May 24

Better Social Selling, an Interview with Jill Rowley

Social Media


Do you want to get better at social selling or help your sales team do the same?  If not, you should. Here’s why.

B2B marketing has gone through a modernization to align better with how people buy. Now it’s time for sales to step up. According to Jill Rowley, “…we’re long overdue for transformation, a modernization of the way we sell…”

I recently interviewed Jill Rowley, Chief Evangelist and startup advisor for #SocialSelling. Jill’s made a huge impact in the marketing automation community. She’s a modern marketing expert and is now applying her innovative thinking to social selling.

Writers Note: The transcript has was edited for publication.

Brian: Jill, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Jill: Sure, Brian. Thanks for having me today. I’m excited about the discussion. I say I’m a sales professional trapped in a marketer’s body. The reason is, of the 13 years that I was in software sales, I sold into marketing for 10 of those years.

Because my buyer was marketing for a decade, I feel trapped in a marketer’s body. For the past three-plus years, I have been helping big and small companies think about social as a channel and how they embed social into their selling. I work with big and small companies to approach social selling from a programmatic, organizational level.

What inspired you to start social selling?

Wow. I think it was just frustration from the lack of results of other channels regarding getting the attention of my customers. Even before that, it was because social was new to marketing, and marketing was trying to figure it out.

Because I wanted to help my customers, my buyers, I needed to understand what social marketing was with their marketing initiatives. Also, I saw the potential for social and how it would help me, as an individual salesperson, be where my customers are, be visible and valuable to my customers, to be part of the customer conversation. I definitely saw it as a research tool.

Are you finding salespeople still are being asked to hit the phones to send out more emails?

Yeah, absolutely. The mandate for most sales organizations is, make more calls, send more emails. They’re hiring more people to do those things, and actually, they’re hiring more junior people who have no business acumen, who have no sales experience, and they’re just doing more. More isn’t better, I know it’s not grammatically correct, but more relevant is better.

If you look at it, contact data has gone to zero. I can get pretty much get anyone’s phone number and email address. And I can send an email and call anybody. Everybody’s doing it.

Now, as a buyer, you’re receiving tons of generic, not-relevant emails. You’re getting a whole series of them because now there are these automation tools that will automate a cadence, or a series, of emails. By the seventh touch, the seventh one is, “Have I offended you,” or, “Are you stuck under an elephant? Has a rhinoceros eaten you?” That’s just ridiculous. These are absurd tactics.

Brian: I’m laughing because I’ve received these emails, and it’s painful.

It just seems like it’s getting worse. Why is that?

It’s getting worse because the technology is now going into the hands of the salespeople, and they’re being measured on more. I think sales leadership really needs to step up.  And sales leadership needs to realize and recognize that the buyer has changed more in the past ten years than the previous 100. The way people buy and go about getting information has dramatically changed, and the way we’re selling hasn’t. Really, we’re long overdue for transformation, modernization of the way we sell, and matching how people and companies want to buy.

What are some of the social selling mistakes that you see marketers and salespeople repeating over and over again?

I literally just had this question, being interviewed for a Forrester Research report on social selling. The biggest mistake is taking old-school tactics and putting them in new school channels. That whole “more” approach, and “all about leads” approach, “my company, my product, my customers, as a salesperson. Not “you, your company, your business objectives.” The “me, me, me” approach is now in social and is being amplified.

It isn’t very comforting. There’s a woman who is an aspiring social seller, and I got an invite to connect with her on LinkedIn, and it was generic. She’s an aspiring social seller, and she sends me a generic invite to connect on LinkedIn. I don’t accept the invite. I reply, and I give her a link to The Art of a LinkedIn Invite.

Essentially, you have to personalize your invites to connect. That aspiring social seller responded and thanked me for the tip, but unfortunately, my guess is her behavior won’t change. Because she’s in the “more,” she’s in the “just do more, connect with more people, send more tweets, share more content,” and not thinking about more relevant.

How do you see empathy applying to social selling?

Empathy is necessary. You have to look at things through the eyes of your customer. You have to appreciate their point of view. It’s a gift, really, I think, being able to look up someone on LinkedIn, and see where they went to university, see what skills people are endorsing them for.

For you, Brian, lead generation, B2B marketing, strategy, CRM. Now I get who you are and what you’re good at. I read recommendations that people write about you if I’m thinking about where I invest my time. If you’ve got glowing recommendations, I want to work with you.

There’s this ability for both salespeople to learn more about their buyers. But at the same time, there’s this ability for buyers to find out more about the salespeople. They decide whether to engage or not based on whether they think that that salesperson can help them solve their business problems.

Brian: It sounds like it applies to help people connect better with their customers.

Empathy gives them the ability to build a rapport, to allow for that connection to happen.

Jill: That’s exactly right. An example is, I’m helping someone out at AT&T. He runs sales in their federal group, and he’s been asked by the leader of the public sector team to present to their 4,000 public sector employees how B2B buying has changed. In doing my research, not just no that broad topic, about how B2B buying’s changed, but I’m looking for indicators of how AT&T’s already changing.

I spent some time on AT&T’s website and their blog site, and lo and behold. I found a video interview and a blog post of his boss, Kay Kapoor. She’s the president of the public sector at AT&T. I found this blog post and this video interview with her, and I shared it. It was all about women in tech, which is something I authentically care about.

