Monday, 12 May 2014

Sales Matters in EdTech: Social Media for Sales

"Don't let any tendencies towards perfectionism slow you down" is the advice that Alice Myerhoff, EdSurge Vice President of Sales, gives to sales people in her e-Book Social Media for Sales People. My experiences may be somewhat different to Alice's, but I could not agree more with this advice. 

I thought I'd detail my experiences of blogging in the hope that it might encourage other sales people to explore the possibilities... Especially anyone who feels that they are trapped in call centers with practices and products that conflict with their personal values.

One of the reasons Myerhoff advocates social media is because everyone dreads cold calls. She details how sales people should do their homework in her post why salespeople should stop cold calling. I've taken the advice in this post and checked out Alice's LinkedIn profile, a quick glance and you can't help notice that her experiences of sales are with companies that would fall under the category of "Customer Oriented Sales."

Sales Culture
I've looked at the role that the sales process, and the overall culture of organisations, plays in the development of EdTech over the last 18 months. I have just finished "Life's a Pitch," where 
Philip Delves Broughton observes that there are two dueling views of the most effective form of sales: Customer-Orientated Vs Performance Related Selling. 

Delves Broughton highlights that, while the sales people at the Performance Related Organisations may dislike trying to coerce people into buying, both employees and their managers may find that any "ethical squeamishness" is an unaffordable luxury.

He goes on to question whether either company could sustain the others sales culture and survive. If the industrial products company started treating its customers as quick hits, without considering the long-term consequences, it would quickly run out of clients. If the software company began spending money on retreats and customer orientation sessions, it might quickly see its business model collapse around its ears.

Dream Job
It's not every sales team that have the luxury of doing lots of research before calling people, or who have the option of working at organisations with a culture like Salesforce has. As part of his research Philip Delves Broughton visited the offices of Salesforce. Here's what he found;

"If you ever felt anxious about the state of American economic life, a visit to Salesforce's offices would quickly restore your faith in its energy and potential...Salesforce have a quota club system, whereby people who meet quota are congratulated in person and immediately, and an e-mail is sent recognizing the fact to senior management. Big success stories are encourage others. Technology is used to provide transparency that leads to trust [but] humans provide the magic.

Salesforce is always seeking new ways to motivate employees. It prints up life-size posters of high performers and plasters them all over the office. It rewards anyone who hit their targets with a 3 day trip to Maui, a perk that goes to around 65% of the sales force each year. During the trip the very top sales people go to the Tiffany's special... a trip to the store before opening hours"

Organisations like this attract the best people... So what hope is there for someone whose hands are tied to such an extent that their training and responsibilities consist of "You need to hit your numbers but do so without deviating from this script"

It may be tempting to make the mistake that "Performance Related Sales" are confined to poor products, but this is not the case. The Force is an account of a year at Xerox's Cleveland sales team. Sales Manager Frank Pacetta methods were "vulgar and unpleasant," but the company had lost some patent law suits and had a lot of competition, they accepted Pacetta's methods as they generated results and brought in sales.

Personal Brand Vs Corporate Identity
Customer Orientated and Performance Related scenarios resonate with me a great deal... The first being the kind of culture I aspire to work at; the latter being the kind of environment I have worked hard on to escape from! My sales career started out in the kind sales environment described above. 

In 1998 I accepted a telesales job that paid £100 per week until you hit your target, this took me 6 weeks to do. Once achieved my salary went up to £7,000 pa. Why accept a role at such a low rate? Because I had little choice. I was not "the most able" student, so did not excel at school. I had also dedicated 10 years pursuing an athletic career so, when it came time to focus more on establishing some sort of career the only option available that had any scope for progression was sales, but I needed to gain some experience first.

One look at Alice's LinkedIn profile and you'll see a career in sales that it might feel like a "Dime a Dozen" sales person could only dream about for someone whose choices are all scripted out. However... active and savvy use of social media means that such a bleak future need not be the case;

"Done well, selling frees people from the oppression of corporate culture and allows them to define their own personalities and destinies. It's a way for people with little formal education, but plenty of perseverance, to do well" Life's a Pitch
I was top sales person for 3 years at this organisation. As my experience and skill set developed I was able to work at organisations with better prospects (although not necessarily with better cultures!), by 2010 I had a proven sales record. However, just as I felt I was becoming competent at traditional sales, I was noticing how unwelcome my calls were becoming. With the right kind of advice and encouragement I started exploring social media. 

Once I had got comfortable with LinkedIn and Twitter I opened a blog at the end of 2011. Part of my reason for doing this is because my employer at the time wanted me to be "On the phone making calls" however the people I was calling would tell me "I don't like your corporate approach, but I enjoy your reports and Tweets." I started blogging to help me do what Brian Fanzo suggests you should when starting out with social media, "Find your voice"

It's almost a year and a half since I started blogging regularly. A year ago it hit the 10,000 page views mark and, although I was blogging, I was none the wiser about a lot of aspects with this social media platform: Diary of a Wimpy Blogger - Publish and be Damned.

Blog Landmarks
Edu Tech Stories
My apprehension when I started out had less to do with "any tendencies towards perfectionism" but more to do with "a complete lack of talent and confidence!" What overlap was there with selling from a script and producing engaging, compelling and original content? 

In addition to starting out in a sweat shop of a sales environment, I had also failed O-Level English twice... But I opened a blog because I realised this is the future of sales. Besides what's the worst that could happen? If a post is rubbish then people will ignore it, they just won't read it. Surely your blog being quietly ignored can't be any worse than the phone being slammed on you?

Regardless of where you are in your sales career, do yourself a favour and open some social media accounts. Will you be uncertain? Sure you will. Will you feel like you make a fool of yourself? If you're experiences are anything like mine, absolutely. Will you make some mistakes? Nowhere near as big a mistake that if you were to continue with old outdated models... especially if you read books like Social Media for Sales People.

I hope that some of these stats and other activity from my blog this week will help you to explore this medium;

35,000 page views since I started blogging
4,000 The number of page views per month  
10 The number of posts that I've published in the last 14 days (took the weekends off)
5 The number of compliments that I've received about my posts in the last week
2 The number of times I've been called a "Thought Leader" recently

I have also been asked if I've be interested in guest blogging for a few well respected sites. A lot of questions from my publish and be damned post remain (and the length of some my posts is starting to annoy me a great deal), but I am growing in confidence and am starting to be really quite pleased with some of my posts... And it would appear I'm not alone.

So whether you're looking to get more deals, establish stronger customer relationships, re-skill and/or to find roles at companies with a better culture... or simply to update your skills to keep up with the changes in sales practices, start blogging! Find your voice! We are in a race to the bottom... And sales is the one profession where anyone with nothing more than resilience and optimism can come out on top. Come on, I'll race you. On your marks... Get set... Blog! 

"How much of each day do you spend thinking?" Ashok Vemuri, Infosys Executive asks his sales people. If the reply is "Not much" he assumes they are not doing a good job" Life's a Pitch

"What makes a good sales person?" Philip Delves Broughton asked Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff "We are not static people. We are the product of our experiences over time" Life's a Pitch

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