Social selling doesn’t work and will be dead by 2021. Here is why.

Kuba Skalbania
Apr 23 · 6 min read

What exactly is social selling?

According to self-proclaimed social selling gurus, social selling is THE ultimate way to sell in the digital world and a panacea to effective lead generation in social media. Or, is it?

Internet is now full of social selling experts, their trainings, certificates and articles. Almost all of this social selling buzz is built around the famous “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally” rule (SiriousDecisions, 2013 [i]) and around wrong understanding of this rule. The social selling “gurus” also like to claim that “75% of B2B buyers use social media to make purchasing decisions”. They walk around like zombies repeating the same mantra about “the new digital funnel”. Do you see the first mistake — a funnel?! Like the buying process in the digital omni-channel world was linear and sequential

They also like to claim that C-level executives make purchase decisions on LinkedIn. Wow… it even sounds stupid… but apparently more and more social selling gurus make money on selling this social selling myth. Let’s bust it with facts.


Social selling is the new cold calling without its advantages.

The concept of social selling is no different than cold calling was in 80’s. In my opinion, it is the cold calling of our decade. With all its drawbacks, but without its advantages. The advantage of cold calling was the ability to hook someone’s attention and convince (sometimes manipulate) someone into taking further steps in the buying process. Social selling lacks this ability. Why?

Because you can easily defend yourself against social selling, and it was much harder to run away from cold calling.

In fact, defending against social selling is so easy, that you probably do so without even noticing it.

Social selling gurus rely on LinkedIn and praise LinkedIn as THE place to sell. The problem is that LinkedIn, as for early 2019, is a gigantic, scrolling ad billboard. And, when you are aware of it (and more and more people are), you limit your presence on LinkedIn, or become really cautious what you look at and engage with. It’s that simple.

Why would anyone, including those mythical smart C-level executives, buy anything because they saw it on LinkedIn? They wouldn’t. And that’s the catch. Trying to sell on LinkedIn is no different than printing an ad, sending a brochure to someone’s office, or displaying an ad, or… making an unwanted cold call. With a bit better segmentation. What social selling gurus forget about are the two most important things in B2B sales:

1. No human interaction = no sales

2. The average number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases equals 6.8 today (Harvard Business Review, 2017 [ii])


Why is social selling dead in B2B before it even took off?

Let us start with a quick analysis of the name of this new super-technique — “Social Selling”. Do you see it? “S-e-l-l-i-n-g”. SELLING. Selling. In the age of customer’s buying power, more complex B2B buying processes and abundant online ads, would anyone go to any portal such as LinkedIn to be sold anything? No.

Let me ask you something:

How many times in last week did you delete someone’s message / invitation to “set up a meeting” or to directly sell you something on LinkedIn?

I did 12 times. Do I care how great the solution was, or how it could help my organization grow? Nope. Nope. And nope. I just don’t.

Another question, just think about it:

Do you know any person who successfully sold anything (other than social selling courses and online trainings) by social selling?

No, but really? Do you believe that you can sell by tricking anyone into reading your super cool invitation or InMail on LinkedIn? If you catch anyone’s attention it’s because of carefully prepared content marketing, not because of social selling.

And even if someone accepts his or her 128th LinkedIn invitation today and then read the so expected and so boooring first introduction message, would they even consider buying anything? Or would they be annoyed?

I am usually annoyed, but I’m not sure whether it starts before or after I delete the InMail message without reading it.

People tend to disconnect from social networks and if they go to professional networks, such as LinkedIn, they go to PULL the content they want. Not to be PUSHED the content someone wants to sell to them.

When Microsoft acquired LinkedIn, it was obvious that it did it for a reason. Salesforce fought till the last moment, but ultimately lost the battle. Why did they want LinkedIn so badly? Because LinkedIn is a huge advertising, well-segmented database of profiles that one can use to sell something to. But… if thousands of people start to use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to segment audiences and to send primitive messages like “When can we have a meeting to show you how our super technology can help your company grow?” the smart guys build a fence around themselves and learn to filter good content from social selling shit-content. And by good content I mean something you can learn from and you agree to receive. Again… content marketing. Not social selling.

It’s mid-2019 and one receives around 3–4 sale messages on LinkedIn per day. How effective could it be? Gotcha!

Despite many claims made by self-proclaimed social selling gurus, no one has ever researched how social selling really works and whether it works at all in any way other than annoying potential recipients.

And please, don’t quote this bullshit that you reach 10–15% response rate with InMails. If I write an email to you related to an emergency in your life, I will be close to achieve 100% response rate. Would you buy anything from me? No.

Very soon, most LinkedIn members will be indifferent to InMails and sale messages.


So, for whom does social selling work well?

For LinkedIn (yep! you bet) selling Sales Navigator and InMail packages, for CRM vendors integrating social selling into their products (and increasing the prices of those products) and… for social selling trainers. And social selling trainers are no different than authors who write “How to make the first million of $$$” book, trying to make their first million selling this very book.

In my opinion, social selling is a “good” concept only if you consider people who made it up. Simply, the intention being to make money by selling “social selling” as a panacea to sell more in the digital world. But it’s a terrible concept to believe in, if you care about your customers.


Social selling is NOT social marketing or content marketing

So, if social selling does not work, what does? If you really care about lead generation and want to reach out to more people with your product, service or solution, then:

  • For long-term results and awareness building:

EDUCATE, EDUCATE and EDUCATE. Online, offline. On LinkedIn, on your blog, on YouTube, on online courses platforms. You name it. Wherever and however. Just build and create content that will bring value and engage your potential customers.

  • For great results and super targeted content:

Instead of trying to segment your audience and then sending a next, stupid “intro” message on LinkedIn about how much you’d like to connect because you’re soooo similar to the recipient, invest in content and a better lead generation method. Programmatic advertising, for instance, is gaining momentum in B2B Marketing, so that you know ;). Over 70% of B2B marketers already consider using really well crafted, segmented and targeted content with programmatic display ads, as for the end of 2018.

You can really build a compelling and actually working digital marketing strategy with LinkedIn (as it is by far the best social network for lead generation), but don’t believe in social selling as the way to do it. Period.

And one, ending paragraph for the social selling trainers and experts — yes, I know that social selling is one of many techniques of engaging customers online. And the digital world of customer engagement would be so more beautiful, if you’d finally say it loud. Without this bs that social selling is THE technique. It’s one of many and one of the worst. You have less than 2 years to research and prove it before social selling would be the thing of the past. Not enough time, I think.


Kuba Skalbania

Written by

Entrepreneur, Technology Evangelist, Co-founder of a successful CRM integrator. University of Oxford alumni and a huge fan of digital customer engagement.

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