Social Selling: Is it Really New?

Social Selling in the 60’s

I find myself speaking a lot on the subject of Social Selling but whilst the technology, the media and platforms are new, much of what we mean by Social Selling is not new at all. As a living and breathing example of this let me refer you to businessman Harvey Mackay who I heard interviewed recently by Dan Pink in his excellent podcast series Drive Time.

Mackay was born in 1932 so was in his 70’s when FB was invented. He has, and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this, been around the block. A few times.

In his first job as a young seller he nervously approached  an older colleague called Mr Carpenter for some advice. Mackay asked  ‘How long after you start calling on a sales prospect do you stop?’ Mr Carpenter, apparently one of the most experienced in the company (Mackay referred to him as an ‘old grisly’), replied. ‘it depends on which one of us dies first’.

I am not sure I would describe Mr Carpenter as a Social Seller (because I don’t have the data not because of his obvious persistence) but I have no doubts about Mackay. Mackay is, by any reasonable definition, a Social Seller.

Where have all the Sellers Gone?

In 1959, Harvey Mackay purchased an insolvent envelope manufacturing company with just twelve employees, three outdated folding machines and one printing press. Today, his company, Mackay Envelopes produces 4 billion envelopes a year, has $100m revenues and employs over 400 people in what I think we can all agree is a highly commoditised and difficult market.

However, he is not only the founder and CEO of Mackay Envelopes, he is also a New York Times best selling author and columnist. In fact he has sold more than 10 million books.

If you met him today  and asked for his business card though, it would say none of those things. It would not say President, CEO or Author. It would say ‘Harvey Mackay, Envelope Salesman’. This is as much borne in pride for his profession as it is humility. In a world of Account Executives, Product Advisers and Outcome Managers, Mackay is a salesman. This is because, for Harvey Mackay, being a salesman is a noble profession. It means being in service to his customers.

The Social Imperative (is what is really new)

Fifty years before the invention of LinkedIn or Twitter, Mackay realised that before you could have a network of trustworthy and valuable contacts, you first had to build a network of people who value you and whose trust you have earned. His book, “Dig your well before you are thirsty” is a testimony to this approach.  For me some of the examples are definitely ‘of their time’. Social mores have moved on somewhat. That being said, what Mackay intuitively knew was that selling required an unrelenting customer centred focus and a strong sense of ethics.

It would be difficult to argue, fifty years on, that Mackay plays anything but the long game. And  played it successfully. HIs approach is one of doing the right thing. Mackay focused first on his own behaviour and the results followed. He is a master of aphorism and he articulates this as ‘Conduct  your business as if your Mother is watching’

So there is nothing new in this approach. Successful sellers have always been social in the way they conduct business. What is new is that a customer centered, buyer-centric approach is no longer optional. The shifting dynamic between buyer and seller has moved the power more and more towards buyer. Buyers are better informed and better connected than they have ever been before. The increasing use of social platforms, ratings sites and online reviews continues to enable and empower buyers and forces sellers to do what they should always have been doing. What Harvey did.  And if you think it is just B2C, think again. Take a look at Glass Door as only one example. As Dan Pink puts it in to Sell is Human, it is no longer Caveat Emptor. It is Caveat Venditor. Seller Beware.

Separated by Decades, United by Purpose

Harvey Mackay and the Social Seller have much in common. Whilst they are separated by decades, they both agree that success means being a better seller and a better human. In a world where power has shifted from seller to buyer they both have to conduct their business as if their Mothers are watching.


Smart Watch naysayers and the inevitable rise of Wearable Tech

A diversion into the world of wearable tech for my first post after a Summer recess.

The naysayers are already lining up to herald the failure of smart watches including a couple of post from ZDNet with The problems with the smart watch even Apple can’t solve and Wearable computing: Why there’s no room for watches like Galaxy Gear. There is also a much more direct post from Medium with Why Smart watches will fail.

The sum of these and other similar criticisms are that the screens are too small and that there is no practical way of data input given the size of the device relative to the average, never mind the fatter, finger.

