Social Selling: Thoughts for the Festive Season

November 30, 2015

The fact that you share the same birthday with another human being shouldn’t be the sort of incidental information that plays a role in whether or not you buy a service or a product from from that person. It shouldn’t, but it does. Research carried out by the University of British Columbia revealed that ‘incidental similarities’ mediate the relationship between a salesperson and a prospective client. If the salesperson is personable, then the common ground enhances the quality of the connection. If, for whatever reason, that same salesperson is perceived negatively, that same sliver of common ground only serves to increase the degree of alienation. According to various sources, this specific piece of research gave birth to the concept of social selling. If, like me, you thought all selling is social, let me offer you a brief definition to clarify the term.

Social selling is concerned with how someone builds his or her network for the purposes of influencing and selling, supported by the use of social media tools such as Linkedin or Twitter. Canny use of social media software, so the argument goes, affords the opportunity to identify the sort of coincidental connective data that enhances relationships and increases sales. There’s an irony to all of this. Although the notion of social selling seems to have emerged from research that focused on relationships, when the practice of social selling is often discussed, there’s more talk of ‘tools and licenses’ than relationships and human connection. As an experienced sales professional from a global software company recently said to us: ‘forget the software, it’s still the relationship that counts.’

Extended Mind’s interest in social selling derives from the fundamental question we ask all our clients (and ourselves!): do you have the quality and diversity of relationships to achieve your goals? Our experience tells us that the quality of your relationships is one dimension of success, and that the diversity of our relationships result in the creation of new connections and therefore new opportunities. That fundamental question breaks down into three clusters of behaviours: Bridging, Bonding and Brokering. From a social selling perspective, those behaviours translate into three important questions:

  • Bridging: Where is my next client or deal coming from? Do I have sufficient diversity in my network to drive future business?
  • Bonding: Do I have the right quality of relationships (how can I improve those relationships?) in order to add genuine value to my clients and customers?
  • Brokering: How can I use my network to build my personal brand and to create value for others?

Answers to those questions are more likely to drive the extent to which someone truly demonstrates ‘social selling’ rather than the number of social media tools he or she is using.

A final thought.

All great human relationships are governed by an essential principle: ‘reciprocity’ (as the psychologists would call it) or ‘give and take’, as we might refer to it more generally. However, often what is supposed to be social selling amounts to no more than a mechanistic approach to developing contacts, relationships and networks. Like the awful phrase ‘stakeholder management’, it’s all about what can you take from a relationship. It doesn’t feel very ‘reciprocal’. Perhaps a more effective, more human, approach to developing our commercial relationships might benefit from asking a single question more often: ‘what can I give to this person / customer / client / colleague?’ After all, at the heart of the positive effect of ‘incidental similarity’ mentioned at the beginning of this blog is a question of trust. Research and experience argues that ‘giving’ is a better starting point for building trusted relationships than a mindset of ‘getting’.

And that isn’t a bad thought to end on as we approach the Season of Goodwill.

Enjoy the festive season.