Go Beyond Social Selling

At the first of the year, I talked about what I believe lies ahead for the profession of selling. At least in 2014. More of the same dismal sales results we’ve seen for years can be expected IF teams simply do what they’ve always done.


Optimistically, I’d like to believe that sales leaders will step up to radically change how their sales organizations operate. Having finally accepted that “coffee is for closers” sales tactics have dulled in effectiveness, leaders will expect their sales people to do more than pitch and passively wait for orders to roll in. This is the year that leaders will invest in developing the business skills of their team members and the sales process that they follow. Why? Because buyers expect more.

And yet… revenue success requires so much more than simply making improvements in the Sales department.

We’ve been talking about Buyer 2.0 and Social Selling for so long now that it is becoming a big yawner. For me anyway. In the years since I’ve been evangelizing social for business and the three years since my book The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media was published, I’m surprised at how basic today’s conversations related to social media marketing and social selling remain. If I read one more blog post from an expert telling sellers how to “tune up” their LinkedIn profiles or create a lead search, I might have to hang myself. By now, if you are a seller and it has completely escaped your attention that buyer behavior has changed, or that leveraging social strategies as part of your sales process is not an option, well then, you might as well retire now.

Let’s get beyond today’s social selling conversation.

Buyer expectations are not standing still. The bar is rising – and fast! Buyer 2.0 made it clear that they were circumventing the early stages of what we formerly knew as the traditional sales process. Crappy salesmanship made it inevitable that this would happen. The Internet, social networks, peer reviews, data at our fingertips and word of mouth recommendations have made it possible. Buyer 2.0 wanted to work with a different kind of seller entirely. One who understands their business and functions as an advisor not an order taker. As Jonathan Farrington of Top Sales World puts it, customers and prospects are still marching, but not to your drum.

Buyer 3.0 has expectations that go far beyond what current social selling rhetoric largely focuses on. This buyer expects companies to WOW them with great experiences at every touch point in the process of moving them from prospect to customer. A go/no go decision can happen with the first marketing email they receive, webinar they attend, your cumbersome and complicated phone system, or your over eager sales reps hounding them after they downloaded a white paper. Every interaction – positive and negative – leads to revenue or not. And if you think that once a customer always a customer…think again. Most companies are not taking the idea of creating WOW experience seriously enough.

Revenue goals aren’t achieved by sales alone. That’s the big fat elephant in the room. Sales may carry the quota and the bag, but other functional departments – Marketing, Service, Operations, Accounting – play a big role in a win or a loss. Rather than expecting Sales to shoulder the entire burden, I crazily think that all executives, department heads and employees need some portion of their performance and salary tied to revenue goals. It isn’t enough to assume that people will do the right thing because they earn a paycheck.

Let’s stop talking about the tactical aspects of “social selling” – great profiles, status updates, search lists, sales research – as if that’s all it takes to succeed in today’s competitive business environment. Don’t misunderstand me. These things are important but they are a fraction of the bigger picture.

If you thought that Buyer 2.0 came out of nowhere, watch out. Buyer 3.0 is demanding more, and they know what you fail to recognize…your company isn’t the only game in town!

Failing to Plan

Regardless where you may live in the world, you no doubt have heard about the “Snowpocalypse” that hit Atlanta on Tuesday. To people outside of Georgia, it appears that we are a bunch of southern idiots who can’t handle 2-3 inches of snow. If you didn’t know any better, you might mistakenly think that the city, as well as Atlanta drivers are “unaccustomed” to snow and are therefore ill equipped to handle the challenges. Well, let me shed some light on the story.atlantasnowstorm

The meltdown can literally be called a perfect storm due to the confluence of events that came together at once. No plan and no leadership led to chaos and fast.

Storm warnings were ignored. Precautionary measures to prep the streets did not happen. Schools were not closed. Parents went to work. When snowfall began, schools then decide to close. Parents rush out in mass to try and reach their kids. Corporate employers start telling everyone to go home. Rather than the timing being staged, the mass exodus of several hundred thousand people clogged freeways and side streets bringing everything to a grinding halt. And the final coup de gras is that the state had the necessary storm equipment to handle the situation (we basically had nothing in 2011 and in years prior) but once roads were blocked, responders could not get through to sand the streets. As a result, snow quickly turned into sheets of ice.

