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

 

  • Well, you nailed this, Chris. I may have clapped at my desk, while reading. I also may have snorted coffee out my nose at one point, too, but I won’t admit to it, if asked.

    Look, like you (I believe), I am actually a big fan of social selling, *done well.*

    I’d also like to see it happen more frequently, because I don’t see it very often.

    Oddly, many who shout the loudest about it (it is *way* over-hyped) don’t seem to want to acknowledge that the applicability varies by industry (good luck if you’re a pharma rep, selling machine tools, or working in thermodynamics). Or, given that I’ve read that 68% of CEOs don’t participate in social, if you sell to CEOs, I’d guess that would make social approaches a little tough, right? Hmm. Or, that social selling is just another tool in the tool belt and should be used appropriately, along with your other approaches… not as a replacement.

    I also wish the horrible approaches you outline (nice detail) were limited to social, but they’re not. Like you, I also have dozens of examples of horrendous prospecting approaches through InMail, email, phone, social, mail, you name it (I’d welcome carrier pigeon, at this point, or drone – at least it’d be a change of pace). A fool with a social tool, is just a louder fool.

    On the flip side, I do believe in social sales research (in addition to research through non-social sources), content marketing/social marketing, social nurturing, and yes, social selling – in the right situations – and done well. I’ve seen it work exceptionally well in many cases and recently read a good example of how a major sale was started and accelerated through Twitter. It can be done.

    And over time, I do believe it’s going to become more prevalent until it just becomes part of the fabric of how we sell. Assuming of course, that buyers continue to tolerate it, and we don’t completely turn them off in the interim, with the crazy behavior you cite here.

    Thanks for a great call-out, Chris, and stay the course.

    • Chris Snell

      Mike,

      Thanks for reading! I agree with you – social selling is not the only avenue that is getting sales wrong. I, like you, have many terrible examples of selling done poorly through the phone and email.

      Hopefully, as this method continues to grow, we’ll see more examples of winning sales versus losing them. So long as people are willing to keep improving, I think we may.

      Thanks again!

      Chris

  • Colin Patrick

    Good Article, It would be helpful if you included some good examples and not just all the bad ones. For reps and sales leaders that are starting their social selling journey sharing what does work would be helpful.

    • Chris Snell

      Hi Colin,

      Thanks for reading! If I had some good examples, I’d be happy to show you them; alas, I do not.

      My opinion as to what would work? Here’s the social process that I would take:

      1. Make your first interaction about your prospect. Maybe share an article with them that may be of interest to them. The key here is that it should not be a blog article from your company.
      2. Make your second interaction about your prospect.
      3. Make your third interaction about your prospect.

      At some point, when you feel like there’s been enough back and forth, and you think it’s time to talk business, I would initiate it with a question like this:

      “__________, I wondered if you knew anyone in your industry, maybe a colleague at another organization, who may have an interest in (fill in what your company does)?”

      Again, I’m not an expert, but that’d be my approach.

  • Hey Chris! Just curious how are you doing lead nurturing. Can we talk? J/k 😉 – great article and great points. Focus on the relationship first…Always!

    • Chris Snell

      HA! Funny, Jeff! Thank you very much for reading!

      • Jason Dailey

        Hi Chris,
        I would be interested in learning more about your inside sales processes. I run a inside sales group as well and would love to discuss some best practices. Please connect with me on linked in or send me and email, Jason@databaseusa.com
        databaseusa.com

  • There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about how to use LinkedIn and Twitter for sales.

    In my experience, when sales people see direct access to a vast number of potential prospects (like a giant buffet), they can’t help themselves! They go for the spray and pray / automated approach.

    In many cases, they’re trying to sell based on their needs, not my benefit. And / or, it’s absolutely clear they didn’t read my profile, because if they had, they would have clearly recognized I’m not a good prospect.

    However, when sales people use the valuable information provided on someone’s profile to better target their efforts and provide greater relevancy, the results are significant.

    In many cases, these sales people are just doing what their companies are telling them. We need to solve this problem at the company and sales leadership level in most cases.

    • I hate to commit this to the Internet in writing, Celina, but some days, I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding about how to sell. Period. Social is just another channel or access route. If we wouldn’t sit next to someone at a mixer and pounce & pitch, why would we do that through social sites? The answer is, I’m afraid, that we *would” sit down at the mixer and pounce & pitch. The fundamental problem is bigger. We need to elevate the behaviors and skills of our reps to emulate what true professional top producers do… on or off social media. [pause] *perk* Uh, hey… did someone say “buffet?”

      • Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. And if you can’t sell offline, you probably can’t sell online either.

        • Chris Snell

          Agree with both of you! It absolutely is a leadership issue.

        • Jill Rowley

          If you suck offline, you’re going to suck MORE online. Don’t Suck!

      • Lee Levitt

        Mike,

        I think we should distinguish between social selling and selling via social media. IMCO, social selling is about understanding your customer’s language of value and aligning with that, via whatever medium is appropriate — email, phone, chat in an elevator, chance handshake over a punchbowl at a fundraiser (planned months in advance, true story).

        • Sorry I missed this, Lee. I appreciate your point but have to disagree with your definition. We can’t just make the terms mean anything we want to conveniently fit our story. At least right now, the widely-recognized meaning of the phrase social selling IS selling through social media channels. Selling has always included IRL social events.

    • Great points Celina!

  • gate82

    Chris, Thought provoking post. In the e-mail example you gave are you saying that the rep shouldn’t have asked for a meeting? It’s real tough to get them if you don’t ask for them, even when everyone has the best of intentions.

    • Chris Snell

      Thank you!

      In the email example above, I’m saying that no, not in the first email should he ask for a meeting with me. He’s giving me a free resource (which I haven’t asked for, but that’s okay, he’s sharing) and following it up by asking how he can get on my calendar. I think his email would have had more impact on me had he stopped with just the resource. Maybe send me another a week later, and then make the ask.

  • Ed ONeil

    Thanks Chris, Great post.

  • “Social selling isn’t about you, it’s about your buyer.”
    I agree with this. The center of social selling is merely our customers. This is the best lesson any sales representative can learn. We are not just building links here but we build relationships. Great tips indeed. We just need to be wise here and think very well.

  • Great post. Thank you for writing it up. As a sales professional I find it very useful in terms of sales.