NextGen Sales: Understanding Social Selling

There is fair amount of buzz about a concept called “social selling” (often used synonymously with Sales 2.0, a term coined and trademarked by Nigel Edelshain). Certainly some people will argue that sales, particularly B2B sales, has always depended on a sales reps ability to build a relationship with their potential buyer, which could be viewed as a social activity. Since successful selling has always revolved around relationships – who you know – it isn’t surprising that sales people focused on networking, establishing as many connections as they could, and leveraging existing relationships to close sales opportunities. Networks were generally cultivated through face-to-face business meetings, attendance at industry conferences, business association meetings, or through social and business clubs.

Along with the adoption of Web 2.0 and social media, comes a dramatic change in the notion of social sales. The first huge change for sales to get their head around is that social media has significantly increased the scale and reach of our relationship networks. Using tools like LinkedIn, Gist, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, the number of people that we maintain some degree of one-to-one contact and connect with via peer networks and groups has dramatically increased in the past few years. But something even more important has happened with respect to how sales are transacted these days. With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, the buying process has changed. Most B2B buying decisions now start; move forward and very often are closed online without a single face-to-face meeting.

Social Sales and Customer 2.0

This new technology enabled sales trend is sometimes thought to be merely the adoption of social media and online collaboration tools by sales organizations. Adopting social tools is simply one facet of the equation, because below the surface of this trend is a bigger, more fundamental change that has occurred in customer behavior and their buying process. Far too many sales organizations continue to employ sales strategies that worked for Customer 1.0. But now, Customer 2.0 has access to unlimited information about you personally, your company, your products, and those of your competitors.

Whether you like it or not, Customer 2.0 can and will ignore your marketing messages, because they prefer to rely on people that they know and trust and their peer networks to educate themselves, keep on top of news and trends, evaluate vendors independently, and make buying decisions. Conversations occurring on social sites have become more influential to the buying decision than your traditional sales and marketing tactics. Customers are controlling the conversation; they form their opinions about working with you without your involvement. Although you may be resisting, it is time to accept that this is the new reality of social selling.

What You Know About Who You Know

A better educated and more connected customer is driving the social selling process. The savvy social sales person recognizes and embraces the opportunity that this presents. Sales will always remain a relationship-driven business. Social sales people understand and leverage the power of “what you know about who you know.”

Remember that the new social customer demands a new approach from sales organizations. The need for comprehensive, real time data is imperative to sales professionals who must leverage the social web to actively listen, add value to the customer conversation and create sales relationships in new ways. Tools like Gist (integrates with Outlook) provides sales professionals with a way to quickly aggregate and view real time information about people in their network or people that they follow.

Your customer – customer 2.0 - expects your sales team to know at least as much about them as they already know about you. Do they?

Yes – Sometimes You Need to Hire a Lawyer

As business owners, it is easy to think that we can “get by” without ever needing the services of an attorney. And while there may be instances where you really can DIY, attorney and guest blogger, Traci Ellis also reminds of us that there are times when you definitely should seek legal counsel. Read on to hear what Traci has to stay.

Turnabout is fair play, as the saying goes.  Last month, I gave tips on when NOT to hire an attorney.  So, when should you hire one?

1.  Before You Launch Your Business. Before you form your business, to discuss which legal entity is right for you.  It’s important that you understand the legal implications of choosing one entity over another.  Also, you need to know which two business formations you should always avoid.  A good small business attorney can discuss your choices and help you make the right choice-from the beginning.  It is always cheaper to do it right up front, than to try to change it later.

2.  Before You Sign Contracts (or Pay Someone a Large Sum of Money with NO Written Contract). I know a lot of business folks who get their contracts off of the internet or from a buddy and then “tailor” them to fit their needs.  That’s one way to get contracts drafted.  But, it’s not even close to being the best way to ensure that your business and legal interests are protected.  No matter how many contracts you’ve seen or negotiated, just know that chances are slim that you know enough about contract law, best drafting practices, case law on certain issues, contract drafting nuances, etc., to adequately protect yourself and flush out the “gotchas” in a contract.  If the business deal is worthy of doing, it’s worthy of spending the time and money to have it documented correctly.