I’ve lived in Atlanta 17 years. This isn’t our first snowrodeo. Reading some of the media reports, you might get the impression that Atlanta has never had a serious snow storm. The “snowcation” of January 2011 shut the city down completely for 5-days and then some. Truckers and other drivers were trapped for three days on I-285, a major interstate that circles the city. Yesterday’s Throwback Thursday picture on my Facebook page clearly showed the snow storm that hit us in 2010. I remember at least four other instances prior to 2010 when we had serious snow and ice storms. Every single time government officials say, “We will do better next time.” Folks this was next time; they didn’t do better.

Some of this years storm madness can be chalked up to our city, state and school officials making grievous errors in judgment. Not once but several times throughout the situation. At the same time, making elected officials the sum total target of our ire and blame isn’t exactly fair. The hundreds of thousands of people who chose to ignore the storm warnings, keep their kids home and stay off the roads are responsible too. I mean really…you trust the government to do your thinking for you? You could argue that if many of Atlanta’s employers had been a little more responsible, they might have insisted that their employees work from home.

There were certainly bright spots during the chaos of it all but so many of the challenges these last few days could have been avoided entirely.

So what does this have to do with selling?

No plan leaves you drifting along with the current. Like a rowboat without oars, you are left at the mercy of circumstances and people who can stall your sales success. Maybe you’ll hit quota, maybe you won’t. Without a plan to follow, you’ll lack focus, waste time, make poor decisions and you will be unprepared with contingencies when problems arise.

Learn from the lessons of Atlanta Snowpocalypse. If you expect to hit sales goals, plan for how you’ll get there. Don’t trust anyone else to do it for you or risk being left in the cold.

Talk is Cheap

In 2005, I wrote an article outdated customer service. It is now 2013, and I’m still asking the same questions about service and customer experience as I did back then.

Person Annoyed by Others Talking

When it comes to delivering a service experience that WOWS are most companies talking rather than doing?

At the time that I wrote my article, I quoted Tom Peters from his book The Pursuit of Wow in which he said, “70% of customers hit the road not because of price or product quality issues, but because they did not like the human side of doing business with the provider of the product or service.”

It doesn’t feel like much has changed. Yes, companies like Zappos and Amazon WOW. But what about all the thousands of other brands out there?

I recently read a blog post penned by Frank Eliason, Director of Global Social Media at Citi. In his post, he says that “One of the reasons the Customer experience is broken at many companies is we have tried to force the Customer into our view instead of taking the Customer view.” Exactly. I couldn’t agree more. How often are companies insisting that their employees walk in the shoes of their customers? How often is the boss going “undercover” to really see what’s going on?

We’ve had rapid advancements in technology – digital, mobile, social networks – in the past 10 years. More people can be reached faster and in more unique ways, but what good does any of that do if you talk about service but never actually deliver. As buyers, have we become so accustomed to mediocre service or worse that we just tolerate it?

Customers want to work with those businesses who demonstrate a sincere desire to help them with anything they need, and they are willing to pay for it. Yes, they want products to work and services that meet their needs. More importantly though, they want people who care that what they sell does their business no harm.

Major departments inside organizations continue to work in silos. Pour a little social media into the mix and the problem is exacerbated. Proudly proclaiming to the world that you provide service and support via Twitter means nothing if you never respond to complaints shared on your page. It happens all the time.

I’m going to be talking a lot more about customer experience in the coming days and weeks. Businesses need to start realizing that there is no “linear” path that a prospect now takes on the way to becoming a customer. Marketing, sales and service folks all need to work together to define and deliver exceptional experience at every touch point in the prospect–to-customer life cycle. Beyond the feel good aspect of delivering WOW experiences, there is financial gain as well.

Is providing great a rich and robust customer experience really that difficult?

I’ll close with these words from IBM founder Thomas Watson who said, “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work”.