What these reviewers, critics and bloggers are overlooking is that the smart watch is not intended to be a small version of the increasingly inaccurately named smart phone. To date, we have computed on computing terms. At a desk, perhaps on our laps using a keyboard and screen. Wearable technology is about computing on human terms. Wearable marks a profound change to our relationship with technology.

Smart phones like the Pebble along with devices like Google Glass,  the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband and the San francisco based fitness tracking startup Fitbit fresh from raising another $43m  all owe a debt to the work of Mark Weiser a researcher at the Xerox Parc Alto Research Centre. More than thirty years ago, Weiser predicted that computing would go way beyond personal and would be ‘in the woodwork’ it would be everywhere; it would be ubiquitous.

Wearable computing is just the start of ubiquitous and situational computing that monitors and responds to our needs, our situation, in context. Wearable doesn’t need a screen or a keyboard, it need only do one thing well and be connected to the internet through equally ubiquitous connectivity.  In the old world a PC user selected the time, manner and duration of their interaction with a machine. In a world of ubiquitous and pervasive computing the thermostat at home is changed, journeys are redirected, sleep patterns detected, alternative arrangements for transit delays organised and medication regimes checked without a keyboard or screen, touch or otherwise.

In the interest of full disclosure the author is a functioning geek with a growing collection of wearables. For example, my Kickstarter edition pebble watch will track my running pace through Runkeepe and alert me to incoming calls, text messages and emails on a low-power e-ink screen. Contained within its (more geek than chic) case is a magnetometer, ambient light sensors and an accelerometer. It will also tell the time.

The future of Sales is to Stop Selling

Buy One, Not Two, Half Price

I am currently working with a business that goes to great lengths to help their customers buy less of their product. That’s right, their sales reps will spend time getting to know you, understand your business, demonstrate how they can help and then do what they can to shrink the order size. Less is less.

They have big ambitions and visionary leadership as their sector, the water industry, deregulates. What is most interesting to me though are the lengths that the sales team will go to, to help their customers save water. Of course, they are also selling products and services to achieve this but it is clear that the conversations, the processes, the products are utterly driven by customer and environmental savings.

Do the Right Thing

The other thing that makes this business remarkable is the level of employee engagement. According to the latest Gallup survey seventy percent of American workers are disengaged. Not so with this business. Talk to the team for more than a minute and their enthusiasm is inescapable. They believe in their leadership, their business and most of all their customers. A common phrase in all my conversations with them was ‘doing the right thing’. One young and ambitious seller ended our discussion with the observation that she had moved jobs three times in the last five years but she wanted to stay here ‘forever’. They are on a mission and she is along for the duration.

Serving Not Selling

I also spend a great deal of time in the financial services sector. This industry is, quite rightly, going through profound change not least of which around legislation and compliance. Those that sell in this business can effectively no longer be incentivised through commissions. Instead, they are managed around their behaviours. The sector is being forced to find new ways to track and report that they are doing the ‘right thing’ for their customers. There’s that phrase again.

Speak to their sellers (though none of them will have sales in their job title) and they will  tell you that they are glad of it. It would seem that they wanted to do the right thing by their customers all along and old systems of commissions and targets got in the way. In fact that might be a bit of an understatement.

Of course, sellers that do not really sell is nothing new. The pharmaceutical sector has  been run in this way for years. Sellers create awareness and educate in a role that is part marketing and part sales. To many quota carrying professional sellers this probably looks like an easy ride. No one is promising a set of steak knives as first prize and unemployment as second. In reality though, their days are long, they have customers to serve and they are being asked to do more with less like the rest of the business world. Easy is what someone else’s job looks like until you have to do it.

Selling, Just Stop

Whilst  commissions and compensation plans based solely on shifting product are illegal in some sectors,  I don’t see this changing everywhere anytime soon. Nevertheless, legislation is sometimes where we see new social norms emerge. In an age of information parity and increasingly connected buyers, we are seeing smart sellers putting their customers agenda at the centre of their business even if it means selling less. Increasingly we are seeing the sales agenda (and yes Challengers too) focus entirely on ‘doing the right thing’. 