Additionally, you should absolutely, positively STOP downloading contracts off the internet and using them in your business! If you’ve been following my blog, then you know why.  This is Why Google Can’t Be Your Small Business Attorney.

3.  Big Disputes. When you are in a serious business dispute that has substantial business implications, don’t wait until you are sued or you’re ready to sue someone to consult with an attorney.  Involving an attorney early on in a dispute can often head off bigger problems later.  It will be infinitely more expensive to call in an attorney later on in the dispute when there’s lots of history than it is to get an attorney involved early on.

4.  Major Transactions. When you are considering any major transaction such as buying or selling a company, do not, I repeat, do not begin these types of negotiations without legal counsel.  You are asking for trouble.  I once had a client that began negotiations with her largest competitor to sell her company to the competitor.  By the time she called me, she had already turned over reams of confidential company documentation, including some important intellectual property information, without a non-disclosure agreement in place!  Sometimes, it is easy to forget what seems like the obvious when you are intimately involved in the deal and when the “obvious” is not your expertise.

5.  Trademarks. Unless you really know how to use the USPTO website to search for trademarks, it’s easy to miss a trademark.  Also, you need to understand how trademark examiners think and what the case law says to understand why you can’t trademark a certain mark that is not the same as someone else’s.  There are nuances there that are not obvious to the layperson.

The risk is that you miss a registered mark (or fail to understand that someone with a similar mark can keep you from using your intended mark), start branding your company, and then get a “cease and desist” letter from someone on the other side of the country demanding that you stop using your mark.  If it turns out the person is right, you will have to re-brand your company…and all the money spent on logos, graphics, business cards and any other business “paraphanalia” will be wasted. You may even have to change the website URL that you’ve undoubtedly worked so hard to get noticed in cyberspace.

Author, speaker, business “therapist”, practicing attorney, and passionate promoter of women entrepreneurs, Traci Ellis is not your typical business lawyer.  Known for telling it like it is, she likes to “keep it real” with new business owners while sharing practical wisdom and refreshing insight on legal and business issues related to starting, running and growing small businesses.  Whether you are thinking about starting a business or have already stepped into the exciting world of entrepreneurship, Traci brings her nineteen years of practicing law and “baptism by fire” entrepreneurship experience to teach, humor, and challenge you, but most importantly to help you be a better business owner.

Visit for more information.

Social Revolution Marches On

I am a huge fan of the Did You Know Video’s that have now been carried forward by Erik Qualman at Socialnomics. Social Media Revolution 2 is a refresh of the original video with new and updated social media & mobile statistics that are hard to ignore. Based on the book Socialnomics by Erik Qualman.

If you watch this and still think that social media is merely a fad, there is just no hope for you, as you are still stuck in the land of what was, but not what actually now is!


7 Years of Social Media – An Interview with Axel Schultze

Today is an interesting birthday for Axel Schultze, founder of the Social Media Academy and founder and CEO of Xeequa. Axel was a contributor to my book “The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media”, and in an impromptu interview today, I talked to Axel about his experiences with the world of social media during these past seven years.

Many of Axel’s early experiences mirror my own, except for perhaps Twitter. Until late 2008, I admit that I was clueless about Twitter’s potential. More than just a rehash of social tools, Axel and I talked about the companies that get it, and the ones that don’t. We discussed why it is so important for a business to stop “protecting” assets and instead be willing to “risk” in order to move beyond where they are today. Finally, we talked about what sales MUST DO to adapt to this new world of customer expectations and buying habits.

The guts of my conversation with Axel are below. I’d also highly recommend you listen to the interview here, because there is no way that I can capture, in writing, of all the juicy tidbits that came from my conversation with Axel!!