No is a Complete Sentence

For a long time, I’ve struggled with saying no to people. Hard to say if it is simply my natural inclination to want to help out, or my ego feeling puffed up because someone wants my help. It could be a little of both. Either way, saying yes to the wrong activities has very often gotten me in trouble.iStock_000016608876Small

The curious thing is that I’m not alone. I ran a quick web search on the phrase “hard time saying no” and in .85 seconds, I receive 450,000,000 results. Clearly, I’m not the only one with a problem.

For years I have pondered why I have difficulty saying no. After all, I have friends and colleagues who are masters of no, never giving it a second thought. Not me. Uttering the word used to eat at me. I felt guilty. I felt like a jerk.  It stressed me out to cancel something when I should never have agreed to it in the first place. Worse is when I’d honor the commitment but then be completely ticked off at myself for wasting my time.

Without learning to say “no”, here are just a few of the things that are likely to happen:

  • Your priorities become secondary and you may end up never getting to them.
  • Acquaintances burn time you can spend on your goals, your hobbies or with friends and family.
  • Burn out.
  • Lack of focus by allowing yourself to be pulled in competing directions.
  • There is no time left to say “yes” to the really important opportunities that come along.

I don’t remember exactly where I heard it, but it is said that, “No is a complete sentence.” As simple as that sounds, it still feels a little harsh to me. What I’ve done instead is thought about the various requests I’ve received through the years and have a plan for what I’ll say when the next ask comes along.

Here are three examples…

If you want a “pick your brain” meeting with me, be prepared to send me a written agenda and the clear purpose for the meeting. NOTE:  this stops about 99% of all requests. Should I agree to meet in person, it will cost you more than a cheap lunch. Dinner at an upscale restaurant and a really nice bottle of red will get you in the neighborhood of my typical consulting fee.

Want to meet to talk about how we might “partner”? A first meeting in person isn’t in the cards, but I may agree to a 15-minute exploratory call. You’ll need to give me a compelling reason why 15-minutes is worth it. You can start with the agenda.

If you want me to speak at your conference, you need to pay my fee. I’ve racked up plenty of “visibility” thank you very much. When I do say yes, don’t make ridiculous demands on my time. I don’t send my presentations weeks in advance.

Going forward…

At the start of the year, I blogged about going big, big, big, which will be tough to do unless I remain selfishly focused on what matters most to me. I want to encourage you to be selfish too.

Looking back on the first month of 2014, I’m pleased to say that I’ve done a great job turning down requests that don’t fit my purpose and plan. Go Barb! It isn’t all perfect though. I have some egg on my face for agreeing to at least one project that sounded great at first, but ultimately wasn’t a fit for me. It is embarrassing to back out.

Simon Sinek asks, “What’s your why?” I’m asking, “What’s your no?”

Traits of a Social Selling Rockstar

As I’m on my way to Seattle to work with a client, I have been having a most interesting conversation with my seat mate. It is always refreshing to talk with like minded people in the world of selling. Both of us have been in the business for quite some time and both agree that the more things change, the more they always seem to stay the same. iStock_000014779452Medium

Social selling aside, in other words the ability to use social technology to support your sales activities, there are core traits that define top Sales Rockstars. I don’t think that will ever change.

1. They are chameleons. My colleagues over at CEB might disagree with me, but I think the ability to adapt to different personality styles makes a big difference in successful selling. Years ago, I sold the same way to everyone. Miss optimistic. Suzy cheerleader, I would discover didn’t work for everyone. If I was meeting with a decision maker who had a high need for details, my “we can do it” attitude didn’t exactly win them over. Later, I would become certified in DiSC and learned that different personality styles have different needs. The extremely detailed person wants detailed answers to their questions. Cheerleading won’t cut it.

2. They listen. Too many sales people these days are enamored with the sound of their own voice. They talk and talk and talk and talk and… OMG, they bore their prospects to death. Listening is not about pretending to be interested while waiting for your moment to pounce with your pitch. Listening is being present. Listening with all of your senses to learn about what is important to your prospect and gain greater connection with them.

3. They care. Once in a management meeting, a peer of mine accursed me of being too touchy feeley because I had the audacity to believe that caring about what was important to others meant something. Call me old school, but I believe Ziglar, Carnegie and other greats who remind us that when you care enough to help others get what they want, you win too.

