Archives for March 2014

Much Ado About Social Selling

Digital Selling | Social Selling

Dear readers:   This post contains some opinion and commentary and then some practical advice.  If you’re a TLDR (too long, didn’t read) person or just want the meat, jump down to A Word About the Phrase “Social Selling” and start reading from there.

With that said, there’s a societal behavior pattern at work with social selling, which I find interesting.

Shout It From The Rooftops

Have you ever noticed how we tend to shine a spotlight on the behaviors and social mores that we want to morph and replace with a “new normal?”  By shining the spotlight on an issue and increasing awareness, over time, acceptance grows.  I remember first learning about this in a sociology course in college, many moons ago.  Some societal examples:

  •  Minority groups and supporters lobby about the need for equality and diversity and foster a societal movement toward racial equality.
  • Women’s groups and supporters espouse the leadership abilities of women and lobby for equal pay and opportunity and foster a societal movement toward gender equality in the workplace.
  • GLBT groups and supporters campaign for acceptance and rights and foster a societal movement toward ending discrimination based on sexual preference.

The really interesting thing about this?  You’ll know when we achieve equality on all three of these fronts, because one day you’ll wake up and these specific groups will be no more.  Case in point – when was the last time you heard about women’s suffrage in the U.S., outside of a history class? Women in the U.S. can vote. That’s just “how it is.”  (Like my favorite definition of company culture… “the way we do things around here.”)

I’ll Have an Unsweet Tea with Lemon, Please

A respected ex-coworker of mine (thanks Luke!) was fond of saying that there are two ways that change happens.  He made the point using a story about a glass of water.  Let’s say you have a glass of iced tea.  You want a glass of water.  There are two ways to accomplish the change:

  • Pour the tea down the drain and fill the glass with water.  Boom!  Done.
  • Place the glass of tea under a faucet and turn the faucet to a slow drip.  It might take awhile, but eventually – you’ll have a glass of water.  This latter method is very often how change occurs in our society and in our organizations.

Social Schmocial

What does all this have to do with social selling?  Well, right now, we have a bunch of social selling thought leaders (who support this growing cottage training industry), all advocating social selling like it is the greatest thing sliced bread and the very thing that has or will completely revolutionize buying and selling, as we know it.

They are pushing, nudging, cajoling, persuading, lobbying, selling, influencing, sharing stats and success stories, and generally shouting from the rooftops and shining the spotlight on how social selling is the new normal, or the future, or both.  For the record, many of these people are friends or respected industry connections, and in many cases, I think what they’re recommending is absolutely right.  For some.

Side Note: For those of you in the training profession, you might remember how audio tapes, video, CBT, and elearning were all going to completely transform the training landscape (and especially kill off instructor-led training/ILT), right?  And now, in the learning profession, it’s social learning, informal learning, mobile learning, flipped classroom, gamification, virtual ILT, virtual worlds, content curation, and more.

Seeing any patterns?

Anyway, we’ll know social selling is truly part of the selling landscape, when we stop talking about it and shining the spotlight on it.  Someday, it will just be “how we sell.”

Having said all this, I’d like to offer some thoughts about social selling today, and share some ideas on how to make the most of it, if it’s right for you.  This could easily be a book, so it won’t contain everything, and I hope you will comment to add thoughts, debate what I’ve shared, or generally share your thinking on the topic.

A Word About the Phrase “Social Selling”

First, I wish we would stop calling it “social selling.”  Huge misnomer.  Has selling not always been social (in the sense that it occurs between people… not that it’s like attending a concert with friends or a family reunion)?  To Bryan Kramer’s point, is it not H2H or human-to-human?  Of course it is.  Now, however, we have the opportunity to research, learn, connect, build awareness and interest, and forge relationships – all through social media and other online and digital resources – as part of (or before) the selling process begins.  I’m not the only one who’s called out the misnomer, by the way.  See the responses to Craig Rosenberg’s (@funnelholic and TOPO) question, “What is social selling?”  Some pretty interesting comments in that mix.

My Advice for Selling Through Digital Channels (aka Social Selling)

Is Social Selling Right For You?

