Social Selling – Super Strategy or Fading Fad?


Chris Keuch

Chris Kuech of Adaptive C&A explores whether social selling will continue to be a successful strategy in software sales moving forward.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the MarTech industry is the speed with which it adapts and reacts to an ever-changing modern consumer profile.

It’s one of the things that first draws people to this cross-road domain where sales, marketing and IT come together: with every new development in customer buying trends or platforms comes a parallel evolution in the software available to marketers to capitalize on these changes.

But what about the sales process itself – selling MarTech tools to marketers. Is that process as modern, data-driven and nuanced as the software it promotes?

The answer varies significantly from one organization to another. Sometimes even from one VP to the next, within the same company.

Nowhere is this more common than with regard to ‘social selling’, and the adoption of this methodology across sales teams in the MarTech space.

Defined by LinkedIn as “leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships, and ultimately, achieve your sales goals”* , social selling would seem to many a no-brainer for an industry anchored in building a better customer experience based on data and personalization.

Knowing and understanding your target customer before making an initial approach is Sales 101, and in an age of unprecedented amounts of available prospect data, it may seem logical to assume that MarTech sales teams know no other way to sell.

Surely social selling is the heart of any successful strategy in 2017?

That depends on who you ask...

When we screen new sales candidates at Adaptive for the first time, fundamental methodologies is always a big talking point and social selling isn’t always front and center in every AE’s playbook. The reasons why are interesting.

For some, social profiling is simply considered a waste of energy. It takes a lot of time and effort to research a prospect’s Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram etc.. It takes even longer if this information isn’t only used to as a base for a more personalized initial sales engagement, but as a ‘slow burn’ strategy to build a ‘non sales’ relationship prior to making the first real move.

Other candidates voice the opinion that social selling almost goes against the real heartbeat of their sales success – identifying needs and uncovering pain points.

Many advocates of social selling praise the relationship-building potential of engaging with a prospect first with regard to their personal interests and extra-curricular goals, prior to discussing business. Detractors point out that this can be a lot of needless tire-spinning if ultimately the prospect is not a good fit, or has no major pain to heal.

Better, in their eyes, to cut to the chase and take the direct route with a cold call or email pitch.

If there’s a need, it will spark something. If not, move on. Sure, social selling can help build a relationship – but what’s the point if it goes nowhere?

For others, of course, social selling is the new ‘secret sauce’ that helps top reps break the ice with new customers before getting into a more formal business conversation. It’s a key tool, built into the way the sell, and they wouldn’t think of tackling a new high-potential prospect without first developing a social engagement plan.

Hootsuite’s team (unsurprisingly) articulate its benefits very clearly: “If you have not yet incorporated social selling into your business, you’re likely already losing sales to your more socially savvy peers.”

So why the split in opinion?

Ultimately, what emerges from such disparate feedback is that social selling is not a one-size-fits-all technique, and has its place among sales strategies. Done right, social selling can equip top reps with a whole new toolkit that adds invaluable new angles from which to begin building key relationships.

Targeting the purse-string holder for a major enterprise account with a big-ticket sale hanging in the balance? You’d better do your homework and fortify your relationship via every available channel. Going in ‘cold’ could be hugely costly.

But customers are complex, and so is business – not every deal is like this.

Prospecting through a heavy and ill-qualified list of potential customers, at the transactional end of the market and chasing a smaller deal size? Deeply researched social selling could well be a major time drain and add little to your success.

In essence, successful use of social selling depends chiefly on the type of target customer and the sales model itself.

Ironically, it’s a question of “know your prospects… before you get to know your prospects”.