For over 20 years, I have spent most of my career largely in a world filled with sales and marketing professionals, and I am often baffled that one group will often embrace a new technique or method, while the other will completely ignore it. No place is this more apparent than in the world of social media.
Although salespeople have grown comfortable with the use of LinkedIn as a sales tool (more on WHY later), they seem to avoid blogging like the plague. And Twitter? Even poorer adoption. When I ask them why, I commonly hear: “I’m not a writer,” and “Who cares what I think? I’m just a sales rep,” and “Why should I? I’m busy. Besides, how is Twitter going to help me make my number this month?”
Tough objections indeed.
But after working with thousands of salespeople and their managers (and after some self-analysis on my own reluctance to “join the conversation”), I think I may have discovered at least three of the reasons that are holding them back. But if you hope to inspire a change in their behavior, you must first take a moment to understand their reluctance. Here are my top recommendations.
Discovery #1: Salespeople don’t like to share.
It’s true; they don’t. And for very good reason. We often equate competitiveness as a strength in our salespeople. Their compensation, job security and advancement, territory alignment, and even specific sales opportunities are treated as tangible rewards to those who openly compete and win. But that open competition comes with a price. Why volunteer to reveal information (especially personal) in a world where most activity is openly broadcasted and critiqued? Keeping things close to the vest would seem to make sense. How would you react if you were greeted by a large whiteboard every morning that ranked your comparative “worth” by the # of quality leads you independently generated that previous week?
Recommendation: Make it a contest.
We incentivize salespeople every day to record the number of appointments, outbound calls, proposals sent, and other activities that we know drive sales. Why not include their number of blog comments? Or new Twitter followers? Or recommendations on LinkedIn? Make it fun, and make it competitive at the same time. Rank the sales team in order of their “social strengths.”
Discovery #2: Salespeople behave more like “day-traders” than long-term investors.
Given that their quotas are often measured in monthly increments (and sometimes even shorter), the rep is conditioned to find the opportunity to close in virtually every activity, and are thus driven to value immediate wins over long-term investments. So creating content, blindly releasing it on the web, and then waiting for some form of ROI to appear would be maddening for even the most level-headed sales rep. Most deals change wildly, so many salespeople learn how to make small, real-time adjustments while managing their opportunities. Therefore, any long-term approach to better sales will often fall on deaf ears.
Recommendation: Give them the numbers.
Take the time to show them how to use analytics during the process. Create customized dashboards in a tool like HubSpot's Social Inbox so they can witness the progress of their social activity in real time. Establishing cause and effect is a quick way to communicate with a salesperson in a language they readily understand. And from a selfish perspective, you will benefit from the amazing ability many salespeople possess to analyze this data.
Discovery #3: Salespeople are inherently neutral.
One would think that salespeople would naturally revel in sharing their opinions to a large audience. But surprisingly, they have probably already been trained to do the exact opposite. Even on their first day, they are taught to never bad mouth a competitor, never argue with legal or procurement, and always hand off any technical objection to a sales engineer. Furthermore, knowing that their world is fraught with rejection, the salesperson is conditioned to adapt quickly in hopes of building rapport at every turn. For many, any loss of rapport is often perceived as even a criminal offense. Terrified at the mere thought of disagreeing with a customer, the typical sales rep goes to extreme lengths to appear “neutral” on virtually every topic.
Recommendation: Ask them to write a blog post about why they joined their company.
One topic that salespeople often feel confident in is their decision-making. They constantly make decisions throughout their day, and then are often asked to defend those decisions publicly. So having them defend their decision to work for your company will seem fairly straightforward. This will now provide an arena for the rep to personally express themselves. Hopefully, they can now transfer their pride in working for your company to pride in writing something that elicits positive feedback. And it is that personal voice that can lead to higher self-confidence in expressing an opinion, regardless of how others may debate it. I have always believed that demonstrating self-confidence is nothing more than embracing one's vulnerability, yet doing something scary anyway. Let them feel the satisfaction of being authentic when “picking a lane."
The late Dr. Stephen Covey once said, “Seek first to understand.” Instead of trying to convince salespeople why they should engage in the world of social media, take a moment to recognize that this world is a very foreign place to them. Be creative with new exercises, and always leverage their existing strengths as an enticement to join. You will find them participate more willingly, and once they experience the inevitable results of their efforts, you can enjoy watching as many salespeople start to include content creation as part of their regular routine.
This is a guest post written by HubSpot Advisory Board member Jeff Hoffman. A renowned sales executive and entrepreneur, Jeff consults with industry leaders on the topics of sales, sales management, and sales operations. The author of Your SalesMBA™, "Why You? Why You Now?™," and The Seven Basho Strategies™ sales training programs, Jeff presents to sold out audiences around the globe.