Social Selling: It’s Not New.

Anthony Iannarino put out a good newsletter the other week in which he talked about how business acumen is the new currency. In it, he said that:

You are the primary source of value creation for your clients: It isn’t your product, your service, or your solutions. While all of these are important, nothing compares to the value you create as a salesperson by helping your clients discover their needs, build the case for change, and take the necessary actions to producing better results. This is the value that differentiates you.

Business acumen is the new sales acumen: While all of the things we were taught in the past about selling are still useful, none are as useful now as business acumen. Do you need to know how to close? Absolutely. Do you need to know how to overcome objections (better described as resolving concerns)? Of course you do. But if you know how to do these things without knowing how to help your client get better results, they’re meaningless.

Political acumen counts, too: If you want to win new opportunities today, you need to know how to build consensus within your client’s organization. You need to be able to discern where power and influence reside and how to help make trade-offs if you want to prevent a no decision. You need to find your way north and south through your client’s organization, building support, mitigating any negative impact of your solution, and managing egos.

You need to be first with ideas: There is a reason that “insight” (even though I’m not completely comfortable with that word) is so important to selling well now. It used to be that you needed to be in front of an opportunity to position yourself to win; you needed to develop the relationships before your competitors (still necessary). Now it’s important that you show up with your value creating ideas before your competitors do. You need to be focused on the next “next” thing.

What you doing for one client you should probably be doing for another:  As you work with your clients to help them produce better results, you’re learning things. You’re gaining additional ideas that you can use to help other clients (and prospective clients, I call them dream clients) produce greater results.  Will what works in one industry transfer neatly to another? You need to spend time within your organization collecting these ideas, sharing them across your team, and implementing them in the field.

Be proactive: You can no longer wait for opportunities to present themselves. You cannot wait for your client to become dissatisfied, raise their hand, and ask you to finally share the ideas that you’ve been sitting on for six months that might help them produce better results now. Your clients are counting on you to make a difference, and you have to be proactive in making that difference to create new opportunities. Make an appointment, share your ideas, and ask for the commitment to explore a new opportunity.

In a previous post I responded to a CSO Insights article, so between this newsletter from Anthony and the post I responded to, it’s really gotten me thinking about this whole notion of social selling, and I wanted to write a follow-up post. This one will probably be a little bit longer, but the topic of social selling is nothing new. It’s being pitched as a new movement, but nothing could be further from the truth. Fifteen years ago when I was looking to approach a client trying to prospect in a new business, I would peruse their offices or at least go into the corporate lobby to take a look at the kind of trade magazines and journals that they had, and I would often ask the receptionist if I could take a couple so I could learn a little bit about the industry.

I would pore through the Denver Business Journal business section and look at the news and announcements because that’s where you found such things in that day and age. There was no Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or any of that stuff. I went to the library to research industries and companies, read through magazines, and often would pull the filings of public companies, like 10-k’s, 10-q’s, etc. All of this was in an attempt to get to know my prospects and clients to look for both opportunities to get in the door as well as to have something to say when I got there.

Today this kind of information is far more accessible, and it’s free! For the most part, you go to Google and you type in the company name. I remember at one point I actually convinced my company (I believe I was with AT&T at the time) to purchase a Thomson intelligence product called Intelliscope. It was about $15-$20,000 a year, and you could access analysts’ reports and public filings. I think at this point it was on the Internet, but it certainly wasn’t as easy as going to Google to find information. It was, however, an incredibly powerful tool to get a deep knowledge of an industry that I was going into, including learning the terms, the buzzwords, the risks, and the strategies these companies were employing so that when I walked in the door, I had something to talk about other than my own product or service.

So, after I’d done this research and had all this information, I would cut and paste and assemble it into what was essentially a briefing packet. I would then print it out with a cover sheet, make it spiral bound with the little cool machine we had, and put a clear cover on it. I would always bring it with me on my meetings with my clients, and I would display it very subtly, not on top, but in a way that if they were engaging with me they couldn’t help but notice it there. I always got a lot of brownie points and earned a lot credibility with it. One person said, “I notice it says A Company Name and a briefing. Can I take a look at that?” They would flip through it, and they were always impressed. I even had clients ask me for the copy of the briefing that I had put together so they could better learn about their own company!

On average I had spent probably 10-20 hours preparing for my first call and my first conversation. Now granted, I was typically calling on CIO’s fairly high up, and our average deal was in the half a million to one million dollar range. So there’s a lot of upside here, but the point I am making is you don’t need to spend nearly that kind of time in this day and age to acquire the exact same information. Not only did my strategy work, it prepared me for the conversation. Most importantly, however, it demonstrated to my client that I cared enough about them and their business to invest real time to produce a tangible output. When they saw me sitting across from them talking business, and they noticed that I had done my homework (so-to-speak), they knew I was there to help them solve problems, not to present my product.

Today, in my practice I spend a tremendous amount of time working with clients on the skill of discovery, and the question that always comes up is, “Why is discovery so difficult? Why is it so hard for us to get good at artful discovery, at really probing and getting to the customer’s true pain?” My answer is quite simple…most of the salespeople out there are just plain lazy. They don’t spend time researching the company. They barely spend time on the company’s website reading their PDF’s or marketing material. They certainly don’t invest the time to understand the industry that the prospect lives in. Additionally, and probably more egregious, they don’t spend enough time preparing not good, but great questions, and here’s what I mean by that.

If discovery is your opportunity to demonstrate your desire to truly know and understand your client, but you walk in, sit down after the initial pleasantries, and begin to ask questions that could be answered on the company website or with a basic Wikipedia perusal of their industry, do they really believe that your interests and care and concern is going to come across as authentic? OF COURSE NOT. Here’s what they are hearing, “I am here to really understand your business, and I want to help you to provide solutions, blah, blah, blah, but then what comes out of my mouth demonstrates that I have done absolutely nothing up until this point to invest in getting to know even the basics.” Fundamentally, do you really believe that your prospect is going to open up and share with you real need, real pain, real concerns, real opportunities, and what’s really going on with somebody who has not put in the work, who has not invested the time to get to know them, and who, to them, looks like everybody else?

So I hope you think about your own discovery efforts, and rather than simply trying to solve the problem of more artful discovery through asking really insightful questions, you acknowledge the fact that the underlying requirement of great discovery is that you’ve actually done the work, you’ve put in the time, and you’ve made the investment to understand this business before you walk in the door. Really, that’s what the whole concept of this social selling is all about. It’s learning about your customer. The tools may have changed with LinkedIn notices, Twitter announcements from the company, and more access to information on the web. However, I would suggest that is only going to serve to really distinguish and differentiate those that put in the time. If somebody sat down across from you and began to perform discovery, I am pretty sure you would be able to tell the difference between somebody who’s spent 15 minutes Googling and scanning for information and buzzwords versus somebody who’s spent 2, 5, or even 10 hours really trying to understand your company and industry.

Stop being lazy. That’s the key.

By Townsend Wardlaw