In Axel’s words…

“Seven years ago Konstantin Guerke, one of the LinkedIn co-founders invited me to join LinkedIn. I had no idea what he was talking about - but my instinct told me: “go - this is interesting”. My LinkedIn ID: 8573.  I wasn’t too embarrassed not understanding the full scope because he didn’t either! But after a few exploratory meetings with Konstantin I got it. This was the birth of a new era. It was so much more than a new technology - we were on the verge of a new society. A year later I was quoted in Forbes Magazin as we started to hire people via the new media instead of expensive recruiter; I saved approximately $50,000, $30,000 on one search alone.

In 2005 I began to blog and was named one of the first executives freely blogging about my company, our strategy and our directions. The board didn’t like it - in particular because of my grammar and typos. I had to choose between authenticity and an PR department reviewed text. Here is why I voted for authenticity and why. Over the course of the next few years I learned a lot about blogging and commenting. My main takeaway: You don’t have to be nice to everybody - but focus on a value to some. Leaving a good post with no comment is like leaving a good restaurant with no tip. I learned that provocative posts are more valuable because they spark a discussion than lecturing people about your knowledge.

Early 2007 I discovered Twitter. See my first 16 tweets - silly tweets - like almost everybody. One of my friend’s reaction: “Axel, are you completely out of your mind? Are you in a midlife crisis?  Twitter? Oh man…” - After all, yes it was a bit strange, but I had this feeling again - “it’s going to be big”. What I learned about twitter was very important for my social media life: If you are not interested in people walking their dog and eating pizza: You are listening to the wrong conversation - because YOU decide who you follow. Getting massive amounts of followers is like collecting photos or stamps or old cars… (the farmer / hunter model). But the most important learning was this: You learn more about a person within 50 tweets (takes about 50 seconds to read) than you would ever learn in two or even three Face 2 Face meetings. You can argue that but only if you tried it for yourself and failed.

It’s 2008. In the past 5 years I learned so much about sociology - the one area I was least interested of all when I was in school and one of the most fascinating today. Robert Putnam’s “Bollowing alone” was interesting too, because he missed the most important part of our sociological change: Mass socialization. For a while I kept the title for my own book: “Bowling with Millions”. It became apparent to me that business people around the world are using social media every day without even noticing. Social media changes the way we do business. Unlike the inception of computers or the Internet - social media is the first significant change in the way we do business introduced by the consumer not by the manufacturer. In the past 100 years technology companies introduced massive improvements to producers and traders and helped them to be more economic more effective or more efficient in the way they the organize their business.  The social revolutions is turning this behavior upside down - now it’s the consumer who introduces a better way of dealing with customers to the manufacturer and traders. Business friends in VP and CEO level asked me to help understand social media and the impact to their business. After many hours of endless discussions I understood that there is a need to build a new education model to teach social media. Not to lecture how to be more social or tweet or brush up your Linkedin profile - but how to develop a sound strategy for a better customer experience model. How to analyze and assess the companies own position in the space, how to plan and execute a cross functional social media engagement. How to organize social media responsibilities across an entire campus instead of pushing it down to a marketing person and the rest of the company does business as usual. That was the birth of the Social Media Academy. Now every month a new tool comes to the market. So the learning continues.

