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!

Because I Said So

“Luddite: One who fears technology (or new technology, as they seem pleased with how things currently are…why can’t everything just be the same?)” – Urban Dictionary

I’ve never been the person who accepted the status quo. Not at work, not at home. Change is a natural part of the flow of life. I believe that change leads us forward and is something to embrace rather than fight. Go ahead, huff and puff, kick and scream, resist, resist, resist…like it or not, nothing in life or business EVER remains the same.

I have enough sales and business experience under my belt to comfortably say that these are times of extreme disruption. Nothing about selling in today’s wired world – or the future of what business is becoming – looks anything like what we have seen in the past. Rapid advances in social, mobile, cloud and digital technologies keep changing up the playbook.

This new reality scares the daylights out of many so-called sales experts who stubbornly cling to the past as the world collapses around them. These folks believe “knocking on doors”, “pounding the pavement”, “pressing the flesh” and “smiling and dialing” still work. They don’t. This same camp of experts argues that social media – and technology in general – has no place in the sales process. They insist that the growing trends related to buyer behavior, lead generation, inbound marketing and inside sales either is not happening, will not happen or not happen any time soon. Guess what – already happening. They claim that their way, their data, their approach; their vantage point makes their opinion the right one.

My data is better than your data.

Another pointless – mine is bigger than yours  – ego debate rages in the blogosphere started by a few of the “good ole boys” who clearly feel that their turf in the sales profession is being threatened. While screaming at the top of their lungs that social media and cloud computing is a waste of time, they are simultaneously bragging about their LinkedIn and Twitter followers (of which they don’t actually have many), using social channels – like blogs – to argue their case, attack the viewpoints of others and beat their chests like the outdated cavemen that they are. Pardon me, if social doesn’t work, why are YOU using it? And if you have to write an entire blog post to justify the ridiculous logic of an earlier blog post and then use 300 of those words to brag about how amazing you are, I have to wonder why you are so defensive. Shakespeare said it best when he wrote, “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.”

Sales performance and revenue continues to decline or merely remain stagnant. This has been a disappointing trend for some years now. On that point, maybe we can agree. There are numerous reasons why performance issues linger. Ignoring that technology is part of today’s selling equation is certainly one of them, and though I cannot name every other reason why sellers, as a whole have challenges, here are 9 reasons that come to mind for me:

  1. Sales people are not receiving decent training. That includes how to sell, how to think creatively, how to present, how to use social smartly or how to “walk in the shoes” of their prospect.
  2. A lack of consultative, communication and listening skills among sellers.
  3. Focus on short-term revenue goals – better said, selfishly motivated goals focused on what can I get rather than give –  at the expense of longer term gains; i.e. customer experience, loyalty and retention.
  4. A constant search for a quick fix to bigger problems.
  5. Too much administrative burden placed on sellers and too many internal meetings.
  6. Measuring raw activity instead of measuring the type and quality of the activity.
  7. Sales process – if there is one – is not followed consistently.
  8. Stuck in the past refusing to accept that buyer behavior and expectations have changed.
  9. Laziness. Newsflash…sending hundreds of boilerplate emails to people not even qualified to buy from you is not actual selling.

Lest anyone misconstrue my words, let me be perfectly clear. Tools are tools…period. You’ll get no argument from me there. And, I don’t know anyone who has more than five minutes of actual experience and credibility in implementing successful social selling strategies who made the promise that using social media would cure the pervasive problems – many of them people, process and behavior related – that plague sales teams.

Technology has a place in selling even if right now sellers are stumbling around trying to figure it all out. It has a place even if your “expert data” doesn’t match modern day reality. You may not like it or care to acknowledge it, but technology and social networks do play a role in the buyer’s journey. Sick of sales people who show up and throw up, decision makers (and their team members) do their own initial, independent research to determine if they want to engage in a sales conversation with a seller at all. If, as the seller, you are fortunate enough to land the meeting, heaven forbid you show up at that meeting completely unprepared and winging it. These same buyers will unceremoniously show you the door.

Contrary to what you believe, dear expert, I am not threatened in the least that your viewpoint is different than mine. I wonder why you feel the need to hide behind your data even when there is ample – and quite reputable data – that contradicts your point of view. Ah well, you and the other boys can keep your heads buried in the sand while bolstering each other’s egos. In my eyes, you are simply dinosaurs, and we all know what happened to them.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook?

