Should Salespeople Create Their Own Content?

You’ve probably heard that content is king (I say queen). Content is the way to start wooing your prospects in advance of sales opportunities. content strategy word cloudEvery conversation related to social selling includes a focus on using content to boost your credibility as a thought leader in your field. I don’t disagree with that premise. Buyers are doing early stage research, and the use of content that is relevant and educational can certainly work to your advantage. Buyers turn a deaf ear to the pitch, but they do pay attention when what you do, say and share makes it clear to them that you understand what is important to them.

The right content used strategically at the right time definitely, helps you stand apart from your competitors. But the big question is – should salespeople be the ones creating their content?

Many in the social selling space will insist that the answer is yes. Others say, absolutely not. After all, isn’t that marketing’s job? Me? I say it depends on your personal situation.

When you think about how to use content as part of your sales process, there are three ways you can approach it:

  1. Share the content of others.
  2. Share the content your marketing team produces.
  3. Create your own.

Let’s talk about each one.

Share the Content of Others

This can work to your advantage PROVIDED the content is relevant to your audience and offers them specific insights that can help them improve their business. This assumes something really important – you have to know what your buyer cares about.

Some investigative work is required. Your marketing department may have done buyer persona work you can use, and you can use social media to do your validation about what your targeted buyers are interested in. How? Ask yourself these questions about your target buyers:

-What content do they share on LinkedIn? Not just the topics, but the medium. Do they tend to share more articles or it is video or podcasts?

-What content topics do they comment on? Could be in tweets, LinkedIn status updates or on posts others are publishing.

-Who are the LinkedIn influencers they follow?

-Do they publish LinkedIn posts? If so, what topics do they write about?

-Who do they follow on Twitter and what kind of content do they share there? Is it business, more personal or a little of both?

– What about groups they have joined on LinkedIn, what types of questions do they answer or like?

The point is that online social behavior will provide clues to help you determine how to structure your thinking around the type of content to share. Then you can study your industry to determine who produces content that you believe your customers and potential customers will find of real benefit. Could be top bloggers, publications like Forbes, Harvard Business Review or Inc. Magazine. If you are appealing to folks in the sales world, perhaps you are sharing daily doses of content from Top Sales World. Might be a well-respected publication in your specific industry.

Will this take a little sweat equity to figure out and plan for? Yes. But, honestly, it isn’t too much and if your end game is to secure opportunities to have a sales conversation with buyers, well then, put in the effort.

Share Company Produced Content

Now that you’ve done the digging and have a good idea of what content will appeal to your prospective buyer, you can match those interests to the content your marketing team has worked hard to create. I’m thinking white papers, research reports, informative blog posts, interviews with industry leaders, etc. Be careful, though. If the content isn’t much more than dressed up sales pitches, I’d rethink how much company produced content you share. If the content is simply pitching products or services, that will turn buyers off.

Make a point to share relevant content once a day through the network of your choice. The platform where your prospective buyers are most likely to see it. Add a comment before sharing to bring attention to why your buyer should read the article. Tell them what you believe will be valuable to them.

Posting once a day doesn’t take a lot of time. What it requires though is knowing where the content is so that you get to it easily. Could be your company’s LinkedIn page, a content sharing portal that your marketing team has created and so on.

Produce Your Own Content

This one is tricky because there are only so many hours in the day. The main job of those of us in sales is to, well, you know, sell. The zealots will insist that no matter what, you have to make time to create content. Well, I don’t know about that. If you have a family you go home to that includes a spouse and kids; I’m not sure how much they’d appreciate you getting right to work on content once they finally have time with you. Okay, sure, you can get up an hour earlier. Maybe stay up after the kiddos have gone to bed. The point is you have to figure out what rhythm you can commit yourself to in this area.

If you don’t have a lot of experience creating content, it won’t be quite as easy as some experts would have you believe. You’ll need a content plan that includes topics, what type of content you will create, and where and how you’ll distribute the content. Questions have to be answered. If you blindly jump in, you will likely flounder and feel frustrated.

