EPISODE 439: Social Selling Expert Tim Hughes on Turning Knowledge into Action to Grow Sales

Subscribe to the Podcast now on Apple Podcasts!

Become a member of the elite Institute for Excellence in Sales and take your sales career to the next level!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Creativity in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on September 24, 2021. It featured an interview with Tim Hughes of DLA Ignite.]

Find Tim on LinkedIn.

Tim’s TIP: “Turn knowledge into action. As an organization, you know what you’re doing isn’t working right now. You know that you’ve got to get on social and you’ve got to do something about it. Sometimes, that’s going to need to you be courageous and stand up, and actually, sometimes disagree with people because there are going to be some people that are going to want to do it like we did it 30 years and 40 years ago. This is a call to action in terms of standing up, being courageous and turning what you know is right into action.”


Fred Diamond: We’re very excited today. Social selling is something that we talk about not infrequently and we like to especially talk about it on the Friday show, the Creativity in Sales show. Tim is the #1 ranked social selling expert. He’s also the author of Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers.

Tim Hughes, it’s great to see you. You’re up in London, I’m over here in Washington DC. Social selling is critical right now for some obvious reasons. There’s a number of reasons why, but I think one of the big challenges is the pandemic continues to rage at some level. Here it is, 18 months after the pandemic started and we all got familiar, people started doing a little more LinkedIn, etc., and what’s even more crazy is that some sales professionals don’t know what they’re doing on social media. You’ll see a LinkedIn post with no commentary, just a link and it’s like, why’d you waste a millisecond of your life?

First of all, it’s great to see you here. Congratulations on your success and I’m excited to talk to you. You were referred by our good friend, Mike Garrison who’s a very early guest on the Sales Game Changers podcast way back in 2017. All right, I’m doing all the talking, let’s get back to you. Very simply, define social selling. Let’s get started.

Tim Hughes: Fred, thank you so much for having me on today to talk about social selling. We’ve seen a massive uptake in interest in social selling over the last 18-24 months. My first book has been selling an awful lot, I’ve sold over 6 thousand copies since it’s been launched, best-seller, sold about 2 thousand. I was talking to someone today and they actually said that social selling, if you look at the Google search, has just gone off the scale. It went down and now it’s up.

To answer your question, what is social selling? We see social selling is actually similar to digital selling, remote selling or virtual selling. What it is, is it’s about using your presence and influence on social media to start conversations which then lead to commercial interaction. This is not going onto social media, the big mistake that everybody makes is that they think that what they do is cold calling, you ring somebody up, you pitch. You interrupt, you pitch. When you send spam email, what you do is you interrupt and you pitch. They think that what you do with social selling is, well, I just come to social selling and I just interrupt and I pitch.

What you find is you get very little response, which is why there’s a lot of people saying, “We tried social selling and it didn’t work.” What you were doing was spamming people, and it didn’t work because it doesn’t work. What we also find on social media is that there’s a lot of people that say, “We were all over social.” What they mean by that is that Alice in marketing posts something every two weeks and she sends an email out saying, “Please, can everybody like it?” Basically, they’re wasting their time.

What we do here at DLAignite is that we connect the use of social media to revenue profit, EBIDTA, whatever you want to call it. When you’re looking out over your sales team, you know that every key stroke that they’re making on social media, you know how much money that’s making for you. And that’s fundamentally different from other people. What you’re doing is if you follow a process – sales is a process, after all – and a methodology, you’re able to say, “If you do A, B and C, you will get D, and D is sales and ultimately, revenue and profit.

Fred Diamond: You need to look at social selling, your interaction, I love the way you said every key stroke is leading to something. What is the intention that you’re trying to achieve? Because the sales process is really about the next interaction, you want to have some type of conversation. Hopefully, a proposal that eventually leads to a deal and then 10 years of interaction with the customer. I want to touch base on two things you just said, just to get them out of the way. I, like a lot of people, am very active on LinkedIn. I get a whole bunch of requests and then right away, the pitch, the connect-and-pitch that we talk about.

