social-selling-cold-calling-dead.jpgWhat do you do get when you throw three esteemed sales experts with varying views of modern selling in the same room? A heated debate—but nonetheless one worth having.

Recently, at Social Selling Summit, Jill Rowley, Anthony Iannarino and Gabe Larsen debated “The Death of Social Selling.” Don’t worry—if you missed the live debate, you can still catch it on-demand.

But in case you don’t want to watch the entire debate, we’re here to summarize the arguments, and hopefully reach some conclusions about why the debate between social selling and cold calling no longer matters; in the end, we’re all saying the same thing.

The Varying Definitions of Social Selling

To launch into the debate, we need to operationally define social selling. Turns out, each speaker has a different view of social selling.

I define social selling as using social networks (rather than social media, which is for marketing) to do research on your buyers, to be relevant to your buyers, to build relationships with your buyers, that ultimately drive revenue, customer lifetime value, and advocacy.

– Jill Rowley

Social selling really is, in my opinion, a set of tools that are available to salespeople to do above- the-funnel work, provided they have the right mindset, the right skillset, and the right insights to be able to leverage those tools. It’s a set of tools for nurturing accounts over time.

– Anthony Iannarino 

Social selling is the act of sales reps wasting valuable selling time on the internet.

– Gabe Larsen

To a social selling audience, Larsen’s view seems over-the-top, unfair even. But when salespeople don’t understand how social selling should be executed, it’s easy to get it wrong, and consequently, dismiss it as a legitimate selling methodology.

Which is exactly what happened to one of Larsen’s salespeople, who was having a hard time hitting quota, especially when he was social selling.

“I’ve played around with Facebook groups,” says the salesperson. “I’ve toyed around the idea of a podcast. But, really, I’m focused on creating content because I believe that statistic that says, ‘Decision makers consume at least five pieces of content before engaging with the sales rep’ is true.”

This begs the question: should salespeople be creating their own content? Or, rather, should marketing be feeding sales with company-related, non-brand specific content they create, as well as curating third-party, industry-related insights into well-organized buckets? 

Rowley notes some companies mandate their sales professionals to create a certain amount of content. While this may happen for a company’s own strategic reasons, with others that successfully implement social selling, it’s more common to see marketing fuel the sales team with insights.

Does Social Selling Overpromise, and Underdeliver?

Iannarino’s main problem with social selling is that those who sell it make this promise that, “if you go out and you Tweet your face off and if you share articles, that you will be able to generate opportunities without having to do the real work of prospecting.”

Those who claim social selling works like this simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

When was the last time you saw real results without a proper set of tools (ie, LinkedIn Navigator), enablement (ie, a training program), KPIs (ie, social attribution in Salesforce, SSI score change, pipeline creation, etc.) and management buy-in and accountability?

Again, this goes back to confusion around definitions of what social selling is, and assumptions held within a misconstrued definition, which Rowley is quick to point out.  

“The way that the three of us are defining it, we’re actually in agreement as to what sellers should and shouldn’t be doing. The issue is with the terminology,” Rowley says.

She also makes note that when she was a quota carrying sales rep, she never created a single piece of content.

Playing The Long Game

When it boils down to the facts, the arguments against social selling stem from misinformation and faulty definitions of what it actually is: a long-term selling methodology meant to align sales professionals’ behaviour with their modern, digitally-driven customer.

It’s not just a Tweet, a LinkedIn post, writing a blog post. It’s not a replacement for existing sales methodologies and it’s not a silver bullet.

“Everyone knows and has heard about social, but the hidden time investment isn’t easy to explain to management,” says Stan de Boisset, Global Senior Director, Commercial and Inside Sales, Juniper Networks.

Boisset has successfully helped implement a social selling program that has generated within 3 months $6M in USD pipeline, with $3.4M already closed.

At its core, social selling is about being customer-centric. So if your buyer isn’t on social, which is the case with some industries and companies, then it’s not the right time for you to start social selling.

Social Is A Channel For Relationships

Despite varying opinions, the speakers closed the session by addressing what salespeople should or shouldn’t be doing with social.


I do think the word social selling is done. We’re moving to digital sales. What that basically encompasses is a sales and marketing strategy like none other that we’ve seen before.

Salespeople, you’ve got to get into the “How.” Find tools that are effective, but watch out for too many tools. Double down on figuring out how you can do research and build rapport using social. That’s where you’re going to get the biggest bang for your buck right now.

When it comes to content, work with your Marketing team. That’s the place to start.


The toolkit’s still going to be immensely valuable for you, and you need to be on LinkedIn with a very, very beefed out profile.

Use these social selling tools as if they work above the funnel. Do the research to find the people that you need and understand their needs. Reach out to them using every method available. Then use the tools for nurturing the relationship.

It’s about establishing your place as a trusted advisor. Salespeople have a lot of work to catch up to be able to embody that ‘Why change?’ message and to embody the trusted advisor whom their clients are going to buy from.

All of these tools are valuable in the right hands, but most of them are worthless if you don’t build a better rep first, which is why the technology always comes last. It’s people, tools, technology.

The rest of the world’s telling you the technology is going to make up for the shortcomings and deficiencies of people and ideas; and it absolutely won’t. Double down on people and ideas and then worry about technology.


Remember that social is an incremental channel, but it doesn’t end at the prospecting. And it doesn’t end at the nurturing. I use social to communicate with my existing customers who are paying me loads of money.

I continue to use social as a channel to to learn more about my customers, to understand what they care about, to promote their message, and to share content with them. Social is a channel that is throughout the whole journey, the whole relationship.

Don’t think of it as just top of the funnel prospecting. Don’t think of it as just middle of the funnel nurturing. Think about social as a channel for relationships and relationships, hopefully, are long lasting.


Julia Manoukian

Author: Julia Manoukian

Julia is focused on creating, managing and producing everything content-related at Sales for Life. From product to content marketing, she is committed to constantly evolving the company's marketing strategy to exceed the demands of the ever-changing buyer.

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