That’s another thing. If I didn’t authentically care about women in tech, I would never have shared that piece of content. But I authentically care about it, so I shared that interview and blog post of Kay on LinkedIn, and I tagged her. Because I want her to see that, I’m getting to know her. Ultimately, I want to have a conversation with her about how we can take a programmatic approach to social selling within her public sector team and how I’m the person she wants to work with if they’re going to invest in social selling.

Are there any other tips you have for our listeners who want to get better at social selling?

Yeah. This will sound harsh, but I always say if you suck offline, you’re going to suck more online.

Social amplifies both the good and the bad. Today, your job isn’t to rush anyone to the signature, to go for the kill, to hunt and farm your customers. You’re a facilitator of a journey. Your job is to help the customer solve the problem, achieve the goal, and if it’s your solution that they need, your job is to facilitate that purchase process. The mindset has to start there.

This absolutely requires training. There’s no question in my mind, regardless of whether you’re a millennial who has grown up with digital devices and access to social networks, or you’re a baby boomer who is a digital immigrant.

I think that these networks each have their own culture. Twitter is much more conversational. LinkedIn is all business. Please, no death announcements on LinkedIn. I see a lot of that lately. Seeing a lot of Facebook-type content being shared on LinkedIn, and I don’t think we should go there. How do I actually find good quality insightful content, as a rep, that I could share in my networks that isn’t just all of my company branded content?

These things require new skills, and that to me means there needs to be an investment in training. I think about it from the individual seller, but also at an organization level. I think the group should take a much more prescriptive and programmatic approach to decide how they’re going to, what they’re going to train their salespeople on, and tying it to the overall governance of social media policies, et cetera.

Are there any stories that you’d like to share with people who’ve followed your approach?

Yeah, for sure. There are definitely individuals and companies doing this well. I would say that we’re still in the relatively early days in figuring all of this out. ON24 is doing a really nice job of training their salespeople. They’re working with a partner company of mine, Sales For Life.

They put all of their reps through the Sales For Life 10-week training program. There’s a certification process at the end of it where they have to demonstrate that they’ve used social to source a new opportunity, so a real certification. It’s good for that salesperson because now that’s something that’s a skill and something that can help get another job. Not just getting their next customer, but potentially their next job. And their leadership is bought in at that sales director level.
Other resources?

I love to do I go to LinkedIn’s annual conference, and they always post their video content on YouTube. There’s a bunch of presentations from real companies doing real social selling work, and so I recommend that as a resource as well.

What excites you right now about the future of sales marketing?

I feel like I’m pulled in two different directions. Because one, what excites me is what I see coming to the sales industry that I saw develop in marketing over a 10-year period, of an explosion of new technologies to help automate, to help segment, to help personalize, to help measure, to help improve conversion rates. We see the same thing start to happen in sales, and some great tools are being developed and available for salespeople.

Artificial intelligence, I’ve published some blog posts recently on LinkedIn about how I think AI will change sales. There’s some fascinating stuff happening in AI around how that will make the best reps even better, allowing me to do less of that administrative work and freeing me up to spend more time thinking about the human side, which is how do I be more empathetic?

To be more empathetic, I need to know more about my customer. Now I have more time to research them. I can listen to their CEO on their investor presentations. I can speak with more people within their organization. I’m able to spend more time on the strategic and human aspects.

On one side, I’m talking about technology. On the other hand, I’m talking about being more human. The balance between those that excites me the most is striking the right balance between tech and human.

Brian: So we’re going to have this technology to help us augment and apply our empathy, which really gives us the intuition to know how to connect best.

These tools won’t automate trust. But they’re going to enable us to spend more time making choices and doing things that build trust.

Jill: There you go. It is about building trust and credibility. To earn your trust, it needs to be about you, not about me. Mutuality matters, so there needs to be mutual benefit. Still, one of the expressions that I loved that I learned from the president at Eloqua was, “To be interesting, be interested in something other than yourself.”

I like Tim Sanders’ book, which basically says that the best salespeople share their knowledge, share their network, and show they care. I think that’s really where a lot more of the emphasis needs to be placed in both sales and marketing and even in product design, thinking about it through the user’s eyes.

What’s the best way for our readers and listeners to get in touch with you?

Jill: The absolute easiest and fastest way to get my attention is on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @Jill_Rowley. Then LinkedIn, if you want to invite me to connect on LinkedIn, send a personalized invite.

If you’re doing it from the mobile app, up in the top right-hand corner of the mobile app, there are three little dots, and if you hit those three little dots, there’s an option to hit personal invite. If you hit, connect it’ll send you the generic invite. I say generic invites are #socialstupid or #justplainlazy, #firstimpressionsmatter, #everyimpressionmatters. Never, ever, ever, ever send a generic invite to connect to anybody. Personalize it. Those are the two best ways to reach me.

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. Thank you both Brian and Jill. I feel it is important to try and use both tech and the human experience to help clients. Also, I like the fact you are pushing people to get the knowledge first before diving in. Sometimes the tech looks to easy, so something will get left behind.
    Richard Benchimol
    Leads Indeed

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