I was thinking the other day and I said, I probably get 10 of those a week, do they ever work? And I’ll block somebody, if they reach out to me and it looks interesting, I might accept it. Then, if they go right into the pitch, “We think that our lead generation system can help you achieve blah, blah, blah.”

Tim Hughes: This is the problem with sales today. Of course, because your products and services pay your mortgage, you’re excited about it but I’m not. No one’s interested in you, they’re not interested in your company, they’re not interested in your product. Until you actually get over that, you won’t actually be any good on social.

Fred Diamond: Does the connect-and-pitch ever work?

Tim Hughes: No. I actually know people that tell me it works, but when they tell me, you get such an infinitely small response. Using social selling, I can get a 10X response to cold calling. Actually, cold calling output of that has gone down to the point of nothing. They come onto social media, pitch people and go, “Well, I’m getting nothing and that’s what I got from cold calling, therefore, that’s good.” It’s like, no, you just don’t understand how you do social because you could be getting a 10X response from social if you do it right.

Fred Diamond: Let’s get deep into that. What are some things people should be doing right?

Tim Hughes: There’s three things that people need to understand about social selling. The first thing is about their profile. You need to understand I don’t care about your company, I don’t care about your products and I don’t care about you. If you position yourself basically the same as everybody else, I don’t know anything about your company, product, market, whatever. And if you look the same as everybody else, guess what? You’re the same as everybody else.

We’re training a number of big US software companies and we have one of the salespeople and we were doing some coaching. He said, “I’m an enterprise account manager.” We go onto LinkedIn, there’s 44,000 enterprise account managers. What makes you so different? He went, “Well, nothing.” There you go. You approach me as a CFO and I don’t have a lot of time, and you pitch your services and you’re just another sales guy, what am I going to do? Delete!

I had HubSpot come to me today and it was like, “HubSpot do this, HubSpot do this, HubSpot do this.” I said, all right, so this is all about you. What about me? Who’s the most important person in my world? Me, not HubSpot. I also went back and I said, you do know that the CMO of HubSpot actually is on record – I can send you the link if you want – of actually saying that spam email doesn’t work? I’m waiting for the response to come back, but it hasn’t come back yet.

The three things you need to do. First, you need to profile so that when people look at it, they go, that person looks really interesting. We show people how you can have a profile where you actually go, “I’d actually go out for a beer with that person.” That’s fundamental transformation from where we normally look at salespeople and go, “I don’t trust a word you say and I don’t trust what you do.” There’s an old joke about, how do you know a salesperson’s lying? Their lips are moving. What you need is a biocentric profile that people will actually walk towards. This is fundamentally different from probably 99% of the way that salespeople position themselves on social media right now.

Fred Diamond: I have a question for you. Before we get to #2, let’s talk about the profile for a second. Why do you think people are still not understanding that? Do you think because most salespeople are still stuck in what you just said, “It’s about me as compared to the customer”? We’re doing webinars every single day from the Institute for Excellence in Sales and we talk a lot about things over and over again. The need to prepare, you mentioned that this sales rep reached out to you and he obviously didn’t do all of his preparation to see where you, Tim Hughes the prospect, might be. As compared to here’s everything you need to know about me because I’m great and I have a rent or mortgage I need to pay. It’s 2021, why do you think people don’t get that still?

Tim Hughes: There are billions and billions of dollars spent every year convincing people that they should carry on doing what they’re doing. There’s an old saying about, I don’t know if you know, but it’s called a monkey trial. If you want to catch a monkey, what you do is you put a banana in a jar and the monkey puts their hand in and basically holds the banana and then they’re stuck. What they don’t do is they don’t let go. What we have is this situation today where people have invested time and effort in the last 20 years, marketers who got a degree 20 years ago when we had faxes, Walkman’s and things like that, and things have changed. What they’re doing is they feel, “If I change, that invalidates me” or, “We know cold calling and spam email stopped working five years ago, we’ve seen it from the figures, all the research that’s there.”

