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On ‘Stop Selling!’—A Trendy Idea, But Bad Strategy

Andrew,

You got my attention on this one. I have argued both sides of the proposition at various times, and in your last paragraph, you hint at it too.

On one level, this is nothing more than semantics. Everyone agrees the world would fall apart without selling;it's a strawman that we should "stop selling." I don't know anyone who atually believcs that. At the same time, nearly everyone also agrees that "selling" has become a word tainted by many, and not without reason. 

On another level, it's a very important semantic point. I think we should all clarify the difference between "good" and "bad" selling, for lack of a better simple term. 

A hint of both the semantic issue and the solution can be found by reading the dictionary definition of "sell." This is from the online Merriam Webster version. (I have highlighted the "bad" aspects)

------- 

Sell. to deliver or give up in violation of duty, trust, or loyalty and especially for personal gain : betray —often used without <sell out their country>
2
(1) : to give up (property) to another for something of value (as money) (2) : to offer for saleb : to give up in return for something else especially foolishly or dishonorably <sold his birthright for a mess of pottage>c : to exact a price for <sold their lives dearly>
3
a : to deliver into slavery for moneyb : to give into the power of another <sold his soul to the devil>c : to deliver the personal services of for money
4
: to dispose of or manage for profit instead of in accordance with conscience, justice, or duty <sold their votes>
5
a : to develop a belief in the truth, value, or desirability of :gain acceptance for <trying to sell a program to the Congress>b : to persuade or influence to a course of action or to the acceptance of something <sell children on reading>
6
: to impose on : cheat
7
a : to cause or promote the sale of <using television advertising to sell cereal>b : to make or attempt to make sales toc : to influence or induce to make a purchase
8
: to achieve a sale of <sold a million copies>
intransitive verb
1
: to dispose of something by sale <thinks now is a good time to sell>
2
: to achieve a sale; also : to achieve satisfactory sales<hoped that the new line would sell>
3
: to have a specified price
— sell·able adjective
— sell down the river
: to betray the faith of
— sell short
1
: to make a short sale
2
: to fail to value properly : underestimate

--------  

Pretty negative connotations. And remember, a dictionary is simply a sociological snapshot in time of how real human beings use real words in the real world. The only "real" meaning is what people do. 

Is it any wonder, then, that many of us, from time to time, say "stop selling," meaning "stop doing all those bad versions of the word?"  

At the same time, I agree every bit as much as you that the world would fall apart without selling. It is potentially an honorable profession, and many people live up to that potential every day.  

So, I guess I'm saying, the important debate is not about whether anyone should "stop selling" as in the neutral or good sense of the word – of course not. It is about whether people should stop using all the negative things we associate with sales.  And pretty much, I'd say, of course. 

 

 

April 19, 2012    View Comment    

On Edelman Trust Barometer Reveals Need for Mature Social Media

Dave,

I have to respectfully disagree with some of the findings being drawn from the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer survey, at least as you have stated them above.

It is indeed interesting information, but as with all things trust-related, interpretation is very slippery.  Case in point: your discussion of the decline of 'people like me' and the conclusions you draw from it--as you put it,

"a clear pointer that they need to incorporate a range of spokespeople in their activities. Relying purely on ‘word of mouth’ is not enough. Combined with the findings about the number of times people need to hear something, this points to the need for integrated communications approaches using a variety of sources and spokespeople to reach companies’ audiences."

I don't think it's a clear pointer of that at all.  In fact, I think your interpretation is an invitation to further declines in trust.  Here's how.

Your article doesn't suggest any reason for the decline in ratings of 'people like me.'  Let me suggest an obvious one: social media have been inundated with corporate messengers whose presence dilutes the resemblance to individuals.  No wonder we all trust them less, they are no longer 'people like us,' they are companies trying to look like 'people like us.'

