social selling

photo credit: Le.V3T via photopin cc

From day one it’s been said that the proper use of social media is for engagement, not sales.

But when you think about it – effective selling has always been about engagement first, because true engagement happens between people.

Now that social media is considered a foundational element of marketing, I wonder if that’s the best place for it. Far too many marketing departments treat social as a mass marketing tool and additional broadcast channel. While this view may indeed create more awareness, how much engagement does it actually generate?

Sales folks that have embraced the best use of social media use it to:

  • Identify very specific ideal clients
  • Connect with friends of friends of existing clients
  • Mine networks for potential opportunities
  • Keep tabs of what’s going on in a client’s world
  • Personalize content on a case by case basis
  • Engage in sharing with and for clients and prospects
  • Make introductions that turn into referrals

I don’t know about you, but the entire list above sounds like engagement and relationship building of the highest order – the kind that can’t really happen in a mass, detached way – the kind that successful salespeople have always employed.

If an organization is to derive the most benefit from social media today it must be driven deep into the organization so that it can be used as a tool for individual connection rather than simply a metric on the marketing KPI spreadsheet.

I would much rather see an organization reward a salesperson for being connected very deeply in one client’s network than stand up and cheer because they got their 10,000th follower on Twitter.

You see, social media really is all about selling, just not in the way some have long incorrectly viewed that art.

Every superstar salesperson knows effective selling involves networking, nurturing and connecting on a one to one basis and they grab whatever assets they can to build and sustain meaningful, long-term relationships. Now that we more fully understand social behavior and the impact of social media it’s time for organizations to wake up and move it to the sales team.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Interesting thoughts, John. Continuing your analogy a further step, my question to you then would be, “what does that mean for CPG companies?”

    CPG companies generally sell to resellers, which is where their salespeople focus. However, their broader social media and marketing activities tend to focus on consumers. While their sales force is focused on the buyer at the reseller, their broader marketing activities focus on demand gen at scale.

    If it’s this disconnect and yearn for scale that drives the push tactics of large CPG companies, how does your salesperson analogy apply to that field?

    • Dave – obviously marketing still has a role – hopefully they get what role is in creating demand for the end user in your example. Salesfolks then can use some of the same tools, just in vastly more personal ways. The reality is that social belongs everywhere in the org and each department and individual is charged with using social behavior to meet their objectives and add value to relationships.

  • Mike Raia

    Effectively teaching social savvy to salespeople is critical, both what to do and what not to do. Social doesn’t belong to any department, it’s just a two-way channel to prospects and customers. Each part of an organization uses it differently but necessarily.

    • Mike- yes that’s what I’m saying, but too many orgs make it for marketing only and I don’t see many marketing departments using it as effectively.

  • Neil Kristianson

    Quality over quantity. Amen!

  • Hello John,

    I really like the idea of this article. If I were to go to my days selling software, I would surely use social media in a much more productive way to do a host of things. Twitter as an example is much less of a promotional vehicle than it is a meet and greet tool, if and when used properly.

    While I like your article, it leaves me some questions, maybe concerns, about social media rules of engagement, and letting sales people “lose”.

    What would happen to a companies brand if and when, the not so socially acceptable sales professional ventures out into social communities and disregards the rules of engagement?

    I have experienced personally the results of ignoring, or not knowing, the rules of engagement. There are indeed rules. If you break them, you not only hurt your personal brand, but the brand of the company you sell for.

    So, training aside, do you think this is a risk that outweighs the benefits , OR, is it more of a training concern that can effectively be addressed?

    Note, I agree 100% that sales people could gain tremendously from doing it right. I just that doing it wrong is a very bad thing.

    • Vincent I think when you consider this the price of doing business you put training, process and policy in place and you hold people accountable. The fact is the rogue salesperson can do it today with or without your permission, just like the rogue customer, the key is to embrace it and treat it like the tool it is.

      • Note, I 100% agree with you. You are also correct that people can do it today. I think making it formal, would inspire training, and probably mitigate much of the concern. My point was really more about the importance of doing it right. I’ve done it wrong. You yourself have been a witness of it. It can really backfire when you don’t have a clue. It can even backfire when you do have a clue.

        I appreciate your insight, as always.

  • nedelsha


    Thanks for pointing this out.

    We started talking about this about 6 years ago (as “Sales 2.0” now we call this approach “Social Selling” too) but it’s still only the early adopter sales professionals that are really using these approaches today.

    The referral approach through Linkedin in particular really is a “killer app” for sales people, especially when selling into large companies–WAY more effective than traditional cold calling.


    • Nigel – I agree it’s still early, but obviously headed down this path – I’ve written an entire book on the subject that will be out in May –

      • nedelsha


        Right. I can tell by the book’s tagline that we’re on the same page.

        Sales people need to learn marketer’s approaches. I experienced plenty of times as a sales person when I had to do my own marketing. As a small business owner you are both by default anyway so you better know how to do both–and in the best way available today.

        I’ve pre-ordered the book on Amazon 🙂


  • Brodie Tyler

    The best way to stand out as a business is to have great connections with potential, current, and past clients. I think it’s great the social media gives us the ability to do this even when we aren’t with them face-to-face. Thanks for sharing!

  • This year all are going social and it’s not possible that good conversation converts. I think the more connections runs more engagements. Genuine engagements are those goals that trigger for long term came from curing their business pains. And social media will be much effective when there is a combine or support of usual marketing tools.

  • Social media can be used not just for marketing but customer service as well. Sometimes it can be tricky to sift through spam and trash that can get there, but I would say that’s one of the things a social media manager should do too – unless he or she has an intern for those tasks.

  • Сей мировозренческий катарсиз ни в одни рамки не лезет.

  • Jane Pellicciotto

    This raises a point I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. A lot of companies or orgs might hire a young intern or else outsource their tweets to a PR firm, for example. This is fine as long as there’s a funneling up of what’s happening on social media to the people in charge. The _doing_ of social media activity is only one half of it. The processing of what’s happening and how to translate that into relationships is the other half. Your point about driving it deep into the organization is a great one that could be easily missed.

  • I’m glad you mentioned that social media is the first step in engagement. Then you need to go offline (unless you’re selling products, e.g. Amazon) to building last relationships that lead to sales. Social media builds awareness and reputation. But you’ve still got to do the hard work. I feel that too many people are treating social media like a silver bullet. That it’s the answer to all their dreams. It’s but one communications funnel in our arsenal.

  • Excellent. Too many companies are missing the opportunity to engage not just a few who broadcast marketing messages, but entire sales fields who become voices of the company. Each tweet and post becomes another doorway into the company and each relationship strengthens that doorway. I do strongly believe that training and policies need to be in place so all are in alignment with the messaging and aware of the opportunity and the risks of representing the company 24/7 in social.