Novelist William Gibson is quoted as saying that “the future is here, it is just unevenly distributed”It looks like the future of sales could be about helping customers buy and to stop selling.

Social: The Fifth Age of Selling

Professor Derek A. Newton of the Darden School at the University of  Virginia is credited with suggesting that there are four ages of selling. The ages start with music man and move through animated catalogue, magic formula and finally problem-solver.

The music man (or woman) was most successful before the first world war but you will still bump into them from time to time. For them it’s all about personality and charm. Like them and you will like the product or service they are selling. Whatever it is, it will cure what ails ‘ya without knowing the first thing about ‘ya or your ailment.

As industrialisation made complex products available and affordable to the masses the music was drowned out by the monotone of the animated catalogue. There was nothing this walking brochure didn’t know about the features and functions of their vacuum cleaner and why it was better than the competitors. Knowing so much about their product left little room for understanding their buyers. After all, everyone needs one right? and there’s has more functions and features than anyone else’s.

Times though kept changing for the our sellers. Families changed as did business buyers. Consumer buying decisions no longer fell exclusively to Dad and the corporation was growing in complexity too. Sellers reacted with process, a magic formula. A seller need only walk all the people involved in the purchasing decision into a funnel and then through a series of steps before they would inevitably drop out the other end with their wallet open.

The dominant form of selling today, at least where there is any complexity requires Problem solvers. These are more like consultants delivering value well beyond their predecessors. This is epitomised in selling approaches like SPIN, a research based selling approach from Huthwaite.


What is surprising about this evolution is how long it took to focus on the buyer, the customer. It was all about seller for the music man, all about the product from the walking catalogue and all about the process for the magic formula. In fact it wasn’t really until we saw the rise of problem solvers that we even noticed the buyer. We finally noticed that there was a customer in the room at all. Even then it was, on occasions, a narrow focus. It was about their relationship with the seller or a limited  set of needs based entirely on the sellers products and services.

The Fifth Age: Social Selling

Today, buyers are better informed than they have ever been before. According to Forrester buyers will consume three pieces of   content that they found themselves for each piece they get from a vendor. They are better connected too. Social tools connect them with those that have similar problems and with those that have already tried to successfully or unsuccessfully solve them. And they trust each other more than than they trust sellers. In fact research from the Corporate Executive Board in partnership with Google suggests that buyers are nearly two thirds of the way through their buying process before they even contact a seller. 

The final age of selling is upon us and it has put the buyer in the drivers seat. The buyer has wrested back control of their decisions. Social Selling is really Social Buying.

Living the vida nube

Ricky+Martin+r10A career in consultancy and services leadership has not really helped me develop a sense of rythm, a party spirit or noteworthy alcohol tolerance. It is fair to say that Ricky Martin’s crazy life passed me by. Mostly.

That being said, I am  living the vida nuba. There are less sequins certainly, but it has made me more efficient, more connected and more adaptable to the myriad ways in which a working day can pan out. Life in the cloud is really working for me.

The basic step of making  personal and professional docs available in the cloud had the immediate benefit of making everything accessible from my home and/or office. However, the consequential benefits  have been unexpectedly pleasing too;


I am with Kivi Leroux Miller on this. In her blog she describes, how for many of us, work has become a state of mind, not a place.  It’s true. I cannot express enough how much freedom cloud gives me during a working week. I can write or work on trains, in coffee bars and, as I do from time to time, in the 7th floor bar of the Tate Modern. The views are an inspiration.

Sure wifi isn’t everywhere but it is mostlywhere and there really haven’t been enough exceptions to care. I have forgotten thumb drives more often.

Zen Computing

Once I started using cloud applications I quickly realised that I actually did not need all the features in ‘other’ bloated desktop tools. Last year, I wrote a book, a full twelve chapters plus bibliography, fore and after words without ever dropping into an unwieldy desktop word processor except for a few frustrating minutes before sending it to the publisher. Hey the future is here, it is just unevenly distributed.