More importantly, the suggested conclusion--that companies need to repeat the message more and more times through more and more channels is simply a call to further and further dilute the messaging.  To be perfeclty blunt about it, what you're describing is a situation made bad by over-messaging, and your prescription for fixing it is--still more over-messaging. We have a word for this--spam.

Your quote is telling: you talk about how often people must be 'told' something in order to 'reach' them.  But the opportunity of social media is to stop talking and telling; and instead of being heard, to seek to understand.  The result is a reciprocal reaction, a relationship beneficial to both.

This is a serious issue.  If every emerging medium is more and more quickly deluged with messaging about a company's products and image, then each new medium is trashed faster and faster. Wev'e already had to invent spam filters, do-not-call directories, time-shifting, caller-ID, junk mail lists.  Now, in the social media, we're having to employ restricted lists, de-friending and so forth--all to counter abuses of over-messaging--and you're recommending still more.

The promise of social media is getting choked by all this mainstream PR focus on more and more messaging to 'get the word out.'  The promise lies in inbound marketing--a beautiful approach made possible by social media, and dependent on transparency.  The premise is as old as Dale Carnegie: help other people get what they want, and they will then naturally help you get what you want.

I see great successes in that approach.  Unfortunately, none of them are achieved by the methods that Edelman and other mainstream PR firms are advocating--more and more one-to-many broadcast messages through multiple media. 

I don't like that Edelman is phrasing these conclusions as relevant to all 'companies engaged in social media activities,' as you put it. That assumes that the only appropriate role for social media communications is one-way, one-to-many, broadcasting, with the avowed intent of persuading.  What you get with that approach is incremental improvement at the margin, at the expense of degrading the long-term levels of trust and relationships.

There are entities--like Hubspot Marketing and Chris Brogan--who are preaching the opposite gospel--the idea that social media allow companies to offer choice, to give in order to receive, and to attract rather than promote. The idea is to offer value to create relationships, which in turn give value down the road.

For organizations to suceed in that approach, they have to help customers and be transparent about it.  The mainstream media approach has far too often been opaque, not transparent, and the kinds of messaging techniques you're talking about just make it worse.

An example?  The blatantly self-aggrandizing ads by British Petroleum on the Gulf Coast, continuing to this day to 'spin' the message.  This is not transparency, this is the mult-modal blitz of corporate messaging masquerading as transparency, and cheapening the medium as a result.

When is that kind of messaging important?  When a company is doing great things and is under-appreciated for it.  When does it in fact get deployed?  All too often, when a company was doing bad things and the messaging is deployed to counter the image. And sorry, I don't think BP fits the first case.

Public relations has an interesting relationship with transparency.  You can either fix underlying issues, in which case transparency beccomes your friend; or you can make transparency opaque, so nobody notices the underlying issues.  The conclusions you're drawing from this study support the second kind of choice, which is precisely what we need less of these days.

I don't want the media blitz of Edelman in promoting the Trust Barometer to stand unchallenged. It's an intersting study, but the conclusions are hardly self-evident.  The conclusion you present happens to be very beneficial for Edelman et al--to suggest more and more such messaging.

The opposite, however, may be precisely what's needed to halt the decline in the very trust numbers you're reporting.

February 15, 2011    View Comment    

On Lies Your Customers Tell You: You Lost on Price

Jonathan,

It is indeed an interesting topic; I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thanks,

Charlie Green

February 8, 2011    View Comment    

On Should We Connect With Strangers In Social Networking?

Paul,

I predict you'll get a lot of reads on this one, because it's a very timely topic for lots of people.  Certainly me. 

I want to agree with you, really I do--but I'm still left with some nagging doubts (not the ones you addressed--I think you did a nice job of countering those objections).

But what do you do about the person who 'follows' you on Twitter--who already has 3,000 followers, and who follows 3,000 people--but has only written 10 tweets?  I have a hard time including them under the tent of "the purpose of accepting the invite is to begin a courtship to know each other." 

