The origin and original goals of “Sales 2.0” — much broader than social selling

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Nigel Edelshain“Sales 2.0”, which is often called “social selling”, is one of the hottest topics these days. For example:

And I’ve written about Sales 2.0 on my blog. In writing that piece, I discovered that there is an actual, identifiable individual who is recognized as the first person to use the term: Nigel Edelshain. He created the term “Sales 2.0” in 2006.

While Sales 2.0 has come to be mean social selling, in 2006 Facebook was still being used almost exclusively by college students, LinkedIn had only about 10 million members (today it has over 250 million), and Twitter and YouTube were less than a year old. I was curious about what Nigel meant by “Sales 2.0” and what prompted him to create the term, so I tracked him down, talked to him about it, and discovered he had something else in mind altogether.

Nigel says, “One day I was selling and I thought, ‘You know what, selling really sucks!’ (At this point he laughed; Nigel laughs a lot – he’s a very easy going guy.) ”It really sucks what we do. Every sales person gets beat up. Every sales person is half miserable. They experience a lack of respect. They don’t really have a process. They’re told to cold call, and that doesn’t really work and it’s just getting worse. So I was just looking for a name for that, and since I’m a pseudo-geek I was aware of Web 2.0 and so I thought, ‘Hey, Sales 2.0. Wouldn’t that be cool?’

“Because the bigger picture, and this still exists, is that it wasn’t just: how can we invent some software tools to help make sales better? It was, ‘How do we raise the sales profession to the next level?’ And that’s what the ‘2.0’ meant to me: version 2.0 of the sales profession.”

“We have this profession that isn’t really a profession, or doesn’t get treated like a profession. I see it everywhere. I saw it in almost every client that I went to [when he consulted]. In most companies sales people are treated with a certain amount of distrust. They’re not treated as true professionals. In a profession you have some accreditation. You’re an accountant, or something like that, and you’re treated like, ‘Oh, this person studied and they have some skills.’ And they’re treated like a true professional. You really get very little of that in sales. You get some of that in marketing. ‘He knows how to run email programs or build landing pages or whatever; I don’t get that and it’s very technical.’ Okay, but in sales it’s not treated like that. People don’t treat it as a true profession with people they respect.”

And he has a point – a really good point. Sales is not often treated as a science, as other parts of business increasingly are. If you search Google for “science of selling” or “science of sales” you’ll find a handful of links, one book, and a YouTube video by American ska punk band Less Than Jake. SalesLab claims that less than half of salespeople make quota and 60% “are in the wrong job”. Not very scientific at all.

Now, of course, there are many kinds of “sales”. Direct response sales has been measurable for decades – David Ogilvy used to call it his “first love” and “secret weapon” — but that doesn’t involve a salesperson. According to Daniel Pink, one in nine American workers is in sales. People sell $30 shirts and $3,000 suits, $2,000 mopeds and $150,000 combines, condos and homes and office buildings, software, hardware, insurance, copiers and multi-million dollar products and services. Some sales happen in one interchange and some take months, or years, to close. The skills, and knowledge, required to sell a multi-billion dollar contract are very different from those needed to sell a car.

So some sales – such as repeatable sales of low price commodities — will be easier to rationalize than others. With the growth of inside sales, and the decline of field sales, some companies are now able to much more closely monitor sales inputs and results. The very large, customized deals with long selling cycles will always require more art.

But even for those who are involved in more repeatable transactions we have a long way to go to truly professionalize the field. Where are the training, certification, continuing education, processes, etc., that exists in many other professions?

Nigel says, “It’s about creating a higher level for the profession. That’s how I always thought of it. So, for example, my consultant friends talked about people, process and tools, or people, process and information. And I looked at that and thought, ‘Finally, we’re developing some good tools.’ We were starting, and we continue to create a process around how to use those tools, which is helping us get smarter about what we do in sales. And we’re starting to train the people. But I’d say, on a macro level, when you look at all the small companies in the world, from what I can see, there’s still a huge gap.”

And it’s not just the small companies. And marketing is not always better. Some modern marketers now base their work on data but, for example, some mid-market and enterprise companies that have implemented marketing automation have not even taken the essential first step of systematic lead scoring. There are a lot of good tools out there and the most critical part is how you implement them.

But how did “Sales 2.0” come to mean “social selling”?

“I allowed Sales 2.0 – ‘allowed’ is not the right word; it’s not like I’m God,” says Nigel, “but I had discussions with smart people like Gerhard Gschwandtner and Anneke Seley. We had these initial discussions around ‘what’s the definition of Sales 2.0?’ But of course we all have our own perspectives on the world and what we’re trying to do. So if you’re selling software, you’re going to define it one way. If you’re running a conference, you’re going to define it another way.  I’ve always thought of Sales 2.0 as more than selling using the latest web tools but I believe the tools are a catalyst to get us where we need to go. Plus I actually am I a bit of a geek so I like those tools!”

And so the term was kind of expropriated. Nigel actually had in mind something much bigger, of which “social selling” is just a tiny part.

How about you? Do you like the new sales and marketing tools, too? I recently started a LinkedIn group on sales and marketing software. Please join us and bring your ideas to the table on how to professionalize both sales and marketing.

This post originally appeared on the IDG Connect Marketers blog.

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