I wrote an article recently about why assigning opportunities solely by geographic territory is an outdated practice that doesn't make sense in today's sales ecosystem. This week I was lucky enough to sit down with one of the most influential voices in sales today, Jill Rowley, to talk about an alternative method of distribution--social proximity.

Jill Rowley is a social selling evangelist who helped develop and popularize the concept and is famous for "trying" to transform sales practices at Oracle. She's also an accomplished keynote speaker, startup advisor and general industry expert.

Nick Hedges: Let's start with the way things are. What's wrong with traditional distribution methods?

Jill Rowley: We're living in a different kind of sales world. The buyer has changed more in the past 10 years than in the past 100, and sales practices haven't kept up. Leaders are making decisions based on what's easiest, not what customers want, which is ultimately damaging to both parties. That's why my biggest message is: "we have to be customer-centered, customer-centric, customer obsessed." We need to sell to people the way they want to buy.

NH: And standard distribution methods don't support that?

JR: Earlier today a man knocked on my door, interrupting a videoconference, to try to sell me a steak. That was definitely not how I wanted to buy, and he didn't sell the steak. Field sales are becoming less and less the norm, and as we move increasingly to inside sales, geographic territories don't make as much sense. Social selling does.

NH: How would you define social proximity selling as a methodology?

JR: Social proximity is a relationship-based approach of assigning opportunities and accounts based on the social connections and engagement of your sales team. In other words, the rep most closely connected to and engaged with the buyer through friends and professional networks owns the opportunity.

It's really about understanding who your best fit customers are based on the value you can deliver to those customers and the business outcome you can help them achieve. So how can we find, listen, relate, connect and engage with those buyers? Social selling is the answer.

NH: Why should businesses use social proximity?

JR: In sales we say "people buy from people they know, they like and they trust," and "sales always has been and always will be about relationships." So why aren't we assigning opportunities based on those premises?

Relationships are powerful. I've seen customers specifically ask to work with salespeople that they had previous experience with, because they had confidence that that person would deliver on their promises. That kind of assurance is invaluable for making a successful sale.

NH: How do you determine social proximity?

JR: Exact metrics for establishing social proximity are difficult. Technically speaking, a perfect solution doesn't yet exist. LinkedIn connections are one way to measure it, but a Facebook connection is much stronger. You've got to look at every social network, get a feel for who has the most engagement, and then assign based on that.

NH: If a business wanted to implement a social selling distribution system, what would that look like?

JR: I had a conversation a while ago with GE Capital. What they did was identify areas they most wanted to expand into and create a profile of their ideal new business customer. Then, they ran a search to see which of their reps had LinkedIn connections to people at those companies with the right job titles and assigned accounts according to that. The results when the deals came through were incredibly impressive.

NH: How can sales reps become social sellers?

JR: One of the things I'm always telling sales reps is this: your network is your net worth. Here are four ways to make your social network work for you:

  1. Invest in your online brand. First impressions are less likely to be formed in person. People are finding you on the web and forming opinions about you based on your digital presence. If you suck offline, you're going to suck more online, so don't suck.
  2. ABC--always be connecting--build your professional network before you need it.
  3. Establish the discipline of always exchanging business cards and then connecting on LinkedIn by sending a personal invite. Generic invites are #socialstupid.
  4. I teach sales people to read what their buyers read and share that content across their social networks. The best sales people aren't just present in social networks, they position themselves as credible and influential sources, which affords them more access to their buyers.
Published on: Jun 10, 2015
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