I know a few folks in the social selling space who INSIST salespeople WRITE their own content. I vehemently disagree! This is just another example of trying to force a one-size-fits-all approach onto everyone.

First, you must like writing. It isn’t easy.

Second, the goal is to create content that backs up your professional brand promise, demonstrates your expertise, and paints a picture of how you think and what working with you might be like. You want your words to lead buyers to think – hey, I want to talk to that person, I think they can help us.

Third, you need to do it well. I’ve read some of the most poorly written posts on LinkedIn ever. Words missing, capitalizing every word in a sentence, grammar way off, run on sentences and the like. Same goes for blog posts. Everyone makes mistakes but it is clear that some folks are writing stream of consciousness and don’t go back to edit themselves. Did I say that the content is representing you? If it looks like you are unable to string a few sentences together coherently, what message are you communicating to a potential buyer?

Writing is only one way to create content. There are many great ways to create content that is yours and here are 17 ideas to get those juices flowing. Maybe it is a presentation you create. How about conducting podcast interviews. What about a webinar you host with a panel of leaders in your industry that you invite prospects to attend, which you record and repurpose later. You might like creating short little video clips.

What I’m saying is that you need to figure out what you are most comfortable creating on your own and start there.

About that original question.

The answer isn’t yes or no. Most things are not black and white.

The answer is that salespeople need a content strategy that works for them. That much is true, and I believe it will be a mashup of the three approaches I shared in this post. It is probably a mix of 70% (other), 20% (company), and 10% (yours) in the beginning. You have to determine for yourself what will work best for you. Don’t listen to anyone insisting it has to be one way – as in you must write your own content – just because they said so. This is about your brand – not theirs! Never forget that!

Status Quo is Your Biggest Competitor

When CEB reported that 57% of the buyer’s journey was happening without the engagement of sales, it led to the mistaken assumption that sales had no role in the early part of the buying decision. Similarly, when SiriusDecisions reported that 67% of the buyer’s decision-making journey happens digitally, once again the assumption was that sales had no role in the process. Yes, buyers do leverage online tools to do their early stage due diligence and research when they believe they have a business problem that needs addressing. How that became translated into buyers never talk to sellers at that stage is interesting.Stand out of a crowd

I never viewed either of these statistics as something to be afraid of, instead, I saw it as an opportunity for salespeople to find ways to be out in plain sight when buyers were in that early education and research phase. How to engage buyers online whether through content or direct interaction has been the subject of many of my blog posts and that of many others in the sales profession. When it comes to improving sales pipeline or what to do to move deals along to close, what isn’t talked about enough is that your most challenging competitor is the status quo.

Planning for status quo.

Status quo is Latin for existing state. Typically when buyers decide to maintain the status quo, they are often resistant to the risk associated with doing something differently than they do today. If your deals are stalling out because buyers do nothing and stick with the status quo, one reason this is happening is that the risk they associate with making a major change to a new solution was not mitigated. That’s where you have an opportunity to help them. If the perceived risk of making a change is greater than staying with what they’ve got, you won’t close the business. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you will help buyers assuage their fears with data to back you up, which then positions you more strongly for moving a sales opportunity along to close.

Let’s talk about ROI.

A key theme that emerged from Demand Gen’s 2016 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report was the subject of ROI. That’s an important hurdle that salespeople have to help buyers get over. Overwhelmingly respondents said they are feeling the pressure of financial scrutiny from corporate.  And when asked how their purchase process had changed over the past year, the survey revealed that 61% said they “conduct a more detailed ROI analysis before making a final decision.” Now that company leadership has increased scrutiny on the financial side to justify purchase decisions; it is easy to see why buyers proceed with caution.

More decision makers also increase the odds of status quo winning.