4. They are learners. I believe that sales people who put a high priority on learning have the ability to relate to people at all levels. I realize that the ability to create great “relationships” is not the only factor in winning deals. Still, people buy from people, and if you can’t connect with them, it will be tough to secure the meeting and advance the deal. Avid learners, however, position themselves as someone bringing fresh insight to the table and being able to challenge the status quo based on their breadth and depth of knowledge and experience.

5. They have vast networks and cultivate referrals constantly. I am a huge fan of Joanne Black of No More Cold Calling fame. She is one of the most ardent proponents for referral selling, and guess what, she’s right. Yes, I’m a huge supporter of using social media to augment your sales process AND cultivating a reputable referral network should always top your priority list. When I have been introduced by someone trusted and respected by the decision maker…I got the appointment. Hard to beat how a referral introduction can get you in the door…fast. After that you are on your own.

What do the super star social sellers do in addition to the 5 traits above?

  • They know they are simultaneously a brand and representing one at the same time.
  • They accept that buyer behavior has absolutely changed. They merge the tried and true with what works now.
  • They understand that pitching is dead. Sharing educational and informative content is what demonstrates credibility and  brings prospects to their doorstep.
  • They don’t live in the past. What worked back in the day has lost effectiveness. Adapt, adjust, thrive.
  • They know that “social” isn’t for the kids. Anyone interested in keeping their skills fresh will up their game day in and day out.

Rockstars evolve and only get better. Will you differentiate or stagnate? Up to you…






Implementing Social Selling

“The correct implementation of Social Selling gets your team appointment inside target prospects. These meetings are net new sales opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise had. This drives an increased number of qualified buyers of your product into the funnel. Your team sells more. Revenue increases.”

On a sales blog that I follow, written by people that do good work, a recent post began with the paragraph noted above. It is just the sort of hype that I am determined to keep calling out. iStock_000017143933MediumNothing promised in those five sentences is a given when implementing a social selling strategy. Let me break down why.

First, no matter how well crafted and implemented your social selling initiative is you still cannot guarantee that your sales team members will book more appointments. 

You can do the due diligence and craft a bang up strategy. You can put the right processes in place to support that strategy. You can deliver training to your sales people and put reinforcement and refresher mechanisms in place. You can create great content for sales people to share. You can redesign social profiles to speak to the prospect from their point of view. And…

None of these activities guarantees you will get net/new meetings. Get you in the running? Yes. Automatically get the appointment? No. It all depends, and always will, on HOW sales people sell themselves. What they say and do when engaging with a prospect… how they go about building the relationship and demonstrate credibility before they ask for the meeting… technology takes you so far. It is the sales approach that makes the difference.

Second, a correctly implemented program does not increase the number of qualified buyers in the sales funnel. This happens IF your sales people know how to qualify opportunities.

In a well thought out social selling program, your sales people learn how to better “target” the ideal buyer. That’s step 1. Next is finding a way to engage them without selling them. That’s step 2. When the time has come that a meeting is agreed upon, qualification then rests on your sales people’s ability to do that well. That’s step 3. At this stage, you need to know that the core questions that determine buying motivation have been asked. Is there some burning initiative inside the company that is driving this opportunity forward? Is there budget already approved for the project? Is the decision process understood? Does your company need to be on the vendor list, and if so, what does that require? These are just some of the questions that determine if a sales opportunity exists and if it should be pursued. Saying yes to watching your demo does not mean a deal is on the table.

Third, your team sells more when net/new meetings are set with targeted prospects?

Are you kidding? If that were true then 50% of sales people would NOT have missed quota in 2013. Since when did getting more meetings mean sales people sell more and revenue increases? In theory, that should happen, but every sales leader out there knows exactly how often sales meetings go nowhere.

When executed upon properly, using social as part of the selling process can certainly increase the number of net/new meetings. Our clients often report an increase of 30%, 40% and sometimes higher. It would be awesome if those percentage increases happened across the board, but social selling aside, it is rare to see improvement with 100% of your sales people as a result of training them. Again, the ultimate success outcome in selling – more meetings, more qualified leads, more closed deals relies on the individual sales skills of your people. Always has, always will.

Here’s a blinding flash of the obvious…  Sales people sell more and revenue increases IF they know how to sell.