Now, if people are going to go to their senior leadership and say, I’ve been asking budget for the last five years, it doesn’t work, they’re going to look really stupid. What they’ve done is they’ve backed themselves into a corner but they’re holding on to what doesn’t work. What they need to do is they need to understand and actually just be strong and courageous and say, this is a time of change, there’s great disruption. What we need to do is something new.

We know that social selling works, I can prove it, I’ve got lists of customers that can prove it. We know it works, but it’s based on data. It’s not my opinion, I can come on here and give you my opinion. This is not my opinion, I’m talking fact. We know it works, we know it has a 10X response and what we’re going to do is we’re going to migrate over to that. We’ve had a number of companies that have come to us and said, “Don’t believe what you say.” Fine, okay. They run an advertising campaign, we’ve got benchmarks against advertising. That drone company has now moved all of their budget over to social. One of the things we do is we teach people how to be digitally dominant till you completely move all of your competition out of visibility.

Fred Diamond: Tim, we have a question that just came in here from Richie, “Is Tim just talking about LinkedIn or is he talking about other forms of social selling?” I know you have two other critical points you want to get here, just address that for a second. Most of the people who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast and who are members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales are B2B sales, typically. Maybe at some level business to other markets like government, etc. Are we talking exclusively LinkedIn? Are we also talking Facebook, TikTok, etc.?

Tim Hughes: From a social perspective, you need to go where your clients are. In the B2B business space, my background, I’m 25 years selling, predominantly that will be on LinkedIn. If you’re selling in IT, you will find that you will have customers on Twitter, because IT people generally like that sort of thing. But you will also often find people on Instagram, and what people will do is that they will post different things on different platforms.

When I went from my first sales meeting with a customer, I said to one of my sales mentors, when I get into the office, what do I do? And they said, very simple. What you do is you look around, you look for a picture of Formula 1 or a picture of fly fishing or something like that. You then engage with them into a conversation about those subjects because what that does, it starts forming trust because what we do as humans is find things that we have in common. Before we started this interview, Fred, we talked about Mike Garrison and we talked about the area that you lived in Washington DC and the fact that I’ve been there. What we were doing is we were finding commonalities, because that brings trust.

As salespeople, we’ve done that for decades. That’s what we’re going to do on social media, because the way that social media works is it’s just like a networking event. I go up to Fred with my cup of coffee and I say, “Hey, Fred. Have you traveled far today?” and we have conversations, and we know that sales have always come from conversations. Sales don’t generally come from brochures, posting brochures, they don’t generally come from spamming people. In terms of if your clients are on TikTok, then you should be on TikTok. If they’re not, then don’t invest the time.

The thing about social media is I would experiment. Don’t be afraid of trying something and then not working. We spent four months on Clubhouse and then decided for the investment it wasn’t what we wanted. Actually, our audience was on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram and from a B2B sales perspective, they should do that as well.

Fred Diamond: A little bit of an interesting twist that reminds me of something. Companies like Salesforce and Amazon Web Services join the Institute for Excellence in Sales. Somebody went to one of our programs like three years ago and invited me to play Words with Friends.

Tim Hughes: It amazes me. When I read books, I always leave reviews and I’ve had people coming to me on LinkedIn and said, “I read the review on Amazon about so-and-so book and I’d like to connect with you.” The thing is what we’re doing is we’re leaving digital breadcrumbs. My recommendation is that you’ve got to understand that while social media is free, there’s a cost in terms of your time. I would say go where your clients are, but also, if you can, spend time actually making sure that you’re on as many platforms as you can be because it is about leaving those digital breadcrumbs.

Fred Diamond: You talked about making sure that your profile looks interesting. We actually did a show a couple of weeks ago with Judy Schramm and the team at ProResource and we went really deep into profile.