The people who are doing much of the shouting don’t seem to ask this question often, but it’s key. I was really pleased to see Greg Alexander of Sales Benchmark Index weigh in recently with this post about the applicability of social selling by industry or vertical. The first two sentences lay it out clearly:

“The potential impact of Social Selling varies greatly by industry. Social Selling will be highly disruptive to some industries. Not so much to others.”

In short, if your buyers or those who can connect you to them are not using social media, or if social media efforts will not influence your buyers, your time is best spent elsewhere.  If you’re selling into a market that has been disrupted by the social revolution, if you’re not maximizing your social channels, you will eventually be left behind.  As with most things, context and nuance matter. Make a purposeful decision about how much to engage in “social selling,” and when.  Check out Greg’s post for some guidance.  And see these other posts about sales nuance, because it matters a lot:  Sales Nuance and more Sales Nuance.

For the remainder of this post, let’s assume your buyers are engaged in social media… on LinkedIn and possibly Twitter, Google+, SlideShare, Quora, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc…. and that selling through digital channels  makes sense for you.  Fair?  Fair.

Mike’s Digital Selling Formula

Here’s my approach, in a nutshell.

  • Conduct Research
  • Make a Connection
  • Generate Awareness
  • Create Interest
  • Build Relationships
  • Convert R2R (relationships to revenue)

From the R2R point forward, it’s all about account management – either retention or growth, based on account potential.  But today, even that includes social and digital elements.  Fodder for another post.  For now, let’s put a little oomph behind each of those bullets.

Research Buyers Through Digital Channels

If your buyers are engaged on social media, conducting sales research through social channels makes sense.  If not, you can still set up alerts (check out Mention sometime), watch for Trigger Events, and conduct other online research to learn more about them.  Possibilities:

  • Review profiles on LinkedIn and other social sites
  • See who they are connected to
  • Learn which LinkedIn groups they belong to and if they are participating in discussions
  • Observe which companies they follow
  • Watch their status updates and if possible, which they comment on…

…basically, observing their social footprint.

You can take this beyond standard social media sites and use a search engine and alert service, to see what else you can learn about them… philanthropic ventures, personal interests, alma mater ties, fraternal or association affiliations, community involvement, and more.  

Connect and Create Multiple Digital Touches

From a sales perspective, studies abound to remind us how many touches it takes to get attention or make contact.   From a learning perspective, the value of spaced repetition is well known, to increase retention.  To be clear, I’m not recommending soliciting your buyers through multiple channels… I’m recommending:

  • Following their digital footprint – being where they are
  • Listening, observing, and learning about them
  • Being part of their universe and creating multiple touch points

Build Awareness and Interest

If you hang where your buyers hang, and are seen as part of their world, you’re halfway there.  Now you need to interact with them in their sandbox, to move from general recognition toward awareness of your expertise and what you do.  The goal here is to enhance credibility, begin building trust, and to offer value and generally be seen as a valuable resource.

The next step is to create interest. This is a blog post or book unto itself, but suffice it to say that the relevancy of your content and the things you purposefully share should be guided by the research you did to understand your buyer and their potential or real challenges. You’ll be able to gauge interest by their reactions and actions – downloads, likes, comments, shares, and questions or emails.

  • Comment in their group discussions, to add value from your experience
  • See what books they’ve listed on Goodreads, ask their opinion, and share some ideas
  • Learn where they have traveled on TripIt and see what travel experiences you’ve had in common, and parlay it into a discussion about why they were traveling and what they are trying to accomplish
  • Comment on presentations they posted or commented on, on SlideShare… lead to a discussion about what they’re doing or an interest or need
  • RT something they seem passionate about on Twitter… share your approval or interest in the topic

…basically, using what you learned about them to forge a connection, build awareness, and generate interest.

Put Relationships First

This advice isn’t meant to be as linear as the rest.  This is just a good principle to adhere to, in social and digital channels.  I’d like to say this isn’t news, because the pundits all talk about how relationships come first.  But realistically, the advice is often unheeded by the hungry horde of reps that see LinkedIn as a massive email marketing database.