I have long believed that the way to succeed when selling products and solutions is to become someone that is counted on and trusted to do the right thing. In other words, your prospects believe that you, as the seller, actually care that what you sell does no harm to their business or their career. Perhaps I am old fashioned that way.

That’s why I am bothered – as I often am – when I read about someone with influence who espouses tactics that are self-serving and designed to ultimately “get something”. Maybe on the surface that’s ok if you are quite aware of what the person is doing, but what if you aren’t?

I have followed Gary Vaynerchuk for years, and I have always admired him, but today that admiration dimmed after reading an article about him called Riding the Hashtag in Social Media Marketing. Certainly nice press for Gary in the New York Times piece, but I fear that the approach Gary is peddling doesn’t bode well for those of us in sales.

Throughout my selling career, my “giving first” attitude has served me well. It is the way to creating trusting relationships that lead to sales opportunities (and other things in life). And I don’t disagree that at a certain point, when you’ve created enough equity, something Stephen Covey called making deposits to the emotional bank account of someone else, it is perfectly OK to ask for something. As a matter of fact, I just talked about the value there is in giving to receive in Monday’s keynote at the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 launch party held at the Guggenheim in New York.

What I don’t like is the formula that Gary is promoting – to legions of followers who hang on his every word – which in his own words goes like this…. “Jab, jab, jab, right hook means give, give, give, ask.” On surface that seems pretty harmless until you come to know that what he really means and is quoted as saying often is… “A funny thing happens when you give value up front, you guilt people into buying stuff.”

Guilt people into buying stuff? Dear lord, sales people already have an image problem and there’s Gary out there telling people who sell – and the marketers that hire his company to promote their products and services – to follow a process of pretend giving so they can feel perfectly justified in making people feel guilty enough to buy something from them. This is as ridiculous to me as the promotion of the concept of Social Debt being pandered by Sales Benchmark Index.

Ok, sure it sounds cool to be able to ask Gary for something random that he will deliver; i.e. shipping a hamburger to the guy who asked for one, but in my humble opinion this entire philosophy is just one more selfishly motivated stunt.

On the other hand, Gary is rich and famous; I’m not. His business employs 290 employees, his revenues are pretty envious and he is being paid millions to write the ten books he’s under contract to produce. Hard to argue that his way hasn’t led to a great deal of business success for him.

But is there a price?

Perhaps not to Gary, but what about the companies that buy from him? Executives often hang on his every word of advice, and I wonder at what point his advice will actually be damaging to the brands that hire his team. If consumers don’t trust advertising now, what will happen when they realize that once again big business is simply out to manipulate them? That’s what Gary is selling and the only difference is the channels used.

Look, I’m no Pollyanna. I’m in business to make money too; otherwise, I wouldn’t be in business. But I’m not motivated by money, and I’ll sacrifice revenue in order to conduct business in a way that I think is honorable, credible and trustworthy. The day will never come when I resort to trying to manipulate people for personal gain, and I hope that day doesn’t come for you either!

Play Nice With the Other Kids

“It doesn’t matter what you say you believe – it only matters what you do.”  ― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

As much as I love social networks, I am often surprised at how some people choose to behave when participating in them. On open forums or blogs, it is not difficult to create an anonymous persona that can be hidden behind. Some of these players then use anonymity to unleash their lunatic fringe style fury on anyone who dares to disagree with what they have to say. While I will never understand the need to be so vicious toward others who merely have a different point of view, it happens because these types feel there are no personal or professional repercussions. After all, no one actually knows who they are.

Now let’s switch gears and talk about LinkedIn. Unless you create a fake LinkedIn profile, people know who you are. For that reason alone, I’m even more surprised when I witness people behaving like idiots in discussions. After all, their picture (most of the time), their name and even the terms they use in their profile headline, which often includes the name of their company, is there for everyone to see.

I’m thinking about netiquette because of an exchange I watched play out in a LinkedIn group a few days ago. It is a classic example of what happens when people let their egos and ultimately their anger get the best of them.

It started with the questioner asking people in the group to share their 30-second elevator pitch. The individual asking the question needed to create a pitch and was trying to fire up their creative juices by hearing what others used in their own selling.

That’s when it started.

Another group member confused by the request or merely trying to be helpful, shared a pitch as an example of what the guy asking the question could use.

It didn’t go over well. That happened because:

  1. That wasn’t the request.
  2. The guy who started the discussion didn’t feel his company was represented correctly or fairly.

Then it began to get worse.

