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The New Social Media (Wars)

I’ve been involved in a number of posts on The Customer Collective where there have been some personal attacks by a few social media zealots against some of us that have a more balanced view of the capabilities and tools required for effective B2B selling going forward in this new(est) economy.   Jonathan Farrington1, Dave Brock, Niall Devitt, and I have a somewhat similar opinion of the role of social media.  (These are smart guys.  I recommend you subscribe to their blogs.)

The four of us had an email exchange today after some comments to one of Jonathan’s posts.  The comments sounded like sweeping indictments of “old school,” and the four of us as well.

What’s really worth considering, as Dave Brock pointed out in the email thread, is that people are attacking the four of us for being old school, when we’re all entrenched in the new social media: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, virtual meetings, and much of the rest.  Are they attacking our not being immersed in the new social media, which you would think might be their mission? No.  They’re attacking us for the opinions we voice about the social media from within the social media environment.2 We’re not outside observers.

Here is an edited slice of my thoughts on the subject of social media zealotry and “old school” from that thread:

ESR has studied the issue of inter-generational selling. It’s a big challenge for companies and for consultants and trainers. It will become even more challenging. How do we “experts” stay relevant to younger salespeople, managers and CEOs is one question. The bigger question is how will younger salespeople become relevant to serious corporate buyers?

Here are a few more questions: The Millennials (Y’ers) show considerably less willingness to follow convention (read process) than those who are older—a generalization, I admit. Salespeople in general have less discipline and process-orientation than professionals, which compounds the problem. B2B customer buying patterns and practices are getting tougher, requiring more discipline, process, strategy, etc. on the part of those who sell to them. So how will the Millennials, many of whom are rejecting much of what has come before, wind up selling though this capability gap? Answer: Many will not! Companies will have to tighten up their profile for B2B salespeople and a boatload of soft skills with little else won’t be a desired characteristic—not in the kind of serious B2B selling that drives the economy. So the pure social media types will have that to play with that in their spare time, or lock on to a subset of buyers in corporations who may be open to that stuff.

A client of ours went into a very tough negotiation with a well-known company yesterday.  Big, big bucks! They were meeting with a senior strategic procurement executive. Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? Virtual or online anything?  No. Weeks of research, customer profiling, political positioning, testing approaches, strategizing, number crunching, competitive positioning, collaborative brainstorming and one very, very important face-to-face meeting. Is that model going to change in the next few years? Sure, in some sales environments, but not in mission critical areas of most companies over $200 million in sales.

With all this being said, with respect to the business side of my life, I’ll listen to and consider anyone’s opinion on any subject, so long as they can express their opinion clearly and succinctly and don’t resort to manipulation, games, or personal attacks.  I believe passion is good.  So is being a zealot, if your goal is benevolent as well as your means of getting there.  I confess:  I’m a sales effectiveness zealot.

Notes:

  1. Jonathan Farrington is hosting the kick-off event for the Top Sales Experts Roundtable:  The Future of Professional Selling on Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 at 1.00 pm EDT.  I’ll be a panel member.  With Jonathan in charge, it’ll be worth your investment.
  2. ESR will be publishing the findings from our recent survey on the new social media’s role in B2B selling next week.  If you’d like to be notified of the publication of this report, subscribe to this blog or the ESR/AlertTM.

Photo credit: © Carsten Reisinger – Fotolia.com

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Value-isms

I came upon a post by Jeff Thull yesterday.  Jeff is the author of three best-selling sales books and founder of Prime Resource Group, one of the vendors that ESR covers.

Through the success of his clients, Jeff has proven his approach to selling business value works.  (Not every company is a candidate for deploying Jeff’s approach.)

In the post, Jeff bashes the term, and the concept of, “value proposition.”  He suggests another term, “value assumption,” which describes a process of collaboration between seller and buyer to determine where value from a product or service will be applied and realized with respect to that individual customer’s business.

I commented on the post:

In my experience, the term “value proposition” is subject to wide varieties of interpretation. Some salespeople use the term in a very general way: “Our value proposition is to provide manufacturers automation that will reduce cost and improve product quality.” If that’s the extent of their understanding of value, they aren’t going to get very far. I expect you’d agree.

For others “value proposition” is the end product of your “value assumption” process, where, through active collaboration with the client, it is determined precisely what the value is, where it will impact the client’s business, and by how much. You’re right on target about what has to be accomplished and the questions that need to be asked and answered to establish that definition of “value proposition.”

Many whose end goal of presenting a “value proposition” through your “value assumption” process use other more generic terms (such as “value statement”) to provoke interest, leading to an in-depth conversation with a prospective client. Using examples of how they worked with executives of companies that the prospect would recognize, and posing thoughtful, compelling questions, is a proven way to get that job done. It is selling. That’s what professional salespeople do.

With all that being said, I agree with you that few salespeople employ the “value assumption” process, regardless of what you or I might call it. You have definitely raised an area where significant differentiation can be provided.

I see Jeff’s point and I agree with the process.  Few salespeople take their customers through this or a similar process.  Many throw value-isms at customers to see what sticks.  It’s painful to watch.  And, when a customer sees a person selling, Jeff writes, “whatever value you suggest it is, the customer is likely to reduce its value because they will assume it is likely exaggerated to make the sale.”

I just don’t see the “value assumption” approach as anything particularly new.  If someone finally got the majority of B2B salespeople to sell that way—now that would be new.   Jeff has been on that quest.