All that space on my hard (SSD) drive and my head is replaced with tools and apps that make other parts of my life more productive. Just finding space for Evernote in my world has been a blessing and occasional lifesaver.


When I made the  move to Mac a few years ago, there was no need to scour my C drive for old mail, spreadsheets and documents. They were all good to go. I have forgotten what Hot Syncing was (really, what was that all about?) and instead I have become device independent. Whichever bit of kit (phone, phablet, tablet or laptop) fits the task in hand is the one that gets picked up and used.

Moore is More

Sure, things go wrong from time to time and a broadband outage can make me disproportionately edgy. I am, overwhelmingly though, enjoying a law of increasing returns and keep finding new things that delight me. I  no longer have those panicky moments where I don’t know if it is on ‘this’ computer. It is. All of them. If someone makes a convincing book recommendation at a conference, I don’t make a note of it – I buy it. If a battery runs out on one device, I move to another. You get the picture.

The list goes on. Whilst it doesn’t give me swivel hips or a desire to go dancing in the rain, it does give me a heady sense of freedom, flexibility and control.

Essential Tools for the Social Leader

This continues to crop up in conversation with my colleagues and customers. What are the essential tools for leading in a networked and social era. Here are my top 5.

  1. Evernote. Strictly speaking, not really a social tool. However, those that are living in the cloud (living the vida nuba) need a note taker that is versatile and available on any device that they have to hand. Evernote does this and much more. If you are not using it you are missing out. Check out Evernote Hello too.
  2. Buffer. If you have something you want to say to a community that spans the globe and that have busy twitter streams themselves then you might need to say it late at night or early in the morning. You might even need to say it twice. This needs a tool that manages your posting to a timetable so that your sharing can be sometimes scheduled and sometimes impromptu.
  3. Klout. Err, I’m sorry. I care about my social influence. Not obsessively you understand. I just want to understand if what I am sharing is working. One way of knowing if you are contributing something positive to the global conversation is to check what others are doing with your Tweets, Updates and Posts. That’s what Klout does … and there are Klout Perks too.
  4. Unfollow. If you follow me and we share interests, I follow you back. Unless you spam me, we will spend a long time sharing. I expect the same in return. Nothing anyone has to say is that important that they can’t listen from time to time. Unfollow will highlight all those one way conversationalists so that I can unfollow them. You are not Brian Solis, after all. Unless you are.
  5. Linked In and Twitter Apps. Yes, I know that this is two really but what I mean is native apps. Whilst I use aggregators  the native apps keep getting better so I use them frequently for new insights into how they can be used to  nourish my network.

That’s my list. My essentials. There are more of course including pocket (you really need this!), bitly, feedly and flipboard but I really could not function without these any more. If you are part of the connected generation you will have a similar list too and no doubt we some in common.


Diversion into Diversity

Much of what we talk about here in DH is about the changing workplace largely as a result of living in the networked age. I hope, that some of these posts encourage us, as organisational leaders, to rethink the way we work, the way we organise and the style in which we lead and follow. This post is a diversion into diversity.

Social and Social Structures

In Decision Sourcing, Rooven Pakkiri and I assert that businesses are, like all social structures, organised around a common purpose – one of economic activity. In fact, it turns out that economic activity could even have been a critical part in human evolutionary development. Neanderthals, it turns out were every bit as smart as modern humans even if they were also hairy strong and tough. It turns out that hairy strong and tough was all the fashion for ice age conditions but it didn’t make them stupid. Nevertheless, in spite of the two hundred thousand year head start before Homo sapiens arrived. Ten thousand years later, all the Neanderthals were gone.

Essential Team Building

The prevailing theory is that modern man had sophisticated tools making them better at hunting and warring. However, research by Jason Shogren of the University of Wyoming suggests that, rather than toolmaking, it was  trade and specialisation behind Homo Sapien dominating previous members of the genus. Dr Shogren’s research reported in the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, suggests that the early survival of humanity depended upon economic cooperation. The sapien edge came from collaboration, trading and specialisation of labour. Trading between craftsman and hunters allowed sapiens to get more meat, a finite resource, therefore driving up the fertility of sapiens and the decline of Neanderthals.