Member making the suggested pitch justifies his response. He went on to offer other elevator pitch possibilities. Trying to be funny – always dangerous if someone doesn’t know you – he includes this as one of his suggestions… “I lend money to people who can’t get it from normal sources. Kind of like the mafia. Most people choose me instead of them because they get to avoid the broken kneecaps.”

Another member jumps into the fray and likens pitches to “carnival barkers” and says that while the other guy was being funny, he was making a serious point.

Now question asker is really offended and says so. He feels, and I have to agree with him, that comedian wannabe should be more careful about how he jokes about someone else’s business, especially in an open forum. He goes on to remind both responders that he asked people to share their pitch. He did not ask for suggestions on how to write his. And he certainly wasn’t thrilled about the negative comments made about the industry he works in.

At which point, more justification and arguing and drama ensue. Not good for the reputation of anyone involved. Me, I wasn’t about to say a word, but I was certainly wondering where the group moderators were while this was going on.

The rules of social netiquette are quite basic.

Use common sense, be respectful, don’t attack people, don’t critique unless asked and for goodness sake, do not argue with each other in a public forum. In short, play nice with the other kids. Your brand and reputation depends on it.

P.S. this is group is “open” so there is no expectation that comments made remain private inside the group. Fair game to write about folks.

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.

Influence the Customer Experience

My post about the Social Shake Up conference is getting a lot of play. That’s good. My goal was and is to shake up traditional thinking about what social media means to business. During the Day 2 kick-off session with Brian Solis, he said it best when he said…”You cannot slap something new onto what is comfortable.” In other words, you cannot do what you have always done – even if you use new tools – and expect a different result.

C-level executives have got to enter the discussion.

Social isn’t a fad! Executives must first accept this one fundamental truth. Your business is being disrupted. How people make buying decisions has changed. In order to adapt to this new reality, companies must create a social business strategy that considers the “new” customer lifecycle from beginning to end.  Sales, Marketing and Service folks must break out of their silos, trash traditional thinking and work together to create an experience that wows from beginning to end.

Let go of what you think you know.

As with the technologies that preceded them, social, digital and mobile have continued to further evolve. Some of you are too young to remember that there was actually a time when we didn’t text or communicate via email on our phones. We certainly didn’t surf the web or talk to our friends on Facebook. Nope, we actually just used the mobile phone to make phone calls. Weird, I know.

These days buyers use multiple devices to remain connected – laptops, smart phones, iPad’s, tablets and soon Google Glass. They can access news and information when and how they prefer to consume it. They do not rely on your marketing, PR or advertising to make their buying decisions. They gather information from multiple sources, and they rely on the peer reviews of others when making a decision to purchase or not. Why? Sorry, but they don’t trust your pitch.

Social, digital, heck, the web in general has completely changed expectations of what buyers want from the companies who seek to gain a share of their wallets. And I believe that the number one expectation today’s buyer has is that your company has to EARN the right to do business with them.

How do you earn that right?

By creating and delivering buying experiences that cultivate trust, loyalty and advocacy. Understand what your buyer cares about, speak to what is important to them, treat them with respect, honesty, transparency and fairness throughout the buying process, and they will reward you many times over. Keep talking at them or burn them when something goes wrong and in a nanosecond they will tell everyone they know to avoid you. This applies whether you touch the buyer as an executive, a marketer, sales person or customer service representative.

Though I have evangelized the importance of sellers using social media as part of their sales process, I have always believed that sales, marketing and service must be completely aligned when creating an overall experience that moves a prospect from interest to sale to happy customer. If any of the pieces are broken, you lose.

Do you know what it is like to try and do business with your company?

The irony is that most companies probably have no idea what it is like to be a potential customer. I think of one “big data” company who doesn’t even use the data to qualify buyers. Instead, they put sales resources into having reps call anyone who attended their webinar. How do I know? I know because I run a small business and am not their target client. It did not matter. They had sales reps calling and emailing me anyway. This is a classic example of a customer acquisition process that wasn’t thought through from beginning to end. I wish I could say that this was the exception rather than the norm.

If you are an executive, in marketing, sales or customer service, here is my challenge to you.

Pretend YOU are the potential customer. Go through every step of the buying process just as buyer would. Pick your website apart. Carefully review your social media marketing messages. Make a call to the sales department and experience what it feels like to have features, benefits and a product demo pushed on you. Reach out to customer service with a problem – phone, Twitter and Facebook. How was the problem handled? What was the response time?

Once you have done these things, rate the experience. Would you buy from your company? If your answer isn’t a resounding hell yeah, that was awesome, you need to stop, rethink whatever you think you know and roll up those sleeves… you have work to do!