Another contributing factor to overcoming status quo is the number of decision makers now involved in buying decisions. This new reality is especially true if you are selling into a complex B2B environment. CEB has said their research indicates that 6.8 people are involved in the decision-making process these days. I would say that those numbers are conservative because there are far more people inside an organization who have influence into the ultimate decision than you may realize. The stakeholders involved in these buying decisions are in a variety of roles, work in multiple geographies or regions, each with a unique perspective on the challenges and pains that a particular business problem may be causing. They also have their unique opinion on what will be the right solution to correct the situation.

There is good news.

The challenges of beating your toughest competitor in any deal situation – status quo – provides an opportunity for salespeople who understand this challenge and plan for ways to overcome it.

In Demand Gen’s Report, there were four top reasons why buyers ultimately choose a winning vendor. They are:

98% – Timeliness of a vendor’s response to inquiries

97% – Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and business landscape

94% – Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of our company and its needs

90% – Provided content that made it easier to show ROI and build a business case for purchase

Notice that these buyers didn’t say, we choose a winning vendor because of their product pitch! The salespeople who “ditch the pitch” and focus on demonstrating their consultative business value to buyers have a greater shot at kicking status quo out the door to win deals more often.

The Disconnect Between Social Media Spend and Business Impact

Disconnect Words Broken Chain Links Separation ApartWith spend on social media channels expected to increase to a 20.9 percent share of marketing budgets in the next five years, according to a recent CMO Survey, the big question is if that spend investment is translating into an increase in overall business performance? The answer appears to be not so much. In a C-Suite Study conducted by IBM, they reported that almost half of Chief Marketing Officers feel that they – and their teams – still aren’t fully prepared to meet the challenges of operating in social media channels.

If CMO’s aren’t feeling that their teams are fully prepared to deliver on corporate objectives, what could be getting in the way?

There is no clearly defined social media strategy that aligns with core business objectives. With no formalized social media strategy in place, you leave your social media teams flying solo without a clear connection back to overall corporate business goals. In the Harvard Business Review article, Fix Your Social Media Strategy by Taking It Back to Basics, they mention that a Google search provides 140 million results for “social media marketing tips,” but no matter how many headlines promise it, there is no one-size-fits-all social media strategy. Tips, instead of a clearly defined strategy, won’t cut it if you want to see real results.Though the marketing team may be taking the lead on the creation of the social media strategy, the company’s social media efforts need to impact sales opportunities and revenue also. Don’t leave this important business strategy to marketing alone.

There is a gap between social media activity and business performance. It is important to link your sales and marketing goals to social media KPIs. Buzz, clicks, likes and followers are good initial gauges of social media marketing success, but long-term success requires that you go much deeper. Ultimately, social media activity needs to demonstrate how the effort led to improvement in revenue outcomes, either in qualified leads to nurture, new customer acquisition or retention.

The team doesn’t have the right balance of expertise. Don’t assume that young 20 something is the right person to drive your social media strategy. They may understand the inner workings of Twitter or Snapchat, but that doesn’t mean they understand how to apply social activity to core business objectives. Make sure your team includes people who understand the technology and have solid business experience. You need both!

All data sources are not being integrated. Be sure that you’ve built a plan that includes the seamless integration of social media data with other types of customer information, such as the data that comes from sales, purchasing, social media, and other communication channels. Though you might be able to source potential sales leads via Twitter, how is that information then integrated back into marketing’s lead nurture process or the sales CRM system for follow-up and tracking?

Lack of cross-functional skill and leadership stymies success. Today’s marketing leaders must be adept at traditional marketing strategies, and they also need to be proficient in the use and understanding of how new technologies impact their efforts. I believe this applies to sales leaders as well. Reaching buyers through the traditional avenues of phone calls (rarely answered) and emails (often ignored) mean that everyone in sales is using the appropriate social media channels to engage buyers in advance of clearly defined sales opportunities.

Investing in social media marketing and social selling strategies is important and must continue. Buyer behavior is the key factor driving the importance of engaging prospects and customers on multiple channels. To justify that investment, though, also means that your social media/social selling strategy goes beyond the surface indicators of success and aligns to key business drivers like new customer acquisition, revenue growth, and customer retention.