In 2009 we discovered an interesting aspect of maturation. The social media strategy model we developed three years ago is still valid today. The four quadrant assessment model remained to be the same. The dual presence model where we came up with a way to balance branded communities with public spaces is still best practices and so is the organization model where we moved two years ago from a “social media team” to a cross functional engagement model. The other interesting development I noticed is that leaders remain to be leaders. Cisco lead the charge into the social media age with massive engagement while their competitors were arguing about the economy and actually fired their social media people. Pepsi and Coke continue to rival each other - now in the social web and also their competitors are silent spectators of the space. BMW was very active engaging executives in the social web to get feedback on their cars while Ford tried to sue a fan club over logo usage. Comcast engaged to compensate their troubled support force through Twitter and had a great success while their competitors don’t even exist in the social web. WholeFoods while rather expensive and potentially endangered during the recession was thriving through customer engagement on all platforms in contrast to their cheaper shops like Albertsons who ceased operations in many areas. Social Media was also a game changer in 2008 / 2009 for a few companies. Companies like Zappos went from 0 to 60 in no time and bypassed every competitor. Facebook even so a player in it’s own world bypassed the dominant leader Myspace - not so much through leadership but sheer luck that MySpace was purchased and ever conceivable mistake was made after the purchase. It was also a game changer in the airline industry where JetBlue and a few others clearly made it to become the acknowledged leaders in the space.

2010 - Social Media goes mainstream. Everybody and his dog is at least exploring ways to leverage the new media. Hundreds of thousands already benefit from the space by offering webinars, addon tools, tips to gain a quadro gazillion follower, a bit consulting here and there and books how to use social media for marketing. Tens of thousands of companies will fail as they follow the $25 advice “how to increase sales” with Twitter and Facebook. Democratization of Knowledge will become the biggest obstacle because “1 Million Twitter Experts can’t all be wrong” - Right? So lets grow followership to 50,000 and blast our messages into the new channels till they clog. And this will accelerate as 55 Million registered businesses worldwide will want to leverage Social Media by the end of this decade to develop a better customer experience, grow customer base and compete for more “brand appreciation” (not brand recognition). The next two years will bring a shakeout on the consulting and expert front. The self proclaimed social media marketing gurus will make way to more business savvy consultants who can deliver a 360 degree social business model for the new agile enterprises.

The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media

If you are like me, you’ve thought about writing a book. And, if you are also like I was, you may still be walking around with that book in your head. A spark of an idea that was coupled with a dose of universal intervention and a terrific writing partner in Joan Curtis, and I’m thrilled to say that my first book - The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media - is available for pre-order now on Amazon.

This isn’t just another social media book…already plenty of those.

Yes, we do talk about social media, of course, and a complaint I commonly hear from people is that they know social media is important, but they have no ideas what to actually with do it all. Sure, all the tools look cool, but how do I use this stuff again to actually get a sales result? As I’m fond of saying…clicking on the buttons is one thing, but knowing how to use social tools to drive specific, measurable results is something else altogether.

If you are still perplexed about using social media as a business tool, or you still think social media has no value as part of the sales process - this book is for you! Be one of the first in your company to get your hand on this vital tool.  Every sales professional will want to learn about the new world of sales and the social media.  This is the first book written that helps salespeople understand the impact of the social media on sales and gives them the tools to start a social media sales strategy.

In the end, technology doesn’t matter much if it doesn’t help you achieve your sales goals. I hope you enjoy the read!

p.s. Joan and I have created e-book that we are just about to release that includes the first chapter of the book. Interested? Until we get it posted to the website, drop me an email with “new handshake ebook” in the subject line at [email protected] I’ll make sure that you receive a copy when it is ready.

Follow Companies on LinkedIn – New!

LinkedIn has made the Company section more robust. It is now even easier to research companies and keep up with the people changes happening with those companies.

The Improvement

You can now “follow” companies. Okay, STOP right there! Before you close your mind to it, because images of nonsensical conversation on Twitter just popped into your head, please hear me when I say that “the concept” is similar, but definitely different. This is the kind of follow that you want to engage in, because…

Sales Benefit

You will hear about key developments such as who’s joined, left or been promoted at the companies you follow, business opportunities and job openings. This moves your ability to research target companies you want to work with to another level.

Once you elect to follow a company… when you log into the Company Home Page on LinkedIn, you will see a list of updates for the companies that you follow. You will also see a “company updates” section now showing up on your LinkedIn Home Page.

