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.

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