3 Reasons to Use Video in Selling

Incorporating video into our social selling content mix makes sense on many levels, although I’m the first to admit that I didn’t do much with video until last year. Prior to that I was involved in several Google hangouts that were recorded, which I shared with my network, but I really didn’t get more serious about creating video content that I could use in a more intentional way.

I had my reasons for not making video content creation more of a priority. One of those reasons was most certainly ego. Not a big fan of how I look on video, I used that as an excuse not to get going. Perhaps that true for you too?video camera

Finally, I got over myself.

My colleague and good friend, Doug Lehman (@douglehman on Twitter) has been in the Video Brand Ambassador game longer than most. A very early evangelist and practitioner, Doug has honed his craft and now works with clients to pull together video content that helps salespeople best represent their personal brand and topic expertise.

Watch a series that Doug and I created together called the Sales Accelerators. Sales Accelerators Video Series Watch for more videos coming soon.

Naturally, when thinking about writing this post, I wanted to interview Doug to get his take on the role that video content plays in sales and social selling. But before I turn you loose on part 1 of the interview, here are 3 reasons that Doug shared with me regarding why salespeople need to get involved:

-Use video to educate, demonstrate your credibility and expertise, provide social proof and promote your products and services. When buyers are doing their solutions research, they turn to video for quick, informative answers to their questions.

-Reduce travel costs and other expenses. Unlike back in the day, sales interactions don’t always happen face-to-face, which explains the rapid growth of video technology being used in sales and marketing and incorporated into CRM processes.

-A sales video can be used as follow up after a sales call or meeting. Guaranteed to be more engaging than a static follow-up email.

Bonus reason: Video is great for capturing user-generated content (UGC), referrals and testimonials that build on the social proof that buyers consider during the decision making process.

Now, let’s hear from Doug.

BG: How important is the use of video in selling today?

DL: I think video is important today but will more important tomorrow. Today, buyers and customers do their own research and look for immediate answers. Using video to educate, train and promote your products and service is powerful. Most buyers would rather watch a one to two minute video versus spending time reading a full text column or whitepaper. Video is not a substitute for face-to-face meetings, but it is the next best thing to being there.

Video itself can expedite the sales cycle. We now live in the age of information at your fingertips with buyers and customers researching solutions online and using mobile devices to access quick answers to their questions. Simply put your buyers are influenced by video and sales and marketing needs to be using video to their advantage. The rapid growth of video technology in sales, marketing and CRM is on the rise and demonstrates how important video is to your content strategy. Just look at all the new video technology providers. The simple fact is that your potential customers are using video to evaluate people, products, services and companies. Proactive engagement is paramount.

From a sales point of view, video that is compelling and engaging with the correct call to action will assist increasing revenue and expanding exposure and reach. Video works well with email, which is still a very popular form of communication. Cut through the email noise that customers and prospects receive daily, capture their attention and improve your click-through rates.

Leveraging video can reduce travel costs and other sales expenses. Video helps accelerate the sales cycle on all levels. Educational, explainer videos, product-training videos will provide buyers with more clarity about what you offer, but these videos also demonstrate advanced credibility and social proof about your capabilities. It has direct impact on the buyer’s journey. Leveraging video content for lead generation with educational and explainer videos will allow for customer clarity in answering questions in the buyer’s discovery and evaluation phase. Your customer will be further along in their decision process and closer to making a purchase decision. Video can shorter the sales cycle time for complex and transactional sales.

Video works well in post sales meeting follow up. Leveraging user-generated content, referrals and testimonials can be extremely powerful as buyers look to peers from recommendations. A simple sales video follow up after a call or meeting speaks volumes. It will stand out and personalize the sales process.

From a research point of view, video is a great tool. As salespeople, we can look for trigger points and reasons to engage with buyers. Though we call it social listening, why not perform social watching. Look at your customers videos and SEE what they are talking about in a more personalized format.

Finally, customer advocacy, repeat business, referrals, references and testimonials are powerful for influencing customers. Authentic Video Marketing resonates well with customers at the highest engagement level.

