When Social Selling Goes Very Bad

October 15, 2015 Mark Emmons


You are not what you eat. Or so believes social-selling evangelist Jill Rowley.

“I say you are what you Tweet,” she said. “And you are what you re-Tweet.”

But the reality is that too many people working in B2B reveal themselves as socially stupid, Rowley added. They’re so eager to use social networks to drum up sales that they instead chase away potential customers with heavy-handed tactics.

“If you suck offline, you’ll suck more online,” said Rowley, a social media butterfly who has fired off nearly 21,000 Tweets . . . and counting.

Rowley isn’t shy about speaking her mind, as you probably already noticed. That’s exactly why she’s in demand as a conference speaker. Rowley has an entertaining knack of making listeners understand how social channels, if used properly, can turbo-charge sales efforts. She preaches, often in 140 characters or less, the importance of being where the modern buyer lives digitally – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on.

But she also offers this brutally blunt advice: Act like a stereotypical, pitch-and-pounce salesperson and you’ll be treated like spam. In other words, deleted.

“People can read between the lines,” she said. “Your motivations are transparent.”

You want examples of Social Selling Gone Bad? Don’t get Rowley started.

  • She was asked to join someone’s “diverse professional network of 62K” in a recent LinkedIn invitation. “Wow, I feel incredibly special being one of the first 62,000 people to be invited to join (his) network,” Rowley said. To be interesting, she explained, be interested in something other than yourself.
  • A salesperson for the New York Mets approached Rowley on LinkedIn about scheduling a company outing at Citi Field. “Seriously?” Rowley asked. “I live in the San Francisco Bay area.” That went into her scorebook like this: Error, sales rep.
  • People who use the default egg avatar on their Twitter profile. “It says you’re an egghead,” she said. “If you’re going to be on social, look professional to a potential customer.”
  • Generic cut-and-paste requests for her time from people she doesn’t know. “Please, don’t send me a note about getting coffee,” Rowley said. “That’s a big commitment for me. It means I have to take a shower and get in my car. You’re asking for too much, too soon if we don’t know each other.”
  • Salespeople endorsing skills on LinkedIn profiles just to ingratiate themselves with prospects. “That boils my blood,” she said. “Those sales reps don’t know if they have those skills. It’s lying. And you think your buyers are going to trust you and want to get to know you after that?”

Do you have the vision yet of Rowley staring at her cell phone, constantly shaking her head?

“All the time,” she agreed. “I can’t tell you how many times I see things go wrong.”

Or, as she likes to say, a fool with a tool is still a fool.

Salespeople, Rowley said, can get in trouble when they have a fundamental misunderstanding about social networks. They’re about people sharing information. People get angry when they find themselves having to dodge aggressive sales pitches. That’s why you first need to create authentic relationships and establish yourself in a digital community by offering real value to others. It’s not just about knowing how to use a hashtag.

“You have to engage people in a human way,” she said. “That’s the missing link here. No one wants to be a target in your database. No one wants to be hunted, farmed or prospected. But we all want help. You need to connect people to resources and information. We don’t share enough and sell too much.”

With that in mind, Rowley has a long list of things you shouldn’t do on social networks. Some highlights include:

  • Don’t come on too strong
  • Don’t just be a mouthpiece for your business
  • Don’t be self-promotional
  • Don’t be unprofessional
  • Don’t Tweet . . . unless you also know how to delete them because mistakes happen

“The way I’ve heard it best-described is jab, jab, jab, then right hook,” Rowley said. “It should be give, give, give, then ask. At some point, you need to ask for a meeting, for an opportunity. But first you have to listen, hopefully amplify their message and help their success.”

Rowley obviously isn’t shy about calling out social stupid when she sees it – even when the stupidity is committed by a social network itself. Recently she received this from Twitter Tips: “Hi. @jill_rowley is part of your unique identity on Twitter. People will use it to mention you in Tweets.”

She was not impressed. She tweeted about how dumb that tip was for someone who has been on Twitter since 2008 and has almost 28,000 followers.

“They could personalize that message and make it relevant to me,” she said. “They have the data. But they made it generic and stupid. Shame, shame, shame on them.”

And you can bet that it won’t be the last time Rowley sees something on social networks that gets her frustrated.

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