they’re still good at telling their story. They’re still good at running a discovery session and identifying needs. They’re still good at overcoming objections. They’re still likeable and trustworthy.

They still, in a longer and complex sale, can visit with various stakeholders, build consensus. They talk to all different constituencies so when it’s time to present they have good data to share. They do the hard work and they quarterback a deal. They represent their company well and they manage the deal internally in their own company.

All those things that were always important in sales are still important. That’s why I want to kill, when I hear these loud voices in the social selling camps saying everything has changed because that’s crap. Everything has not changed.

Jonathan: So, I think we’re running a little bit out of time here. But before we go, I want to give you an opportunity to give some advice to the sales people out there who either are those people who have been doing the right things and they want to get a little better or the people who want to get up to that A-status, they want to start closing more. What are maybe two or three things that they can be focusing on that you think will really help them improve and get better results.

Mike: Yeah. I like the way you framed it. I’m really simple. If someone put a gun to my head and said, “Give me three things that will improve my sales,” I would say these three things.

Number one, make a great list. Get strategic and get buy-in from other people in your company. Who should you be targeting? Who looks, smells and feels like your best customer? I’m not interested in like reinventing the wheel. Let’s go down the path of least resistance and spend our energy and whatever limited time we have available to be proactive because we spend so much time not selling. The time that we are actually selling, let’s go after a really finite strategic list of prospects. That’s number one.

Number two, sharpen your story. Stop talking about what you do and start talking about what you do for clients. Their issues, their pains, their problems you solve, the new and better results you achieve. I’ll tell you, I listen to so many sales people who start their sales story with, “We’re a supplier,” or, “We’ve been in business for 90 years and we’re family held,” or, “Our proprietary process…” No one cares. Stop talking about what you do and sharpen your story so you talk about what’s important to the customer. That would be the second issue. That can transform your results alone.

The third thing is as simple as it gets. Get more selfish with your time. That’s what you and I talked about back in the holidays with being selfishly productive and people should go back and listen to that Labcast from, I think it was December we put that out. The best sales people today guard their calendars. They time block. They fill up their calendars so other people can’t. They don’t let people put work on their desks and they spend a much higher percent of their time doing proactive selling, working on that strategic target list I talked about. They ask great questions and they tell a compelling story. That’s what I say works.

Jonathan: That’s great.

Mike: Make a list. Sharpen your story and then spend more time doing it. Period.

Jonathan: That’s great. Mike, I love it. Great advice. Thank you so much for coming back on with us. I want to tell everybody who’s listening to go right now to Mike’s website, NewSalesCoach.com. Check out his blog. It’s got great stuff coming out regularly. Check out the book, “New Sales Simplified.” Mike, is there anywhere else that people can go to get in touch with you, maybe even social?

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. Hey, that social thing is pretty cool, isn’t it? Yeah. I’m pretty active on Twitter. You get a pretty interesting smattering of some of my personal views and my football fandom and sales tips. About once a week, I go on a crazy rant when a client does something that makes me nuts and I throw ten tweets out there about the same topic. @Mike_Weinberg.

Jonathan: That’s great. All right. Well, thank you again, Mike. Always a pleasure having you.

Mike: I love talking to you, Jonathan. Thanks to you and everyone at OpenView.

Jonathan: All right. Take care. Thanks everyone for listening in.

 

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