In many cases, these reps immediately enroll new connections to their marketing automation systems or newsletters, without any opt-in or warning, simply because you connected with them.  Or worse, immediately after connecting, you get the boilerplate InMail solicitation, introducing them, their company, product and/or service, with a sloppy call to action for a meeting to “get your feedback” or “explore options for helping each other” or seeing “how we might do business together.” As smooth as 40-grit sandpaper, in many cases. Social approaches should be far more subtle.  It’s not always possible, but it’s far better if you can “magnetize” them toward reaching out to you.

Exception to the rule

If you’re reading this blog, you know I’m not anti-selling.  I’ve spent a career supporting sales organizations.  I do stand for sales excellence and believe we need to elevate the profession.  But if there is a compelling reason to move quickly… a need being discussed openly in a LinkedIn group, a referral from a mutual colleague who believes their contact needs your help, an uncovered Trigger Event… don’t just sit there contemplating how you will wow them through your social savvy.  As Joanne Black says, pick up the damn phone!

Convert Relationships to Revenue (R2R, baby)

B2B, B2C, now H2H.  I could go on.  We don’t need another acronym.  But what the heck, right?  If you can’t do this part, meaning R2R or converting Relationships to Revenue, social media is just a fun hobby.

Hobbies are nice, but they don’t pay the bills, they don’t make your number, they don’t get you a ticket for the President’s Club cruise, and they don’t earn your spot on next year’s sales team at your current company.

The timeframe will vary and it’s not something I can tell you, without knowing more about your situation and context – but you need to move with purpose and clarity through the previous stages to get to this point of R2R “as soon as possible…” (and to paraphrase the quote about simplicity that is oft attributed to Einstein)… “…but no sooner.”

At this point, without knowing context, I always feel like the recommendations are both generic and weak, but in general…

  • Use a referral or introduction, if possible – preferably from someone you’ve helped or who will give you a favorable introduction.
  • If possible, give to get, pay it forward, demonstrate servant leadership, or connect them to someone who might interest them, or help them in some way (or better, perhaps someone they can help).
  • Always remember this “give to get” maxim, and be a provider of valuable information and connector of people who can help each other… if you can help your prospect in some way, prior, it will help open the door for your R2R approach
  • Leverage news, Trigger Events, social comments, press releases, your research (something you read about your prospect company in their recent 10-K, perhaps) or what you know from another connection, as a reason to reach out and create or shape an opportunity and begin the opportunity pursuit process.

Some Other Considerations for Digital Selling

If you don’t want people to know you are researching them or don’t want to hint to competitors that you are researching a company or prospect, you can hide activity on LinkedIn, hide your connections, avoid  commenting to them in the groups (until you’re ready to make a public connection).  I don’t personally hide my activity, but I know many cautious sales pros who do. Pros and cons.

Social media can be a huge time suck for little return, if not managed well.  Many sales people are completely overwhelmed by various sites, choices to make, which tools to use, and how to automate effectively, to be able to maximize time spent researching and engaging, rather than doing the mundane tasks.  Plus, sales people who are still getting great or good-enough results with old methods, will see no reason to switch, until social becomes so ubiquitous that they will start to lag in performance or even miss targets, because they didn’t change gears soon enough.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

So, that’s my somewhat balanced and completely opinionated take on social selling, or selling through digital channels.  As usual, due to limitations of blog posts and time to edit, it’s half the story with twice the words, but I sincerely hope some of the ideas are helpful.

In closing, please don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I think digital selling is mandatory in some cases, and an incredibly smart and necessary strategy.  In other cases, it’s good idea to start migrating toward it.  And yes, in some (and probably far fewer cases) it’s a downright a waste of time.  When it’s time for you to make the move or hone your approach, be a pro about it, because we all need to work harder to elevate the sales profession.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, and be safe out there.


P.S.  Special hat tip to my friends and colleagues who were recognized recently by Forbes as the top 30 social sales people in the world, and the larger list at KiteDesk of the top 100 social selling influencers.  Kudos!


Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution

<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>


The Oversimplification of Sales Performance Work

The Oversimplification of Sales Performance Work

The Oversimplification of Sales Performance WorkYes, you read that right.  I’m worried about some of the things I’m reading and trends I’m seeing in the world of sales performance improvement.  Simple is good.  Oversimplified is not.