There seems to be some collective assumption that sellers today have the sales skills they need. Mix in social media and bam… you have social selling superstars driving revenue numbers through the roof. Even if every single sales person in your sales organization has nicely branded social profiles and are proficient at using the technology correctly, all of it flies out the window if they can’t sell. When did sales management lose sight of this basic principle?

I know highly respected industry leaders in sales who predict that by 2020, 80% of most sales people won’t be needed at all. A few years ago, I laughed at that prediction. Not anymore. I’ve seen enough poor selling and some of the most horrific sales emails to now believe that pretty soon, once and for all, the wheat will be separated from the chaff. Companies will not continue to pay for sales people who can’t perform. The sales people who can will be in hot demand and command top dollar!

As a sales leader, I know the pressure you feel to increase revenue and pipeline. But a nice social profile and a few interactions in a social network won’t do it. Ensuring that every sales person in your sales organization has superb selling skills should be your #1 top priority.

I feel like a broken record, but I’ll keep shouting at the top of my lungs, technology is an ENABLER. That is it! If your sales people can’t sell, they can’t win deals!

I’m Too Busy

I’m a life long believer in learning. Success in life and business requires that we continually hone our skills and up our game. In selling, the more informed you are about a variety of topics, the easier it is to relate to people at all levels. Knowledge is power. Buyers are looking for sellers who can educate them on what they don’t know, and I am not talking about the features and benefits of your products or your company history.business woman sitting on clock

I’m too busy are three of the most annoying words ever. Annoying because they are an excuse. An excuse for not following through on something important and using “I’m too busy” as the reason why. No one is blessed with more time in the day, week, month or year than anyone else. In that way, we are absolutely 1000 percent equal. Everyone has 24 hours each day and 8,760 hours available in a normal year. Where you CHOOSE to spend your time is the difference.

I put a priority on learning. All successful people do. Sellers committed to excellence are typically in the top 10% of earners. Learning is something that you make a priority, like eating healthy foods or exercising on a daily basis. When it comes to engaging prospects and increasing your odds of closing sales, the sellers who are the most business savvy and understand what is important to their prospects and customers win! Robotic demo dollies will keep scraping by.

Ongoing learning is important. The more skilled you are at your craft, the more successful you will be. The more you know about your prospects business, their industry, their competitors, their challenges, the more important you become to them. Knowledge becomes a competitive advantage that leads to more opportunities. If you have the right skills, chances are that you’ll close more deals.

On a daily basis I read articles and blog posts from a variety of sources. I attend complimentary webinars or listen to podcast interviews. Book reading never ends for me. What I find interesting is the number of people who say to me, how do you have time? I’m just so busy, I never seem to be able to… read the book, watch the video, improve my sales skills, listen to the webinar, take the training course, learn to use social media, research my prospects in depth…the list goes on.

I don’t use sports analogies much, but I just watched Miracle for the umpteenth time. I don’t know if it is possible to be more inspired by a movie based on actual events. The 20 men who became the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that beat the Russian squad, considered invincible at the time, were already stellar players on the ice when the team came together. Herb Brooks, the legendary player turned coach who led the team to victory, knew that no matter how good these players currently were, it wasn’t enough. In order to win, every player had to significantly increase their skill, stamina and ability to play as a single minded unit. Herb specifically chose players he knew were up to the challenge, because without that commitment to improve and excel each day, it is debatable if the team would have won against the Russians and then gone on to win the gold medal.

Whether your company invests in sales and social selling programs or not, you need to be committed to your own growth and development. You should be learning something new every single day. Sales superstars are always willing to invest in themselves. Yes, you need to know your products and services, but you’ve got to get beyond your own dog food. Venture outside the corporate walls and broaden your horizons.

With the advances that have been made in technology, your mobile device is now your personal university. Your own ivy league repository of real-time education that is constantly with you. Even with busy schedules there are countless opportunities when you can be learning. For example…

  • When you are waiting for your sales meeting to get started.
  • Driving in your car to your next appointment.
  • Sitting in the car pool line.
  • Waiting for your name to be called at the doctor’s office.
  • Before the airplane doors are slammed shut.
  • Waiting for your colleagues to join you at lunch.
  • Standing in line at the DMV.