LinkedIn Keeps Changing it Up

You’ve probably noticed that LinkedIn continues to make changes to the platform. There are so many rolling out – and at various times with no real warning (except if you read their blog) – that you might be having trouble keeping up.

In an earlier post, I talked about changes to the navigation structure, which you can read about here.

In this brief guide to what’s changed, learn about these feature changes and additions:

  • Who’s Viewed Your Updates
  • Unified Search
  • Groups
  • Company Page Analystics
  • Sponsored Updates
  • Education

Who’s Viewed Your Updates

The sharing of content is a core component of today’s social selling strategy. Visibility counts, as does being able to demonstrate that you are a thought leader in your field. But how do you know if anyone is actually paying attention to what you are sharing? Well, now you can.

LinkedIn provides you with the ability to monitor how well the content you share resonates with your audience. On the home page, you find the feature in the right sidebar beneath Who’s Viewed Your Profile. Quickly, you will be able to see the number of people who Viewed what you shared, who Liked the content or who added their Comment. Pretty cool insights to help you determine quickly what content works and what doesn’t. You can also scroll back through prior updates to compare numbers against prior topics.

Search

Unified search is the term used for a streamlined way to search the information on LinkedIn whether it is People, Companies, Groups, Jobs or your Inbox. You don’t even need to select the drop down arrow to the left to select your topic. As you can see in the picture, I typed in the word “sales” and those things that are related to sales pop up in an ordered list.

As happens when changes are made, some features are gone that you may have liked. If you were a fan of searching Updates AKA Signal to find content that others were sharing quickly, you’ll be disappointed to know that – for now anyway – that feature is gone. I’ll keep you posted if that changes.

To see more details on the rest of the changes – CLICK HERE!

Don’t School Me!

After 29 years as a sales professional, I believe that there are some things that just do not change if you expect to be successful selling. 

  1. You need to follow a repeatable sales process consistently.
  2. You need excellent consultative selling and communication skills.
  3. You need to care more about your buyers needs than your own.

When it comes to developing new business, today’s sales process includes the use of technology to network, cultivate referrals, prospect, track opportunities, prepare for sales calls, educate, present solutions and communicate with prospects. And these same steps apply when you mine for new business with existing accounts.

Communication Matters

“If you are a B2B marketer, you’re no stranger to content marketing. It’s quickly risen to the top of every marketer’s to-do list. But it’s the way that you are performing content marketing that can be the difference between gaining and losing a customer.” –Nancy Pekala

Nancy’s observation is equally applicable to sellers. The message matters!

Don’t School Me

Here is an example of a marketing message that someone needed to think about a little more carefully. As a subscriber of a popular magazine, I evidently let my subscription lapse. The magazine is one I’ve long enjoyed reading, so I have no problem with being reminded to renew. However, the way the message was phrased speaks directly to my point about messaging. The email I received began with…

“Dear BARBARA GIAMANCO:

Your subscription to XYZ magazine has expired. We have sent several letters reminding you to renew but have not received a response.

We want to continue encouraging your success. To demonstrate our commitment, by renewing your XYZ subscription today, this is our gift to you…”

I take exception to the first line and first paragraph of the message.

First, don’t scream at me by putting my name in all caps. This is basic email etiquette.

Two, don’t chastise me for not responding to your reminder letters. So what? I’m busy; you are not owed a response! What they just told me, in a not so subtle way, is that they only care about the money.

A better approach would have been to simply start with something along the lines of the second paragraph. Why not say, “We value you as a past subscriber and to welcome you back, we want to give you…”

Sales People Are Doing This Too

Marketing isn’t the only culprit here. The smart use of content to engage prospects and create credibility in advance of sales opportunities is central to a social selling strategy.

How and what you communicate is vital to selling, whether it is email, phone, face-to-face, sales presentations, social networks, texting or webinars; it needs to be done well. Nothing is sold without communicating with others. Sales people need A+ verbal skill, and in a wired, socially connected world, they better have good writing skills and understand the nuances of communicating in social networks too.  Though I hesitate to make a sweeping generalization, I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that an extremely high percentage of sales people need a lot of work in these areas.

Stop Broadcasting, Target Your Message

Typical sales and marketing messages of the written kind, whether it is email or via social networks, are one way communication and nothing more than broadcast pitches. A lot of phone calls are that way too. At the end of the day, you may think that all that activity is netting you a return, but I can say with certainty that a one-size-fits-all approach does absolutely nothing to create any true sales impact.

