How Has Social Selling and Sales Evolved in The Past 12 Months?

Two weeks ago I attended the 11th episode of Mark Fidelman’s Blab series with the title “How Social Sales is Dramatically Increasing Customer Acquisition.”

For this episode, Mark invited two social selling advocates, one of whom was Vala Afshar who recently joined Salesforce as their Chief Digital Evangelist. In the second hot seat reserved for a social selling proponent sat our Nimble CEO Jon Ferrara. The third guest, Daniel Tautges, the founder and President of Pinpoint Worldwide. He has 20 years of sales experience and was brought in to keep the rest of the guys in check and offer insights into why some companies still prefer doing things the way they are used to and haven’t hopped on the social selling bandwagon just yet.

In this post, I’m going to do my best summarizing the key points that these gentlemen discussed during the show. You can also catch the recording of the session here.

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Jon Ferrara took the mic first, expressing his opinion on what has changed in the last twelve months. He believes that people have woken up to the fact that service is the new sales. He mentioned that more and more people have realized that successful people are in business with the intent of helping other people to become better at what they do. “I think we are going through a renaissance in relationships where people are really understanding the value of their network. People know that your brand and your network enable you to get stuff done.” It’s important to be where your prospects and customers are. “When you are not top of mind with your customers when they are making buying decisions, you are done. As Mae West said: ”Out of Sight is Out of Mind & Out of Mind is Out of Money, Honey!”

In the past year, Vala Afshar has been seeing companies concentrating on bigger integration of different lines of business like sales, services, and marketing. Prior to joining Salesforce he spent ten years as the Chief Customer Officer at Extreme Networks and observed that the most touchpoints his company had with their customers was with service departments. He emphasizes the importance for every customer engagement that happens to really deliver the brand promise. In the past year it has shown that we are more connected than ever before. “In the last 12 months media consumption online surpassed television. Every single one of our customers has a computer in their pocket and they know much more about our products, our competitors, our capabilities than ever before.”

[Tweet “94% of business buyers do an online research before making a purchase decision.”] Source.

Daniel Tautges’ impression is that customers became more educated. Daniel mentions that sales has always been about educating people, but the alliance with digital media has gotten well known, and most companies understand that this is the way we are informing customers these days. “When customers are coming into a deal or when you are starting to engage them, they know your product almost as well as you do. It’s almost scary the amount of information they can get. This is probably the biggest thing, it has probably been going on longer than 12 months, probably like 18 months.”

How To Be Successful At Leveraging Social for Selling?

Jon thinks that in order for salespeople to successfully use social media sell, they need to realize that what they say and do on social has to be less about their products and services and more about teaching people how to get what they need to get done better, faster, and smarter. “Your job as a salesperson is to be out there in the social river with your customers not selling, but serving them and helping them grow.”

“If you want to get some real business results from your social selling efforts, you have to identify people that matter, reach out in an authentic and relevant way to build pay-it-forward connections that result in mutually beneficial, measurable business outcomes”, adds Jon.

Vala mentions that in order to make it as a social seller, “you have to use analytics, social media, and have to create a personal learning network as a salesperson. Because if you don’t understand, based on contextual intelligence, how to deliver the right content, to the right person, across the right channels, at the right time. You’re not gonna meet your quota. The best sales people in my prior organization, leverage all the channels they can to have a deeper and better understanding of the buying decision team, the buying process map, and all that leads to you using the customer’s language to position yourself as trusted advisor. Trust is a currency in a hyper connected and knowledge-sharing world that we live in. Social just enables that.

Vala has over 95 thousand people following his Twitter account and definitely knows what he’s talking about. The content he shares on daily basis is one of the best I have seen. His posts are a mixture of educational, motivational, and inspirational posts that are always well thought through, interesting, and valuable. He offers an explanation of why that many people still struggle with a mass adoption of social media. “The reason is simple. It is hard.”

“You have to be a caring person, you have to be smart, you have to work your butt off, and for a long time it feels like echo, no one is out there listening to you. And suddenly, the magic happens.”, he shares.

