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Is social selling killing the art of relationship selling?

A little over a year ago, a young acquaintance was launching a start-up company, and he suggested I was naïve.

Jacob asked why I was so fixated on direct, person-to-person selling and face-to-face relationship building in my business.

“I can get all the clients I need,” he said, “through social media and digital marketing.”

He was bemused that I spent so much time calling people, individually and repeatedly, to create conversations, build rapport and nurture business connections, one at a time.

In Jacob’s mind, my approach was a bit antiquated.

Less than six months later, however, Jacob asked me for advice. His social campaigns had succeeded in generating a large volume of business leads. But he faced challenges in converting those leads into paying clients. His small company was experiencing financial distress as a result.

“What do you think I’m missing?” he asked.

The lure of social selling

There has been so much focus in recent times on automated, ‘social’ selling – the idea of marketing and transacting online via social media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and even Snapchat.

These are powerful tools. And I’m a fan. I believe social marketing is an invaluable tactic in the modern marketing mix.

For example, I use Linkedin regularly to identify sales opportunities.

I consistently check to see which decision-makers have moved on to new companies, or which ones may have achieved promotions, or moved sideways in their organisations.

This opens the chance of selling to them in their new position. It also offers an opportunity to sell to their replacement in their old position.

I contact these connections to open, or re-open, conversations. I use social media channels as platforms for initiating genuine, human interactions.

Replacement or complement?

Social marketing is limited when used in isolation. It works best when implemented in combination with other tactics as an essential part of an integrated sales strategy.

It’s especially potent when complemented with proven relationship selling practices.

Millennial business people sometimes believe they no longer need to call prospective clients, attend coffee meetings or take the time to build personal relationships.

Just sending an ‘Inmail’, however, won’t establish a meaningful connection, let alone close a sale or secure a long-term client.

Social selling can help you to identify opportunities and distribute relevant content into the market. At some time, however, you still need to pick up the phone, meet with people, have a conversation and directly ask the hard questions that progress a sale.

People have so many online connections today, that each tends to appear undifferentiated from others. If you want to stand out, it’s essential to take the next step. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone for a real, voice-to-voice, human-to-human dialogue.

Personal interaction is also vital if you want to win a buyer’s trust. People trust people they know, and they buy from people they trust.


I reassured Jacob that he wasn’t doing anything wrong in terms of his digital lead generation activities.

He just needed to add an extra dimension.

I suggested he should focus on interacting, in a more personal way, one at time, with the many contacts he had made online. By doing this, he would combine his marketing tactics with proven sales techniques to create strategic synergy.

Luckily, he took my advice. He picked up the phone and began talking with people.

The first thing that surprised him was that most were happy to hear from him. They were pleased to learn there was a real person behind the digital marketing campaign they had previously interacted with.

The second thing that surprised him was the humanity of each individual prospective buyer. He discovered that he enjoyed providing value to people on a personal as well as professional level.

Jacob also saw a marked difference in his financial results.

When he learned to complement his social media lead generation activities with personal contact, he quickly earned trust and began learning more – about both his prospects’ needs and preferences and his product’s benefits and deficiencies.

This trust, and these learnings, inevitably led to closing sales, earning revenue and making profits.

His business is now a going concern.

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