Their purpose is pretty transparently just to rack up the numbers.  There are substantial micro-businesses offering services to increase people's follower numbers by running bot programs while you sleep; nothing personal about it, and far from 'beginning a courtship.'  This is more like a one-night stand without even the night!

I realize you're talking more about LinkedIn than twitter, and it's less of an issue there--but still.  How do you square the circle between two of your comments:

1. think of a LinkedIn invite as a free lottery ticket with zero chance of winning if I ignore it

2. "I’m not saying we should morph into [people running around Linkedin bragging about how many connections they have.] . . . in fact, please don’t!"

Don't they feel a little bit contradictory?  If everyone feels the need to play the lottery, doesn't that ultimately devalue the reward?

I'm not trying to sound disagreeable--I honestly am perplexed.  I don't know the answer.

For more on my own attempts to grapple with this: Spamfitti: Mindless Following and Promiscuous Friending, at http://trustedadvisor.com/trustmatters/spamfitti-mindless-following-and-...

Thanks,

 

February 8, 2011    View Comment    

On Risky Business – To Follow or Not to Follow

Debra,

I really struggle with this one, and could use help on it.  I get what you're saying, but the truth is, I actually like to read the people I follow.  If I don't like reading them, I don't follow them.  I suppose I could just isolate all the don't-like category, but it seems awfully disingenuous.

Furthermore, an awful lot of people believe as you do.  Those are the people who have tweeted ten times, but follow 5,000 people and have 4990 followers (who are following your advice as well).  And it includes a lot of people who send me tweets saying they'll get me 2,000 more followers by @-mentioning me, for only $5. 

It is becoming just another form of spam, I feel like.  If the rule is "you must auto-follow everyone who follows you," then there is nothing left to express preferences, or segmentation. 

I honestly don't have an answer; I don't like all the answers I hear.  I honestly am not sure what to do.  Help!

January 12, 2011    View Comment    

On Content Is King . . . Are You Freaking Kidding Me?

Paul, right you are, and that's from someone who's often guilty as charged.  Most people like to be listened to more than they like to listen, and it's not all that hard to make them happy by doing it.  Why don't we do it more often?  Well, lots of reasons.  But anyway, like you say, we should oughta do more of that.

Bingo.


June 10, 2010    View Comment    

On Sales Reps, Are You Ready for the Digital Universe?

Chad,

This is indeed some 'blow-your-hair-back' data (love the metaphor).  Thanks for tracking down the numbers and making them viscerally accessible.

Your conclusions seem eminently sensible given the massive data onslaught.  But your four strategies raise an interesting question: Do we need to be working harder, or smarter?

Your first recommendation--begin content creation yesterday--comes close to saying the way to deal with massive data overload is to contribute more overload than anyone else--that way at least you're on top. 

I'm caricaturing your idea to make the point, but it does seem true that if everyone did that, everything would just get worse and we'd start putting blockers on social media just like we do on spam email, tv ads, phone calls, etc.  At best, that feels like a zero sum game with a short-term lifespan.

Your next two strategies aim a lot more at working smarter than harder, I think. The first is better SEO--don't add to the clutter, cut through it better.  And the second is convert the digital data into personal relationships--a proven strategy of moving up the value chain, rather than competing in the low-value, unprocessed, data end of the chain.  I think those both make a ton of sense.

Your fourth I think also falls into the smart game.  The human response to data overload is not only to screen out, but to narrow down, focus, choose decision substitutes.  If I can trust a brand, I don't have to deal with the craziness out there.  So that too is a strategy for cutting through the data.

I think those three strategies for dealing with data overload--basically to go around it, rather than to become the Biggest Overloader--are very right.

Thanks for articulating this massive issue, and pointing some ways out.

 Charlie Green

 

 

May 13, 2010    View Comment    

On Is Sales Getting Soft?

Dave,

It may be nearly time to bring back the word, with some pride attached to it. I'm all for it.

At the same time, many's the professional services firm who still tells me, "We don't sell," or "please don't suggest that we're salespeople."