For example, I’m a small business owner with less than 10 employees. Your message to me should look much different than the messaging you might use when communicating with a large enterprise. My needs and theirs are very different. And unless your product or service supports a small business, why are you even sending me email or cold calling me in the first place? Someone is being paid for that activity, and it is a complete waste of time, which translates into a complete waste of money. Yet, it happens every day.

What’s the Problem?

In my opinion, management is measuring the wrong things. Activity is being measured…number of phone calls made, events attended, webinar registrations, white paper downloads, connections made or emails sent. But the quality of the activity is what you should be measuring. How can it not be obvious that 50 calls made to the wrong people, people not qualified to buy from you, is a big fat waste of resources?

Simply measuring tactical activity is a throwback from the “good ole days” of selling when coffee was for closers. If more attention isn’t paid to quality versus quantity, you won’t have anything to close, except perhaps your doors!

Are We Progressing or Regressing?

In the three years since my book, The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media was published, much has changed in the world of sales and social media.

Many of the biggest changes have happened on the technology front. Technology platforms have come and gone. Some have exploded in size and popularity.

Arguably the top B2B social networking platform used by sellers today, LinkedIn is now more than 225 million members strong. To give you some perspective on the skyrocketing growth, at the time the book went to press, member numbers hovered around 40 million. In terms of usability, LinkedIn has undergone numerous changes and many of them revolve around the utilization of content, streamlined navigation and a more unified way of searching for information. And while you can build lead lists using the free version of LinkedIn, the Sales Navigator premium offering provides sales people with a more advanced tool for building lead lists and sourcing sales opportunities. From a management point of view, Navigator provides insight into the adoption and usage of the tool among sales team members.

As Twitter has increased in size, the last three years have demonstrated that Twitter should not be overlooked as one of several tools that social sellers need to leverage as part of their B2B sales arsenal.  Sellers can use Twitter to source real-time information about prospects, competitors, influencers, customers and market trends. With that knowledge, you can build credibility with extended networks and engage with people in new ways.

CRM platforms have been evolving into what’s known as Social CRM. Traditionally giving sales people the ability to input leads and track their progress from nurture to close, Social CRM systems can now help sales people leverage the power of the web as part of their selling process.

Finally, business intelligence has never been more important. Prospects block sellers at every turn, but they will pay attention to any seller who has demonstrated that they’ve done their homework before attempting to engage. As a raving fan of InsideView, I use their sales tool – combined with LinkedIn – to research prospects before attempting to engage a prospect in a sales conversation, and I use “alerts” to watch for triggers that signify a potential sales opportunity. Of course, I use both tools to do extensive research before each and every sales meeting.

Technology that enables the selling process continues to advance, but what about selling skills?

Have they improved now that we have tools like LinkedIn and Twitter to leverage as part of our sales process?

Or, has an over reliance on technology coupled with unrealistic expectations of technology’s role in the selling process caused a serious decline in great selling skills?

Personally, I believe it is the latter. Sales skills among many sellers seem to be regressing – not progressing.

The ability to cast a wider net to larger networks has led to more broadcasting and less targeting and customization. Sales people (and sometimes marketers on their behalf) crank out random, boilerplate emails that do more pitching than demonstrating any real sort of value. Sorry folks, but that’s not great selling. Activity continues to be confused with actual sales effectiveness. If the goal is to secure a sales meeting, then it makes sense to take the time to:

Ensure that the prospect is qualified to buy what you sell. You can definitely uncover some of those basics using the web. Do it before wasting time with emails and phone calls.

Stop pitching and start engaging. Learn the language of what is important to the prospect. Generic  messaging hurts you. It does not help you. YES, you will need to do a little up front work, but if that time investment leads to the meeting you want and a sales opportunity closing more quickly, isn’t it worth it?

Follow a sales process consistently. One phone call or email isn’t going to cut it. Most sales reps give up after one or two tries. Don’t let that be you. And remember to be patient. Sales remains a relationship driven business. You have to prove yourself first.

Brush up on your communication skills, which include written and verbal communication and listening. It doesn’t hurt to get familiar with behavioral assessments like DiSC, because prospects with different styles expect different things in sales interactions.

Finally, stop expecting LinkedIn, Twitter, a blog, Facebook or any other social tool to do the selling for you! Social platforms have a specific role in the selling process, but at the end of the day, the sale is transacted by people. If you don’t have the skills, you won’t close deals. It is pretty much that simple!