If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you may remember that I define performance levers as the knowledge, competencies, skills, behaviors, and conditions that must exist, for ethical, sustained, high performance to occur.

The work required to improve organizational performance (in a sustained, ethical way) is complex.  To radically improve performance (shift toward high performance), that’s even more true.  Doing this for the sales function – transforming sales results in today’s complex buying and selling environment – is particularly multifaceted and complicated.

The Sales Performance Ecosystem

Here’s something else you may have seen me writing about… the sales performance ecosystem.  We could debate the bucket names, where things sit, and possibly whether I’ve missed including something, but there’s little doubt that these elements (many of which are department or organization levers) all influence sales performance.  Aligning them or getting them “firing on all cylinders” can greatly improve sales results.Sales Performance Ecosystem

Not exactly “simple,” is it?

When Simple is Good

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not lobbying for unnecessary complexity.  Simple is good (or even great) and unnecessary complexity should be systematically stamped out or avoided.  I was in the audience at the 2013 Forrester Sales Enablement Forum when Scott Santucci recommended we all become “simpletists” (but not simpletons) and I agreed with him, in the same way that I agree with the quote often attributed to Einstein

“Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Simple is often a wonderful goal.  It’s great when you are:

  • Delivering service
  • Navigating a website
  • Using a product or service
  • Ordering something online
  • Explaining a product or service
  • Crafting or improving a process (Lean rocks)
  • Searching for an answer or using a Help system
  • Avoiding unnecessary complication
  • Explaining a value proposition
  • Using a sales enablement tool
  • Crafting sales messaging
  • Teaching a concept
  • And more…

When Simple Worries Me

When you’re analyzing to develop performance interventions, such as trying to diagnose training needs, align levers to radically improve sales performance, or lead or manage change in your company… I worry about oversimplification.  I often ask myself, are we:

  • Afraid to think our way through complicated issues and factors?
  • Shying away from the hard or complex work?
  • Settling to get something done (activity) rather than get a great result (outcome)?
  • Dumbing-down our approach, too far?

An example…

An Oversimplified Example of Oversimplification

Is surveying a sales force about what they “need,” really a “training needs analysis?”

The answer may vary greatly, depending on what you mean by “surveying” and how you did it.  I’ll have to oversimplify this, myself, for a brief blog post, but here’s my best effort, to make my point.

  • If you’re just asking what training your sales force needs, this is a very weak oversimplification, in my opinion.  You might see patterns; you might not, and in either case, you won’t always know whether closing those gaps will improve performance.  In some cases, you might just be seeing an indication that previously-delivered training wasn’t transferred or reinforced.  In my opinion, this is “going through the motions.”
  • Are you asking about specific knowledge, competencies, skills, behaviors, and conditions that – based on your initial analysis – you’ve hypothesized must exist, for ethical, sustained, high performance to occur?  This starts to move in the right direction, but is still too simple.
  • Are you verifying the Importance of your hypothesized levers to achieving results, asking how Difficult those behaviors are to perform, how Frequently the behaviors are used, and perhaps how often they should used?  Again, positive movement.

Sales Performance Lever Survey Example

  • But if you do the above, and:
    • Don’t know whether you are asking these questions of top producers, mid producers or poor performers (and therefore can’t segment your analysis).
    • Aren’t looking at the differences in responses across those bands.
    • Or aren’t later asking about or otherwise assessing Comfort levels or Ability to Use the skills (to the level required for high performance)…

 …you’ve missed a real opportunity to gather data which can point to:

  • The differentiating practices of top producers.
  • Where the gaps exist in your sales organization.

Want even “less simple?” Consider that:

  • You can collect the sales managers’ analysis of the same factors, for each of their reps, for comparison to the rep’s self-rating.
  • You can capture some of this data in ways better than surveying (or as a follow-up to surveying, which is a great starting point for analysis), such as interviews, focus groups, and DITLO (day in the life of) field observation.
  • You can do statistical analysis on the data gathered, to look for correlations, points of differentiation, or even predictive validity (if they do this, to this level, this frequently, they are X% more likely to get Y results).
  • If you’re looking for the root cause of lower performance, you may find that training is not the best solution to the problem, at all, as suggested by Mager and Pipe in their classic Performance Analysis Flowchart.