Yes you do sell, and of course you're salespeople.  But when and how far do you push on the issue of language?  My guess is it's still a tad early for some businesses, but not for others.  The pendulum has indeed swung a fair amount, let's start reeling it in where we can. 

May 6, 2010    View Comment    

On #1 Factor Impacting Your Sales Success

Jill,

This is a really interesting piece.  At first I thought you were doing a motivational blogpost.  Then I quickly realized it's a lot more.

All five of the sample comments you highlighted were in some ways about people who felt powerless--and who were probably reacting as victims, blaming others.  And I hear your message as saying, wait a minute, you'll never get out of that situation if you don't proactively choose, yourself, to do something about it.

Phil McGee is fond of saying, "The two biggest sources of management failure are a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront."  And I think he may be right.

How would your questioners have reframed their questions if they had the "choose" attitude?  I'm guessing they might have sounded more like:

  • My customers only care about price. What can I do?
  • What should I be hearing when a customer talks mainly about price?
  • No one has heard of our company. How can I compete?
  • Are there some distinct strategies for low-brand-recognition companies?
  • Our lead gen programs stinks. How can I wake Marketing up?
  • Marketing and I don't seem to see eye to eye? How can we communicate?
  • My boss demands 50 calls/week. How can I change her?
  • I disagree with my boss about calls/week targets?  How to have a dialogue?
  • Our offering isn't really special. How can I win?
  • What are best practices for selling low-differentiation offerings?

 

 

April 7, 2010    View Comment    

On What Are The Biggest Challenges Facing Sales VP’s In This Economy

Thoughtful piece, Dave: a rising tide lifts all boats, and a falling tide lowers them again.  The main differences lie not in the tide, but in the boats, and other variables.

You ask what's the future of buying, and I'm sure there are a number of such changes.  Here's one, not original to me: the difference between transactional sales and relationship sales is getting more, not less, distinct.  Transactional sales are more web-based, impersonal, etc.  Relationship sales are getting more personal, relationship-driven.  There are fewer hybrid-sale types, and more falling into one or the other end of the spectrum.

This suggests that sellers need to figure out which type of seller they're going to be, based on which type of buyer they're looking at. 


April 1, 2010    View Comment    

On What Motivates a Salesperson? The Results Are In

Donal,

 I think you're probably right about the issues I raise being people issues in general, and not just salespeople issues.  Good point, point taken.  I think the issue is still valid, but in relation to motivational systems for people in general, not for sales uniquely.  I appreciate your making the case.   

 

April 1, 2010    View Comment    

On What Motivates a Salesperson? The Results Are In

Donal,

It's always great to see good research, and good for you for helping put the nail in the coffin of "compensation only" motivations.  And a good post to boot.

Two qualifiations though.  You didn't say what kind of "consultants" were the outliers; I call myself a consultant, and I certainly would disagree with the opinion expressed by the several you found. 

More importantly though is the caution to remember that someone's self-description of their motives can be terribly self-serving.  Salespeople are notoriously prone to cutting price, complaining about quality of leads, and so forth.  Many have also become accustomed to extrinsic reward systems.  

What salespeople want is not always what's right for the company.  Sometimes price-cutting is just wrong; sometimes leads are as good as they get; and sometimes intrinsic motivation is far more valuable than monetary, extrinsic motivation. 

And in the case of salespeople--who very broadly speaking are junkies for feedback--giving them more feedback, more often, at lower and lower levels of detail--isn't helpful at all.  It's how you foster A.D.D., neurotic behavior, and narcissistic tendencies.

 Focusing on "making progress" and "winning" are self-centered metrics.  We certainly need some of that to stay on track and to keep us motivated.  But too much of a good thing can be too much indeed. So my caution would be to note the desire for progress metrics, and to use that in a constructive conversation about how to value them along with other measurements.

Thanks for a thoughtful and value-adding survey and report about it. 

 

March 31, 2010    View Comment    
 
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