Social Sales Is Not New – It’s Thousands Of Years Old

From The Archives

This article first appeared in Social Media Today, May 1st, 2015. But it remains just as relevant today … read on.

A webinar promotion popped into my social feed this past week asking the question, “Who owns social selling?” It went on to give the case for ‘sales’ and ‘marketing.’ Turns out that it’s neither … apparently, it’s a partnership! Really? It takes a webinar to bottom that one out?

But what about support, account management, professional services, finance? The list of departments that have a level of engagement with a prospect or customer is extensive. How do they fit into the ‘owning’ spectrum?

The premise of the webinar was not only misguided but continues to support the notion that specific departments inside a brand should be in charge of ‘customer interactions’. They are not. People are in charge. They are talking to each other, engaging with each other, learning from each other. And brands if they are savvy, can become part of the conversation. If they are not savvy, then the online engagement starts to feel more like this!

But there’s more. Years before sales methodologies and the ‘industrialization’ of the sales process emerged, good salespeople understood that to know your customer, engage with that customer, bring value to that customer, be their trusted advisor and their ‘always on’ expert, was what made for a good business relationship. And with a good business relationship, balanced, win/win business was done.

So much of that has disappeared over the last 50 years. Companies in their never-ending desire to automate business and their insatiable appetite to ‘scale and expand’ have increasingly focused on:

  • their own sales process, not their customer’s buying process
  • their own product, not their customer’s needs
  • their own bottom line, not their customer’s success

True – they have delivered platitudes, said the words, even occasionally taken steps towards ‘customer first,’ but more often than not it’s too little, too late and hardly ever sustained.

Now, with the increasing absence of those trusted advisors (that have for years been replaced with product sales people, systems sales people, consultants, tech experts, process gurus and the like), customers have been silently moving away and working things out for themselves.

A recent Corporate Executive Board study found that “nearly 60 percent of a typical purchasing decision is made before even having a conversation with a supplier.” But 60 percent of the ‘sales cycle’ did not disappear overnight, it has been a long slow process of erosion – oh – and by the way – 100% of the buying cycle is still in place.

Who owns social selling is not just the wrong question – it is the wrong thinking.

Just like customer success – which should not be a department but an organizations ‘raison d’etre’ – every single person in the organization needs to be focused on success. So too, every single person in the organization needs to be focused on sales. (Note – sales – not ‘social’ sales).

Don’t Be Redundant

To me, the ‘social’ in ‘social selling’ is redundant. Selling is social. It is true that we have a new and emerging set of tools, technologies, and processes that allow an organization to embrace even more ways of engaging with prospects and customers (though I tend to call them people.) These tools are allowing organizations to get back to how business has been done for thousands of years – before it was industrialized. And what is really interesting is that the openness and transparency that comes with it is going to make it very hard to go back to the industrial ways. Good business is about people. Not brands.

Pay attention brands, you need to have:

  • your people thinking about your customers, how to engage and bring value, how to be recognized as their trusted advisor and ‘always on’ expert.
  • worked out processes that are going to turn your company upside down as you transition to a customer-centric model, and finally destroy the silos.

Then, and only then, will you even know what tools and technologies you need to implement – much less test, enable and roll then out.


John Philpin
John Philpin
JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.

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