[Tweet “Trust is a currency in a hyper connected and knowledge-sharing world that we live in. ~ @ValaAfshar”]

Why Are Some Organizations Still Hesitant to Adopt Social Selling?

Daniel offers some insights into why he thinks that some organizations are still hesitant to incorporate social selling into their processes. He thinks that the biggest problem is that many companies still see the need for a clear distinction between sales and marketing. “I want my marketing people marketing and my salespeople selling.” Daniel shared his recent experience with a certain company where the person he got on a phone was clearly either a marketer or an uneducated salesperson and clearly showed his inability to “close him.”

“You want your salespeople to know the buying signs, you want them to qualify the deal and close it. Do you want them on Twitter, Facebooking, and posting stuff online? No. I want them on a phone. Building relationship and closing business. I think that’s really what’s behind this.”

The point Daniel is trying to make here is that you have to have the skillset to close. The conversation can start on social media, but you still have to be able to sell when you get the opportunity. I’ve recently read a great post from Barb Giamanco, who’s been a big evangelist of the integration of social media into selling process for many years, and co-authored The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media, the first book written about how social media and social networking applied to selling.

In her article, Barb brings up the fact that it’s become extremely difficult to cut through the noise that now exists around the popular term “social selling.” She’s concerned about the large amount of newly emerged ‘social selling experts’ without any actual sales experience. The lack of experience in this profession may lead to a simplification of what some believe social selling is about.

“Yes, absolutely, integrate the use of social media into your sales process, but I’m asking you not to believe anyone who would suggest that’s all you need to successfully compete for business. You must have great sales skills and understand your buyer’s decision making process well enough to align your approach to theirs.”, says Barbara.

Social media is here to stay, that’s a fact. The term social selling itself might disappear the same way many other did once the everybody accepts the fact that social media is here to stay and it will just be another channel we all utilize for business and won’t have the need to emphasize the word “social”.

There’s no question about if social media used right, combined with proper skills is beneficial or not. Perhaps the conversation is sometimes not led in the right way which may lead to some thinking that it’s a matter of abandoning traditional processes and completely moving onto social media. It is nothing more than just another tool we can use, as in any other profession, we need the right mindset, skillset, and toolset in order to be really successful.

Before we get to the point where we don’t need to be talking about the benefits of social media anymore, we have to focus on communicating the benefits clearly and keep educating those that have not implemented social into their workflow.

During the blab show mentioned earlier in this post, Mark asked the participants about what exactly they think should be done in terms of educating the vast public and turning them into believers in the power for social.

How To Spread The Knowledge So More Organizations Start Doing it the Right Way?

Jon Ferrara believes that it’s important to tell stories the way people can equate. If communicated properly, “they’ll see that they have been doing this since the beginning of time. In the old days, I taught my sales people to look at people’s walls when they walk into their offices. I told them to look at the books the people they are meeting with read, the degree of the schools they went to, the knick knacks they collect. Figuring out the areas of commonalities helps breaking the ice and it builds intimacy and trust. People then open up to you about themselves and their business issues that you can then solve.”

“Today, we are doing that electronically, and we are doing that to understand the context of the relationship to have insights into who they are and what their business is about. If you don’t do that, you are not gonna succeed. I think the mistake that people are doing about social selling is that they think it’s about social media or about Twitter or Facebook. It’s about none of these. It’s about understanding the person and their company and figuring out how you can help them solve their problems”, adds Jon.

All participants in the blab session agreed that the right way might be concentrating the discussion around the value of relationships and not about social media specifically. It has  always been strong customer relationships that drive sales, sustainability, and growth of a company.

If you are interested in reading some more on this topic, check out the blog post I came across while researching this post.

How Social Sales is Dramatically Increasing Customer Acquisition [Blab show] w/ Mark Fidelman, Vala Afshar, Jon Ferrara, Daniel Tautges

Why I’m Over Social Selling by Barb Giamanco

Six Steps To Jumpstart Your Social Selling Program by Tom Martin

What Does Social Selling Mean in 2016? by Alex Hisaka (LinkedIn Sales Solutions Blog)

Top 15 Insidious Social Selling Myths by Tony J. Hughes