The Most Important Social Selling Lesson an Inside Sales Rep Can Learn

Business Relationship

Today’s guest post is from Chris Snell, Director of Inside Sales for Care.com.

Social selling has to be one of my least favorite topics to read about, to hear about, or to write about.  In fact, if you go through all of the blog articles I’ve written, I don’t think you’ll find one that is about social selling.

Until today.

I’m not going to tell you that I’m an expert at social selling, because I’m not.  I don’t practice social selling, nor do I encourage my team of inside sales reps to (at least not the ones focused on SMB’s).  I have mixed feelings about social selling because I’ve yet to see someone do it well enough that I think, “hmm…this could work.”

To the social selling gurus, mavens, and thought leaders, I say this:  You still have a shit ton of work to do to hammer the point below home.  If the sales reps who try to “social sell” me have been attending your seminars, reading your blog posts, or listening to your podcasts, they have not been paying attention.  They’re sullying your good name all for the sake of making a fast sale.

To the sales reps that are currently practicing some form of social selling, I say this:  Read this first, then proceed.  Trust me when I tell you, you’re going to be way better off because of it.  I want for you to be more successful at your craft, and what I’m about to tell you is going to help you.

At its core, social selling is a method.  It’s a way to reach out to a prospect that you do not know without coming across as such.  Instead of picking up a phone and dialing without having done any research on your prospect, a social selling tactic would be to look up their profile, find something that you may have in common with your prospect, and use that as a means to break proverbial conversation bread with them.  This is absolutely a great practice, but unfortunately, I believe (and again, I’m only speaking from my experience) it’s being driven by the wrong lever.  It’s being driven by the lever of “closing business,” and this, dear reader, is going to cause you to fail each and every time.  Are you ready for the big secret?  The most important social selling lesson an inside sales rep can learn?  Here it is:

Social selling isn’t about you, it’s about your buyer.  It’s about building a relationship.  The minute you think that practicing social selling tactics are going to close deals for you, is the minute you need to realize that you’re doing it all wrong.  You need to re-focus.

Let me give you an example.

I try to follow as many sales-focused individuals as I can on Twitter.  I enjoy learning and I know that the amount of selling and sales leadership knowledge that I have can fill an ant’s thimble in relation to the combined information that is out on the interwebs.  So here’s a direct message that I receive upon following a social-selling-practicing “Product Evangelist” (her title):

Social Selling

She thanks me for following (that’s nice! J), and then proceeds to ask me a leading question (that’s bad! L)  I know that she’s asking me about my go-to lead nurturing tactics because she wants to sell me something.  How do I know that?  When I look at her profile and go to her company’s website, I see that they’re developing a product that helps salespeople to, “quickly identify valuable sales opportunities.”  Instead of trying to build a relationship with me, her new prospect, she bypasses that to get to what she wants to talk about, which is her product.  What could she have done?  She could have asked me questions like, “What other sales leaders do you follow?  Any suggestions?”  Something that gets me to engage in a conversation with her.  What did I do?  I did nothing, I didn’t respond.

Four days later, I receive the following direct message from her:

social selling

Again, this message is all about what they want to talk about, not at all about what I may be interested in.  If I say yes to her request to talk, I know it’s going to be about her sales opportunities identification tool.  Also, why does she think I’ll really like their platform?  I let this one go.

Seven days later and another direct message shows up:

sales

That last sentence is like the nail in the coffin.  “Can we chat about our lead nurturing intelligence?”  All about them, not about me at all.  I received 3 more messages from her within the span of 2 weeks that were all basically the same, with each DM asking me for time so that she could talk about herself.  This is not social selling.

Twitter isn’t the only place where social selling goes amok, though.  Here’s an email that I received from a sales rep who’s trying to find common ground with me through a Twitter connection:

Twitter

This could have been a good email if the sales rep had just let their article stand-alone by itself.  Instead, he closes the email asking how he can get on my calendar.  See, he pushed it and went too far.  If he had just left the article as the close to the email, I’d think, “Hmm…that’s nice.  I’ll check that out.”  Instead, I know what he’s doing; he’s trying to appear as a trusted advisor by sending me a sales focused article, but what he really wants is to sell me his product.  What he doesn’t know is that the colleague that he’s referring to tried to hit me up via Twitter message, too, with a poor attempt at social selling:

Twitter

It’s not going to work.

While the examples I’ve given are few, there are plenty of others littered in my LinkedIn inbox, Twitter DM stream, Outlook, and Gmail accounts.  Social selling has its merits when it’s done correctly, but when done wrong, it’s really bad and puts all of us in the sales industry in a bad light.  If you’re a sales leader, do your reps a solid and teach them not to sell this way.  If you’re a sales rep, do yourself a favor and take heed to the most important social selling lesson you can learn:

Social selling isn’t about you, it’s about your buyer. 

Chris Snell has been building inside sales teams since 2002. Chris is currently Director, Inside Sales for Care.com, helping businesses connect with families and hire new employees through marketing and recruiting services. Chris lives in Southeastern Massachusetts with his wife and two children. You can connect with Chris on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Initial Photo from Prasanth Chandran