This is so much easier than tracking the individual movements of people within in a company. LinkedIn aggregates the list of changes for you. You can easily scan the list to keep up with what’s changed. Here’s a quick screen shot of the company I set up to follow today to check out how this works.

How To

Find Companies under the “More” menu. Click on Companies. Search companies you want to track. Once you’ve pulled up their company page…look to the upper right and click on “follow company”. Scan the updates once a day or once a week.

Definitely check it out! Share your success stories.

I Met 35 Great People

Last week was a busy week, and WOW, was it ever productive.

When is the last time you felt that your networking efforts were truly productive?

Networking is an essential element of your overall sales strategy. It is so important to your sales success that it requires some thought as to what you want to accomplish when you are out there. Where most networking approaches tend to fall flat is that people almost always confuse activity with effectiveness. If your goal is to acquire new customers and increase sales (almost always is) then making the time to ruthlessly evaluate where you are spending your networking time is essential.

Better to attend 3 of the right networking events than 10 of the wrong ones.

Time is money, and I have certainly wasted my fair share of it. How well are you tracking your own time? Do you know if you are generating a positive or negative ROI a for the time you’ve invested? Have you enrolled enough clients to make it worth it?

I met 35 great people last week at the very targeted events I chose to attend. Thinking carefully about my business strategy and goals, I asked myself a few questions before saying yes. You should too:

-Is my client likely to be in the room? Seems pretty obvious, but so many people that I’ve met haven’t actually stopped to consider the question. You need to network with groups of people who are qualified to buy your product or service. Everyone is NOT your client. Target your efforts by reaching out to the meeting organizers to ask who typically attends and how many. Ask people in your network if they’ve attended. If so, what was their experience? Do some homework to be sure this is the right place to invest your time. You might find instead that using the time to make phone calls or participate in a few online groups garners better results.

-What will it cost me to attend? Use this formula: determine your total time to attend, which includes drive time. Multiply this number x your hourly rate + event fee = your cost to attend. Let’s say I’m considering an event that runs from 1-4pm and costs $250. I need to add an hour of drive time on each end just in case. That’s 5 total hours from my day. If I bill at $225 per hour that works out to $1,125 + $250 for the event fee = $1,375. For this event to generate a positive return on my investment (time & money), I must close at least 1 new coaching client @ $1,500 per month in order to break even and make a small profit. But the real goal would be to secure enough clients to more than pay for the investment. Be sure to do a little analysis before saying yes.

-Does attending have other business benefits for me? Maybe you are like me and look for speaking opportunities. Perhaps you want to volunteer with a business group that would help to build your network while you supported someting important to you. It’s OK to attend events when sales isn’t the specific goal, but you do need to be clear that this is your purpose. If you are responsible for business development - sales - you really have to think carefully about where you spend your time.

Whether you network online or off…define your purpose, frame out a plan, focus on the right activities and measure your results. Ask yourself and others tough questions before saying yes to requests for your time. Your ruthless commitment to scheduling only top priorities will get you faster results with less effort. Isn’t that how it ought to be?

Instant Really Isn’t

Instantaneous: occurring with no delay; “relief was instantaneous”; “instant gratification”

It is sooo tempting to want instant. Instant success, instant love, instant cash flow, instant sales, instant weight loss…basically, instant results. It’s human I suppose. We feel pain and then want something - anything - to give us instant relief.

Instant is a myth, except perhaps in just one thing. We can instantly decide to change ourselves, our thinking, or our approach if things are not working the way we want them too.

But instant sells.

The problem with wanting - and naively expecting instant - is that it can only lead to more frustration. I don’t know about you, but I have never found that anything actually worth achieving just sort of happened…uh, instantaneously. Though using the word might make for an enticing marketing promotion or book title, the truth is that anyone trying to sell you instant anything is only perpetuating a lie.

