The 4 Taboos of Social Selling

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by mary toomey & jj rusch

We just received yet another generic sales pitch from a new contact on LinkedIn within minutes of making the connection. We find this type of behavior maddening …and so do many other professionals.

When you initially connect with someone online, send them a timely reply thanking them for connecting. If you want to include a brief statement like, if there’s anything we can do to help your business, please feel free to reach out, do so – but that’s it.

The key to successful social selling is respecting the process. Steer clear of the following taboos; if you don’t, others will steer clear of you.

Definition of Smarmy#1 Swooping in for the Sale

When you swoop in to sell a new connection it’s a major turn off!  You have no relationship with them to do that at this point. In fact, you accomplish just the opposite – distrust.

The last thing people want to do is help you or introduce you to any of their connections because you just demonstrated to them you don’t get professional networking or social selling. When people first connect with you, it’s not a license to sell, but permission to build a relationship.

The same principle applies to the use of auto responders. Impersonal DMs (direct messages) are rampant on Twitter. When the only thing a new follower sees is, sign up for our newsletter, like us on facebook, or read my blog, the message is loud and clear – you’re all about numbers, not people.

Thank people when you connect to them with personalized replies and then start a legitimate conversation. If you have something of value to say at the time, say it; if not, wait until you do.

#2 Planet Me Posting

Sharing content that only has to do with your company, your products, or about how talented you are, is a big NO-NO. Post information that is valuable to your customers and clients – you must earn their trust first before you can call attention to your company or services.

The cold hard truth of the matter is companies and professionals who only do posts/tweets/pins about their latest offers/sales/products are ultimately ignored when they come up in newsfeeds. If you really want to create a sour taste in a potential customer’s mouth, use the same copy over and over and over again. Telling us you have a GIANT Sale on Widgets Today! – on the hour every day – won’t move inventory.

Conversely, we know a realtor on Facebook that posts captivating stories about the community and fun facts about local businesses intermingled with their property listings. This is a good content mix. These are the types of people we’d be most apt to call if/when we decide to sell our homes.

The bottom line is if you sell insurance and all your company talks about are life policies online – people won’t be interested. Follow the example of those who pass on industry news, share stories of things they’ve tried that did/didn’t work for them, offer helpful tips and links (not always pointing back to them), post anecdotes of wisdom, and so forth.

#3 Grandstanding 

The same negatives hold true for manipulating discussion forums, and/or group and fan pages as an advertising mouthpiece to reach people in bulk. This type of behavior will eventually get you banned from participation down the road.

People who follow and participate in group platforms are not there to be sold. Certainly, networking is one reason why many people join niche communities, but it is the learning and sharing of information that fuels communication here. If you create a new discussion in a LinkedIn group, for example, for the sole purpose of hawking something, prepare to be ignored. We don’t care, and neither will anyone else. Discussions are not the time or place to sell.

Alternatively, if you make legitimate comments, or offer help without offering wares, chances are people will want to know more about that person and look at their digital presence outside of the group. (If you do this consistently, over time you will earn the reputation of being a “thought leader”.) If your online presence effectively tells us what you sell and we want to buy it, or find out more, we will contact you.

Smart social is about Pull v. Push: pull people toward you instead of pushing yourself on them.

#4 Smarmy Marketing

Sponsored Posts are gaining steam in social newsfeeds. On Facebook, advertisers generally stick close to a target pitch. On LinkedIn, they may deliver value news in the beginning before migrating to advertorial status. You can be halfway through some of these reads before you realize you’re smack dab in the middle of a major campaign. Personally, we’re not fans, but paid advertising is just that – paid. Smarmy marketing, on the other hand, is beyond annoying…

There is more and more internet marketing popping up on LinkedIn. Sad but true, even LinkedIn isn’t immune to the push hard tactics of marketers who play strictly by the numbers: throw as much as you can at the wall and see what sticks. Driven by the hard sell mentality, these marketers believe relationship building is an upsell.

Smarmy marketers also like to send emails that appear like you’re “special”. If you send someone an “exclusive invitation”, it better be. If you ask them for their opinion because they’re a “leader in the field”, don’t link them to an e commerce site. Bait and switch tactics like these are full of smarm.

Moral of the Story

The moral of the story is no one wants to be sold on social. Just like face-to-face, social selling is about building relationships. People want a relationship with you, your product or company first, and then they will trust you enough to inquire further.

None of this is rocket science, and there are no shortcuts to be had. If you adhere to playing it straight, people will like your products and services, share that with others and do business with you at some point.