The Ultimate Performance Management System

Whilst this perfectly illustrates the importance of economics on our evolution (Shogren’s point is about bartering and trade) it also illustrates the importance of a need for diversity in communities. Neanderthal could not have been more perfectly motivated (hunt or die) but this was clearly not enough. The stick could not have been more final and the carrot more crucial and yet extrinsic motivation failed an entire species. Over at the Sapiens though, their system allowed bad hunters to put down their spears and make clothes and tools. Craftsmen created, hunters piled up meat and pelts and warriors fought. A system of trading was an implicit recognition that everyone had a role to play.  An acknowledgement of diversity through a system of exchange resulted in everyone getting better clothing, tools, weapons and a belly full of food. There would have been no group hugs or tolerance workshops. No badges or T shirts. Instead instinct and necessity lead them to a fundamental truth about diversity in tribes. In teams if you will.

Team Building or The Same … But More

Whilst it is a human tendency to be drawn to people like ourselves, it can lead to homogeneous hiring and more of the same. More of the same, it turns out, was a system that didn’t work out that well for those whom we first discovered in the German Neander valley.  How should our teams look in the future? It might be worth looking for some pointers in our evolutionary history.

Big Data Week: New and Different

Big Data Week

I was able to take part, albeit fleetingly, this week in Big Data Week a series of events run in 25 cities across the globe.  There were a series of evening meetups hackathons and panels throughout the week in London with the key event running out of Imperial College on Thursday. Edd Dumbill O’Reilly Strata chaired and speakers included the excellent Kenneth Cukier (co-author of Big Data) and Nick Halstead (founder UK start-up Datasift)

First off my congratulations go to Stuart Townsend and Andrew Gregson who  pulled together a program that was excellent,  free of hype and as grounded as the title ‘Putting Data to Work’ suggests. Superb.

Because of pressing commitments with the day job, I dipped in and out of what I thought would be the ‘best’ bits and was mostly right with only one session that really missed the mark for me.


My takeaways;

– Big Data projects are still largely about click stream, native internet businesses and one off mash-up projects (more often public and ngo than corporates)

– Big Data has its origins in the web (thank you Google) and this is where most of the corporate activity remains. ‘mainstream’ (whatever that means in the networked age) corporate use is a way off

– We are still largely defining Big Data in technical terms (a good 40% of the group in one session described themselves as ‘technical’ when polled

– It is still very early days. Innovation, interest and investment is still high and growing

New and Different Data

The highlight for me was Cukier who has come closest to providing a satisfactory definition of Big Data for me. As you may appreciate from previous posts, technical definitions based on volume are, strictly speaking, spot on but leave me a little cold. I attempt to get closer to something more vital (shameless plug alert) in Decision Sourcing (Roberts and Pakkiri, Gower 2013) by describing it as ambient. By describing it as such I am asserting that it is data that has always existed around us (temperature readings, product mentions, consumer comments, buyer behaviour) but it has only recently been captured and made available to us as data.

Let me explain. If I abandon my basket in Sainsbury because I couldn’t find the one thing I came in for and it can be seen by the store manager when the close but not understood. Not so for Amazon. The thermostat in my home is the very definition of ‘there or thereabouts’ but a Nest captures, stores and learns from accurate readings. When I share how great brunch is at Balthazar around the office, someone may make a mental note. When I do it on Facebook, it’s a piece of data to go with the other 1.5 billion that day.

The point is not that big data is big, though it is. It is that it wasn’t available to us before either because it wasn’t being captured (social mentions) or it’s volume and variety (web clicks, smart meter readings) made it impossible to store and analyse and therefore understand.

As Cukier put’s it. Sometimes more is not just more. Sometimes it is so much more that it is different. Big Data Week 2013 seemed to be a great success to me. I look forward to New and Different Data Week 2014.