Predictions are that by 2020, 80% of sales people will no longer be needed. Yes, that includes sellers in B2B complex selling environments too. If you plan to be in the 20% with the other Sales Rockstars out there, I highly recommend you put learning on the front burner. When you commit to learn, you earn!

So what’s it going to be? Gold medal winner or distant could have been?

Telling Isn’t Selling

Businessman sleeping at the presentationAt lunch with a colleague last week, we chatted about how the sales people at his client account operate. Not surprisingly, it is standard practice during a sales meeting to walk prospects through 44-slides of yada, yada, yada that begins with extensive detail about the long, successful history of the company. Mind you, this is a company that is well known. The history lesson is unnecessary! Even when it becomes obvious during a presentation that the decision maker is bored out of their mind, the sales rep will simply keep plugging along. After all, they have been trained to “tell” not sell.

  • Let me tell you about our history.
  • Let me tell you about the awards we’ve won.
  • Let me tell you about the features of our products.
  • Let me tell you how we can solve your problem.
  • Let me tell you about our pricing model.
  • Let me tell you why other customers love us.
  • Let me tell you how we are better than the competition.

It isn’t that these things are unimportant. Well, maybe the awards and history, but the fact is that this information is no doubt already listed on the corporate website. Prospects don’t need sales people to tell them what they already know.

What kills me is that even in companies that have trained their sales people in a solution selling program, their sales people still show up in buyer’s offices and tell. Sure, they may ask a few questions about the prospects business but then they roll right into the pitch they’ve been taught to deliver. Seems strange, right? Even those sales people trained to sell solutions still talk AT prospects not WITH them. Why?


  • More time is invested in training sales people about the features of products.
  • An investment in training great sales skills is viewed as a one time event and not a process that is continually reinforced.
  • It is easier than learning about the prospects business, industry and challenges.

Instead of using meeting time to tell, imagine your roles are reversed and YOU are the customer. As the customer, what is important to you? What business initiatives are you expected to execute upon? What will happen if you don’t? Are you struggling to out pace the competition? What is happening in your industry that will impact your business today and tomorrow? The point is that unless you think like your prospect, you’ve done some digging or ask the right questions, it is going to be tough to know what is really important to them.

Here is a story to illustrate what I’m getting at. About 20 years ago, I was in the market for a new car. I’d first visited the local Nissan dealership and the conversation with the sales person was a disaster. Right up front, I detailed exactly what I wanted. In classic form, he didn’t listen. He took me over to a specific model and started “telling” me why this would be a great car for me. As if he knew, right? Immediately, I say that I’m not interested. Undeterred, he keeps pushing all the features he believes to be awesome. Again, I say, I don’t like the car and there is NO WAY that I would drive it. To which he replies, “What’s not to like, my wife drives this same car.” I couldn’t run away fast enough.

Contrast that with the experience I had at the Infinity dealership right next door. The sales person was courteous, professional and asked about me. He asked about my work, what I was most interested in, any features important to me in a car… you get the picture. Learning that I was a sales rep who supported accounts in Tucson, he knew the drive between Phoenix and Tucson was a 2-hour long stretch of highway with practically nothing out there. He also learned that I’m a music lover. Rather than talking about the vanity mirror, he focused on safety and security by highlighting the roadside assistance program that came included with a car purchase. He had me try out the awesome stereo system. I already loved the car – a G20 – because it was sporty, looked upscale and was a dream to drive. And because this sales person had learned about Barb, he tailored his message to focus on what I cared about. Guess what – car sold. Most pleasant car purchase experience ever!!!!

The irony is that Nissan owns Infinity. What gives? Why a horrible experience with the Nissan rep but a stellar one with the Infinity rep? I asked my Infinity rep and he told me that the company invested many hours of training and constantly stressed (and reinforced) the importance of selling a solution based on the needs of the car buyer. Listening and asking good questions was a huge part of their training programs.

Stop telling your prospects (and customers) what YOU think they want to know, ought to know or should know and begin with the end in mind. If your goal is to win business, then begin by getting into the head and heart of your prospect. Buyers want to you care about them and when you don’t… they simply look elsewhere.