What’s My Point, Again?

I’ll stop here because the point of this post isn’t about needs analysis, performance gap analysis, or selecting the best interventions or solutions.

The point is that any of those critical tasks can be oversimplified to the point of ineffectiveness, where the outcomes are only a partial, pseudo, or completely inaccurate indication of what is really needed.

Doing the “simplified” method may:

  • Fulfill an obligation
  • Keep you busy
  • Be easier, faster, less resource-constrained, and generally less painful
  • Have you delivering training that people (say they) want
  • Get high “reaction” or satisfaction surveys….

…but if you get a performance lift, it will be as much due to luck (or other unconsidered factors) as to the work you did.

Simple, But No Simpler

In the end, I am a fan of simplifying as much as possible, avoiding unnecessary complication, but not oversimplifying.  I think this is especially true when your work involves the analysis of performance issues and the identification of performance solutions.  Perhaps the words/phrases “simplifying, unnecessary complication, and oversimplifying” are so open to interpretation that it’s mostly a semantics debate and better lends to a dialogue versus a blog post, but I’ll look forward to see how my points resonate, or don’t.

While I was writing this, interestingly, Don Clark published a post on “Simplicity Combats Complexity,” and as normal, it’s excellent.  You can read it at:

Consistent with my above semantics comment, you may or may not find Don’s recommendations for combating complexity to be “simple,” because that’s very contextual.  But they are logical and proven methods.

Whatever you believe, be cautious about oversimplifying your approaches to sales performance improvement, and let me know what you think.  I’ll look forward to hearing.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means, let’s continue to elevate our sales profession.


Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution

<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>


Transforming Sales Results is Back

Ch-ch-ch-changesThis blog is back

If you haven’t seen my social profile updates yet, change is afoot.  Friday, March 7 was my final day at Richardson.  Monday, March 10 is my first day at GE Capital.  (Technically, I guess that means I’m unemployed this weekend.  Hadn’t thought about that until this instant.)


Can something be bittersweet and exciting at the same time?  (Other than dark chocolate,perhaps?)  It certainly is bittersweet to leave Richardson.  They are a top 20 sales training company (for the sixth year running) and that is my field of expertise.  For those of you who are Richardson supporters, or if any clients are reading this… my opinion of them hasn’t changed.  Great company, great people, great products, great philosophy and approach toward professional selling, training, and sales enablement.  And, I am incredibly proud of the work I did leading the development of Richardson’s Selling with Insights® program.  Personally, I will also miss working from home in bunny slippers and having work-day lunches with my Dachshund, Doc.


Having said all that, did I mention it was GE?  On Monday, 3/10, I’ll start work at GE Capital’s Equipment Finance division, here in the Dallas metro area, to do sales training, development and effectiveness work, with their Commercial Development and Commercial Excellence teams (at GE, “Commercial” = “Sales”).  The work is right in my wheelhouse and the people I work with are sharp and “get” what I do… and I have to admit, that latter point has not always been the case.  I know I will be drinking from the fire hose for awhile and I’m always hard on myself during transitions… but the excitement is hard to contain and I’m chomping at the bit to get started. I’m not sure there will a lot of low-hanging fruit, since they are already doing so many things well (GE = thoughtful, planning, process, execution, measurement!), but we have talked about a few areas where my expertise will fit perfectly.  To be clear, I won’t be blogging specifically about experiences there, as the opinions here will remain my own and I will obviously not be sharing things that could represent competitive differentiation for my employer.  But I did want to share what was happening with my transition. 

I’m baa-aaack!

The real reason for this post?  This blog is back!  Transforming Sales Results is back online.  I may be more excited about that than anyone else, but if so, that’s okay.  I really enjoy writing here.  Given my transition, it may not come back with a roar, but I will be starting to write again.  I will also continue to guest post for both Richardson and ASTD Sales Enablement, and possibly others, as the opportunity arises.

That’s all for this first announcement, but stay tuned.  And, as always, be safe out there and let’s continue to elevate our profession of selling!

Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution
214.494.9950 |  mike at mikekunkle dotcom