I’m asked frequently if the idea of “social selling” is overrated. The answer is complicated (as most things are), but the short answer is “yes.”

For the past 12 months, social selling has been the topic de jour at conferences, by bloggers (including yours truly), and via market-leading sales professionals nationwide.

And with good reason! Our prospects are sharing buying signals with us across their social channels every single day. The opportunity to engage prospects earlier in their buying process, specifically through social channels, has accelerated rapidly.

Gartner has predicted that social networking platforms will replace email as the “primary vehicle for interpersonal communications” for 20 percent of business users by 2014.

And some have taken news such as this as proof that social will replace email in business, and as the primary tool for sales professionals.

Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s the wrong question to ask.

Whenever a new channel enters the fray, in almost any context, I think back to about 15 years ago when banner ads were all the rage. There were entire agencies born specifically to create and sell banner ads!

Your “traditional” ad agency couldn’t do banner ads, because they were different. They were exciting! They were the next big thing! This internet thing was going to take over the world, and banner ads were going to lead the way for marketers!

And they did for awhile. But eventually, those banner ad agencies either went away, evolved, or got bought by others. Banner ads were (and are) a single tactic, a tool, a small component of an overall, effective marketing play.

The Internet, and banner ads if you must, changed how we use other methods of communication. But few of those methods have gone away, or have left the sales professional’s toolbox entirely.

Social selling, in today’s context, isn’t really any different. It’s new, somewhat known, and the best practices are still evolving. Plenty of really smart people are focusing their consulting practices on helping sales individuals and teams better take advantage of and convert on the social selling opportunity. And they’re doing great, important work.

But let’s not pretend that social selling won’t eventually become an integrated part of our broader selling efforts.

Will social replace email as the primarily communication channel for sales professionals to their prospects? Who cares.

Will prospects prefer or require us to communicate first and foremost with them through text or telepathy or carrier pigeon in 10 years?

Wrong question.

Because the answer will continue to evolve, and the tools in question are still just a means to an ends.

More important is how you use those tools, what you communicate with them, how you translate the buyer’s needs into messages that help them achieve an outcome they care about.

  • There are a lot of folks out there asking the wrong question(s) — and to your point, Matt, “the answer will continue to evolve . . . the tools in question are still just a means to an end.”

    Aren’t we still in the business of knowing our customers — and using that insight to give them what they want, when they want it, where they want it at a price they’re happy to pay?

    If we do this well, we get to keep on doing it. If we do it poorly, we have to find something else to do.

    Thanks for your post.

    Brian Fey

  • Hi Matt, interesting article and viewpoint.

    The way I see it there are tactical, operational and strategic dimensions, as well as technology, process, proposition and people aspects.

    For example:

    Tactical – to what extent will companies transition from email to social messaging in future.

    Operational – how will marketing and sales align and what inside sales processes will develop.

    Strategic – to what extent can we facilitate our best customers to become advocates and help us to sell and grow our business, by ensuring that they get something out of it too.

    Social Selling will go mainstream and will become ‘selling’ in future.

    However, like CRM, it’s going to be a long and expensive journey.