BG: What are the top 3 ways to get started?

DL: Before you get started, your first order of business is establishing your plan. Watch other video examples. Replicate and test out those concepts. Spend some time evaluating what works in the business world. Do your own research by looking at video production agencies. Use YouTube as a training research tool watch videos to get your planning down.

Start with a small video project first and get comfortable. Produce shorter videos with tips and simple calls to action (CTA’s). Rehearse your project and practice before live video shooting commences. If you have someone that is more comfortable on camera, let them do the first video project or start with having your customers do a video testimonial.

Be natural and authentic and let your personality shine through. You want viewers to connect with you, which happens when your video is focused on something that is of value to the buyer. If you just make your video a sales pitch, you’ve wasted an opportunity. User generation content goes a long way too. Encourage your current customers to film a short-clip talking about why they decided to buy from you and what they liked about the process.

Using pictures for slideshows or screen casts are another way to get started. Interview style videos, live streaming and panel video chats like Skype, Google Hangout, Blab or Skype are great video tools to get started. The more experience you have on camera the better. The key to starting video is to start small, build and practice.

Breaking it down…in Lehman’s terms, as Doug would say.

By now, I hope you can see that video is a compelling way for you, as a salesperson, to stand apart from your competitors. Don’t keep waiting. It’s time to get started!

Find part 2, where you’ll learn about common video mistakes, the best platforms to host your videos and how to build your audience, here.

Make sure you connect with Doug. Talk to him about his services. He can help you get over the getting started hurdles. Reach Doug at:

Social Selling Video

Create Winning Sales Experiences

Two Female Runners Finishing Race TogetherAccess to decision makers is tough. An IDC study reported that inundated with data and sales pitches, buyers return only 10.5% of phone calls and 9% of emails from new vendors. Yet, pressured by management KPI’s, every day salespeople use the same tactics – cold calls and cold emails – in an effort to convince a prospective customer to agree to a sales meeting.

Activity is NOT the same as effectiveness.

Using technology to cast a wider net has given rise to the delusion that if you just broadcast your message to more people you are bound to land more meetings. If sales people expect to make quota, they need to remember that it’s all a numbers game, right? Wrong. The theory that simply increasing the number of “people” you contact means you’ll get more business is outdated.  Buyer expectations have changed.

In IDC’s Social Buying Meets Social Selling whitepaper they concluded that “While time is scarce, trust and confidence can be even rarer. Buyers making high-impact decisions will gravitate toward methods that make confidence building easier.”

Spray and pray selling isn’t going to instill confidence in a buyer any time soon.

Spamcasting the same email message to 100, 500 or 1,000 people is not an effective prospecting strategy. Moreover, you put yourself at serious risk of creating a negative impression in the mind of your potential customer. Competition is stiff and buyers have choices. If your goal is to fill the pipeline with qualified leads and secure sales meetings, you need a different strategy.

Two things need to change:

  1. Sales approach
  2. Message

Chasing anyone with a pulse is a costly waste of time and energy.

Though it may seem counter intuitive, you actually have a higher likelihood of securing meetings and closing deals more quickly when you focus your attention on a targeted list of decision makers to pursue.

Now that you’ve narrowed your focus, it is time to personalize your message. The Internet and social media in particular, is full of insights that can help craft a message that is relevant to the buyer you’ve targeted. That means you need to do some homework prior to crafting your message, and yes, it does take more time but aren’t positive results worth the effort?

Don’t fall into the 90% of communications that are deleted without a second thought.

Follow these tips:

  • It is not about you. Prospects don’t care about your company history, the latest infusion of VC cash or the fact that you won an industry award. Tell them what is in it for them!
  • Create a compelling subject line that captures interest.
  • Keep the message brief and to the point.
  • Check your facts. If you sell services to staffing agencies then be sure you are emailing staffing companies.
  • Stop asking people to visit your website to learn more. Lazy and presumes your buyer has the time to do your sales job.
  • Make sure the customer examples you use are relevant. Don’t tout examples of enterprise organizations if you are emailing a small business.
  • Provide the social proof and include specific metrics that clearly show how results were achieved by the companies you are referencing.
  • Don’t try to be a comedian. One email I received said that perhaps one of the reasons I didn’t get back to him is because a file cabinet fell on me and I couldn’t reach the keyboard to contact him. Delete.