Tim Hughes: We find that most people who write and give advice on LinkedIn profiles are wrong. The reason why they’re wrong is they often keep reiterating the stereotypes which is, “I’m a highly energetic salesperson.” What happens is they write profiles that are exactly the same as everybody else’s. What I need from your profile is to look at it and go, “You’re interesting” and actually understand something about you. This is your shop window, this is your ability for me as a buyer to go, I think that I have something in common with you and I think that I can trust you. Because what we’re trying to do at the end of the day is to get people to come to us and say, “I want to buy.” We get a lot of people coming to us saying, “We want to buy” and there’s no competition. That’s because they’ve spent time checking people out and they see us as the answers to their solution. If your profile looks like everybody else’s, you won’t be that answer.

The second thing you need is a network, this is not a bunch of contacts. Most people on LinkedIn have 930 connections and most of them are recruitment consultants and ex-colleagues. What you need is to grow a network into the areas where you want to influence people. This could be your customers, it could be industry people. The key thing is not to connect to them and say, “I’m a salesperson and I want to sell you something” or, “I’m a salesperson, buy my product because it’s great” because that’s what everybody says. This is your opportunity to have a conversation, just as I would do in a networking event, because we know that conversations create sales. It’s so important to actually grow your network and grow your influence.

Fred Diamond: I have a question for you about that. Let’s say that my audience is VPs of sales, at the Institute for Excellence in Sales we help sales leaders acquire, retain, motivate and elevate top tier talent. When I wake up every morning, I say to myself, how many more sales VPs can I engage with? That’s why we do the Wednesday show, Sales Game Changers Podcast Live. Give me your advice, use me as an example. How can I build my network on LinkedIn of VPs of sales that I don’t know? Let’s say medical devices, because that’s a typical sales.

Tim Hughes: What you need to understand is that this isn’t about you, your product or your service. This is about the other person, because that’s all they care about. As a business, we don’t use InMails. InMails generally are just seen as a cold calls on a social network.

Fred Diamond: I hate InMails.

Tim Hughes: Forget InMails. If you send me an InMail, you’ll generally just get deleted. Sorry, LinkedIn, I know that’s how you make your money. What you need to do is you need to craft something that reflects you as an individual. Back to this, if I walk up to Fred in a networking event and I don’t know you, then I’m going to go up and we’re going to introduce you or you’ll say, “Hey, how did it go today?” But it’s about engaging that conversation. LinkedIn basically now only allows you to send about 100 connections a week, so you’ve got an opportunity to have about 100 conversations. What you need to do is you need to be growing and you need to use that 100 allocation every week and grow your network.

The third thing that you need is content. I know that marketing will be telling you to share stuff on brochures and white papers, please don’t do that because it just makes you look like a robot. Research shows that people come to social media to be social, not to read brochures. If people wanted your brochures, they’d go to your website. What you need to do is you need to actually create the content yourself, you as an individual are a person that is an expert. We talked earlier about if you’re an elite salesperson, you will understand your vertical, you will understand the business issues, you will be having meetings with people that will be explaining to you what their business issues are. Share that, but more importantly, share who you are.

The critical thing always with content and social is this is a human platform. What people want is they want to connect with humans, and what you need to do is you need to share stuff about yourself. For a lot of people, that’s really difficult but you need to start building your digital muscles and start experimenting in that. What you’ll find is as you share stuff about yourself, you’ll get more engagement.

I’m currently tracking the number of people that I’m targeting and I’ve got one sales leader and he’s putting stuff out about his company and he gets no engagement at all. If he gets two posts, it’ll be from people within the same company, waste of time. The key thing that you need to understand is this is not just about posting, it’s about how you harvest that engagement. There’s a lot of people that will tell you that likes and comments are basically vanity. Utter rubbish, likes and comments are basically the mainstay because if someone likes or comments on your post, what they’ve done is they’ve said, “I have something in common with you.”