The Road Ahead

In 2006, I began evangelizing what I would eventually call “social selling”. I can promise yousocial-selling1-300x2272 that at that time sales leaders thought I was nuts. They believed that social media might impact marketing’s role and that was about it. These leaders did not understand that what social media (in the collective) really meant was that buyer behavior was changing. Buyers were no longer relying on sales people for information about products and services. They were using the Internet and social networks to start the selling process by doing their own independent homework.

By 2009, it was absolutely crystal clear that sellers – B2B sellers in particular – needed to start taking the changes in buyer behavior a lot more seriously. It is why I felt compelled to write a book on the topic called The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media.

Moving into 2010, LinkedIn was definitely evolving into more than just a job seekers tool. Significant platform changes gave sellers ways to find prospects more quickly and to promote a brand impression of credibility and expertise through rich, dynamic profiles in which presentations, white papers and all manner of great content could be shared. Twitter was becoming more of a force in selling and blogging created new opportunities for sellers to create branded, educational platforms that helped them showcase their industry knowledge and perspectives.

And now we have entered a New Year. Before we look to what I believe lies ahead, let’s take a quick look in the 2013 rear view mirror.

This was a year when mass numbers of trainers, sales experts, marketers, software companies and even Joe the Plumber began pushing something brand new – to them – social selling. This is new, this is radical, you need to get on board, the experts shouted. This will make all your sales problems disappear. Social selling will fill the top of your sales funnel, increase revenue and pipeline, bring more prospects to your doorstep and qualify all your leads.

Heck, if you believe all the experts, social selling will make your breakfast, dress you, handle your outbound phone calls, book your appointments and conduct your sales meetings without you being required to attend. Frankly, you don’t actually need to show up at work anymore, because social selling is going to close those deals without you. Just expect your commission checks in the mail. WOW – sign me up!

Can we PLEASE dial down all the B.S.? It isn’t doing sellers or their leadership any favors.

By all accounts, 50% of sellers missed quota in 2013. This has been a continuing trend for years. In fact, 2013 saw more decline in quota attainment than during 2011, 2010 or 2009…all tougher economic years. Perhaps you could get away with blaming the economy then, but what about in 2013? Not so much.

Does social have a place in selling? YES. Does it work? YES. Does social selling solve every conceivable sales problem beginning with… sellers with abysmal sales skills? No. No. No. Did I say no?

I’m one of the first two people to begin using the term social selling in 2009. From the beginning, I never promoted the ridiculous idea that social selling was THE thing that would cure widespread sales problems. Social selling – as I defined it and promoted it (then and now) – was meant to represent the evolution of the buyer’s journey, which by necessity meant that sellers need to evolve their sales approaches right along with the changes in buyer behavior.

1. Buyers were/are leveraging alternative mediums to research and vet possible vendors.

Tired of pitches and sellers who don’t understand their business, they take to the net to do their own homework. In 2013, as much as 80% of buyers are researching business solutions before talking to sales. While buyers may not have all the information they need to make a purchase, they absolutely have enough information to determine which companies make their short list.

2. A social seller learns and integrates new technology (social media) into their overall sales process.

If buyers are shutting out sales people by deleting emails and unsolicited phone calls and doing their initial research online, using social networks provides alternative ways to be seen and demonstrate credibility and expertise, in order to earn the right to have a sales conversation. Using social media/social networks as part of a selling strategy creates opportunities to “proactively” give buyers reasons to talk to sellers.

Obviously, I’m a huge proponent of using social as part of selling, but using technology is a fraction of what great selling is all about. Where does social selling play a role in the sales process? Networking, prospecting, building referral relationships, lead gen, sales research and fostering ongoing customer relationships. But these are tactics and you don’t just sit at your desk all day long pounding away on social media. As Joanne Black would say…pick up the damn phone!

What I see happening in 2014 is…

More of the same dismal sales performance if sales leaders keep allowing themselves to be convinced that quick fixes exist or that technology does the selling. Suck it up! If 50% (or 40%, 30% or 20%) of your sales team didn’t make quota, it will take longer than 30-days and one or two training’s to move the needle in any significant way.

To all the self-proclaimed social selling experts I ask… how exactly does social technology solve any of these problems?