Buyers expect more.

They want to work with people who can help them solve their business challenges. Order takers aren’t needed or wanted.

When you earn the right to a 30-minute meeting, use your time wisely. Don’t pitch. Focus on bringing insights to the meeting that will benefit the buyer in some way. It could be information on the latest industry trends or data related to their competitors.

Ask great questions to guide the sales conversation.

  • Why should my target buyer care about what I offer?
  • What happens to their business if they do nothing?
  • Why should they trust me versus my competitors?
  • How are their peers solving the same challenges they face now?
  • What expertise will I need to move this ahead to a successful win?
  • What do I need to know about their competition or their industry?
  • How do I gain their commitment? What’s really important to them?

The sellers who succeed are those that swim in the blue ocean. Let your competitors continue to do what they’ve always done. Let them pitch features and fight it out on price.

CEI discovered when they surveyed decision makers that 86% said that they would pay more for a great customer experience but felt that only 1% actually delivered.

Creating a sales experience that sets you apart from everyone else is your competitive advantage. Go make it happen!

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…






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!

What’s the Purpose?

A simple question, I thought.  I was wrong. I made a mistake. I apologized.

Mistakes happen. It is inevitable. How you handle the gaffe, I believe, is what makes the difference between winners and losers.

Passionately believing in doing right by others, I’m pained to know that someone had a business experience with me today that was anything but wow. And the unfortunate irony is that I had just finished an article for the October issue of Top Sales World. The topic focused on customer experience and the importance of considering what the experience is like for people who will interact with you and  your employees – sales, marketing, service, finance, HR, operations – on behalf of your company brand.

Here’s how I screwed up.

I use a scheduling tool called TimeTrade. Hours of wasted time and hassle when scheduling meetings are mostly a thing of the past. When I agree to meet with someone, I simply send them a link to my calendar. They find an opening that works for us both and book the time. My calendar is automatically updated and all is right with the world. That is until it isn’t.

As a general rule, I do not share the calendar link publicly. A few months back though, the link was included at the bottom of a newsletter with a little blurb that said if you’d like to have a conversation about our social selling services you can use the link to book a meeting. What ensued was some temporary chaos. More than one sales person used that as an opportunity to book time on my calendar. Their objective wasn’t to learn about our services however. Their goal was to try and sell me on theirs. The lack of integrity some sales people display still surprises me.

I learned from that lesson, and honestly, it has been about 5 months since it happened. I had forgotten all about it.

Which leads me to my goof…

Looking at my calendar this morning, I notice that I am scheduled to have a meeting with someone I do not recognize at all. Not a personal contact, we are not connected on LinkedIn, and I do not recall ever meeting the individual. Then again, I meet thousands of people each year and there are thousands more in our database and my social networks. I see so many examples of what sellers should not do that I think my judgment was clouded.  And the message in the schedule confirmation seemed suspicious. Perhaps a classic example of seeing what you expect to see.

What to do?

I didn’t want to be a jerk, but I didn’t want to waste my time either. Been there, done that. I sent a message to the person and asked them to clarify for me the purpose of the call. Without thinking, I went on to say that I typically know the people that I am meeting with.

I offended.

In the moment, asking for clarity about the call’s purpose made sense. After all, it did not say that the meeting was to discuss social selling services. But that is irrelevant. Forgetting that we were the ones who sent the public link in the first place was certainly my first mistake. I compounded my mistake when I assumed that this individual’s intentions were less than honorable. As a result, I did not think more carefully about the words I used, nor did I consider what the question would feel like to the person reading my message.

When you screw up, offer a sincere apology. And, offer to make it right. I did both. We will see what happens.