The New Sales ABC Always be Serving

519GWpY-vAL._SS500_I have always had a problematic relationship with sales. This is quite an admission given that I have worked closely with professional sellers for most of my working life. Indeed, much of what I do today is help customers through their analytics and social crm initiatives and then ask them for money at some point i.e. I sell. There, I said it.

Thankfully Dan Pink’s latest book To Sell is Human (Amazon UK US) addresses my personal demons head on. His research suggests that many of us, when we think of sales, go straight to Ricky Roma in Glengarry, Glen Ross. In fact, when Pink asked the question ‘when you think of sales, what is the first word that comes to mind?’  the resulting word cloud was not pretty.

I don’t want to share too much because, like his previous title Drive, the destination is worth the journey but suffice to say it is insightful, full of surprises and fresh in it’s examination of what it is to sell in the networked and social age.

One of my most startling (what a friend calls) ‘aha’ moments was Pink connecting  modern selling with Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership movement. I have often commented that there is overlap in sales and leadership. Both are about working with the universe of possibilities and creating certainty, both are about moving from indecision to decision. Sales and leadership are at their core about making things happen. Pink articulates it better than I ever could. In connecting with Greenleaf’s modern leadership movement he makes the point that modern selling is less about serving the self (usually through a large commission cheque) and more about serving the needs of a customer searching for answers.

We do not really need to look any further than this for a world without spam, cold calls, high pressure techniques (always be closing!) and (damn it, I am on a roll) another global economic meltdown through the sale of financial products which did nothing for the (ultimate) customer and everything for sellers and speculators.

I am ready for a world which Pink articulates as professional sellers ‘solving problems and serving customers’ because they want to be ‘part of something bigger than themselves’. It’s here of course (it is just unevenly distributed)  and the smart seller is already doing it. They are ‘up-serving’ and ‘cross-serving’. The rest … those that are up-selling and cross-selling need to catch-up and I look forward to a reinterpretation of Mamet’s play where Blake chalks up the letters A-B-S. Always be serving.

Big Data: Let’s agree, no more V’s


I don’t quite know when it happened but we have recently added another V to the three existing characteristics of big data. Perhaps more. Gartner analyst Doug Laney gave us the first batch. High volume, real-time, rapid change velocity and unstructured variety. This certainly set big data apart and at least partially explained why the old tech combination of columns, rows and sql were no longer big, strong or fast enough to deal with it. We needed hadoop, columnar, nosql, massively parallel and other innovations to deal with a full three V’s.


More recently veracity has qualified for this somewhat exclusive club. Dealing with notions of sentiment, mentions and sociographics from tweets, facebook status updates and youtube comments is an imprecise practice very unlike traditional data processing where all transactions balance and net out to zero. According to IBM, one in four business leaders do not trust the data that they make decisions on and this new world is unlikely to make them feel any less queazy.

More V’s

A quick search will find other candidate V’s including visualisation. Indeed, one source suggests we are up to six V’s but it is time to stop counting. Whilst classifying and characterising big data in this way is understandable it is not completely helpful. In fact, according to Wherescape CEO, Michael Whitehead it perpetuates the stereotype of navel gazing IT types. This ever increasing collection of V’s is not strictly true either. Some Big Data is not high volume, some not real time and some might even have a little structure.

It kind of misses the point as well as it misses out another twenty five letters of the alphabet. Big data is certainly sourced from different places – from web sites, social platforms, machines on the internet of things. It also certainly plentiful and strange. However, defining it in terms of where it has come from or how it is processed is a technicality. It would offer far more insight to discuss it in terms of how it can be used in retail, insurance and telecommunications.

One V

Indeed, like many others, I can only really get behind one v. V for value. Like all data the test is what you do with it once you have it. If the answer is identify fraud, adjust an insurance premium in real-time, predict climate change patterns or alert a physician that a therapy regime is dangerously out of step then we can see something of value. If the answer is nothing then all that hadoop’ing, nosql’ing, massively parallel’ing and v counting is for idle curiosity.

See also Big Data – Why the 3V’s Don’t Make Sense, What is Big Data? and the Top 5 Myths About Big Data.