There have been some interesting conversations taking place on The Customer Collective on the subject of the adoption of social media and the changes required in approach and skills for B2B salespeople. If you’re interested in a little entertainment—snarking, social media-style—I would suggest looking at these two posts and more important the comment thread that follows: David Brock’s Why Do Sales People Have Such a Bad Reputation? and Axel Schultze’s Death of a sales man (sic).
Axel, a proponent of social media for B2B sales made a strong case for massive adoption, now.
What follows is my comment to Axel’s post in Death of a sales man. There are a number of other comments to read, most of which make some good points.
I agree with many of your points. I see things a bit differently … with respect to where some components of some sales peoples’ jobs are headed in the short term. Technology, and more specifically, social media are playing a larger and larger role. No argument from me there. I know that as a researcher, as a business person, as a salesperson, and as a buyer! I’m engaged.
Here, however, are some points for consideration:
- Some major market segments are today very, very far away from regular and widespread use of social media between buyers and sellers. Industries such as industrial equipment, insurance, and some sub-sectors of health care have a long way to go. There are other segments as well. Government sales is in that category. Those lagging industries and local, state and federal agencies, for the time being, are employing more traditional ways of learning about products and services—Web 1.0—looking at alternative vendors’ websites and discussions with salespeople and the experts they bring to the party. Attempt to come at them through social media and you’ll likely find no one at the other end of the tweet.
- Certain modes of selling will lag significantly in the adoption of social media as a selling tool and capability. As one example, the success of the strategic account manager (SAM) presently depends on many of the more traditional sales skills and capabilities to drive the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue they each bring to their companies each year. Will that change? Sure. But not this week, this month, or maybe even this year. If the seller tried to alter that relationship it would be very risky. [The premier source of intelligence on that discipline is SAMA: the Strategic Account Management Association.]
We can’t throw out all the old concepts, approaches and skills just yet. Many billions of dollars of business will get done this year by sellers employing the skills taught by Miller Heiman, Wilson, Huthwaite, Holden, SPI, The Complex Sale, and the other larger as well as single-person firms. My firm studies those companies and has audited the performance improvement results that some of their clients have achieved.
I know there are many reading this that think that stuff is old and irrelevant. I agree. It is, but only in a minority of B2B selling situations. Mainstream corporate and government sales success is still driven by overall compliance with a buyer-centric sales methodology. I know some don’t want to hear that. But the fact is this: research proves that compliance with many traditional sales best-practices is getting the job done for many companies.
So, if my points about social media being relevant to a relatively small piece of the B2B market are correct, we are potentially doing a real disservice to many sales people and managers by distracting them with representations that the whole world of selling is changing, now.
I would estimate that 80 to 90% of direct salespeople in B2B sales need to get better at the more traditional approaches to selling–for the time being. This is important: There is significant room for improvement in sales performance through sales leaders adopting the best-practices of top-performing selling companies in areas other than social media.
Here’s the bottom line for me, Axel: If a salesperson’s buyers have really embraced social media as a way to establish and build relationship with those who would provide them with valuable products and services, great. Those companies do exist. But in general, and regretfully for some I’m sure, we’re just not there yet.
Special favor: I’m really interested in your feedback on this subject. If you’re a sales leader, would you please take this brief Kadient survey? It will help us figure out what is really going on with respect to the use of social media in B2B sales.
Note: I suggest the reader peruse the comments to this post. Wow!