  • Sales people who cannot sell.
  • People who should not be in sales positions at all.
  • Selling like it is 1980. Feature dumps are useless.
  • Using technology to hammer prospects with pitches.
  • Measuring activity for activities sake.

Oh, I could create a much longer list about the problems plaguing sales organizations, but I’d rather have you read colleague, Jonathan Farrington’s excellent post underscoring what he believes went wrong for sellers in 2013. It will give you a lot to think about!

My passionate hope for 2014 is that sales leaders will stop believing the hype pandered by people who profit from promoting the quick fix. One or two training programs – I don’t care how good they are or who delivers them – will NOT resolve the systemic problems that have been building over time. It is time to wake up and face reality. I want to see sales leaders step up and create a bold new vision for what’s possible. And I want to see sales leaders go to the mat to ensure that widespread changes are undertaken, in order to support the new vision. Band aids fix nothing.

The real question is will sales performance in 2014 be any different than in the years gone by? Only time will tell.

The Need to Win

Sales people are competitive. I imagine I won’t get much argument on that point. Frankly, I’m not sure that you can succeed in selling  without having a deeply routed desire to win embedded in your DNA. But when is the healthy desire to win deals overshadowed by a twisted, relentless push to win or prove you are right at all costs?Male hand holding gold medal against the dramatic sky

What got me thinking about why some sellers desperately need to win is because of a question posed in one of my LinkedIn groups. The question is “Why is it that so many sales people have so much trouble seeing any view other than their own?”

I actually don’t believe that this question just relates to sales people.Human beings, in general, have difficulty seeing viewpoints other than their own. Through our own experiences, beliefs are formed and are typically hard to change. People may try to convince you of their position, but unless you are open to changing your mind, I just don’t think it happens. If it did, we’d have world peace already!

So let’s think about the question for a moment. Is it that sales people can’t let go of their point of view, like Fido who won’t relinquish his bone at any cost? Or, are there other reasons why sales people are so single minded in their thinking? Here are three possibilities:

1. Sales people are paid to win deals. That’s the job. They are taught to pitch and to try every conceivable tactic they can think of to convince you to see things their way. They are also expected to make X number of calls, conduct X number of meetings and demo’s, etc. There is a lot of chatter about the importance of working with prospects to “solve problems”, but let’s face it, talk is cheap. When it gets right down to it, management expectations, sales compensation and performance measurement are driving behavior. Sales people are rarely incented to focus on doing what’s right. They are rarely incented to take the long view. What sales people are taught is to win – now – if they expect to be paid. It isn’t unusual for a sales person to cut corners if they think it will help them seal the deal.

2. A sales message is constantly beaten into their heads that their company, their product, their service is the most bad ass out there. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the corporate product team (at a former company) tell sales teams that winning against the competition was a no-brainer. Not true, but nonetheless product managers and developers believed that “features” and “a better mouse trap” closed sales. Now that I think about it, a lot of sales people think the same thing. I’ll never forget the sales rep I was mentoring who wanted to demo “pivot tables” to the CIO of a worldwide company, but that’s a story for another day.

3. Over confidence (dare I say arrogance?). Partially this is brought on by point number two. But most sales folks I know believe in their heart of hearts, whether they admit it or not, that they can charm you, influence you, convince you to their way of thinking. I’d be a bazillionaire right now if I was paid every time I heard a sales person say that if “they can just get the meeting, they can close the sale!” They actually believe that no matter the situation, they can close it. I have fallen into this trap myself at various points in my sales career. Now that I’m a little more experienced, I am also a bit more realistic. You just won’t win every time.

Hey, I’m competitive. I do like to win but within the context of wanting to win, it is extremely important to me that I do no harm in the process. Sure, go for the gold, but do it with integrity, caring and respect. A flat out desire to win puts someone else in the losing position. That someone could be your buyer and no one wants to buy from anyone who makes them feel like a loser. Worse, no one wants to be “sold” only to find out that the product or service didn’t deliver as promised.

In the end, I still think that the answer to the question of why sales people have trouble seeing other viewpoints is that they are not paid to do so. Their goal is to win. It is that simple.

I’d love to hear what you think!