Social Selling: What Could POSSIBLY Go Wrong?

Ready to bleed out of your eye sockets? I certainly am – and it has nothing to do with the usual corporate PR missteps or business foul-ups that we often study here on the blog.

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I have heard the term “social selling” way too often this week. Everywhere I seem to turn on social media, there’s another pundit talking about social selling. It’s often done in the context of one tool or another – “Use LinkedIn to grow your network and sell to them,” or “Spend twenty minutes a day on Twitter to maximize your funnel.” Social Selling – an awesome concept in theory, but…What Could POSSIBLY Go Wrong?

Lots, people. Lots and lots and lots could possibly go wrong. And I’m here to share a few of the things I’m seeing – “ripped from the headlines,” so to speak.

1. You’re Thinking “Tool (or Technology or Tactic) FIRST”

So you know where I’m coming from…I have worked with some brilliant people in my 20-plus year career. Marketers. Sales Executives. Operations Leaders. Front-line Dynamos. I’ve watched as people created magic out of thin air, or “sold the sizzle” in sales speak.

The common theme is that they either understood the strategy or created a clear strategy that optimized everyone’s chance for success. You knew, for instance, exactly WHY you were doing something (putting all of the Trade Show Calendar into a spreadsheet) and WHAT that something would be used for (discussion with the CEO on which events were most important and what sort of budget and staffing would support the Trade Show Calendar). It’s a lot less painful to do that research when you know exactly why you’re doing that research. Excel and your love of Pivot Tables does not drive your Trade Show Calendar – the chance to drive real business outcomes (in the form of a ginormous stack of leads that can be turned into either qualified prospects or people who might want to receive more information over time) drives your Trade Show Calendar.

Ages ago – in Internet time, maybe epochs ago – Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li wrote a book called “Groundswell” that was, at the time, groundbreaking. The key learning from this book (for me, at least) was the concept of “POST.” People (who you’re wanting to connect with), Objective (what you want to accomplish from connecting with them), Strategy (the series of tactics that will get you to the desired objective), and then and only then…Technology (Twitter, LinkedIn, Your Blog, etc.).

Today’s “Social Selling” Love-Fest seems to stem entirely from love of Technology, Tactic, or Tool. And that is part of what’s driving me insane.

The guy or gal who understands LinkedIn is leveraging his or her ubiquity on that platform into “let’s do a social selling thing!” gigs. They then meander into HQ, signed up by someone in a sales role who says “let’s get the social person here,” and then…BOOM! There’s a training session! There’s a rah-rah speech! The needle is moved!

That last part is highly questionable.

Why doesn’t it work? Scroll back up there to the WHY behind the WHAT. Which brings us to point two:

2. You’re Just a Number, Just Moving Through the Funnel

Yup, that’s the other problem here – You actually ARE just a number.

I don’t mean to diminish the fine work being done by some folks in “Social Selling.” However, those people are rare birds.

What is more likely is a process that looks like this:

  1. Boss says “do social selling.”
  2. Given a playbook, front-line sales person starts blasting out notes, or focusing on scattershot “content marketing,” or decides to build their LinkedIn network purely for the purpose of having a spreadsheet of contacts.
  3. Front-line sales person then tracks everything – because you have to prove the value of social selling, and because Boss has likely paid big bucks for some solution (LinkedIn, Salesforce, etc.).
  4. Numbers are tracked and…
  5. It doesn’t work. Something breaks down somewhere.

I’ve seen this movie over and over. There’s rarely a strategy, rarely an objective. Instead, it’s just someone protecting his or her own turf.

Time to Move On to the Next Hot Thing

I had a consulting project several years ago that was eerily similar to a lot of the above. “Social Selling” was…well let’s just say there was a different social media tactic, and the idea was that it – could have been Twitter, could have been Facebook, could have been Plaxo – was going to change the way this company did business.

But the company didn’t even embrace clarity around what the heck they were doing, instead holding onto a “dog” of a product, and wanting social to dig them out of a hole that social wasn’t going to dig them out of.

It was a short project for me, doomed to fail; we met some of the objectives but it was an impossible task.

What Wins? CLARITY

If you’re selling something enterprise-wide, you’re not going to win through a Social Selling campaign alone. You know that, and management should know that. What you should demand is clarity:

  1. Clarity of Objective. What are we trying to accomplish?
  2. Clarity of Message. What message are we looking to convey, when, and to whom?
  3. Clarity of Strategy. Why are you building the trade show calendar again?
  4. Clarity of Tactics. At some point, you will need to figure out which ones to cross off the list. You can’t be everywhere – and you can’t fall in love with LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook just because it’s cool. Go back again to point 1 and repeat.

I don’t think “Social Selling” is inherently bad. I just wish it accompanied some good old fashioned thinking. And wasn’t a substitute for a real, live strategy.


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