We use it as an example. We have a presentation that we give people at first meetings where we explain what’s going on or how the world has changed, and we use a particular example where one of my team, it was last year, he went to the beach with his son. It was his son’s birthday, he had a COVID birthday and like everybody else, his son was 16 and he wanted to go out drinking with his mates and he couldn’t do that. This was posted up and off the back of that, he got 124 leads and he got 6 C-level meetings, 2 proposals and one purchase order, and that only took him 10 minutes. There’s no other demand generation facility that you have right now that will get you 6 C-level meetings, 2 proposals and one purchase order from 10 minutes of work.

Fred Diamond: I agree with you 1000% that the vanity side is, “I got 200 likes” but the real side is every time I do a post, and I tell people this all the time. If you do a post with valuable content, interact, go see everybody who liked it, especially those that aren’t connected to you. Go to their profile and if they look like somebody you need to be engaged with.

I’ll give you an example. Every Thursday I do a poll and I did a poll two weeks ago, and the question was, are you funny? How important is it for you to be funny to be successful in sales? I got 55,000 views of that poll, I got 300 comments and I got 500 likes. I went to every single comment, I commented back. There were 15 new people that I just didn’t know. You know when a poll takes off and it goes viral, it goes out to more and more people, LinkedIn does that. I had 15 meetings, I don’t know if any of them are going to lead to something, but at least I got engagement with people who I didn’t talk to. I talked to people who looked either to be consultants or VPs.

We have a comment here that comes in from Daniela, “Outstanding, Tim is giving great advice. Your LinkedIn profile needs to reflect you as a subject matter expert in your career field. It should also reflect your authentic genuine personality and should always be updated.” As we come down towards the end here, Tim, you said the three critical things. Your profile, your network of your targeted audience and also your content, you’re a content provider. Talk a little about Daniela’s comment here, “Reflect your authentic genuine personality.” Talk a little bit about the ability to be quasi-vulnerable. How important is that from a selling mode?

Tim Hughes: The thing is what people want is they want to see the real you. In sales, this is not about having this, “I’m going to go on to LinkedIn and I’m going to have this different persona.” People want to see the real you just as much as they would do at a networking event. They want to hear your opinion, they want to hear that you’ve actually got something between your two ears, that you can actually think.

I think authenticity is really important, but also making sure that this is about having a plan. What we do is we teach people to have a methodology so that we don’t wake up in the morning and go, “Oh, my God. I’ve got to do some content, what do I do?” There needs to be a methodology behind that. In certain places you’ll share things about yourself, in other places you’ll share things about the market you’re in or the vertical in. But when it comes to your profile, they need to know what you stand for.

Fred Diamond: Tim, you’ve given us so many great insights today, so many great ideas. I’m getting feedback here from the audience, “Thank you so much, Tim, this was excellent”, “Thank you, Fred, for bringing Tim onto the show.” I just want to acknowledge you for the impact that you’ve had on organizations around the globe to help them take their sales career to the next level. The mission behind the IES, I mentioned it before, help sales leaders acquire, retain, motivate and elevate top tier talent. But it really is to take your career to the next level to make your company more successful, to make your family happier and really, just to have a happier life. I want to acknowledge you for the role you’ve played in that for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people. Tim Hughes, give us your final action step. Something specific people should do to take their sales career to the next level right now.

Tim Hughes: The thing about knowledge is that I can tell you a whole bunch of things but I know that you won’t go and do them. Because you’ve been on LinkedIn for 10 years, you know that there are 750 million people on LinkedIn, you know that people are on social, you know that your buyers are on social but you still don’t do anything about it. What you need to do, the most fundamental thing is turn this knowledge into action. As an organization, you know what you’re doing isn’t working right now. You know that you’ve got to get on social and you’ve got to do something about it. Sometimes, that’s going to need to you be courageous and stand up, and actually, sometimes disagree with people because there are going to be some people that are going to want to do it like we did it 30 years and 40 years ago. This is a call to action in terms of standing up, being courageous and turning what you know is right into action.

Fred Diamond: Once again, thank you, Tim Hughes. Thank you, everybody who watched today’s webinar live and for all the listeners of the Sales Game Changers podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.