Using social media and social networking to boost your sales efforts is no different. You can absolutely “speed up” your success, but it does not happen in an instant. You must determine your purpose, shape your brand, help others, participate often, be persistent, cultivate a following, invest in delivering value to others and be patient. There are no over night successes here. But it will happen IF you decide to…

  • Stop going for cheap. Your success requires an investment in time & money to learn from people with proven experience.
  • Make time every day - YES, every day! - to participate in the online space…this is part of your sales process NOT an add on!
  • Forget the notion of “instant”. Sweat equity is required if you want to create a strong brand presence on AND offline that leads to sales.
  • Reset your expectations. I’ve been in sales 30 years and using technology for almost as many…do you really think sitting through a 1/2 day social media class gets you to my level in an instant? It takes time!
  • Do your darn homework. If someone says, “I can teach you to get 200 Twitter followers daily.” - you must make sure they are doing it for themselves. It might be important to know if they use the system and tweet themselves. Duh.
  • Slow down. Stop being desperate. Be in it for the long term. Think about the message you want to communicate to potential buyers (or employers) who have not met you yet. Craft compelling profiles. Share valuable information. Get help if you need it!

Finally, give up on instant! Decide what you want, believe you can have it, take the massive action required to get there, and you will achieve results! But sorry…it will not happen in an instant.

You Digg It, I’m Delicious, We All StumbleUpon

Social bookmarking is a popular part of the social media movement. For the tech dweebs that is:) I say that lovingly of course, because I’m part dweeb myself. Though social bookmarking hasn’t quite caught on with the mainstream user, I’m confident that it will be soon. Most of the folks I meet are still grappling with what Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and LinkedIn are all about…but, hey, one thing at a time.

Even though I love technology, it took me a while to connect how I could use social bookmarking in a meaningful way. Once I got it though…it was like the parting of the Red Sea. The possibilities of how you can use social bookmarking as a customer retention tool are endless.

Whenever I speak on the topic of social media and social networking, I notice that people seem to be the most confused about how social bookmarking fits in. Even more confused than they are about Twitter, so that’s saying something. In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers talk about how to help people understand a concept that confuses them by tying it back to something that they can relate too. An analogy. In pretty simple terms, I tell people that social bookmarking is like having one gigantic, personal file cabinet on the Internet. You “tag” the web address of articles, video’s, blogs or websites that you like for easy reference later. Instead of file folders, you use an informal tagging system that lets you create categories that you’ll remember later on and can access quickly. AND…what I think is the coolest part of social bookmarking is that you can “share” your tags with others.

From a sales perspective, you could create categories that represent a particular clients’ interest. If for example, I’m your customer and you know that I love social media technologies (as everyone who knows me, knows that I do!), you would watch for interesting information that you would tag for Barb and share with me. I don’t have to rip an article out of Fortune Magazine and then send it to you manually with a personal note, although I still do a lot of that. Instead, I can tag articles that I think my clients and prospective buyers will find interesting and share them with everyone at once, or I can choose just to share with people in my private network. Either way…it’s a great connection point. Now, if you get your contacts to sign up and engaged in your bookmarking community, they can tag information that they then share with everyone in the community too. Very cool stuff indeed!

So, Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon are 3 of the biggies…each having a slightly unique twist to their approach, which I’ll cover in more detail in subsequent posts.

Stick around…you really do want to know about how to integrate the use of social bookmarking into your customer relationship management approach, because THIS IS a key way to not only provide value but to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Can you dig it?

Marketing Your Business with Audio & Video

Last night, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on Penny Haynes on her radio show hosted on the TalkShoe Network. Penny is a terrific host, and we had a great conversation about how to use podcasting and video as part of your overall sales and marketing strategy. It never ceases to surprise me how small the world truly is. It turns out that my good friend and colleague, Ruth King of Profitability Channel was interviewed by Penny a few months ago. AND…I came to meet Peter Shankman of HARO fame through Ruth and that’s how Penny and I connected. You’ve just got to love the power of networking! Listen to the show here! Enjoy the conversation.