The Social Selling Catch-22

Like sports, travel, and Justin Bieber, Anchorman provides a nearly unmatched wealth of metaphors applicable to the sales industry (and I’m only half-kidding about Bieber. Hate the music, but give the kid some props—he definitely understands his target audience and their needs).

With CEO Mark Benioff making it the entire focus of Dreamforce 2011, “social selling” is, in the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “kind of a big deal” these days. In a world where attention spans are short, having an edge in connecting with prospects makes every step of the sales process easier and faster. Professional sales reps–particularly inside sales reps who sell remotely–seemingly can’t afford NOT to be connected to the various social platforms.

Inside sales expert Ken Krogue notes that a LinkedIn invitation with the exact same content as a marketing-generated email is 8x more effective at getting responses than the email by itself. Hubspot reports that companies that blog get 55% more Web traffic, 70% more leads, and 57% of organizations have acquired a customer through an interaction on their blog. In addition, companies with an active Twitter account get 2x as many sales leads, and organizations with 1000+ followers get 6x more traffic.

Yet that’s more of a marketing than sales perspective; what about front-line sales reps? What do they get out of social media? How about insight into prospects’ “inner workings,” business dealings, company culture, and management? Social media can help reps discover product development and launch dates, personal connections and shared hobbies with contacts. All told, social media makes it significantly easier for reps to find a niche where they can create value–when handled correctly.

Sounds great, right? So what’s the “Catch-22” (referring to the title of this post)?

It’s those three simple words at the end of the above paragraph: when handled correctly. What too many “social” sellers forget is that social media amplifies both the positive and negative traits they display during the sales process. When a rep actively provides real value to the customer, social media can make those efforts more visible. Conversely, when a rep is acting in their own interest, and not the client’s, the consequences (and backlash) are equally visible.

Simply put, social media forces the rep to commit to and engage in buyer-focused behaviors, or it will bite them in the butt, period. Social selling means your reps’ professional demeanor becomes even MORE important when no immediate transaction is forthcoming.

As much value as social media can provide, a “social” rep who cannot or will not commit to following buyer-centric principles is wielding a very dangerous two-edged sword. Aggressive, self-interested, “Sex Panther” tactics (“60 percent of the time it works every time”) are amplified ten-fold in a social sales environment–and the only thing worse than connecting with a prospect then acting shabbily, is connecting with a prospect and acting shabbily in front of thousands of other companies and peers linked to your social media accounts.

The bottom line is, before hooking your reps up to every social media platform and sending them off into the wild, you MUST have a strategy and process in place. Do your lead generation reps have a mandate to use social media? Do you bonus reps more for self-generating leads through existing social media contacts, since the cost of acquisition is much lower? Is social media considered part of your active marketing matrix?

Most importantly, what supporting materials will reps need to effectively leverage social media, who will be providing them, and how does the nature of the medium itself alter introductions, value propositions, and closing techniques (if they should be used at all)?

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